Like the song says, you’ve got to have friends. Ageing tends to erode our social networks, but women over 60 can develop new, supportive friendships by exploring their interests and experimenting with technology.
Friends are important at every stage of life. Having a sympathetic friend with whom we can share our troubles and our inner-most thoughts significantly improves our health and outlook on life.
A recent study in the United States has shown that friends – for women in particular – play a vital role in helping maintain a positive mood and good mental health. While older men tend to value family most highly, research suggests women rely more on friends for their sense of happiness and security. Having good friends is their best predictor of being happy, and maintaining mental and physical health, in old age.
The trouble is that as our circumstances change, we can lose touch with our friends. The workplace friendships we once enjoyed can drop away when we stop working, and the friendships we built around our kids’ sporting teams and school activities can disappear when the children leave home. Meanwhile, the proportion of women living alone in Australia skyrockets after the age of 60, due in part to women’s longer lifespans. Older women, therefore, often have a greater need to look outside of the home for companionship and support.
The good news is that it’s never too late to make friends. And there’s an excellent chance that if you proactively seek out new friends, you’ll find them.
Try these four approaches to making new friends and you’ll significantly boost your chances of a happy, healthy and content later life.
Reconnect with old friends
Sometimes, friends drop out of our lives for a reason. We may no longer share the same viewpoints or could have drifted apart. In other cases, a lack of time or a change in location might have severed a once-close relationship. Take the plunge and reach out to an old school or university friend or workmate whose friendship you once valued. Suggest catching up for coffee and a chat about old times. Not everyone will want to reconnect, but there’s a good chance someone will. Facebook can be a great place to start tracking people down.
Follow your interests
The departure of children from the home and stopping working can free us up to pursue those interests we put on hold in our younger years due to a lack of time. Maybe you have a passion for photography, an interest in Asian cuisine or a desire to learn ballroom dancing. Taking a class is a great way to meet people with similar interests who may be keen to extend their friendship circle. Having a shared passion gives you plenty to talk about while you’re getting to know someone and gives you something to bond over.
Signing up to help a local charity or community organisation brings multiple benefits. You’ll enjoy the satisfaction of making our world a better place, while also coming into contact with people with similar interests and life circumstances. And there’s sure to be a cause to suit you. Many people volunteer via their church, while for others the best opportunities might come from helping to clean up the environment, providing support at sporting events, visiting older people who are socially isolated, or serving meals to people who are living with disadvantage. Along the way, there will be great opportunities for developing connections with others.
Try a friendship site
Technology has made many things easier and you may want to look into friendship sites meetup.com or nabo.com. These sites allow you to find people with similar interests to you in your area and come together with them. If you’re just starting out, you can search for meet-ups that other people have organised, but as you get the hang of things you might want to create your own events and catch-ups. Older people are making increasing use of this kind of site, organising events around dancing, card playing, chatting, eating out and more. You might find a group of people who regularly attend the local pub quiz together, a bush walking group, or men and women who speak another language or enjoy outdoor photography. Finding people who share the same interests as you, or even interests you’ve been longing to fulfill, is all part of the fun of exploring who you are and finding friendships and people to spend time with.
Life is constantly changing. Change with it and stay open to making friends and sharing your life with those around you.
YouChoose by BaptistCare offers people in aged care a range of services to help them to remain socially active and to maintain and develop friendships. To find out more, contact the BaptistCare Customer Engagement Centre on 1300 275 227 or visit www.youchoose.org.au.