If you are shy and over 50, you already know that making new friends doesn’t come easily. Not only have you probably spent most of your life finding it difficult to make new friends in the first place, you’ve reached an age where most people start to find their social circles start to shrink.
Talk about a bad combination!
There are many reasons to find yourself lonely once you start to get older. Quite apart from the usual suspects (divorce; death or illness of a friend or partner; relocation), once we reach a certain age, we no longer have the benefit of being automatically exposed to potential new friends because of our stage of life.
When we were studying, we met friends at school and university.
When we started working, we met friends through each new job we took.
When we had kids, we met new friends through mothers’ groups, school, and kids activities.
But once kids leave home, you suddenly find you won’t meet new friends unless you actually do something to make it happen – you can no longer rely on life sending new companions your way.
That’s hard enough if you’re an extrovert – if you’re naturally shy then it is ten times harder.
The good news is that you’ve got lots of company: almost half of all adults identify themselves as being shy. And even better, there are a number of things you can do to take the stress out of making new friends and give you the social connections you need.
I’ve spoken to literally thousands of Stitch members over the last couple of years, many of them extremely shy. After observing what has, and hasn’t, worked for them in their search for companionship, here are 9 recommended steps for making new friends for anyone shy over 50:
1. Understand your shyness
Like most things in life, the most important first step starts with understanding yourself. In this case, that means facing up to what you even mean when you say you are “shy”.
Most people who admit to feeling shy are surprised when they hear that almost half of all adults feel the same way. The very feeling of shyness makes it feel as if you are the only one experiencing it … the only one feeling awkward at a party when everyone else seems to be having a good time.
But the reality is that 40-45% of everyone you know is feeling the same way.
Many people who feel shy are actually experiencing what psychologists would say is normal anxiety in new social environments, but don’t understand that this is normal. And as a result, they have never learned to some of the coping mechanisms which help in these situations.
The internet contains lots of really useful resources for people seeking to understand and overcome their shyness. Check them out, learn a little about where you sit on the shyness spectrum, and understand why you react in certain ways to particular social environments.
You’ll discover, for example, that shy individuals are more likely to have higher activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which results in them being more reactive and attentive to the details of a social situation. That means their brains can over-react to what’s happening and stress them out!
Understanding how you react in these situations is important, as you can learn the type of environment that works best for you. Shy people sometimes think the best approach is to get out and socialize at parties, but when they find this doesn’t work for them it just leads to more isolation and more avoidance.
A good understanding of why your brain responds in a certain way will help you choose the right environment for making friends in the steps below.
2. Admit you are lonely
The terms “shy” and “introverted” are often used interchangeably, but research actually differentiates between the two.
Introverts prefer solitary to social activities, but aren’t concerned about social encounters the way shy people do. At a party, an introvert might be standing on their own because they want to. A shy person will be doing so because they feel they have to be.
I’ve met lots of shy people who have tried to convince themselves they are more of an introvert, that they are happy being alone. Once they open up to me, however, they will admit they are desperately lonely.
This is always one of the most important steps towards finding companionship. Kidding yourself that you are happy alone may seem fine as a coping mechanism, but it actually gets in the way of your happiness.
The more you try to convince yourself that you’re not lonely, the more of an excuse you have for staying at home, not making a change, not doing anything about your situation.
And not making new friends.
First, admit to yourself that you’re lonely. And if you can manage it, tell someone else! Doing so is extremely cathartic, powerful, and motivating.
This can be someone you know, or it can be to someone online. Many of our Stitch members use the Stitch forums to tell other Stitch members – complete strangers at first – how lonely they feel, and it’s amazing to see how often this alone is the catalyst for great things to happen.
3. Broaden your thinking
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve met one of our members who came in with a very narrow, well-defined idea of what type of companion they were looking for, and only found success when they broadened their thinking and ditched their pre-conceived notions of what type of friendship.
The reality is that companionship comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and things get even more diverse once you’re past 50.
I’ve seen members of Stitch form close friendships with people who don’t at all fit their idea of what they were originally looking for. They might be 20 years apart in age, live on the other side of the world, aren’t the gender they were looking for, are the wrong political persuasion, you name it … the message is, life is too short to reject a potential friend because you’ve got a preconceived idea of what they should be like!
We’ve talked about this before when it comes to romance, but it’s equally true of friendship as well.
4. Become a joiner
You’ve probably been given this advice many times already, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Joining in to activities around things you are interested in is one of the best ways to make new friends.
If you’re shy, however, this can seem like bad advice. Many shy people will say “I don’t do groups”, and ignore this recommendation because they are picturing the sorts of social environments they haven’t enjoyed in the past.
But if you keep reading you’ll see that the type of group you join has a big impact on whether they end up being successful for you.
If you go in with the right approach, you’ll find that joining in activities around your interests will work for you no matter how shy you feel.
This is why activities and interests are such a big part of the Stitch community: there is really no better way to get people to meet like-minded companions. Whether it’s Stitch or some other community, get started and join in today!
5. Look for acquaintances first
Best friends don’t suddenly materialize the first time you meet. Think about it: most of the best friends you’ve had were people you had to get to know first. Sometimes it took months before you were close; sometimes it took years!
Looking for a deep friendship from the get-go is a sure-fire way to be disappointed. Real friendship takes time, so set yourself some realistic goals at first.
In fact, if you just remind yourself that you’re just seeking to make “acquaintances” first, you’ll give yourself a much greater chance of success.
And if you persist in doing things together regularly, you’ll start to find the barriers to friendship start to slip away. With some people, you will discover that this means you’re destined to be nothing more than acquaintances. But for some, with enough patience, openness and honesty, you’ll discover the deep and lasting friendship you were looking for.
6. Discover your inner leader
It may seem strange to recommend being a leader to anyone who feels like an introvert, but this is actually one of the most important steps in this entire list.
Many introverts assume they should leave the organizing of activities and events to extroverts. After all, those crazy extroverts love meeting new people, they’re always organizing parties!
But that’s exactly the problem: extroverts will organize the sorts of activities that they enjoy. That will mean the sort of events that shy people really struggle with, such as large groups, big social gatherings, and so on.
Not only are these the sort of events that you (as a shy person) don’t enjoy, they also don’t necessarily attract the sort of people you are hoping to meet.
The reality is that most shy people will be much happier meeting cool, interesting friends in a low-key environment, centered around things that interest them.
Most of these potential friends feel exactly the same way you do about big social events, which means you are lowering your chances of ever meeting them if you just leave the organizing to the extroverts.
When I talk about being a leader here, you don’t need to picture suddenly becoming an extroverted activity organizer. You just need to feel comfortable suggesting the sort of low-key activity that you would enjoy. There are plenty of other people like you out there – remember that 40-45% of people feel just like you!
If you’re not comfortable suggesting or organizing an activity in your community, then why not try volunteering? Donating your time to a worthwhile cause is actually a great way to meet like-minded people, without the social pressure of feeling you need to make small talk or impress anyone in a social environment.
You will often meet very interesting people who care about the same things as you.
And if not, then you’ve at least got the satisfaction of having done something good for the world!
If you can afford to travel, then going on a trip with other people with similar interests is a great way to make new companions. This is actually one of the reasons we made travel such a major part of Stitch: most of our members tell us that the one thing they would love to do but don’t have anyone to do it with is travel.
There are plenty of group travel options available these days, ranging from adventure tours to luxury cruises, all with an element of getting you to meet your fellow travellers. There is no better way to start a new friendship than to experience something unique with them.
If you’re shy then you’d be best to choose some of the companies which cater to smaller groups, and ensure that everyone on the trip gets the right amount of “breathing space”.
9. Join Stitch
It’s only natural that I had to include this one, of course: if you’re over 50 and looking to make new friends, then you really should join Stitch. We’ve built a community whose sole purpose is to help anyone over 50 find the companionship they need.
That’s why Stitch includes so many of the items I’ve listed out above. Travel, volunteering, activity suggestions, interests, groups of all sizes. Some of the activities and events on Stitch are great for extroverts, but the best thing about the community is how it caters for the other half of the population too. If you’re even remotely shy, Stitch is a safe, welcoming community and a great place to start your search for new friends.
Come join us today!