The fact of the matter is that as we age our social circles shrink.
When we’re in our childhood, it’s easy to make friends – there’s school, extracurricular activities, and sports. But when we reach our thirties, it becomes difficult to form friendships. And it only gets more challenging from there.
According to a 2013 study from the Psychological Bulletin, friendship networks peak in your twenties and slowly start to decrease as you age.
But this all makes sense, right? After all, as we grow older, we experience different life stages. Marriage, parenthood, and relocation can disrupt our social circles, and we begin to place more importance on our closest relationships – kids, spouses, and longtime best friends. While allocating all of our time to important relationships creates more meaning in our lives, it also takes away from our ability and desire to spend time making new friends.
Now, what if we told you that all of your closest relationships probably won’t last a lifetime? In fact, 50% of your relationships won’t last more than 7 years. According to a study from the University of Netherlands, we lose half of our friends every seven years and form new relationships as replacements.
Unfortunately, in our fifties and beyond, finding replacements isn’t so easy. Perhaps we have gone through divorce, our kids have moved out, we have moved to a new city, and so on. These life transitions not only shrink our social circles, but also leave us in situations that are unlikely to present new friends to us. In adulthood, we have to actively seek new friends – they aren’t so available as they were to us when we were children.
Surely you are aware of the benefits of friendship, but the consequences of having too few of friends may surprise you. Researchers have found that loneliness can increase one’s chances of premature death by 14% and significantly increase one’s risk for cognitive decline. A study conducted by Brigham Young University found that those who had very few friends had a mortality risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day (a higher risk than obesity!).
Senior research psychologist Robert Epstein of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology says that adults find it difficult to establish meaningful friendships. However, he notes that it is not so difficult if you know what to do.
Well, what do we do?
1. Join groups that meet regularly
In our childhood, we are consistent: we go to school, play with the neighbors, go home for supper, and repeat the next day. During adulthood, this consistency rarely exists.
Many times, we are running from place to place and working late into the evenings.
Unfortunately, inconsistency in our daily lives leads to inconsistency with our friendships.
Author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen, Shasta Nelson, writes that joining a group that meets on a regular basis provides consistency, allowing us to have consistent relationships. She says it’s as simple as going to a book club, attending group workshops, joining a sports league, even taking a cooking class.
Find the things you’re most interested in and join a group or class related to the topic; this lets you meet up with like-minded adults.
However, Nelson notes that simply attending a class will not provide you with lasting friends. Most people forget to step outside of the “container”, as she calls it. Bonding over your favorite activities on a regular basis simply provides the context for finding the right friendships; but to make them last, we must initiate the friendships outside of the class or group setting.
Nelson recommends to start by inviting your colleagues or fellow classmates out to lunch, to a sporting event, or to a potluck party. By practicing doing other things outside of the “container”, you will begin to bond on a more personal level and “glue more pieces of your lives to each other”. According to Nelson, it takes close to six to eight experiences with a person to form a lasting friendship.
2. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new
What is this “comfort zone” we all speak of? And why is it so hard to get out of?
Many times, as we age we can get stuck in a “comfort zone” without even knowing it. This zone consists of all the things that are normal in our life, that we are comfortable with doing – we go to the grocery store, go to the local café, walk our dog in the park, and make the occasional visit to the shopping mall. But getting out and about doesn’t always mean we’re getting out of the “comfort zone”.
In fact, we are all comfortable with different activities, depending on our lifestyles. The key is doing something we normally wouldn’t, something that frightens us a little – a part-time job at the hospital, a volunteer opportunity, a conference in a new setting, salsa dancing classes, a ski trip.
Epstein says that vulnerable situations “make people feel needy and provide occasions for other people to provide comfort and support.” In particularly vulnerable experiences, people bond on a deep emotional level, which makes for the most trustworthy, lasting friends.
Yes, such situations for making new friends are not always easily presented to us during adulthood; we have to go find them. We have to seek adventure.
Now, seeking adventure doesn’t mean you have to climb Mount Everest. Just breaking out of your confined social circle and expanding your horizons will lead to greater opportunities for meaningful friendships.
On Stitch.net, you can find like-minded adults in your area who have the same interests as you. Just set up a profile and start connecting with other members while bonding over similar interests and activities.
Meetup.com is also a great avenue for making friends, because it offers a range of local groups and clubs that you can join; you then can attend events that they host in your area.
These websites will give you the chances you need to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.