You probably don’t even remember your school days, when friendships just seemed to happen with little to no effort on your part; when decisions around where you went, how long you stayed, and who you were with, were made for you by your parents. Without realising it, they were setting us up for ‘friendship success’ by creating opportunities for the first and possibly most important ingredient in any friendship. Time.
Finding and making new friends after 40, while slightly more challenging than in our youth, is a valuable investment, but takes time.
Unfortunately, once we start adulting, we are no longer dropped into these friendship breeding grounds. Instead, it’s up to us to seek out opportunities to connect with new people. Moreso, once we find a partner, or get married and begin to raise our own children if that’s the road we go down, many of us begin to lose touch with existing friendships. Routines and interests change. We might move for employment opportunities. Or our friendships simply become victims of our busy life and we neglect to give them that vital first ingredient; our precious time.
Do we need to make new friendships after 40?
In most cases, the answer is a strong yes! Do you sometimes feel a bit empty even though you have a full and busy life? Do you ever feel like something is missing but you just can’t put a finger on what it could be? Do you ever wonder what is preventing you from becoming the best ‘whole’ version of yourself imagineable?
I believe that the missing link involves our lack of meaningful connection to other human beings. In a 2020 study into the current mental health crisis and loneliness epidemic in the US, a staggering 6 out of 10 people reported feeling lonely. The major causes cited were:
- A lack of social support and infrequent meaningful social interactions
- Negative feelings about one’s personal relationships
- Poor physical and mental health
- A lack of ‘balance’ in daily activities
Sadly, for many of us, our platonic friendships have become mostly superficial, sharing only our ‘best’ lives, not our ‘whole’ lives.
Quality over quantity in friendship
For our overall health and wellbeing, it’s not the quantity but rather the quality of these friendships that are in question. We want to be building relationships with people who don’t need anything from us. Nurturing a few close, platonic friendships with people who know us intimately, and who we feel safe to really bring into our lives, builds our confidence and sense of belonging.
The best-case scenario is that we have a ‘Tribe’ of meaningful friendships to support us through life. Traditionally, a tribe is defined as a social division in a society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties. Some tribes have a common culture and dialect, and typically they have a recognised leader. A customary tribe is a face-to-face community, relatively bound by kinship relations, reciprocal exchange, and strong ties to place.
As women, we have the power to create our own support system; our own Tribe of women who we choose, and who choose us, yet to which we are only bound by the strings we’ve chosen to bind us.
“We create our future self by default or design.”
~ Nicole Cody
How do we make new friends after 40?
So how exactly do we make new friends after 40, taking into account the huge impact of COVID lockdowns and social distancing, which seem as though they’re here to stay?
It starts with intention and ends with action. Although many dictionaries describe the word ‘friendship’ as a noun, I like to think of it as a verb. A friend could be described as a noun (a person, place, or thing), but a real friendship requires action. We must be intentional about connecting to others because it may not happen naturally.
How will you connect with new women who could become your future Tribe members? What existing friendships would you like to nurture in your Tribe? What specific habits can you establish to deepen the connections with your current friends?
Today, let’s start as though we are inspired for the very first time to build our own Tribe. Maybe you have a bunch of contacts on Facebook and now realise many of these friends are superficial. Perhaps your life has been so full as a partner, or parent, you have made little time for anything else. Possibly your career has had you on the run from dawn until dusk for a decade and you haven’t created the space required for deep friendships.
Once you acknlowedge what is missing, you are able to create an intention to seek out new friends. All it takes is a decision, a plan, and then action on your part, to make it happen.
Here are 9 examples of friend-finding habits you may consider building into your routine:
9 ways to make new friends
- Get out of the house! You aren’t going to meet anyone binge-watching Netflix!
- Challenge yourself to put your phone away when you are out in public. Instead, look for opportunities to make conversation. When you are focused on your phone or waiting in lines, even walking, you miss a lot of connection possibilities. Your routine likely passes some of the same people every day. If you say hello or chat for a few minutes, that is a breeding ground for friendship.
- Sign up for a class; Spanish, Zumba, art, cooking, baking, photography, bird-watching, wine tasting. What are you interested in? Here you will meet others who have the same interests. Commit to attending a minimum of three classes. Once you have made a few contacts, keep showing up and invite them to connect outside of class.
- Open a conversation with a stranger. Use the ‘insight and question’ method. This conversion starter involves commenting on current events and then asking a question about their opinion. Research has shown that expressing our opinion activates brain regions that are associated with pleasure and reward. Your question will likely be received with gratitude for the opportunity to share. Steer clear of hot divisive topics. You are inviting conversation, not debate.
- Volunteer for a good cause and meet people. Build a house for the homeless, serve a meal to the hungry, clean up a park to beautify your neighbourhood. You will meet some great people who also care about the community. Strike up a conversation with someone. Reconnect each time you volunteer together and then invite them to coffee or lunch!
- Join a club. There are all kinds of clubs out there. Seek one that interests you! Running, walking, hiking, beer/wine enthusiasts, travel, dining, paddle boarding, sailing, golf, and community service just to name a few! You already have something in common to talk about with fellow members, so making new friends will likely be natural extension of this. Let friendship be a result of doing something you enjoy.
- Be a good listener. You have one mouth and two ears. Practice using them accordingly. Don’t dominate the conversation. If you want more friends, ask people about themselves and listen sincerely when they answer. Listen not to respond but to understand. A good listener is rare these days.
- Join a local online group that discusses topics of interest to you. Actively participate in the discussions and meet up with them when they have activity. If they don’t ever get together, why not suggest and/or organise a meet up yourself?
- Tap into your ‘friends of friends’ network. Take an inventory of who you know and who they know. There may be someone you have seen around but have yet to be introduced to. Exploring adjacent friends gives you a head-start in the connection process because you already have a friend in common.
The friendship formula
Essentially, you want to find recurring opportunities to meet up so that it is more likely you will see the same people several times. Use open body language to make yourself more approachable (yes, much harder when wearing a surgical mask!).
In the beginning, what you do is just as important as what you say. Stand tall and squarely face the person you are speaking with. Maintain eye contact and gesture, nod, or offer verbal affirmations occasionally to let them know you are listening. Avoid crossing your arms, checking your phone, or standing off by yourself which implies that you are not open to connecting.
Once you are out there investing your time and engaging new potential friends, what’s next? When you do meet someone who is interesting, and you think you might like to build a friendship with them, all you need to do is add the next two ingredients in the Friendship Formula. Friendship = Time + Attention + Enthusiasm. Giving this potential friendship your enthusiasm and attention starts to build its story. One of our greatest needs as humans is to be seen, heard, and understood. We all need positive reinforcement! These shared experiences create a sense of belonging which is foundational to the community (Tribe) that we desire.
So get out there! New friendships start with intention and require an investment of our time. As we get older, friendships don’t just appear like they did when we were kids. We must be deliberate about – and committed to – making them happen.