After years of planning, Ellen and David Comisar, moved from Rochester, New York, to Florida for retirement. When they arrived at their new home in July, they didn't know anyone — and because of COVID-19 quarantines and social distancing, they weren't likely to meet anyone, either.
"No one's having the kinds of gatherings where we might even connect with friends of friends,” says Ellen of her new Del Ray Beach community. “It's concerning.”
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Under the best of circumstances, moving to a new place is challenging. Meeting people when you're over age 50 — especially when you may not have children in school or are no longer going to an office — adds another layer of difficulty. But the pandemic, with its restrictions on group activities and limits to in-person interactions has made it even tougher. Yet there are ways to make connections.
Find common interests
Ellen, 60, who was a writer in the financial services sector, has checked out whether the local library has a virtual book club. She also has joined a virtual, local business networking group. David, 57, a therapist still working with clients via telehealth, has been going to their community's gym, which remains open.
While they didn’t know many people when they moved, they did have some relatives and friends of friends who made them feel less lonely.
Connecting with people who have common interests is a time-honored tactic. “Finding others with an interest in something you enjoy can be a great way to break the ice and interact with a new community,” says Nashville-based GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor, who works mainly with adults.
Of course, during the pandemic that may mean utilizing social media. “Something as simple as joining a Facebook group can be enough to open up opportunities to meet new people and make new friends with common interests,” Guarino says.
It's easy to find a local group with similar interests. On your Facebook account, click “groups” and then “discover.” To get local, type in something like “orchids, Del Ray Beach, Florida.” Up pops “Delray Beach Orchid Society.” Click the “about” tab to find out more.
If you're comfortable getting out and about, Guarino suggests finding a social distancing workout or yoga class, or even taking on a new sport like hiking, pickleball or tennis — something that allows for space between people and takes place outside. Volunteering can also be done with social distancing practices in place.
Keep in mind though, that if you've connected on social media and decide to meet a group in person, “ask about social distancing rules before you show up. If the rules are in line with what you need, that's great,” Guarino says. “But if not, it's up to you to determine whether you'd be comfortable.”
Remain engaged to alleviate anxiety
Another couple, Theresa and Harvey Beldner, both 50, moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Buffalo, New York, when Harvey got a new job. They have three adult children no longer living at home and a 10-year-old son who does. Normally, school is a place they'd meet others. But, “the school shut down four days after we arrived,” Theresa says.
Harvey has met some people at his new company — and luckily, one family also has a 10-year old son. However, Harvey, Theresa and their son still feel isolated, and because of COVID-19 are “cautious about making connections,” Theresa says.
They recognize, though, that even if they hadn't moved, they and their son would still be somewhat isolated from friends. “It's lonely,” Theresa says, “but it's lonely for everyone."
This kind of social isolation worries many in the therapy community. “It can be incredibly frightening to move to a different home or state in the midst of the pandemic. Change is hard itself, but change mixed with the fear of contracting COVID-19 can lead to distressing anxiety,” says Leela R. Magavi, the regional medical director for California-based Community Psychiatry. “Individuals I evaluate over the age of 50 often express intense isolation and loneliness.”
Magavi reports that her older patients tell her they're watching hours of television and reminiscing about better days spent with their family and friends. Those who are grandparents worry about not being able to see their grandchildren.
"One of the most anxiety-inducing things an aging individual can experience is the loss of control,” she says. “It's pivotal for grandparents to maintain their own identities and remain engaged in hobbies and their passions beyond just being a grandparent.”
She suggests joining online support groups to meet others in the region and scheduling regular video chats with friends and family to alleviate anxiety and feelings of loneliness.
Give yourself a break
Another way to reduce these feelings is by getting outside. “Things feel less restrictive in Florida because we can be outdoors,” David says. As often as possible get out to walk, bike, swim and go to a beach. And, if you have a friendly dog to walk, even better. Ellen says she has been able to chat with neighbors while out with her dog, Kiwi.
Despite wanting to meet people in your new community and create connections, it's important to maintain perspective. Recognizing that we're all in the same boat can help you cope. As Theresa says, “Even if we'd been here for 20 years, we wouldn't be able to physically see anyone.” That helps her feel better and has helped her explain the situation to her son.
David, too, speaks about making the best of things and of being all right with delayed gratification. “I'm not thinking of my disappointments,” he says. “I'm living my life and keeping myself busy. I know our social life will flourish in another six months. I'm trying to be positive.”
Ways to Connect
Meetup: Dubbed as the place to “discover events for all the things you love,” meetup.com allows you to start a group or meet others with similar interests in already-established groups. Want to find people to hike with? Go to meetup.com, type in “hiking” and your town's name, and you'll see lots of groups and scheduled events.
Nextdoor: An online hub at nextdoor.com lets you connect with neighbors who share information on everything from how to find local services to asking for help in finding a lost pet. You can get the inside scoop, send messages, ask questions, take a poll and get alerts.
Social media: Put out the word that you're moving and want to meet friends of friends in your new area.
Religious services: Churches, mosques and synagogues are offering online worship.
Help others: VolunteerMatch lists opportunities in your area to volunteer virtually or in-person for a variety of causes. There are opportunities at volunteermatch.org to do this with social distancing.