This weekend, my husband and I went for a few drinks in town. Sitting in the pub, I saw a familiar face, someone called Mike who I knew from my volunteering. Mike joined us at our table and the next few hours were spent chatting and laughing. Before we knew it, the bell for last orders was being rung and Mike and my husband, who had found common ground over music, were making plans to meet the following week to see a band.
In a lot of ways, this doesn’t probably seem like a big deal, but for us it was because – since moving to a new area two years ago and being more than a little over 40 – making new friends has felt like a hard slog at times. Meeting someone I knew and making plans to see them again felt like we had turned a corner and were on the upswing, especially as a few days earlier I had met someone else I hadn’t known for long for coffee and we talked about future plans.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy and it’s taken effort. But, as I don’t want to end up as ‘Jenny No Mates’ and only have my husband and daughter for company, it’s something that I have felt I really needed to do. Plus, as article after article will tell you, friends are good for your mental health and wellbeing. It’s just that they are much harder to find in your 40s, when you no longer have school or kids to create common bonds.
Just a quick trawl through my social media feeds show me I’m not alone with this desire to make friends so I thought I would share my ‘secrets to success’, things that have helped me start to build a social network where there was none before.
Figure out what you like and look for others who like the same
When you are looking for new friends, it’s easy to grab at anyone who holds out a friendly hand, and I’m not saying don’t do that but, if you want to develop longer and deeper relationships with people, it’s more likely to happen if you have things in common.
Think about what matters to you, what you like to do and where you like to go. Then look for people who like to do the same things, either as individuals or as groups. For me it was politics and it was the community. I joined my local labour party and started volunteering for them and for a local litter picking community group. What’s great about both of these is that you are in group settings and get plenty of time to chat as well as work.
Look for social groups and activities (and join in)
There will be different ways to do this dependent on where you live. We have a magazine that is delivered every month that posts community events and groups. Information is also posted in local libraries. Then there is Facebook which seems to know exactly what I’m interested in (which I try to no get freaked out about) and networking sites like MeetUp, which I find really helpful, though there isn’t as much posted on there for my location as there are for bigger cities.
I already mentioned this was one of the ways that has worked best for me, but volunteering is a good way of meeting new people, especially ones who share the same interests as you. As with social groups, most areas have online sites that post volunteering opportunities, but you can also just give organisations you are interested in working with a call. In my experience, they are always happy for more help. Plus, volunteering is good for your mental health and wellbeing, which is nothing to be sniffed at.
Don’t be afraid to change your routine and try something new
One of the problems of getting older is getting stuck in our routines. It’s easy to do – get up, go to work, read a book, drink a glass of wine is how mine used to go. I was, to put it politely, just a little boring. To make new friends, I had to step outside my comfort zone. I had to go out on my own, introduce myself to strangers, put my head above the parapet. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. One of the things that worked for me was looking for groups that were just starting out so that I was in the same position as everyone else.
Now, I feel more confident going to more established groups. If you aren’t confident about walking into a room of strangers, try to get the email or phone number of someone who is already going and ask if you can meet them in advance or sit next to them. I have done this too and never known anyone say no.
Be the one who holds out the hand of friendship
Although you are new to an area, it doesn’t mean others are. They might already have friends and families in the area and an active social life. You probably won’t be the first person they think of when looking for something to do. So, let them know you are available. Ask them for a coffee or to the pictures or, if you are brave enough, invite yourself along to an event they’ve mentioned. They may say yes, they may say no. If you don’t get the response you want (that’s a yes) the first time, don’t give up. Ask again.
Something else to remember is that the invite might not initially be returned because you aren’t part of that person’s routine. So, don’t sit there waiting to be asked, ask yourself again till it becomes more of a balanced friendship.
Don’t panic and don’t rush and don’t be put off
When you are looking to make new friends it’s easy to feel like one cup of coffee a friendship makes but that isn’t the case, and probably never has been it’s just that you haven’t been as focused on the issue before. Friendships, good ones, take time to develop so you have to be patient. Don’t try and force things with people – you might put them off.
Also, remember that just like you won’t want to be everyone’s friend, not everyone will want to be yours. If you ask someone if they would like to go for a coffee a few times and they always say no, try asking someone else. Don’t over analyse why they said no, and don’t panic that that is it, you’ll never make friends. You will, it just takes time, effort and a little bit of patience.
Have you had similar experiences to me, moving to a new area or maybe having another life change like divorce that has made you feel like you needed new friends? What did you do to find them?