A solid social support system can make the difference between a successful and a stressful retirement. There are dozens of studies that find that friendships are vital to keeping people emotionally healthy throughout their lives. For too many retirees, their friends were people with whom they worked…the office was their community and their social life. Retirement didn’t just mean the end of work, it also ended the social activity that was connected to it, and now many retirees find themselves having to make new friends or be alone.
That loss of community that your workplace provided can be overwhelming. Unless your close friends retired at the same time that you did, you may find that retirement means you social network has changed…and shrunk. Friends may still be working and not available during the day. Those who retired are traveling or visiting grandchildren. Still others may have moved away permanently. And face it, as you age, there are going to be illnesses and deaths among your friends.
Friends are important at all times in your life, especially when you have happy occasions to share, like successes, children’s weddings, graduations. And they are important when you have a loss, like the death of a parent or spouse. If you are lucky enough to have good friends, embrace them. They are literally keeping you alive.
Remember when you would take your children to the park and they would wander over to another child and begin to play, without fear of rejection? At a certain age, children learn about exclusion and rejection, but they keep trying. As adults, we often stop putting ourselves in situations where we might be rejected or ignored. We aren’t in high school any more and now we can decide which one is the “cool table.” So at the next meeting or luncheon or lecture you attend, choose a group and walk over and introduce yourself.
The trick to making friends is to turn yourself into that three year old who doesn’t expect rejection and you won’t get it. If you want to meet new people, you will have to walk right up to them and be assertive. Start by being at an event where you share a common interest with others who are there—a concert, a class, or a lecture. Talk about the speaker, the music, other concerts you have attended and you might find the people you meet share your interests. Some music lovers find that by ushering at concerts they both have the opportunity to hear music they love (for free), meet others who also usher, and make new friends who may go to future concerts and events with them. And if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up.
As always, to make a friend, you must be a friend, and it won’t hurt to appear responsive and open to conversation. No one wants to approach a newcomer who looks unfriendly and aloof. If someone meets your eye, don’t look away. If a person looks like they need assistance, even if it means helping to open a folding chair at a lecture, offer it. That person could turn out to be a new friend.
Of course the other subjects I have written about recently — travel, volunteering, and classes — are great ways to meet new people as well. You don’t have to jump on a stage and sing “Let Me Introduce Myself” (someone your age is already doing that, and he gets paid millions for it!), just smile and be friendly. And don’t forget alumni chapters, school reunions and just picking up the phone and calling friends with whom you have lost touch. They have been busy too and would love to hear from you. Old friends remind us of who we were and who we wanted to be.