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Module 5: Overcoming Loneliness and Making Friends in Retirement

Category: Health and Wellness Issues

March 23, 2019 — This is the 5th module in our “Retirement Preparation 101” online course. The social aspects of retirement was one of most frequently requested topics for the series. Here is where you can see all of the Modules and all the Member suggestions for the course.

Here is a sample suggestion which led to this Module:

Katie: Loneliness in retirement. Whether single, divorced or widowed, loneliness is something that many of us will face as we retire from our work lives. Many of us spent our lives with people at work and any free time with spouses, children or other family. Friendships may have been with neighbors, our kids’ friends’ families, spouse’s work friends, etc. With retirement and a loss of the people around us, retirees can find themselves alone. Surely there are other good ideas and stories from people who have gone through this.

Overview – one step at a time

One short article cannot possibly address all the strategies or be a magic bullet to solving the problem of feeling alone. We encourage you to to view these tips as something to experiment with.  A lifetime of habits cannot not be overcome in a day or a week or a month, but if you gradually apply some of these ideas in your daily life you just might be able to make a difference. Here we go:

Singles vs. married couples. A later module in this series will specifically address loneliness for singles. But we firmly believe that the strategies presented here are useful no matter what your state – single or married.

Men vs. women. It is pretty much a given that men usually have a harder time with loneliness in retirement than women. Men are often fixated on their jobs, and when that is removed, feel rudderless. They also tend to rely on the women in their lives for their social connections, and lack the skills and attitude to make new friends. They are going to have work harder to have a social life, but it can be done. The “Further Reading” section at the end of this article has some completely different suggestions on this topic just for men, with links to more.

Where you live. Some places to retire make it a lot easier to make friends than others. Of course you can make friends anywhere, but it sure is easier in active adult, 55+, cohousing communities, etc. There, everyone is in the same boat – they are displaced from their old friends and support networks, and looking for new ones. The activities and the proximity to others makes it almost impossible not to make new friends. On the other hand, if you live in the suburbs, it is going to be harder. As you become the “old folks” in the neighborhood, you tend to have less in common with the young families likely to be moving in.

What you do. Activities are the universal great way to meet people. Golf, pickleball, crafts, or yoga group – activities like these often lead to new friendships. Ditto with churches, benevolent associations, volunteer groups, men’s lunch clubs (ROMEO – Retired Old Men Eating Out), etc.  It’s possible that no one may come up to and invite you to join something, so then the initiative has to come from you. In volunteer work, realize that even though you might have had a very important job in your previous life, what you start out doing very mundane.  Take your satisfaction in knowing that you are making a small difference in someone’s life, and if something bigger comes along, great. The important thing is to take a risk and try different things until one feels right. You will be glad you did.

Your attitude. Following up on the last point, we have a friend who has a bad attitude about making friends. He is disappointed that no one taps him on the shoulder asking him to become a volunteer or to give a talk in his field. To be successful, you have to make an effort – you can’t rely on someone else doing it for you.

Improve your conversation skills. We credit Lisa with the observation that being a good conversationalist is like being a good ping pong player. You hit the conversation over the net to the other person, they hit it back. Then you return the ball, and soon it will be on its way back to you. For topics ask about the other person’s interests, family, past, hopes, dreams. Pay attention to what you hear.

You’re not a joiner? Some people just don’t feel comfortable joining organizations. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a hermit.  For starters, get out of the house. As people age, it is shocking how little time some people spend outside of  their own four walls. Go for a walk or bike ride, shopping, to the senior center, start a hobby,  or strap on your Silver Sneakers and go to a gym class.  You’ll have a chance to meet people that way, and maybe make some friends. Call up an old friend and have coffee.

Friends of all ages. A friend once impressed us with by saying how much she enjoyed having friends of all ages. Each age group has something to offer.  Younger folks bear the gift of youthful energy and enthusiasm.  Older folks can offer wisdom and might have more motivation to make some friends. When you meet someone you think might be a potential friend, no matter who they are, make an effort to cultivate them.

It’s not all about you. Of course you are an interesting person with interesting stories, but no one will ever care if you don’t show interest in them too.  Appreciate what others have to say, and learn from them.

Making friends. The classic book on this topic is by Dale Carnegie. His How to Make Friends and Influence People was required reading in our Applied Psychology class in college. It remains one of the best sources of personal advice ever written. Here is a summary that paraphrases some of his main points on how to make friends:

  1. Show genuine interest in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember: Every person’s favorite topic is himself.
  4. Be an active listener. Ask questions to get them to talk about themselves, and pay attention to what they say.
  5. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
  6. Restrain yourself from leaping in with “your” story – let the other person have a turn.

Suggestion  from Members:

On loss (Jean). It seems to me that loneliness can be a sign of depression or grief stemming from the loss of a spouse/friends/ loss of independence, loss of control of one’s life, fear of missing out, etc. A person who feels lonely even when around others might find benefit from discussing those feeling with a mental health professional. Therapy / medication are effective and for those who prefer a more natural approach, research has shown that regular outdoor activity (walks, gardening, etc.) and eating a lot more vegetables and fruit can improve depression.

Exercise #1. One of the best ways to make friends is to be someone who others like to be around. Here is an exercise for you, the next time you meet someone new.

Interactive Exercise – Are You Good Friend Material? The next time you meet someone new, try to keep mental track of the percentage of the time you talked vs. the person you just met. Did you ask about his or her life, exploits, opinions, etc.? If you find you did most of the talking, you need to do some work. More about that below.

It’s all about you – and about others too. The point of the exercise above is to assess your ability to make friends. Of course you are an interesting person, but no one will ever care if you don’t show interest in them. If you just have to tell all your stories, you might be pretty boring. Learn and appreciate what others have to say, and we guarantee you’ll have an easier time making friends. But please resist the temptation to judge others in this exercise, if you don’t like what you see, move on.

Exercise #2.   Make a list of the activities or clubs you might have an interest in. Then make a commitment to trying out your favorite one.

For further reading:

Comments? What techniques have you used that have been helpful to combat loneliness and make or retain friends? What concerns do you have that hold you back? What would recommend? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below

Posted by Admin on March 22nd, 2019

10 Comments »

  1. I have found that so many women in my book club monopolize our discussions by going on about “off point” topics and generally trying to monopolize conversations. I think I need to find another group…

    I also try to steer clear of “needy” people (aka “energy vampires!”)

    by Fionna — March 23, 2019

  2. We moved from the SE to the NE (where we knew no one) but before we did, I reached out online! We took a trip beforehand and through a knitting website, one woman and her husband took us to lunch and drove us all around the city, pointing out things to do. We met her knitting group and they all recommended the most amazing Realtor who worked with us a couple of years before we made the actual move.

    That Realtor introduced us to a network of contractors – including our mover – to help us update our new, old, house that needed some things done on a budget . Once we settled in, I joined a group at the local municipal building that meets weekly to knit. They turned out to be wonderfully welcoming and not clich-y at all. A nearby library held a Textile Day and I found several other groups to join. Husband joined the church and from there has gotten involved in a once-a-month soup kitchen volunteer group as well as some phone work for the local AARP group. Our electrician is involved with the local Veterans group – that is our next opportunity.

    We are overwhelmed with the opportunities here and it is hard to choose! The internet has been a fantastic tool! We are able to converse online and ask questions before stepping out and meeting in person. We have even made some new friends through THIS site!

    by Holly — March 23, 2019

  3. I will also caution folks to keep expanding your circle of friends. I noticed as we made visits and now in a wonderful community, that as you make friends, you may become a bit clicky and exclude others from activities or conversation.

    by Bruce — March 23, 2019

  4. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was written by Dale Carnegie. Norman Vincent Peale wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking”.

    Editor’s comment. Oops, that was a terrible mistake, especially since we linked right to the actual book with the author’s name staring us in the face! Thanks for the correction, now made. Norman Vincent Peale’s book is another good one.

    by Rich D — March 23, 2019

  5. Holly, You’re experience networking and using the internet to spark the network is wonderful. Admin, would it be possible to have a directory that lists (voluntarily) members by state/town and maybe email?

    by Jean — March 23, 2019

  6. Some observations from being in an active adult community 20 years – echoing much from this article:
    1. You don’t need to be fast best friends – great friendships are cultivated. 2. If you are in a well established community, sometimes it is easier to seek out other “new residents”. 3. Try some things that don’t require a big commitment – a scheduled day trip, a book club, a fitness class, monthly social foodie group. 4. The community does not come to you, have an open house for your block and invite them in – could be coffee & donuts or cocktails & appetizers. 5. Active adult communities need volunteers – there are little jobs and big jobs. You can contribute and meet others. 6. Yes, drop most of the chatting about your career and accomplishments! A little is good.
    It is a process and well worth the effort!

    by ljtucson — March 24, 2019

  7. I was worried about the prospect of making new friends when we started our snow birding adventure, worried if we would make more than acquaintances. The absolute and easiest key to the puzzle is moving into a new community where everyone wants to make new friends. I know all cannot do this, but if you can consider it, it is a godsend. We have more friends, not just neighbors than I would ever have imagined. And yes, you must have a personality that makes you open to new experiences. Also, the worst turn off, is someone who just wants to talk about thrmselves or wants to impress. Don’t do this. Don’t try too hard. Take advantage of arranged gatherings. Go out on a limb. It happens in Florida so easily. That’s why we moved here. If you don’t feel that vibe, trust your instincts

    by Kathleen Maruszewski — March 27, 2019

  8. We don’t live in a ‘planned’ 50+ community but did move to an area that has a very high percentage of boomer-aged residents. Add on the fact that our small, semi-rural California county has a warm, welcoming vibe so making new friends just hasn’t been nearly as challenging as we anticipated. We have avoided cliques, large group commitments and people who have needs more intense than we can meet. We’ve opted to take our time and make individual friendships that we hope will grow over time. For us, it’s quality over quantity.

    by Linda — March 27, 2019

  9. My wife and I used meetup.com to find social groups which like to get together for lunch or coffee. I have found several photo groups through Meetup.com both in Virginia and Utah. Look for your interest groups in your area through Meetup.com.

    I have met many friends through volunteering at Snow Mtn Ranch in Colorado.

    Since I enjoy cycling I volunteer at the Bicycle Collective that refurbishes bikes and donates them to needy adults and kids. I have learned a lot about fixing bikes and it keeps me busy and met a lot of people.

    by Matthew Asai — March 27, 2019

  10. We moved from CT to NC last year. We went to the local library the first week we were here to get library cards and pick up info on their programs. We also happened to pick up a rack card on Newcomers of Catawba Valley and went to their next meeting. What a wonderful, friendly, helpful and resourceful group! Without them I’m not sure we would have any friends here yet. We have been invited to outings, included for holidays, been given names of RE Agents, doctors, and generally included on all levels. Check out your area for a Newcomers group!

    by Amy L Chizen — April 26, 2019

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