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Making New Friends

December 15, 2017 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Need a new friend? Each of us does after we reach age 50-plus as our long-time or even relatively newer friends get busy, become ill, perhaps move away to retire or be closer geographically to their children and grandkids. Although it’s easier to maintain contact with friends in faraway places in today’s virtual world, there’s no substitute for human contact.  

Friends come and go. Losing friends for whatever reason has happened to each of us multiple times. Some friendships are casual or even temporary; coming and going like a stomach cramp. Others are long-term. But we’re each always open to new friendships. 

How do we make them?  In different ways. 

Like a good marriage, it requires some work—getting off the couch and getting out. Sometimes, we get lucky and meet a friend of a friend we think we can connect with, or maybe we’re in a class and over a few sessions we realize how easily the conversation flows. One of us was in a grief support group that provided numerous entries to new friendships based on a common core—each of us had lost a spouse to death. One of us is now in a class to learn more about our religion and that is opening the door to new potential friendships. One of us also paid a “house call” to a friend of a friend who was ailing from a similar injury and needed moral support; time will tell if that visit leads to a friendship beyond phone calls and emails to check in. 

When we seem to want a deeper connection, we’ve found a good tactic is to make a date to get together for coffee, wine, a movie or lunch, perhaps, including the person who connected us if there was a third party. Maybe you meet someone you start schmoozing with in a Pilates or art class and you get a bit bold suggesting, “Hey, let’s get together outside of class.” 

Possibly, the other person will agree quickly or be a bit indecisive saying: “May I get back to you after I check my calendar” or even say “no” outright with a response like, “I’m just too busy at this time.” It’s hard not to take this response personally, but the person may honestly be too busy at this point in their lives or may just not feel the same connection you do. 

If you do get together, be cognizant that new friendships taken slowly work out so much better in the long run than new ones that become intense quickly and then may burst like a balloon. It can be too much hot air and not enough good karma to sustain it, most likely.                                     

After making new friends post divorce and death or even as a single or part of a couple, we’ve learned it’s wise to follow certain steps, which can make all the difference in the world: 

  1. Take the pulse of the relationship at each get-together and even in between. Do you both seem to enjoy each other’s company more each time and each want to make plans for another round or are you the only one trying to forge ahead and are getting winded doing so?
  2. Pay attention to the degree of friendship over time. Do conversations become easier and more meaningful and deeper or do they stay at a superficial level.
  3. How you feel about getting together? Like any date, do you look forward to or start to dread get-togethers and even dread the phone calls or emails to make arrangements? Does the person only talk about herself? Is she critical? Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells when you meet?
  4. How often are you getting together—regularly or sporadically? That says something, too, about how satisfying—or not—it may be.
  5. Also, make a mental note about how you see this person in the scheme of all your friendships—as an occasional contact, as someone you can imagine becoming closer to, or someone you feel such a connection to that you want to introduce the person to others? 

It’s fine to pull away from a new or relatively new friendship, and there are many ways to do this gently and kindly. You can feign being busy and become less available. If the person persists and if you don’t want to hurt their feelings, you can do what some call “ghosting” and disappear. 

Don’t like that approach, then you may consider being more honest and say kindly, “I don’t think we quite mesh.” Of course, that becomes awkward if you still run into teach other at that Pilates studio or if you’re going to be in the company together of the person who introduced you. Think long and hard before taking this route. 

Keep in mind that making a new friend, especially at our advanced ages, represents a risk and makes us vulnerable. Sometimes, it will work out splendidly. Both of us know as we age that it’s important to cultivate younger friends. 

Truth be told, making new friends is similar to trying anything new. Sometimes it works out and fits into our lives long-term or for many years, and some things we try simply don’t! Rule of thumb: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.




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