Making Friends in Adulthood

A Conversation with Author Hope Kelaher

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By Kelly Hunter

Friendships are vital to our mental health, but one size does not fit all. As Hope explains in her book, quality and quantity of friendships are important. From acquaintances to closest friends, we need them all. “Humans need community,” Hope explained. It seems so obvious, but it’s important to remember. She explained the different types of friendships (a concept that Aristotle wrote about!) and how they are all important. They are Friendships of Utility (primarily acquaintances), Friendships of Pleasure (fun friends) and Friendships of the Good (soulmates or besties). Our happiness depends on all types, and some people will move between them as their relationships evolve.

Single women over 50, whether widowed, divorced, or never married, often find making and maintaining friendships particularly difficult. After a certain age, there is an expectation that people pair off, leaving singles out of many events and feeling like a third (or fifth, or seventh) wheel. Women whose social circles were often tied to their children, husbands or work can find making friends after retirement to be a daunting task.

Hope advises, “People, especially women, need to start incorporating plans for how to socialize, maintain, and build their social networks well before retirement. Financial advisors tell us to start planning for retirement as soon as possible, and planning for your social/friendship network shouldn’t be any different. The reality is our friendships will change depending upon life circumstances, but you don’t want to get out of the practice of making friends. And, if you are planning for the long game, you will need to start early. Tap into workplace friendships outside of the office (i.e. lunch, coffee, beach walks, etc.). Partake in a work volunteer activity, or an affinity group, or a yoga or meditation studio. Additionally, it is important for adults in long-term intimate partner relationships to have a balance of their life in and outside the couple. Having this balance can be helpful in filling a void that retirement or children leaving the home presents, as well as make conversation with your significant other more dynamic.”
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For those single women over age 50, Hope highly recommends to “tap into your existing networks and make it a practice. Too often friendships dip off as one ages because of issues surrounding relocation or other life changes. I recommend that even if your network is afar to keep the connection and conversation alive by having regularly scheduled phone calls, Zoom meetings, FaceTime calls, or connecting on Instagram/Facebook, etc. This was especially instrumental in helping people maintain connections during the pandemic. Additionally, for those over 50, I encourage you to ask your networks to introduce you to others they know. I can’t tell you how often I hear about older women who befriend a friend of a friend. If you can, I also recommend solo group travel tours or retreats as a great way to see the world and possibly meet like-minded people.”

If Hope could write another chapter of Here To Make Friends based on the past 18 months, she would call it “Social Reset.”

“One of the more notable outcomes of COVID was the revitalization of former/latent social networks. I cannot tell you how many stories I heard of old friends wanting to reconnect virtually at the start of the pandemic. It speaks to the need to sprinkle a little energy in all our networks every so often, even if it is a gesture as small as liking someone’s Instagram post. The point being that we never know when we will come to tap into those networks. It’s important to keep those friendships going with occasional check-ins, or they won’t be there when you need them.”

Life is just better when you have friends you can count on, and that’s why it is important to invest time and energy in your social future. The best part of this type of investment is you start earning friendship dividends right away. Friendship is about more than just clicking the heart on someone’s post or tweet. Take the conversation offline whenever you can. Sprinkle that energy into your friendships, and you’ll be amazed at the return on your investment!

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