When I moved to New York City from London four years ago, I was confident that I’d have no problem making new friends. After all, it had been a snap when I lived in that city in my 20s. It was easy to find pals to say yes to: “Want to grab a margarita at Tortilla Flats?”
I got married and moved to London at 27, where I lived for the next 30 years. I made deep, lifelong friends through work and my children’s schools. But when I moved back to Manhattan, this time in my late 50s, I discovered that making friends had become a different matter altogether. Women my age were settled in their own meaningful friendships that had evolved over decades. I did, too, though they were in London.
After a few solid months of trying, a gaggle of close New York buddies didn’t materialize as planned. I had to try new tactics. But there was a pandemic, so these tactics would have to be COVID-friendly.
An author friend of mine in London suggested I join an online nonfiction writing class that met every week, and I took her advice. My classmates were between ages 30 and 80. They lived as far afield as Los Angeles and Israel, with stories just as diverse: an Iowa-based woman with muscular dystrophy searching for a medical solution to her rare genetic disease; an octogenarian in Tel Aviv who spent her adult life helping victims of trauma around the world; a reporter; several therapists; and one insurance broker.
While we came from diverse backgrounds and experiences, we thrived on the feedback and support we gave one another. It was really like group therapy, as we specialized in memoir writing. Pretty soon I realized I had made new friends. I just hadn’t met them yet. And may never.
Close relationships deepen if you have repeated interaction and if you can delve deeply into candid and intimate conversations. My weekly Zoom writing classes had all of these crucial bonding elements. I rarely missed a class.
I spoke to Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and an accomplished author on relationships. A big believer in the power of screen-to-screen connections, she explains: “I intentionally design my own online classes to be incubators for relationships among the students, both personal and professional. Students are more likely to develop relationships with one another if you structure the class so they must interact with each other as part of the class.”
Marisa Franco, a psychologist and author of the recently published book Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make and Keep Friends, advises to seek out people going through changes in their lives, who may be more open to new friendships. She calls them “transitioners,” those recently divorced, recently retired or having recently moved to your town.
Here are my own tips, from a woman who has made new friends by looking for those relationships in all the right places:
- Post-COVID I joined a local bridge and book club in Manhattan and have made new friends who live a lot closer than my Tel Aviv online writing pal.
- The K-8 school in San Francisco I attended is hosting an alumnae event in Manhattan later this year. Of course, I said yes. Who knows what old friends from youth will become new friends at 60?
- Find friends nearby online. Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore, recently moved to San Diego from Chicago. A boomer and fashion blogger (@rebellewithmarla), Paul has made local friends through social media and through a site her daughter suggested, friendmatch.com. “Don’t let age be a barrier,” says Paul, who has made friends with a young couple who live across the street.
- Once you’ve made contact with someone who shares your same interests, suggest an outing together related to that interest. Adams in North Carolina is a 70-year-old rock music buff. She recently formed a friendship with a woman who kept appearing at the same rock concerts and fan groups on social media. She recalls that, in a private message, they agreed: “Maybe we can go to shows together in the future, right? We’re both single women.”
- Go to events at your local library, which may offer a range of workshops and activities. My community library offers events that attract like-minded potential new friends, such as a book club, movie nights, wellness seminars and even a class on how best to compute your taxes.
- Pursue a hobby or sport that meets regularly. When you spot a potential friend, introduce yourself and ask them to have a cup of coffee or lunch. Then, if the conversation flows well, meet again and a friendship will blossom from what psychologist Franco calls “the mere exposure effect.” This is our tendency to bond with those who become familiar to us. So, as Franco adds, if the new relationship feels good, “rinse and repeat.”
As I write this, I am about to meet a new friend for lunch. We met in a book club, and it turns out we are both in our 60s, love memoirs, are happy in our second marriages and only moved to Manhattan a few years ago. Sometimes new friends can be better than old friends because we don’t share baggage. We get to know each other as the evolved people we’ve become. Like a good red wine, we’ve improved with time and get to present our best selves.
Have any of you made a new friend after age 60? Let us know in the comments below.