There are many reasons why you might need to find new friends after you stop going to work full time. The main reason is that once you stop going to work full time, most of the people you talked to all week, are still at work and you’re not! Think about it: how often do you talk with someone you used to work with? Another reason you might need to find new friends is due to a relocation. Some people move after they retire to be closer to family or to be closer to a still-working spouse’s job. Others travel to a warmer climate for a few months during the winter. Regardless of the trigger, the reality is that we need to have friends and making friends is a skill. If its been a while since you had to make new friends, the skill can get rusty. But the good news is that skills can be learned (or brought back to top form).
Highly extroverted readers are thinking, “what? people need to learn how to make friends?” Hey, if it was easy for everyone, no one would be lonely. So here it is, our top five tips for making friends in retirement:
- Do what you like. This one is pretty simple. When you do things you like to do, you are likely to find other people who do the same thing and may share other interests as well. One man I know is really into model railroading. He attends a model railroading club meeting every month and they have a business meeting and then work on expanding or improving their layout. Then the coolest part is running their trains around a huge table. He is also interested in planes. Guess what – some of the guys in the railroad club are also into planes, too. By doing what he likes, railroads, he has found some friends with multiple common interests. If you have several things in common with someone, the chance for developing a friendship is pretty high.
- Find other new people. When you move into a new area or even join a new group, club, church, or other organization, most of the people already have a full dance card. In other words, because they have been there a while, they have already found the other people they click with.Their need for friends has been satisfied and while they might be friendly, they don’t need any more friends. Who is open to new friends? Other new people! If you start to attend a new church or synagogue, go to the new members class. The other attendees are your most likely pool of potential friends. If you don’t click with them, go to the next new members class and check out those folks. Please don’t be frustrated with the long-time members who are nice but don’t offer to take you to lunch. They aren’t rude, they are just already full of friends! In the words of Elaine from Seinfeld, they can’t spare a square. They have as many friends as they want. Don’t worry, you’ll get there, too!
- Just say hello. The absolute hardest part of making friends is the first contact. People will be surrounded by other people, all of whom wish they had a friend, but no one makes first contact. Why? I don’t know. Nervousness, fear of rejection, we internalized “don’t talk to strangers.” Whatever. The reality is that if we want friends, it’s our job to make first contact. So, what to say? How about, Hello. To tell the truth, the person you say hello to will be relieved because they wanted to say hello but didn’t have the guts. Courage doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid, it means you do the hard thing despite how you feel. Ok, here is a baby step if you want to test the person before you commit to saying hi. Try smiling. If they smile back, then you can take the plunge. If they don’t smile back, assume they ate a burrito that’s giving them some feedback and look for someone else to smile at!
- Ask a question. What comes after hello? Well, how about, “my name is _____.” Most people who haven’t lived in a cave will respond with, “Hi. I’m Bob.” So at this point, you have smiled, and said hello. Great start, but don’t let it stall! Most people’s favorite topic is themselves, so give them a chance to tell you about their favorite subject. This will give you a chance to evaluate if you want to keep talking to them and if this might be a friendship worth pursuing. You also appear to be an outstanding conversationalist: Benjamin Disraeli was one of England’s most effective politicians in the 19th century. He knew how to use questions. Jennie Jerome was Winston Churchill’s mother, an American. “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman.”
- Make the invitation. You have found someone to smile back at you, say hello, and engage in a conversation prompted by your questions. Congratulations! Now you know if you want to talk to them again. If you do, think of something you like to do, and invite them to join you. All of these steps are signalling that you are open to finding new friends, and at the same time allow you to evaluate if they are a likely candidate. Don’t worry if not everyone you approach becomes your friend. You want to be cautious about who you let into your life. Keep at it, and you’ll do great!