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Friendships are a huge part of our lives, and recent research has even found significant health benefits to a friend-full life. Social support can help you to deal with depression, trauma and even stress. This is great news for most of us, but for people in midlife, finding new, real friends can be a lot harder than it seems.
“When people are in high school and college, everyone is thrown together in the same place, at the same time, doing much of the same things,” says Dr. Irene Levine, psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. “As people get older, their lives, interests and responsibilities diverge.”
We asked our Facebook audience to weigh in on their difficulties finding new friends. Here’s what they had to say:
“I've found that making new friends at work is easy, but those relationships are shallow…It takes years to grow a true, honest friendship unless you get really lucky,” wrote Cindy Stroud Reddick, 45.
“I've found it extremely difficult to make new friends in my 40s. It was never an issue for me before. I don't think my personality has changed … I decided this year just to focus on my wife and kids. I'll stay open to new friendships, but will let it happen naturally,” wrote Bryson Pursell, 40-something.
“Making friends is a huge challenge as I get older. I'm soon to be 47 and now raising my 3-year-old grandson,” wrote Roberta L. Carpenter-Weaver, 46.
“Women are so busy with careers, marriage, raising children and maintaining current friendships they must not have room in their lives for another girlfriend. My approach now is to be nice anytime I am around other women. Maybe one will pursue a friendship with me? It's too exhausting trying to prove I'm worthy of their time,” wrote Vickie Puckett, 50.
“When you're younger, there are many more opportunities to meet people who are also looking for friendships. Once people start getting married and having kids, they're so wrapped up with their own families that they may not want to put effort into outside friendships. Also, in this age of social media, it's easy for people to think that an online relationship is enough, but they end up missing out on TRUE friendship connections,” wrote Maria Jones, 41.
So we asked Levine, what’s the best way to make a new friend later in life? Here is her advice:
1. Pursue your own interests.
“You’ll meet kindred spirits and the awkwardness of meeting new friends will be removed because you’re there for another purpose,” advises Levine. Find an activity that you want to try without your partner or family members. Levine adds that choosing a recurring weekly or monthly activity will help you discern if someone is friend-worthy because you'll see them on a more regular basis.
2. Join a professional organization through work.
You already know your colleagues, but it’s worthwhile to join groups outside of work that still relate to your career. “You’ll already have much in common with someone whose work or career interests are similar to your own,” notes Levine.
3. Travel alone.
“The hospitality industry is ramping up opportunities for singles to meet platonic friends,” says Levine. “Solo travel can facilitate friendships because you’ll be creating memories with another person — whether it’s on a singles cruise or an all-inclusive resort.”
4. Find an affinity group.
This one might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting. “If you’re a mom, it’s easy to make friends with other moms. If you’re a dog lover, strike up a conversation with another person walking their dog,” explains Levine.
5. Remember that online friends aren’t a substitute for real-life friends.
“While social media has made it easier to connect with friends, it’s not a substitute,” warns Levine. “It’s really hard to know someone from afar. You only know the persona they are presenting to you.”