By Gwenn Voelckers
Question from a reader: I’ve been divorced for about a year now, and struggle with loneliness. I miss the friends we shared as a couple, but I’m just not comfortable socializing with couples anymore. I’m 56, and it feels awkward to try to make friends at my age. Any advice for me?
Answer from Gwenn: It’s unfortunate, but what you are experiencing often happens in the aftermath of a separation or divorce, especially if it was acrimonious. Friends’ loyalties can be split and, just as you feel uncomfortable relating to your former “couple” friends, some couples feel uncomfortable relating to a now-single friend.
So how do you meet new people and cultivate friendships as an adult? Here are a few tips:
First, be your own best friend. Taking care of yourself matters. Loving yourself shows. The better you feel about yourself, the better friends you’ll attract. Positive people appreciate and gravitate to other healthy, positive people.
Do what you enjoy doing. You won’t make friends sitting alone at home. Get out of the house and do those things you enjoy, whether it’s going to the gym, walking your dog, taking a cooking class, joining a book club, or any number of activities that are fun and interesting. You’ll meet people who enjoy similar pursuits. Friendships can follow.
Consider a support group. It’s not uncommon for new friendships to be born out of compassion and empathy. A divorce or grief support group will put you in touch with others facing similar challenges.
A friend of mine met her second husband in a divorce support group. She shared, “We got to know each other as friends first, and have remained ‘best friends’ throughout our marriage. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Say “yes” to invitations and opportunities to be with people. Circulating at parties, neighborhood meetings, work events, etc. is one of the easiest ways to make new friends. You’ll be out and about with people with whom you share something in common.
Show up and don’t be shy about extending an invitation to someone you meet. It could be a cup of coffee, quick bite to eat or a short walk.
Don’t overlook your family. My sister is my best friend, and she helped me re-establish a network of friends after my divorce. I had gone into the proverbial “cave” and lost contact with practically everyone. Her friends became my friends, and now, years later, I enjoy the company of her friends, as well as my own.
Rekindle relationships with old friends. Sometimes the friendships you made when you were single drift away after you get married. That’s not unusual. New priorities take over and focusing on married life requires time and attention. But now, when you’re looking to find new friendships, consider reconnecting with old friends. They were an important part of your life at one point, and may still have lots to offer. Pick up the phone.
Give a “singles” event a try. Many divorced or widowed men and women find fun and friendship in community activities organized just for singles. It could be a hike, bike ride, dinner club or dance. These opportunities can be found online in community calendars or in your local newspaper.
Volunteer or join a cause. Supporting an organization or cause you believe in will put you in contact with people working toward a common goal. Community gardens, political parties, hospitals, museums, animal shelters and many other organizations often need volunteers. Strong connections can be made when you work alongside others who want to make the world a better place.
Join an online community of people who share your interests. Social networking sites can be a safe and satisfying way to meet people. One popular site is www.meetup.com, which helps people meet others nearby who share their interests. Meetup allows members to find and join groups unified by a common interest, such as nature, photography, hiking, books, movies, health, pets, careers, hobbies, you name it!
Good friendships can make life better. The company of someone who makes you laugh, who provides a shoulder to lean on, and who is just plain fun to hang out with can provide a welcome boost to your health and happiness.
So, if you feel your social network is too small, remember you can always meet interesting people, make new friends, and nurture existing ones. It’s never too late.
Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of Live Alone and Thrive empowerment workshops for women held throughout the year in Mendon, N.Y. For information about her workshops, book, or to invite Gwenn to speak, call 585-624-7887, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.aloneandcontent.com.