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We Are Never Too Old To Make New Friends

Sunie Levin

Resident Blogger

Forget the calendar. How old are you? No cheating allowed. Be honest. On my 83rd birthday, my oldest daughter informed me, “You know, mom, 80 is actually today’s 60.”  Sure, I thought to myself. Easy for you to say.  Say that when you have the same aches and pains I do.  But then I had another thought. I thought, you know, she’s right.  I may be 83, but I don’t feel 83.  I don’t act 83 either.  Am I bragging?  Maybe. But it’s the truth.

And then I began thinking, if that’s the case, specifically, what am I doing right?  And as I pondered that question, I realized that, consciously or not, I really was doing at least some things that made me much younger than many of my calendar-year friends and acquaintances. 

So what things am I doing right?  Well, for starters, I keep interested and I keep active.  Big deal, you might say.  Who needs to hear that bromide again?  Lots of people, actually.  I’m amazed at how many friends I have who have given up on life, lonesome, sitting quietly watching life go by. Their old friends have died or moved away to Florida, and it never occurs to them that there is an unlimited supply of new ones out there just waiting to be met.  And then it hit me.  Yes!  Yes!  That’s it.  That’s what I’ve been doing right. I’ve been making new friends, and new friends open amazing new vistas for me, keep me interested, and hopefully, keep me interesting. Then another thought hit me.  This extremely simple idea is one I should be transmitting to others. The result? My book, “Make New Friends–Live Longer.”

Don’t groan. Another book!  Just what I need. Well, maybe you do. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll give you the key thoughts now, for free. 

A lack of friends in our senior years saps the life out of anyone. And old friends inevitably dwindle in number. Some find themselves housebound due to illness.  Some get divorced.  Some move to new communities (didn’t I just mention Florida?) and don’t know a soul when they get there. Some are bereft of a spouse, or so tied down as caregiver they find themselves cut off from social contact.  At this stage of the game, what’s to be done?

Plenty, actually. I’m not saying it’s easy to make new friends, partly because we’re out of the habit, and partly because friendship circles are harder to break into now. But it’s doable, and if you want a more vital life, it’s mandatory. Some things we need to do are internal, some external. We need to project a sunny image.  We need to avoid complaining.  Nobody likes a whiner. We need to be proactive. Nobody’s going to come looking for us. We have to look for them.

How? Well, here are a few commonsense thoughts. Scour community newsletters. They tell you what’s going on, and where. Others have the same interests you do, so go where they congregate, and introduce yourself.  Join book groups. Invite new neighbors over for meals–few pass up the chance for a home-cooked meal, particularly when they’re not the one that has to do the cooking. Take classes. Volunteer. Become a good listener. Ask questions.

Some of us are not extroverts. Reaching out is hard. But anyone can do it. Here’s one of the most aggressive tactics I’ve ever heard of. A friend of mine (and, I may add, a new friend) had a t-shirt made that said “I’m New In Town–Please Talk to Me.” This simple, flamboyant approach actually worked.  Not for me–this isn’t the way I met her–but it worked.

Establishing relationships with new people means being able to remember their names, writing down how to contact them, and being mindful of their interests. People are delighted when you remember things about them. The discipline of writing things down is a good way to remember, particularly now, when short-term memory is pretty well history. 

Chances are you have a computer. So use it already. Social networking isn’t just for teenagers. It’s incredible how many seniors are out there on YouTube and Facebook and LinkedIn.  Instant messaging can be an invaluable way towards maintaining established relationships while building new ones. My granddaughter Amy put me on Facebook and Twitter and is telling all her friends “Grandma is a techie!”  She exaggerates, of course, but really not all that much.

It’s true, today’s 80 can be today’s 60. Want to live longer? I won’t bore you with statistics, but will just say that it’s a fact that making new friends does, on balance, make people live longer. So join the fun. Your life may depend on it!

Village Shalom resident, Sunie Levin, is the author of “Make New Friends Live Longer.” She holds degrees in psychology and education. Ms. Levin has lectured and held workshops around the country and appeared on national T.V. and radio. Her books are available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble