Friends bring us comfort when we’re down and increase our joy when we want to celebrate. Studies show that having friends, especially as we age, may even help us live longer, healthier lives. As we move through life, however, it’s not always easy to keep the friendships we’ve worked so hard to cultivate.
The good news is that making new friends is really nothing new—we’ve all done it before. Whether you’re leaving home for the first time to attend college, moving to a new city for a job or transitioning to a senior living community, the pathways to friendship are still the same.
Say Yes to Welcome Events
People transitioning to senior living may experience some of these same feelings and challenges—and, unlike the college experience, you may be one of a handful of newbies in your community. But, that could be a positive, says Linda Melikian, owner of SeniorLifeTransitionAdviser.com, which provides aging-related transition services, including assisted living placement.
“Many seniors feel some amount of anxiety about being the new kid on the block,” says Melikian. Don’t be a wallflower, she adds, because being a newcomer has its own cachet. “People may seek you out simply because you’re new,” Melikian says.
Eating is a social activity and the dining room is a great place to introduce yourself to others. When Vickie and Truman Johnson moved from their home in Newport Beach to White Sands La Jolla, a be.group senior living community in La Jolla, California, in 2012, they didn’t know a soul until they attended a welcome lunch for newcomers. “The six people sitting at our table ended up becoming our first core group of friends,” says Truman.
Accept invitations to all welcome events and orientations to start getting your feet wet, then seek out opportunities to do the things you love, advises Melikian.
Join the Club
Many see the move to a senior living community as a chance to pursue new interests or rekindle old ones.
“Older people are often at risk of being lonely and isolated, once they retire and their children relocate," says Beth Baker, author of “With a Little Help From Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older. "For some, staying in their long-time neighborhoods make sense. But for others, moving to a new community, to establish a fresh network of friends, is appealing."
Joining a woodworking group or participating in a golf outing will help you meet people that have at least one common interest. And getting together to participate in an activity is one way to ensure you’ll have something to talk about.
Vicky and Truman enjoy traveling by bus with other members of the community to visit area attractions and attend symphony orchestra concerts. “The bus is a great place to mingle because you can sit with someone new and have time to talk with them,” says Vicky.
Being intentional about the contributions you make to these activities will help to strengthen your new friendships. “Having a shared sense of purpose contributes to more meaningful friendships as well as a high quality of life,” says Baker.
Making new friends can be a trade-off. “You can’t expect the new friends you meet to be the same as friendships you’ve had for 20 or 30 years, but you might like some of the new people better,” says Vicky.
If you meet someone that you’d like to be friends with, nurture that relationship. Extend the first lunch invite or suggest a coffee date. When you get together, make an effort to learn more about your new friend.
“People like to talk about what’s going on in their lives,” says Melikian. Show your interest by asking questions, really listening to answers and then following up. If someone mentions that she’s going on a trip, remember to ask how it was. “Volunteering, taking classes, trying your hand at art or singing—are all ways to make friends and to keep life interesting,” says Baker.