Join a group—it’s probably the most common piece of advice you’ll hear if you’re looking to make friends at any age, but especially later in life. Maybe your children have long grown up and moved away, and no longer dictate the activities in your life, or you’ve lost a friend or spouse and discover your network isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe you’re the one who has moved—for a job, or retirement, or to be closer to your adult children—and left your friends across the country.
“I think I’m a really good example of this,” said Kristi Cannon, 59. “Just in the last 10 years, I have moved five times.”
“Whenever you’re in that new area, that first year, it’s really challenging to meet people because you don’t have any kind of a network at all,” Cannon said. But she has a plan for making good friends by year two: “You just have to get really involved.”
Cannon said it’s easy to give into thoughts of being too busy, or not wanting to go to events so it’s important to realize that making friends at this stage of life takes some conscious effort. The payoff is worth it.
“Because I’ve lived so many places, I’ve always found that I’m the happiest when I have a set of friends around me,” Cannon said.
Cannon, who now lives in Colorado, is involved in her community and organizes networking events at the chamber of commerce. She is also busy hosting a large group through Meetup, an online platform used to organize in-person activities.
Meetup, as Cannon can attest to, has become an easy way to find activities and events to join in your area. There is even a Making Friends When You’re Over Fifty section on the site that lists plenty of groups where people with similar life experience are specifically looking to make friends.
Something for Everyone
The sizes and styles of these groups run the gamut. Cannon has taken over a group in Fort Collins that has grown to over 700 members, and she’s found that what’s key with such a large group is to always have something going on and keeping events varied.
Recent events include a Kentucky Derby party, kayaking, a get-together to make kits for the homeless, happy hour, and a meeting to discuss goal-setting for the year.
Attendance varies, but if something garners no interest, she’ll make a note to not repeat the event.
“I put on a 5K run one time in Fort Collins, I had no one sign up for that,” Cannon said. “So if we find that we schedule something and we don’t get anybody wanting to do it, we don’t do it again.”
Cannon said it’s important that it feels like there is always activity in the group, so anyone checking at any time might find something they are interested in joining.
“I think the biggest challenge for new people is that they’re often just afraid to show up, they’re afraid they’re going to walk into something where everybody knows everybody and no one talks to them,” she said.
Cannon always tries to have new people feel welcome and is cognizant about not having cliques form at the events. The point of this Meetup group is to meet new people, so plenty of people have made new friends at activities they’ve enjoyed, and gone on to meet outside the event.
“The goal is people join, they get together to connect with people,” Cannon said. “And then that splinters off into other subgroups of people.”
She said you might be surprised how open people are, because they are trying to connect.
At their recent conversation about goal-setting for 2019, Cannon was shocked at how candid people were.
“You have several people sitting around the table that don’t know each other very well and talking about a lot of personal, intimate things that they want to change in their life,” Cannon said. “It just floored me. People are so transparent and so open and trusting.”
“It just goes to show that when you’re in an environment where people do want to open up and build relationships, they’re open-hearted,” she said.
Monique Giroux in New York created a Meetup group for women over 50 only about a half-year ago, after reading a New York Times article about a similar group formed in LA in 2015 that had tremendous success. It introduced plenty of people to Meetup who hadn’t heard of it before.
Giroux’s group seemed to be a tremendous success as well. Within the first 12 hours, she had 200 members. It’s since more than doubled in size.
“It’s a very casual way of meeting lots of people in the 50-plus age group,” Giroux said.
In a dense city like New York, there are several Meetup groups even within the Making Friends When You’re Over 50 section. If there isn’t already a group in your area that is to your taste, Giroux encourages people to start their own.
“It’s very fun, it’s very easy to run,” she said. In her group, anyone can suggest an event. The challenge comes with finding a big enough venue. “I can put up a meetup and within five or 10 minutes it’s full.”
Another thing she has learned is to mind the dropoff rate. With events where people have to buy tickets in advance, you usually don’t have to worry.
But sometimes it’s worth charging a small fee up front, or making a rule that membership is revoked after a certain number of cancellations.
Like Cannon, she said it is important to be a good host.
At her very first meetup, she said, “I was almost too excited … so I left early—and I got a bad review!” She said you really do need to be the host for at least the first couple of events, and then you can have organizers take on that load as well.
A More Personal Group
Kathy Carter runs several groups in Michigan. The main group is just 50 people, but at least half of the members are incredibly involved and attend nearly every event.
“I left my friends all back in Connecticut when I moved here,” Carter said. “So I came to Ann Arbor without knowing a soul except for my son.”
Her son was actually the one to suggest Meetup, which she had never used before, and she picked three groups to try out. One of the first, a book club, ended up not being a good fit, but Carter made a lifelong friend with someone who, incidentally, also moved on to a different group.
But the one that really worked out was a breakfast group, which Carter has since taken over after the first host moved away to be closer to her children and new grandchild.
“Ultimately, from there, we spun off another group called Golden Gals, for more nighttime and weekend stuff,” Carter said.
Some meetups are more about the activities, Carter explained, though of course people might stay in touch afterward. But her group is specifically about building friendships with the people within the group.
“It’s more an intimate group,” Carter said. The daytime group meets for one or two breakfasts or lunches a week. The nighttime group meets four times a month—sometimes it’s a class, or a dinner out, or a meetup at someone’s home.
“I think if you’re trying to make friendships, you need to do at least one or two home events. Because that’s when you can really talk right, you have more time to chat with people,” Carter said. Early on, Carter had organized a dinner at her home on a whim, and the event was popular and a great success. Since then, people have hosted events at their homes regularly.
Carter suggests making an effort to try out different groups, and attending several events in a group before you can say for sure whether it is a good fit.
The more intimate groups she’s chosen have spun off into friendships and activities that take place outside Meetup as well, from vacations to hobbies like kayaking.
“When I first went to the first meeting of Breakfast Buddies, I felt very welcomed, you know, I felt like people were interested in seeing me join, and they were interested in who I was,” Carter said. “And so, I make it a point, as do the other people that help schedule events for me, of really talking to anybody new who comes in, and including them in conversation.”
“It’s important to try to get involved in the conversation. I think, if you don’t, then you’re going to feel like you didn’t get what you wanted to get out of it,” Carter said. “You’re not going to feel like you had a good time if you’re not participating in the conversation. So if you’re new to a group, you’ve got to try to find common ground.”