How to make and maintain friendships at any age
Live your life
. . . in your 20s
People in their 20s often complain that it’s hard to make friends after college, but it isn’t. Not really. Many of the same conditions that applied during your college years are likely to persist throughout most of your 20s. Namely, you and many of your peers are at the same stage in your lives and moving along the same general path—at least for a little while loanger.
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Instead of worrying about finals, term papers and whether to change your major, however, you’re worrying about your career, where to live and how to find a relationship that makes sense. Sure, the world you’re navigating now is bigger and more complex than your college campus, but you’re still likely to find that you have a lot in common with most people your age. So just live your life, do the things you enjoy, and remember to smile and speak up when you encounter someone who seems interesting.
-- By Larry West
Meet friends of friends
Blind dates—the practice of having your friends set you up with prospective mates—may be the punch line of dating life, but the people you already know and like are a great resource when it comes to meeting new friends.
You may not become lifelong friends with every person you meet through a mutual friend, but chances are you’ll really like at least a few of the people that your friends find appealing. So extend an invitation to one of your best buds, and encourage her to bring along a friend or two.
. . . in your 30s
Many women find their 30s to be an extremely stressful age, a time when they may marry, start having children or kick their careers into overdrive. Sometimes all three. Yet, ironically, women often react to the stress of their busy lives by reducing their contact with friends, the exact opposite of what they may need.
“Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women,” says Dr. Ruthellen Josselson, co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's Friendships. “We push them right to the back burner. That's really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they're with other women. It's a very healing experience.”
Uncouple as needed
Being a couple and trying to make friends with other couples is like matchmaking on a massive scale. Ultimately, the whole relationship depends on all four people liking each other enough to make it work—and that kind of group chemistry is often hard to find.
That’s not to say that you and your partner shouldn’t befriend other couples; just don’t put all your emotional eggs in that particular basket. You’re more likely to enjoy satisfying friendships if you make friends that you can relate to person-to-person rather than couple-to-couple.
Book play dates
Mothers of young children have a built-in reason to connect with other moms, plus a pretty strong likelihood that their overtures will be welcomed. Kids are a unifying force for mothers of any age, and moms benefit from the person-to-person connection and the opportunity for adult conversation as much as from the advice and empathy they receive from other mothers.
Having kids and sharing the motherhood experience may not be enough common ground on which to build a lasting friendship, but it’s a start. If it turns out after a few visits that you and the other mom don’t have a strong connection, or if you and she adore each other but your kids don’t click, you may have to make adjustments. That’s OK. Not every friendship has to be forever. But don’t overlook this easy opportunity to connect at a time when you may really need a friend.
Look beyond age
. . . in your 40s
Don’t let age be a barrier to friendship. As you mature, choosing friends is less about being the same age and more about having the same values, sharing similar circumstances or liking to do the same things. Having friends who are older and younger than you can enrich your life immeasurably. So let life stage, rather than age, be your guide.
According to Eric Klinenberg, the NYU sociology professor who wrote Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, people who live alone “tend to have active social lives as they age. They are more likely than married people to spend time with friends and neighbors, more likely to volunteer in civic organizations, and more likely to go out at night and spend time in bars, restaurants, cafes and other public places where strangers meet.
“One of the themes of my book is that today life stages are less tightly linked to age,” Klinenberg says. “We move in and out of different experiences, so there are a lot of singles in their 40s who have already raised children as well as married people in their 50s with young kids at home.”
Make friends on the job
People of every age form friendships at work—and with good reason. You spend a lot of time with your coworkers and there is often a shared sense of purpose in working for the same organization. In addition to all the usual benefits of having friends, your work friendships may also help your career.
According to research by The Gallup Organization, close friendships among coworkers boost productivity and profitability, but the benefits are not all on the corporate side. The same research shows that people who have a good friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and that work friendships increase employee satisfaction by nearly 50 percent.
Experts cite some downsides to workplace friendships, such as the bad feelings that may result if one friend is better paid or advances more quickly than the other. But if you and your friend are truly devoted, you should be able to celebrate each other’s successes without reservation.
Fight stress with friendship
When life gets crazy and you feel overwhelmed, you may find yourself wanting to spend more time with friends. Pay attention to that impulse.
A landmark study at UCLA found that women appear to have a larger behavioral repertoire than men in responding to stress. When women experience stress their oxytocin levels increase. So instead of just feeling the standard fight-or-flight response to stress as men do, women feel moved to care for children and gather with other women. According to researchers, when a woman actually follows those urges, more oxytocin is released, which reduces stress even more and produces a calming effect.
Make new friends, but keep the old
Take care to nurture and deepen your existing friendships, even as you continue to make new friends. Close friends can help you weather periods of change with far less turmoil, anxiety and potential heartache than you would experience by going it alone. Life transitions are not limited to any specific age, of course, but they seem to come more frequently during your 50s, 60s and beyond.
Divorce, coping with an empty nest as your kids leave home, retirement, downsizing, becoming grandparents, the death of more friends your own age and, perhaps, a spouse. These and other changes are much easier to face with a few good friends in your corner.
If you think social networking is just for kids, think again. Sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are a great way to stay in touch with friends, including some you may not have seen in years, and to revive old friendships or initiate new ones.
Once you’ve had a chance to chat and get acquainted (or reacquainted) a bit, you can make a date to meet in person with friends who live nearby, or use email, phone calls or video chats to deepen your connection with those who live farther away.