How to Make and Keep Friends in Retirement
Dear Rich Lifer,
According to Harvard University, a lack of strong relationships increases your risk of premature death from all causes by 50%.
That’s the same mortality risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
You’ve probably heard, or even seen, some friends go through what researchers like to call the “Triple Whammy.”
This happens when your kids move out of the house, you retire — cutting ties with most of your work friends, and your spouse passes away — typically in later years.
These three great losses usually occur in a short enough span of time that it leaves many seniors reeling in isolation.
While the common advice like go volunteer, adopt a pet, or move to a retirement community (where there are activities planned every hour of every day to keep you busy) are fine — I think we can do better.
The Science Behind Friendships
If you really want to avoid loneliness and feeling isolated in retirement, you need to learn how to make and keep the friends you have.
According to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, it takes 94 hours when acquaintances become casual friends, 164 hours when casual friends become friends, and 219 hours when friends become good/best friends. With numbers like that, it’s surprising we even have friends at all!
Boiling relationships down into science and numbers may seem a bit cold and academic, but the lesson learned is that it takes time to build lasting friendships.
Another surprising statistic is that within seven years, half of your close friends will disappear.
A study by a Dutch sociologist who tracked about a thousand people of all ages found that on average, we lose half of our close network members every seven years.
Imagine your phone contact list gets cut in half nearly every decade.
The good news is you can keep the friends you have now if you put in a little effort.
Here’s what you need to do according to the book Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are.
Make Time for Your Friends
The most common issue friends fight over is not making enough time for one another.
Arizona State researcher, Daniel Hruschka reviewed studies on the causes of conflict in friendship and found that the most common friendship fights boil down to time commitments.
“Spending time with someone is a sure indicator that you value him; no one likes to feel undervalued.”
Do Things Together
This should be obvious but simply getting out of the house and doing things with other people is an easy way to make and keep the friends you have.
Meliksah Demir, Ph.D., a professor at Northern Arizona University, found exactly what about friendship warms our hearts. It turns out that companionship — doing things together — is the component of friendship that most makes us happy.
And the reason friends make us happy, Demir has concluded, is that they make us feel that we matter.
Have you noticed a trend yet?
Being friends is less about your personality and more about your presence.
About 50 years ago, researchers came up with the “proximity theory” of friendship — that we befriend people who live geographically close to us or who frequently cross our path because they go to our school, grocery store, office, or favorite diner.
Proximity, first and foremost, grants easy opportunities to meet. But also, familiarity breeds positivity. Called the “mere-exposure effect,” it’s a phenomenon that is widely documented: Just seeing someone over and over can make you like him or her more.
“If you’re not willing to be bored sometimes, you can’t have friends.”
In the book Friendfluence, they offer some interesting advice on patience within friendships:
“Sometimes friends are going to drone on about their mother or something that you don’t quite care about. But it’s not just about what they can do for you, it’s a deeper thing. You can’t expect to always be entertained, or to always feel like everything is one hundred percent reciprocal.”
The author says, “I’m willing to invite someone to dinner ten times and never see their house, because if you get into the cycle of pettiness, you won’t end up having any friends.”
Having social skills means adapting to your environment, not stubbornly “being who you are.”
Children who are natural social stars present themselves successfully to others by putting on somewhat different faces for different audiences.They understand when to put on which face, without ever appearing shallow or false to others and without feeling like fakes or frauds.
In short, these are children who are sensitive and responsive to social cues.
This is the child who knows how to work the room with jokes or dance moves at her own birthday party with her adoring relatives, but who also knows how to hang back and let a friend shine at his birthday party.
This one’s important: Support the person’s view of themselves and make them feel good about their pursuits.
From the book: “Best friends don’t have to share an identity per se, but they do need to support the other’s view of himself and make each other feel great about their pursuits.”
Researchers asked a group of college freshmen about their close friends and used questionnaires to determine whether they received social identity support from them. They followed up five years later, when the students had graduated and moved off campus.
Social identity support didn’t predict whether the friendships generally endured, but it did predict whether or not one of the friends turned into a best friend.
Part of maintaining a close friendship is supporting someone’s identity as it inevitably shifts over time.
One Final Word
The research isn’t going to change — a lack of friends leads to loneliness and major health problems later in life. If you want to avoid isolation and keep the friends you have, start by following these six science-backed tips today.
If you haven’t checked in an old friend in a while, take a few minutes and call them today. Use some of the tips that you are now equipped with, and rekindle the friendships that brought you joy in the past.
To a richer life,