It’s every bit as common as you would think, but it’s still odd. We spend 30, 40, even 50 hours a week doing a job with a bunch of people, and slowly but surely some of those people become our people. We eat lunch together, we make small talk that migrates to major stuff, we collaborate on tasks, and eventually, we rub off on each other.
They’re default relationships, framed by our convergent interests, or skills, or circumstances, and some of them become the most valuable, long-lasting relationships of our lifetimes.
An Odd Dilemma
The dilemma? What happens to those relationships when you leave that job and all the social patterns that go with it? We spend hundreds of hours getting used to people, if not outright enjoying their company (pun intended), yet we oddly dream of moving on so we can do a whole lot of nothing without them.
One common complaint related to the wonders of retirement is, “It’s boring.” Another one is, “All my friends were work friends.” None of us want a boring, friendless retirement, but we can end up in isolation if we don’t design otherwise.
What follows are some suggestions for creating community and human contact post-retirement when your job had provided your social life.
Why This Matters
Cutting to the chase, if you’re reading this you’re an inherently social animal — a human being. Not only do you enjoy some level of give-and-take with other people, but it’s absolutely necessary for your survival. We rely on a rich social fabric that keeps us fed, safe, and loved.
Some of us are further out on the introverted continuum (personally, if you leave me with an unscheduled weekend, my instinct is to work on my house, not initiate a dinner party). However, the simple fact that being isolated is used as a punishment says enough.
Social contact provides a mental health workout, even for introverts, and for many of us, our job gave us that stimulation and direction. Employment was our daily “playdate activity” pursuing some purpose, even if we were not fond of our co-workers, and that purpose was the why defining our social life.
Where We Go From Here
The great news is that you don’t have to fake being more or less socially active than you naturally are. What you can’t fake, though, is identifying the next purpose (or purposes) for you to engage. Whether they are few or many, what are the new “playdates” that belong on your calendar in pursuit of that theme?
Pro Tip: If you’re bored and lonely, you should probably schedule more social contact. If you don’t want to, do it anyway.
Tips For A Successful Social Life In Retirement, Purpose By Purpose
1. Friends By Association
This is exactly what it sounds like. Join an association related to a field or topic that interests you. Tired of the subject matter in your career? Find a new topic. Interested in providing wisdom to the next generation in your field? Direct your attention to an association that leverages your experience.
2. Common Interests
Take a class. Get interested in things, sign up for them (especially the free ones), and then show up. You don’t have to make small talk with strangers — it’s the facilitator’s job to make it all go. You’ll find you either agree and appreciate, or disagree and don’t appreciate, others’ perspectives. You can’t get more social than that.
One great feature of organized travel is exposure to new people out on tour. Sure, there are interesting enough people wherever you visit, but on tours specifically, you meet people who at least have enough common interests to select the same trip as you did. A nice feature of this kind of social contact is that if you hit it off, you can travel together again in the future. If not, c’est la vie.
4. Diversify Your Portfolio
Try that thing you always thought you were going to do, or that other thing you never thought you would do. Don’t forget — it’s a valid experiment to find you didn’t like a thing or the people involved in it. A little risk is what good investing is all about, even when the main currencies are just a little time and social exposure.
5. A League Of Your Own
It doesn’t matter if you come in as a novice or an expert, there are leagues and informal groupings that love to play games, and they need more participants. Whether it’s competitive or anticompetitive, leagues for games of various sorts have churn.
If you poke around and don’t find anything, start one yourself! When human beings have fun, other human beings want to join in, and groups that rally around the purpose of play can be some of the most consistent and long lasting.
6. Be The Change You Wish To See
There are elements of society that you may have taken for granted pre-retirement, even something as simple as American democracy’s dependence on volunteer electoral staff. Decide what’s important to you, and get involved with the people who also see it as important, whether that’s fundraising, fixing things, or participating in an educational campaign. That’s a contribution that pays you back with purpose.
The Conclusion: There’s No Conclusion
The most important element to creating social contact post-retirement, whether or not you relied heavily on a former job to do it for you, is to let a purpose drive it for you. Socializing for its own sake is a sufficient agenda for some personalities, whereas others need something to bring us together. But let’s be clear about one thing: As a social animal, you’ll need to make it an aspect of your life as long as you’re here with us.