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How to Make New Friends After a Move

Tips on finding new pals when you have to leave your old ones behind

En español | There are so many reasons why you might leave a longtime hometown to relocate somewhere new, especially as you grow older. Maybe you want to live in a warmer climate or be near grandchildren. Perhaps an aging parent needs your help, you’re downsizing from house to apartment or you found a job in a new town. Whatever the reason, many people 50 and older need to establish new social ties for the first time in decades. The question is: How do you do it?

Group of friends in book club

Make friends in a new community by participating regularly in a group activity, such as a book club. — Getty Images

Get a dog, suggests Lisa Johnson Mandell, 52, a journalist who moved with her husband from Santa Monica to a different part of Los Angeles five years ago.

“Having a dog made all the difference,” she says. The couple got a Goldendoodle (a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle) and met other “doodle” owners at a dog park. Then she heard of a fund-raiser for animal rescue efforts, and asked to help. “I went to a meeting and met these women, and we started to get to know each other planning that year’s event. Then our husbands met each other and fell in love,” Mandell says.

Since then the couples have gone on vacations together, have parties and cook big dinners together at each other’s homes. “We all just can’t imagine having better friends than the ones we’ve met through our dogs,” says Mandell, who calls her new buddies “the Doodle Girls.”

Studies show that having a wide circle of friends is strongly correlated with psychological well-being, brain health and even mortality, so there’s no getting around the fact that friends are good.

And if it feels uncomfortable or embarrassing, to be pining for pals as an adult, Shasta Nelson, author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen, is here to tell you “it’s very normal multiple times in our lives to need new friends. We need to recognize that our health and happiness are more important than the awkwardness we feel in admitting we need friends.”

Of course, it can often take months or even years to solidify a friendship. Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., is a psychologist who moved to central Pennsylvania from California almost four years ago to be near her only grandchild. It’s taken some time, she admits, but she’s been able to meet people through volunteering. Whatever the organization, Rodino says, “People love volunteers. There’s always a job to do and people are thrilled for you to be on a committee, and then you just start forming friends.” More than joining a special interest group or attending religious services, volunteering is one way to take your involvement — and relationships with other members of the group — to a deeper level.

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend and, says the best way to find friends is to follow a passion — “and whether it’s golf, tennis, bridge or art, participate in your chosen activity regularly. That allows you to have contact with the same people over and over, and familiarity breeds friendship.” Nelson says it takes six to eight interactions between two people before they start to think of each other as friends.

Because it does take time, Levine says that in the early days after a move you should try to stay in contact with old friends so you don’t feel “overwhelmingly needy.” She also suggests finding out if those old friends have friends or relatives in your new location — meeting friends of friends is a great way to start making connections.

“Being open is important,” says Kathleen Marshall, 58, a former flight attendant who has moved 18 times throughout her career until retiring with her husband to an active adult community in Arizona. Now she’s in the process of building friendships from scratch. “It’s scary,” she adds, “but you just have to talk to everybody. I’ve been taking art classes and meeting people a little at a time.” The couple also joined a local church, ride their bikes everywhere and, Mandell says, are thoroughly enjoying their new life: “Change is really hard for people, but [they should know that] things can be even better than they were.”

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