I left my friend Lee’s apartment last week and practically skipped back to our home in Guanajuato, the UNESCO World Heritage City in central Mexico where Barry and I live for part of the year. “A new friend! I have a new friend!” I thought. I had forgotten how exciting it is to embark on a new friendship.
Unfortunately, making new friends as a retiree is not that common. One study revealed that nearly one-third of seniors say it has been at least 5 years since they developed a new friendship. And it’s not just because of the isolation forced on us by the pandemic, either. In general, Americans talk to their friends less often and rely less on them for personal support than they once did.
Based on my experience, this doesn’t have to be so. Both in Guanajuato and Eureka, on the North Coast of California, where Barry and I also live, I have developed close friends in the last 10 years. Here are eight insights I’ve gained making friends during retirement.
1. It’s Easier Making Friends As An Expat
The small expat community in Guanajuato reminds me in some ways of high school, because even if you’re not close friends with someone, you know the names of other expats and you recognize them when you run into them. This happens a lot, because of the city’s walking-friendly, compact layout. If I want to get together with someone, no one is more than 10 or 15 minutes away. In the U.S., on the other hand, people usually live farther away and have to plan ahead and drive in order to see each other, which makes building a relationship more of a production. In my opinion, personal connections thrive on spontaneity and ease.
2. Friendships Take Initiative
Someone has to take the first step, and I’ve learned, if I wait for someone else to do so, it may not happen. I find being proactive usually pays off. For instance, when Barry and I moved to Eureka, we joined a meditation group. Soon after, we ran into one of the members near our apartment. As it turned out, her office was just a few buildings away, so we invited her to join us for a home-cooked lunch. This is another example of how spontaneously running into someone helped create a connection. If we hadn’t asked her to lunch, I doubt she’d have become a close friend.
3. Circulating Helps
In Guanajuato, I met my friend Jenny while standing in line for a concert. She was chatting with a guy I’d studied Spanish with, and the three of us ended up sitting together. Through Jenny, in chain-reaction form, I made several other connections — one of whom introduced me to my Spanish tutor, Camila. All these friendships came about because I went to the concert.
4. Shared Interests Are A Great Basis For Friendships
I’ve made lasting friendships through hiking, Toastmasters, Pilates, and yoga groups (which in Guanajuato I take in Spanish, rather than English, in order to meet Mexicanas).
A few years ago, after returning from Guanajuato to Eureka, I wanted to meet someone with whom I could practice Spanish. At a meeting with an organization called LatinoNet, I announced I was looking for a Spanish-speaking partner. I expected a Latina to approach me, but instead a gringa named Sue came up and introduced herself. It turned out we had much in common: She and her husband owned a home in Nicaragua; like me, she had adult stepchildren; and she worked for an agency only two blocks from our apartment. Sue and I started walking during her lunch hour, which turned into a weekly date. After I introduced her to my tutor Camila, Sue began studying with her on Skype, enjoying it so much that last fall she and her husband spent 2 weeks in Guanajuato so she could study with Camila in person.
5. The Older We Get, The Less Age Matters
Lee, who I mentioned earlier, is 14 years older than me; Jenny, 15 years younger. Cultivating younger friends seems to be especially important as we age. My father is 100, and the only friends he has left are younger than him. No surprise! Unfortunately, the same has already started happening to me at age 70.
Up until her death 7 years ago, every so often I’d visit my widowed friend Norma, then 88. We’d eat a hot lunch at her Eureka dining room table, then cozy into her Lazy-boy chairs, wrapped in afghans, drinking tea, and talking about our families, friendships, and spirituality. I especially enjoyed hearing about the meditation retreats for the elderly that she went to twice a year. Norma was loved by many; once while I was visiting, soon after she’d had breast cancer, a “young” woman (my age!) dropped by, bringing her flowers. How I miss our lunches!
6. It Pays To “Prospect”
I’m always keeping an eye out for potential new friends. I’ll invite someone who I don’t know well to have coffee, for example. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but I keep scouting, partly because I like the energy and stimulation a new friend brings; but also because I know life is transitory and no friendship lasts forever. I’ve lost friends to moves, deaths, unresolvable differences, and life changes. I want to keep replenishing the well.
7. Rejection Is Part Of The Risk Of Friendship
A few years ago, I was eating breakfast with a woman I considered a “warm acquaintance,” someone I liked a lot, but who wasn’t yet a close friend. We got together about every 2 months. Halfway through my scrambled eggs, I said, “You know, I’d love to see you more often and really get to know you better.” She paused and then said, her clear gray eyes looking directly at me, “I’m comfortable with our connection the way it is.”
Ouch! I was so embarrassed, I could barely make eye contact with her. I hurriedly changed the subject and escaped. After that, I felt so awkward. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her to have breakfast again.
But the truth is, there was nothing wrong with what she said. She was straightforward and clear, and no matter how awkward I felt at the time, I respect her honesty. It’s all too easy to evade! As I drove home, I thought, “Reaching out is a risk. Win some, lose some.”
8. Old Friends Are Like Roots
I love having friends who’ve known me through different eras. Because I grew up moving a lot, without a hometown, my old friends have become my default roots. I’m even in touch with someone I knew when I was 8 years old! And recently, I’ve become much closer to a friend I knew in high school. Since we’re both writers and fans of Mexico, we have more in common now than when we were teenagers.
“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” I often smile, remembering that lovely round, which I first sang at Girl Scout camp many years ago. In only 14 words, those wise lines say it all.