Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I would like to understand how people make new friends when they are in their mid-50s. Where are they going, or what activities are they doing, to make and keep interesting friends? What’s the secret I have not learned? I believe I am flexible, adventurous, a good listener, creative, outgoing and fun. I am interested in their lives. I want to know: Why they chose the field they are in? Why they live in this area? What are their hobbies? Are politics important to them? What types of food do they like? I do not ask all these questions at once but over time to show interest in their lives.
At the gym, people seem to be with people they know or working out by themselves. On group hikes, I have found people are with people they already know and do not seem to be interesting in adding to their circle of friends.
Carolyn says: The older I get and the more relocations I have behind me, the more I believe habit is the key ingredient. Go to the same things in the same general time window and stick with it. Obviously you need to choose the right thing, which might involve some trial and error; if it’s a place where everyone’s using earbuds, then you’ll never break through. But if you choose conversation-friendly group activities that meet daily/weekly/whatever and involve some kind of shared leisure, entertainment, work and/or values, and then be patient (asterisk), you’re giving yourself the best chance you’ve got.
There’s a reason work and school are where so many people make friends: You’re there day in, day out, over months and years, with a shared purpose. So those are the conditions to try to re-create.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work — I don’t know if some places are just unfriendly or there are times when the stars don’t align right. But it takes commitment and reminders to self that just about everyone finds this tough.
Join an amateur performing arts group. Best way to create intimacy is to be vulnerable with people, and nothing makes you more vulnerable than singing or dancing or acting in public. No talent? Be backstage. There are a lot of people depending on you to hand them a prop or set up the microphone. And there is always a decent chance they might want to see a play or other performance with you.
We relocated two years ago. After trying everything we could think of, our best results came from the group we saw every Saturday morning at the dog park.
We retired in our 60s three years ago to an area where we knew very few people. We now have lots of friends via the dog park and (for me) playing duplicate bridge regularly and taking a writing class. Carolyn’s right; it’s all down to regular no-pressure contact.
Don’t try too hard with people. Overeagerness is often a turnoff and can come across as needy.
Carolyn says: That’s the “Quick, don’t think about cheesecake!” of advice, but, yes — it’s also correct. Thanks, everybody.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.