Contrary to the opinions of so many young people, middle age can be one of the most fulfilling, exciting periods of your life. Years of work devoted to a career are now paying off and the demands of parenthood lessen. But middle age can also be a lonely time in which making friends is more important than ever but seems harder to accomplish. Fortunately, the steps to making friends in middle age are similar to those at other stages of life and can be just as rewarding.
Make Friendship a Priority
Friends are important to your mental and physical health. Unfortunately, middle age is a time when losing friends is common. In 2012, one-third of Americans ages 45 to 63 were single, often because of divorce, which can mean the loss of friends as well as a spouse. Retirement sometimes puts an end to work-related friendships, and relocation can mean leaving lifelong friends behind. Focus on maintaining the friendships you have and building new friendships. Dedicate time to spend with friends to nurture those relationships.
Participate in activities that promote closeness. For example, a faith-based book club involves more of the intimate sharing that fosters friendship than, say, snowboarding. When choosing activities, step outside your comfort zone. Experiment with activities you've never tried before – even some you're afraid to try. Opening yourself up to new adventures makes you open to new friendships as well.
Share Your True Self
Get excited about something. People are attracted to enthusiasm and excitement. Let your enthusiasm show and other people will want to join you. Take care not to rely on your professional or financial accomplishments to attract friends. Those relationships are apt to be superficial. On the other hand, sharing your career skills in volunteer activities will provide opportunities to make friends with whom you share a common cause.
Look for the New and Different
Seek out friendships with people who are unlike you in some way. Look for common ground among people of other ages, nationalities and social class. Learning about a different culture or a younger generation can provide the mental stimulation that's essential to good health. As you meet new people, practice active listening. This may not be easy if you've spent 30 years lecturing to a captive audience or issuing orders to subordinates. Brush up your skills in a class at a community college if necessary.
Take Your Time
Once you've made a few new friends, be sure to allow the friendship to develop over time, and resist the urge to compare it to your long-term friendships. It's unrealistic to expect the closeness of a 30-year relationship during your second conversation with a new friend. If you feel the urge to call a new friend twice a day, you're probably overdoing it.
Take the risk of inviting someone to join you instead of waiting to be invited. If you find yourself avoiding this because you're concerned about how you or your home looks, let that motivate you to make some changes. Maybe it's time to redecorate – or least catch up on housework – and update your wardrobe.
New Friends, New Meaning
Friendships that begin in middle age can be deep and powerful. Sharing the experiences of a lifetime with a new friend can help put that life into perspective and give it new meaning. Longtime friendships are wonderful, but new friendships are worth the effort it takes to make them.
Melanie Scheller has been writing about health for more than 20 years. Her work has been published in "American Baby," "Medical Self-Care" and "Current Health." Scheller holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of Education.