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Your Guide to Building Lasting Connections Later in Life

Yes! The tips that really CAN lead to supportive new friendships.

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Gif of multiple groups of people forming relationships in different ways
Sara Maese
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Are you seeking lasting connections later in life? Would you like to make new friends? Then join our closed Facebook group, The Ethel Circle, today, Lots of women are making friends for the first time in years.
 

You know that smoking, an inactive lifestyle and a poor diet can endanger your health. But did you know that social isolation and loneliness can also impact your health — especially if you’re older?

According to studies supported by the National Institute on Aging, there's a link between loneliness and increased risks for a range of mental and physical health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, cognitive decline, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and even death.

A Duke-NUS Medical School study revealed that “lonely older adults not only lived at least three years less than their peers but also spent less of their remaining life in good health or being active.” Finally, a meta-analysis of research found that experiencing social disconnection can have health repercussions comparable to the adverse effects of obesity, physical inactivity and smoking.

That’s why it’s so important to maintain a supportive network, to build new connections and to nurture those old relationships as well. For instance, my friend Iris regularly hops on Zoom calls with her best friends from kindergarten! And I text and chat several times a month with my BFFs from high school.

But how exactly, can you forge new relationships or strengthen existing ones when life is so busy and often complicated? Is this even possible as you age?

“We are never too old to make new friends or deepen existing friendships,” says author Shasta Nelson, a social relationship expert who teaches classes on how to form healthy relationships. “In fact, the older we get, the more we need to pay attention to friendships.”

Embracing Social Discomfort

Nelson draws a parallel between the discomfort of starting, or deepening, social interactions and the effort required in physical exercise.

“Yes, there's some social awkwardness and fear of rejection. Yes, there's a little bit of social sweat,’” she explains. “We understand that exertion is part of our physical health — and the same is true for our social health.”

Nelson suggests reframing social anxiety by recognizing it as part of the exertion necessary for social health. By acknowledging and embracing the process, we can navigate social situations with greater ease.

Building Healthy Relationships

In her books, Friendships Don’t Just Happen and Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, Nelson dissects what it takes to create deep relationships. Her research follows a success formula that she calls the “friendship triangle.”

1. Positivity:. Nelson says relationships don't need to be perfect, but they should be characterized by enjoyment, manifested through elements like laughter, kindness, empathy and validation. The overall experience should be enjoyable and provide more rewards than challenges.

2. Consistency: Solid relationships demand regular interaction and dedicated time spent together to establish a pattern of shared memories. Nelson notes that investing time in each other fosters trust and cultivates a sense of commitment.

3. Vulnerability: Sustaining friendships requires what Nelson calls “open sharing," relationships in which individuals reveal their stories, hearts and minds to one another. She says this practice facilitates a deeper understanding, allowing individuals to feel known and understood in the relationship.

Nelson points out that you need all three of these elements to be present to create and maintain friendships.

Engaging in Activities

Nelson recommends activities or settings that promote the common elements in the friendship triangle. Consistency fosters comfort and closeness, and one practical approach is to join existing groups that meet regularly.

Engage in hobby clubs, fitness classes and volunteer opportunities. Join co-working spaces. With the built-in structure and regularity of these established groups, you don't have to worry about inviting someone to do something. You’re both just opting into activities that meet on a schedule and cater to your shared interests.

“We’ll never feel close to someone with whom we haven't spent time, so we need some kind of regularity to start feeling comfortable, close and familiar with each other,” Nelson points out.

When choosing activities, Nelson suggests veering towards those that require revealing more about yourself, sharing your stories and being more vulnerable. Thanks to technology, many older women are making besties in online communities like The Ethel Circle on Facebook. And pursuing activities that bring joy and positive emotions — like cooking, hiking or wine tasting — also contributes to building meaningful connections.

When making the decision that it’s time to build new connections, Nelson suggests asking yourself these key questions:

· What activities do I want to do more of and am I willing to commit to regularly?

· What kind of activities and social settings bring me joy and inspire me?

· What part of me do I want to reveal or share and where do I feel safe opening up a bit more about these things?

This self-reflection gives us insights into meaningful activities that we would like to pursue consistently.

Navigating Life Changes

As I approach my late 50s, I cherish the enduring bonds with my teenage best friends while embracing new connections I’ve made through writing and practicing yoga. Transitioning into my senior years, I value friendships based on mutual respect and understanding. Regardless of age or background, our shared passions unite us, fostering a supportive community. While I treasure my old friends, these new pals offer companionship and understanding as we navigate life's changes. And because we proactively seek support and understand each other's needs, we forge bonds that enrich our journeys.


Have you found it hard to make new friends later in life? Let us know in the comments below.

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