Join a gym, take up pickleball, travel—don’t just travel, move—don’t be shy, get a dog!
Those are some of the suggestions Wall Street Journal readers sent us in response to a recent Ask Encore column in which a California retiree asked for ideas on how to find new friends in later life. Our follow-up column talks about the responses, but for those who want to read many of the actual letters in detail, what follows is an edited sampling of the more than 200 emails we received.
Your correspondent is right in saying it’s more difficult to make friends after one is retired. I have found that you must take the initiative.
For example, in both my exercise and academic classes, I have been the one to suggest a coffee date. I’ve made new friends this way.
Most people are eager to expand their network of friends and acquaintances, especially if they’re retired and their social world is shrinking through friends’ relocation and death.
Having just moved to New York City, I can relate to this dilemma. Here are some ideas:
—Join any alumni club that might be available (or organize one if it does not exist).
—Start attending a class at a yoga studio or similar activity. With regular attendance, you may find a friend or two.
—Participate in a learning activity.
—Become involved in a club by attending events and volunteering on committees.
Most of all, I say that making new friends as we age requires us to be willing to kiss many frogs…until a few turn into princely friends. It is a labor-intensive process that demands flexibility, openness and the willingness to put ourselves out there!
Dance! Dancers are, for the most part, nice, friendly people. With military experience, if you can march, you can dance. Without a partner, there’s folk dancing and line dancing. Ethnic societies may have folk-dance sessions. Bars and senior centers may have line-dance activities. What could be nicer than staying fit and meeting a lot of nice people? There are some who are particular about how well another dances, but most dancers are happy to “dance like nobody’s looking.”
My recommendation is to join a gym and establish a regular workout routine. You’ll see many of the same people every day, and it’s relatively easy to strike up a conversation. In addition, the exercise is good for your health.
I’ve met many people at my gym, both male and female. I know I can choose to go work out and never look at or speak with anyone else. Most people do this, and I am in this category very often myself: stick to myself, get the job done, etc. However, over time I’ve come to realize that—with almost every person I know at the gym—I made the effort to introduce myself and say hello to them first. Most people are shy or, for whatever reason, won't speak to a stranger first. But if you open the door, many people will respond.
The good thing is, now—even though I focus primarily on working out—I am on friendly terms with quite a few people there. And I know I could always make the effort to expand on those relationships if I wanted to increase my circle of friends: by arranging to meet at the gym at the same time, or getting a coffee after working out, or asking for guidance on using a machine that I’m not familiar with, etc. It’s a good feeling, and my workouts now provide social interaction, which I never had before.
When I retired, I moved to a new city near a beach (bucket-list desire), bought a different house (Victorian, also on the bucket list), and determined to try all kinds of things I had never tried before, or had loved doing long ago when I was young.
I volunteered for the Art League; the homeowners’ organization where my house was; the Historic Foundation, which offered Saturday classes in how to renovate your historic house (and did research on my own); stopped by a church denomination I had never visited (not much of a churchgoer); gave a lecture or two at Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes; joined Osher and tried out some of the classes they offered; joined a photography club and took workshops; competed at local art competitions with my photographs and won an occasional award; worked as a docent at historic-house festivals; served as the landmark representative for my district; traveled to many places I had always wanted to visit, alone and on cruises/with groups; etc.
I also joined a wine-tasting club, which had monthly meetings, largely social; other Meetups (many cities have them); attended monthly bring-a-dish neighborhood dinners—and met a lot of new friends, some in my neighborhood, some not.
Also, I never stopped doing what I had always loved doing, that is, writing articles and books, lecturing, and going to conferences. So I maintained friendships I always had had. I am a grandmother (by the way) with three grown children and five grandchildren, all of whom are scattered around the country and whom I see twice a year or so.
So my advice is: try new things, talk to total strangers while walking your dog (or get a dog!), keep doing what you love to do, travel—and most of all, love living, one day at a time. You will meet many people. You don’t have to like all of them. Keep up with the best friends you have. It’s an adventure!
I certainly can relate to the retiree’s quest for friends; I retired about a year ago from a demanding career that didn’t allow much extracurricular time for nourishing friendships. Since retiring, I have found friends at the local Y; I find retirees mostly work out in the morning. Taking classes (yoga, Pilates) is the best way to start conversations and get to know people. I have pursued hobbies and other interests as well, but the hardest part of making friends is being vulnerable and “putting yourself out there.” Being somewhat of an introvert, I have to make myself attend social occasions so I have an opportunity to meet new people. I keep a reminder on my refrigerator: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
My wife and I volunteer with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program; doing income taxes for others makes the winter fly by. But when April 15 comes around, I’m looking on the American Volkssport Association website (ava.org) for hikes and walks. If your retiree likes to travel, there are a lot of regional events put on by local clubs, and there are always singles there. We just returned from a fantastic set of walks in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. There are walks in every state of varying length (most are 5 or 10k) and difficulty. The AVA advertises they are for Fitness, Fun, and Fellowship (the unadvertised fourth “F” is for FOOD). The walks are all at your own pace, and we’ve met wonderful folks from all walks of life…and most are retired.
I recommend going to camp!
I moved to a new city in my mid-50s to go to law school. Which I did. Then I had friends from law school. How quickly we drifted apart!
But I love to knit. So I heard about a knitting camp and went. Didn’t know anyone there. We shared cabins (townhouses) and knit together in the evenings over copious bottles of wine. I have remained friends with some of these people for so many years!
Then I started machine knitting. I signed up for camp. Great fun. Lovely people. I feel safe and have laughter-filled days and evenings.
I am a 72-year-old retired corporate lawyer. My wife of 50-plus years died earlier this year. My advice, gleaned from the advice of friends in my age group who are also single, either through divorce or the death of a spouse or significant other, is to get very involved in activities you love. For example, I play the guitar. I’m not only involved in a local guitar ensemble that plays music in our community every two weeks, but I also belong to a number of internet groups of guitarists and communicate with guitarists, via these forums, all over the world on a daily basis. Great therapy for loneliness.
I highly recommend that retirees with the right experience and gifts look into becoming CASAs: Court Appointed Special Advocates for children who are abused, neglected, abandoned, or in difficult custody situations. You will meet other CASAs and serve the most-desperately needy children as a trained volunteer.
After retiring I moved to Virginia (five years ago). I took a year off to baby-sit the grandkids (boring) but got involved in an Episcopal church’s food pantry, book club, and various programs around town, like the civic league. Then I went back to work part time, being a math teacher this time after 30-something years of teaching English. I have never loved a job so much, and four of my new colleagues and I have become great outside-work friends for the past four years.
My best advice for making new friends after retirement: volunteer and, if you can, get a paid part-time job. Moving to a new area brings lots of new friends.
Get involved in the world of social dancing, which includes contra dancing, traditional square dancing, English country dancing, Irish set dancing, and much, much more. This is not competitive dancing like “Dancing With the Stars” on TV; it’s totally different. Social dancing is the place to meet men and women of all ages (we have a guy in our crowd who’s 85, and a woman who’s 84, plus teenagers and everything in between) who enjoy moving in time to good music. You don’t need to bring your own partner—just happy feet, a smile, and you’ll learn the rest at your own pace while having fun.
Also, learn a new skill, such as bird-watching or a simple sport such as bocce ball. Join a bowling league, or a book club.
Take a class about something you’re curious about at the local library or the Y. Such classes usually aren’t very expensive and run for short periods, and will put you in the midst of people who might also want to make new friends.
If you aren’t already on Facebook, sign up and look for groups that include your present hobbies.
Whatever you do, let folks know that you are interested in expanding your social life, and be prepared to say something along the lines of, “Would anyone like to go out for ice cream afterward?” You have to reach out first, and maybe more than once, but keep on asking!
Don’t be afraid to go to events alone! Go to eat alone in casual restaurants, too. Push yourself out of your comfort zone! I’m a widow, and my social life is wonderful.
I’ve met new people at the ballet, at lectures at the historical society, at programs at the library, at book readings in bookstores, at the theater (matinee), at the local coffee shop….
Be friendly and polite, not overbearing. Be a good listener. Ask people questions ABOUT THEMSELVES. (It’s not about you!) If you and your new acquaintance decide on a follow-up meeting, be flexible and accommodating.
Be generous. Don’t quibble over nickels and dimes. You won’t find every conversation fascinating. That’s OK. Smile. Be patient. Don’t be argumentative and confrontational. Don’t brag and compete. Be kind and thoughtful…and the invitations will come.
I moved to the East Coast from the West Coast for family reasons a number of years ago. Making new friends outside of family members was challenging.
I started taking Road Scholar trips (formerly Elderhostel) both to follow pursuits I enjoy and to be with others with shared interests. On one hiking, biking, and kayaking trip I exchanged emails with others in the group at the end. To my surprise, one woman, who lives about 50 minutes from me, wrote later to find out if I was interested in riding one of the trails in our region. She and I began riding the regional trails on a regular basis, kayaking in some of the area waterways, and going on various group walks and hikes. We have become close friends, and I count myself lucky to have one true friend here, having left all my closest friends behind in the West.
A key benefit of such programs as Road Scholar is the ability to spend a week or so in close contact with people of similar interests, allowing time to get to know fellow travelers more deeply and thus opening the door to continued friendships.
While not for everyone, what worked for us was moving to an over-55 community while it was still in development. In our area of the development there were multiple neighbors who had purchased their homes within the past year and were interested in finding new friends. In addition, the clubhouse has a very active social program—dances and concerts, plus trivia, card games, pool tournaments and much more. Or you can get involved in running the homeowners association.
If you were ever in a sorority or fraternity, join the local alumni chapter, even if it has been many years since you were involved. They will be glad to have you and you will find many people with a common bond and similar values. That’s a nice way to meet people of all ages, which I find refreshing. They might not be my regular friends, but seeing a variety of people makes life more interesting.
Be willing to lead something. Get involved and contribute (a club, volunteer, your homeowners association, etc.). You will meet people you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Don’t sit back and wait because “they” might never discover you.
If you attend church, join a Bible study. Be willing to open up and share: some of my most caring friends were found this way.
Check out Meetup.com. The name of the website may be mildly off-putting, but I can attest to the fact that these groups are a fantastic way to meet people. I joined a group that meets to speak French; several Meetups are set each week, for lunch, coffee, a French movie. I told a friend about Meetup, and she joined a group that goes to independent films.
Groups typically meet in public places, and my experience has been that people are very open. You won’t click with everyone in the group, but you will likely find one or two prospective friends—and the next get-together is set by the group, so it’s easier to get a new friendship rolling.
Eating lunch at the same local place is a good way to meet others in your area. Get there first and ask another regular patron to join you.
See what your local art museum has to offer in the way of classes. This could be the opening for a new hobby as well as a way to meet others. Also there are opportunities for volunteer work at the museums. Exhibit openings offer chances to meet new friends. Our museum often has day trips to other exhibits in larger towns.
A club in town has an “open mic” night every week where local musicians play all kinds of music. The attendees range in age from 5 to 85. The music is almost as varied. I have made a lot of interesting friends and look forward to it every week. As I am not a drinker, yet want to patronize the place, I buy some of the musicians drinks.
I am 72 also. The simple answer is, ENGAGE. And this is how I do it:
—I’m a geriatric-patient mentor for students at the local medical school. It’s a blast.
—I started playing bridge. It has opened new vistas, requiring mental and social interaction.
—I take noncredit classes at the local university: on mathematics, astronomy, the Constitution.
—I attend film-society movies.
—I am finishing my third book, but you can write a letter to the editor, a story, or essay.
—Don’t forget exercise: I swim a mile every day. Choose what you like to do.
Bottom line, don’t become a curmudgeon, whom no one wants to be around. And start having all the fun your kids are having because they don’t have any student loans to pay back. (You paid for their education!)
My idea is a little outside the box, but I think could offer a lot of possibilities if the reader has an open mind. I would suggest going abroad, living abroad or traveling for a while. So, why not find a group that likes to travel—or heck, just go alone. He could rent an apartment for a few months (or a year), and if he likes it could move there permanently. Or, he could join an online community and connect with people in another country who want to learn English, and then do weekly Skype calls. Or go abroad and teach English. If that idea is too bold, I would also suggest moving to another place in the U.S. for a year.
Basically, anything that involves getting OUT OF HIS COMFORT ZONE! He needs to shake it up, try something new and realize the possibilities are endless if you have an open mind.
In answer to the 72-year-old who can’t seem to make friends, we say move to a CCRC right away. Continuing Care Retirement Communities (also called Life Plan Communities) provide all the levels of care so that a resident knows that he/she will never have to move again. Because of this permanency, all the residents are interested in making new friends because they are assured they will be lifelong friends.
And don’t say, “I’m too young to live there.” That’s like saying, “I’m too young to go on vacation.” or “I’m too young to stay in a resort.” CCRC life is the most fun you’ve ever had. As soon as I turned 62 (the minimum age) we moved into our own cottage in an incredibly lovely parklike CCRC with breathtaking views, and we never regretted it for a moment. Here, we have over 100 activities/clubs/groups for our 1,000 residents—everything from the standard tennis, golf, bridge and bocce, to the pool, the gyms, the art studio, the jewelry-making workshop, the play-reading group, the wood shop, the chorus, the band, the weavers, the hiking/biking groups, the gardeners, the ham-radio operators. You name it, we’ve got it. And, if we don’t have it, there’s always support for you to start your own new group.
When you are in any group here, you always make new friends because you are sharing interests and learning together how to enjoy your new lifestyle. Also, it’s so easy to entertain: ask your new friends to drop by for a glass of wine or a cup of tea and then take free campus transportation to all go up and dine together in one of several dining venues. No cooking, no dishes. Or arrange to go together to the many evening entertainments on campus.
We are quiet people, introverts you could say, and we have made countless good friends here. You can’t fail to do the same.
Your reader may want to join a men’s breakfast group. Asking friends about these groups is quite easy. If he doesn’t find an established group that he can fit into…start one.
You don’t have to be choosy. Try to interest three or four other men to join him once a week for breakfast. It is amazing how many men relish this activity. Soon the initial small group will expand as each member asks new people to join. It is not important that new members may be a stranger to some. Everyone will get to know one another over a short time.
I am in a group that numbers 21 men. In the summer we often have 17-18 for breakfast, always in a familiar restaurant. Winter numbers shrink to sometimes only to three or four due to snowbirds fleeing to Florida. Several of us socialize at other times now that we’ve made friends with each other. It has become a tremendous way to meet new people in a no-stress atmosphere.
We have about five or six restaurants we rotate to. The waitresses get to know us and each week we decide which place for the next week and someone gives them a heads-up so it isn’t a surprise when a horde descends upon them. We meet every Wednesday at 8 a.m. and order at 8:30. This gives stragglers time to get there and still order at the same time. One of our members keeps a spreadsheet of names, email address, phone, home address, spouse, etc., which makes contacting each other simple.
—Relocate to a target-rich environment. By this I mean moving to a place where there are a lot of people at the same stage of life. This can be as simple as moving to a Del Webb-like community or some other retiree-dense community.
—Underinvest in housing. Unless money is no constraint, there is no reason to own a 4,000-square-foot pocket mansion. This leaves more assets to produce cash flow to go out and do fun stuff.
—Get a significant other: Your chances of meeting another couple with similar interests doubles. In addition, almost everything we do is couples-based. There are a few exceptions where singles join in, but it is rare.
—Print up some calling cards and distribute them to everyone you meet. It may be old-fashioned, but it leaves a tangible reminder with the person you met that they should reconnect with you. Put something clever on the back of the card: your picture, your interests, etc.
—Play offense. Don’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Pick up the phone and contact other people you met to plan an outing. Initiate contact. This can be as simple as dinner at your house or as complex as a backpacking trip to a national park.
—Host at least one charitable function every year. Buy a table at the local hospital/Boy Scouts/symphony fundraiser and invite people you have met and want to get to know better. That act of kindness and generosity is remembered and reciprocal invitations will follow.
—Find an endeavor that will keep you in contact with millennials. As frustrating as they may be, they are a curious and entertaining breed. You will learn something from them and they will benefit from your experience, as well. It will give you hope that the situation is not as dire as the news portrays.
—Don't allow yourself to become a couch potato. Get involved in a group activity: bridge, golf, hiking, biking, etc. More than one is better.
Although this isn’t the answer for everyone, if you like cars, if you like to have fun, and if you like to make new friends, then buy a new or used Mazda Miata and join one of the many Miata car clubs around the country.
I did this 10 years ago and have made carloads of new best friends. Our club has dinners, drives, lunch runs, trips and more. No mechanical expertise, racing experience or large bankroll required…just a smile!
Organize a high-school reunion or attend a college reunion. Once you’ve attended one of these events, keep in touch with people whose company you particularly enjoyed. I chaired my high-school reunion last July, and last month attended an all-class reunion of my high school. Our class (1970) was the youngest group of people there. One of the men from the class of 1967 asked me out on a date for that very evening. Now, some of us are planning to go to a swing-dancing evening near our old high school.
Reach out to relatives you don’t often see. Meet them for lunch or dinner. Plan a family reunion. If it’s too hard to do it in your own home, choose a centrally located restaurant and plan a luncheon. Later this month, I’m having a two-day “cousins” reunion at my house. Saturday will be my mother’s side of the family and Sunday will be my dad’s side. Both of my sisters are flying in for the weekend and we are also going to squeeze in a mini “surprise” baby shower for my daughter who is due Dec. 7.
Get a dog and walk it in your neighborhood or at a local park. Smile and chat with passersby. One of my best friends is a woman I met about 17 years ago when our dogs were puppies. We were in the habit of walking a nearby lake at 7 a.m. each day, and we just began walking together. The dogs are now gone, but our friendship has endured.
Try everything! Drop anything you don’t enjoy, even if it’s a good cause. You will only enjoy the people who enjoy the same things you do…photography, duplicate bridge, painting, a writers club, dancing, hiking, cooking. Take short courses on anything. Don’t tie yourself down to a semester in history. You’ve just started your treasure hunt.
I recommend a multipronged strategy:
—Learn how to play an instrument. If you don’t already know how, then join a church orchestra or community band. Daily practice, periodic rehearsals, and then performances will keep you engaged with people and exercise your brain. Plus, in churches, you’ll get exposed to many other activities.
—Start writing real letters to everyone. Then for those who reply, go visit them in person. Travel isn’t just leisure, because staying in motion is critical to staying alive.
—Talk to strangers. Take initiative to meet people. But don’t do it in an overbearing way. Just get in the habit, be patient, and see what opens up.
—Start attending church. All you have to do is just sit there. The Divinity will see that you are there and start to work.
My advice is to move to an active adult community. Most states have them and they come in various configurations, but I would suggest one with a full-time activities director.
My partner and I met late in life and had the opposite problem; we had single friends, but no couple friends. We tried the volunteer route, but most volunteer assignments seemed to be task-oriented: you showed up, you completed your task, and went home, so no real relationships formed.
We moved to an active adult community two years ago and have formed close friendships with five other couples and know at least 200 people to call by name. We have a robust singles group, 45 interest groups, a strong fitness/wellness program, and we are self-governing so there are numerous committees to join.
The first year we basically joined everything, but over time we have become more selective. It is really nice having a built-in peer group.
Always carry a small date notebook in your back pocket or purse. When someone suggests doing something in the future, whip out your date notebook and set a date. Yeah, I know: Smartphones do the same thing. But the little notebook seems to work best for getting a commitment.
In most areas of the U.S., there is a need for court mediators. You don't need to be an attorney, and in most cases you can become one quickly and without a large investment. In many jurisdictions, these positions are paid.
My mediation experience also helped me win a small-claims case worth several thousand dollars against an insurance company. Frankly, without the experience I received as a mediator, I would not have initiated the lawsuit.
If you have business experience, SCORE, a nationwide nonprofit organization that counsels America’s small-business owners, is always looking for volunteers. Many SCORE volunteers are still in the workforce, and you will make many useful contacts that can result in paid employment opportunities. If you wish, you can make formal presentations to business owners on various related subjects. This experience can lead to job opportunities at local colleges as well.
You can volunteer for a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). These exist in every state and assist the general public with Medicare and Medicaid issues. The training you receive and the experience you gain will assist you with your own insurance issues.
One significant advantage of volunteering is that you greatly expand your contacts, which can result in leads to employment opportunities. I have found that the individuals who stay the busiest in retirement, whether it involves part-time work or volunteering, are among the most satisfied with their lives.
We moved to Florida recently and were looking to make new friends. We discovered the sport of pickleball at our local park and found the game to be fun, challenging and the most social game we’ve ever played.
Actually it’s intended to be a social game as, at most courts, you simply show up and you are paired in a group of four to play a match. The next matches you play with different folks throughout the day. There is lots of time to talk and get to know people who were complete strangers just earlier in the day.
I would suggest checking local parks, tennis clubs and community centers to see if they offer drop-in pickleball play. Oh by the way: The cost is generally $3 to play for 3 hours!!
This may sound like an off-the-wall suggestion, but it is a completely sincere “plug” for joining your local mushroom club. Mushrooms appeal to a wide variety of interests: walking in the woods, scientific study, photography, cooking, or just attending presentations and classes. I highly recommend it.
For a list of mushroom clubs, go to: http://www.namyco.org/clubs.php
In retirement, I have found these things to work:
—Be a good friend and others will enjoy being with you. No gossip, bad-mouthing of others, including spouses, daughters-in-law.
—No “organ recitals.” (That’s what my mom called it when people talked about their body parts, pills, doctor appointments and surgeries.)
—Stay healthy and you will attract healthy friends. This includes physically (work out at the gym or walk daily), emotionally (don’t be a heavy drinker or use other drugs), mentally (read a lot, go to lectures, take classes, play an instrument, etc.) and spiritually (get involved in church, help others in some way each day).
—Don’t cling. If someone doesn’t return your call, that’s their answer.
—Conversation starters. I have met people at the recreation center by wearing a T-shirt that had my college sorority letters on it, or St. Francis, KS, on it. People ask about a T-shirt. I never wear a political T-shirt, or anything controversial.
—Carrying my violin is always a conversation starter. I met a retired couple on the shuttle at Denver International Airport last month who live in the Denver area and are musicians. We had a great 10-minute visit and have seen them here at a concert since we all got back.
—Gather one friend at a time. Be gentle. Smile. Make one comment, then wait and see if they respond. Don’t dominate the conversation. Don’t expect them to be a best friend. Invite them to something you both enjoy, and limit the time.
—Pay your own way. If someone else drives, be generous and pay for gas or pay for his or her lunch. Don’t mooch.
—I keep lots of friends by trying to help everyone to have a good time. My mother taught me this. She was a “friend keeper” through letters and phone calls.