You will find people open to friendship in the most unlikely places. But we're going to talk about the places you can actively look for new friends and look at how to develop your social skills and turn acquaintances into friends.
Is making friends after 50 hard?
Yes and no. You're not about to start primary school and spend the next nine to twelve years with the same bunch of people. Nor are you likely about to head off to university where you'll meet lots of people looking for friends. However, neither is anyone in their late twenties about to do this. And you never hear talk about people in their twenties finding it hard to make new friends!
While you might be more set in your ways and have an established circle of friends after 50, you might be just as open to meeting new people and making new friends. And there are plenty of things you can do to meet people. Making friends as an adult isn't as complicated as some make it out to be!
Things to bear in mind when looking for new friendships
If you want to make new friends, regularly meeting people is excellent. Taking a course that lasts for a couple of months or even a three-day workshop can be great as they're experiences where bonds are likely to be formed. This is as opposed to a two-hour one-off class or workshop.
That said, getting out as much as possible is recommended. You never know when you'll bump into someone who will turn out to be your new best friend! Even just frequenting the local coffee shop can lead to introductions.
Getting out of your comfort zone
Chances are, if you aren't currently making friends, you are stuck in your own comfort zone. Meeting new people requires you to leave that comfort zone and attend events you usually wouldn't.
Don't worry; you don't have to sign up to group travel across the planet if that isn't your thing. However, you might want to look at something you enjoy and how you can attend new events relating to your interests.
For example, you might have considered selling jam at the local market but somehow never got around to it. Or you feel your social skills are poor but have never taken a workshop that helps improve them. Or maybe you really want to learn French or start doing yoga but never signed up for classes. Or you know you'd like to arrange a get together with your co-workers, but somehow you never get around to it.
Perhaps you simply keep hanging out with your old friends instead of going out there and making new connections.
Remember it can take time
Building a new circle of friends can take time. Sometimes you'll attend an event where you meet ten people you like, other times you attend ten events where you meet no one you like.
What's more, often you meet up with someone a couple of times only to realise that you aren't really a friendship match. Even someone you have a lot in common with can turn out to be someone whose ideas of friendship is vastly different from yours. Or they turn out to be dull as dishwater after you get to know them better.
When making new friends, be patient. Finding a new bestie can take time. But don't give up, and remember to celebrate every progress you make. Just when you think you'll never meet someone whom you click with, you will.
You will be ghosted
Just as in the dating world, you'll end up ghosted by a few people whom you're trying to make friends with. Things will "ebb out" between you if one of you finds that it's just not working out. Or maybe your new friend ends up with a new job, new partner, or some family event that rocks their boat, and they no longer have time for new friends.
Don't take this personally. Understand it's part of the journey.
How to meet new people
One of the best ways of meeting new people is to attend events where you're likely to bump into people with common interests. Ask yourself what you'd like to do and experience? Would you like to learn French and go to France, or do more gardening? Would you love to learn to cook better or start a business? Or would you just like to attend meetups with like-minded people?
Below you'll find some suggestions for where to meet other people.
- Meetup groups - Meetup is a site for joining meetup groups around the globe. Groups range from people meeting for a yoga class to people meeting to work on their film scripts or hanging out at museums, and you can set up your own meetup group, too.
- InterNations - Internations is similar to Meetup but with a focus on helping people from around the world meet up in various cities
- Volunteering - Not only has this proven to better your social life, but it's also been proven to improve your mental health and longevity.
- Setting up a small business focused on an interest of yours.
- Joining an organisation.
- Joining a book club.
- Setting up neighbourhood activities, like a hiking club, cooking for the elderly, a sewing group, or whatever else might take your fancy.
- Joining online networking sites like Bumble (choose Bumble BFF for meeting friends), LinkedIn and Facebook and on those sites finding local groups to join
- Joining the online blogging community in a niche of interest to you
- Attending workshops
- Taking classes and courses
- Going on group trips
Invite acquaintances to join activities
If you feel like expanding your current social circle, try chatting to acquaintances about some activity to see if they'd be interested in joining. For example, you might be arranging a cookout with friends, a hike, or a day at the ice skating rink. If so, find out if some of your work colleagues or acquaintances at the gym would be interested in joining. As it's a group activity, it's an easy lead-in to getting to know them better.
Likewise, you can start a book circle, knitting club, hiking group, baking initiative for the elderly, theatre group, or similar with some friends and invite acquaintances. Bring it up as a topic when having coffee at work or chatting in the gym. See if they are interested in it, or outright tell them you're starting it up and looking for others to join. As it's not a direct invitation - more of an open invitation to anyone interested - it's not awkward for them to decline.
You can also suggest that anyone at work, in your yoga class, or anywhere else you spend time go for drinks one night. Or do a volunteer thing together, such as spending a day baking for the homeless.
Of course, all of this depends on your colleagues and classmates. First of all, are they friendly people whom you'd like to get to know better? Secondly, what's the overall vibe among them? For example, are they people who'd love to spend a day cooking for a charity, or would they like to go for drinks together?
Once you're doing something together, you can chat with people individually. Offer yourself up if someone mentions they want to see a new exhibition, wishes they had a jogging partner, or are looking for friends to lunch with. Likewise, mention these things yourself. And if you get chatting with someone and have a long conversation, suggest the two of you get together for a coffee some time to continue chatting. Then suggest you swap phone numbers.
If you meet people who are passionate about the same things you are, it's usually easy to talk to them. That's why it's so important to engage in activities you enjoy. You're much likelier to find potential new friends when doing those activities.
However, once you cross the bridge into friendship by suggesting a coffee or doing something else one on one or in a small group, you'll need other things to talk about. While everyone is different and some more chatty than others, it's good to have some topics of conversation prepared. You can use these as conversation starters when chatting to someone at an event or during a group activity, too.
- Ask them what they do for a living and what they most enjoy about it
- If they are career-driven and enjoy chatting about their job, ask about their main challenges and triumphs, as well as future goals relating to their career
- Find out about their hobbies and what it is about those hobbies that they particularly like
- Ask for tips - if you're in a new city, ask what they'd recommend you do there, or if they enjoy cooking, ask for their recommendations for a specific recipe
- Talk about local events they are likely to attend
- Talk about general things such as Netflix series you enjoy and ask for ideas for other series you could watch
- Chat to them about their goals and plans
- If you're both into reading, get book suggestions from them
If you're striking up a conversation with someone at an event, here are some potential conversation starters:
- "I love that dress you're wearing, such nice colours". Try to be specific about praise and follow up by asking where they bought it, what their favourite shops are and so forth.
- "What brought you to this event?" Ask further questions if possible, like whether it lived up to their expectations or if they have been to similar events.
- "Do you live in this area?" Then, go on to ask where they're from, tips about local haunts and so forth.
- "Isn't that speaker amazing? I love what they said about a, b, c. Have you heard them before?"
- "This is the first time I see you in class. Are you enjoying yourself?" Follow up with what brought them to class, asking if they're new to town and so on.
When talking to people, it helps to try to find common ground. People feel a bond immediately if you have something in common. Compliments are also good, so long as they are sincere. And asking follow-on questions help you start interesting conversations. Open-ended questions that don't just require a yes or no answer are great.
Asking for tips is a great way to stroke someone's ego. If the conversation moves to restaurants and fashion, ask for good places nearby to try. If you chat about bingeing on the latest Netflix show, ask for other shows they recommend. If you both enjoy cooking, ask for good bloggers to follow and recipes to try.
Tips for making new friends
When meeting new people, consider your body language. For example, sitting with arms and legs open and leaning slightly forward while retaining eye contact for a lot of the conversation will show you're interested. On the other hand, leaning back, crossing your legs, and looking away will indicate that you do not care to hear what they're saying.
Walking with a straight back, meeting people's eye, and having a firm handshake indicate that you're confident.
Keeping outside someone's personal bubble and only going closer once rapport has been established indicate that you respect their personal space. While patting someone on the arm to make a point can help establish a connection, doing so too soon will make the person back away from you.
While meeting people, you also need to look at their body language. 90% of communication is non-verbal. Are they leaning forward when speaking with you? Or are they stepping back? Are your questions and general chit chat putting them at ease or making them nervous? If they were already looking nervous, chances are it isn't you making them feel that way, so bear that in mind, too. However, if you see them backing away, looking away, or starting to cross their arms and legs, it's a good indication that what you're saying isn't going down well or that you're standing too close to them.
Picking up a book on body language can help you better communicate. It can also help you understand others better.
Another thing that will help is to become a good listener. Take a genuine interest in what people are saying. Listen. Don't think about your reply while they are speaking. Confirm you understood correctly by repeating parts of what was said back to them or asking follow-on questions. Don't judge them as they talk. Just listen and try to understand their point of view. Even if they're talking politics. Try to understand how they came to their conclusion instead of judging them.
Often, we're so concerned with analysing the other person, trying to figure out if they like us, coming up with a reply, daydreaming, or figuring out if we like them or not, that we aren't genuinely listening.
For more tips on listening, google "active listening."
Lastly, remember to compliment people. Be genuine, but learn to praise what you appreciate in people--both new and old friends. It will help them open up to you. And you may want to pick up "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. While it isn't about complimenting people, it will show you that people need different things to feel appreciated. Even just doing the quiz on his website can help you understand that.
If the thought of meeting lots of new people freak you out, you aren't alone. Most people get nervous thinking about going to events where they meet new people. Even if those people have similar interests. Pick up some books on social skills and body language to feel better prepared. What's more, practice what it says in the books before going out. Just reading about social skills doesn't always make a difference. As Maxwell Maltz would put it: do some shadow boxing beforehand. Try out conversation starters and body language hacks. Even if it's just in front of the mirror.
An excellent book to read is the classic "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. It's available for free on platforms like Scribd--even as an audiobook.
If you have more serious social anxiety, join workshops where you learn people skills. This is more hands-on than reading a book and will help you get real-life practice. Presentation skills might be something else that can help boost your confidence.
If you really suffer from anxiety, getting therapy can also be a godsend. A therapist can help you nail down why you feel the way you do and, more importantly, how to overcome it. Focus on how far you've already gotten and on your next achievable step. We can't always go from zero to hero overnight, but we can take small steps to improve our lives.
An excellent book to read to help overcome anxiety and realise your goals at large is Maxwell Maltz's "Psycho-Cybernetics." It will also help you understand the human mind better.
Be upfront if you aren't into something
While it's good to try new things, if your newfound friend wants to go hiking and you hate walking, don't sign up for it. Instead, say that you'd rather meet for coffee, go to the movies, or see a play. Whatever it is that interests you. Chances are, you can find some common ground.
Likewise, if your new friend from book club turns out to be someone who always sends voicemails on WhatsApp and you really aren't the kind of person who sends messages every day, then say so. Be open to replying to some messages every week (meeting halfway), but warn them that you won't do it daily. Instead, suggest what you like. Be that meeting up or doing a longer call at some point during the week.