Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

7 Tips to Make Friends When You Have an Empty Nest

How to maintain your social circle once the kids have flown the coop

spinner image Two female friends sitting on sideboard
10'000 Hours/Getty Images

​When Cherith Fluker became an empty nester, there was a lot to like: more time with her husband, more time to focus on a new job, more chances to travel.​

But it also meant less time hanging out with the friends she had made during almost two decades of shared experiences such as her daughter’s high school volleyball games. ​

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

“We’ve lost contact with the people we were seeing two or three times a week because we were in the same place. We would see those people all day on Saturday standing at tournaments,” says Fluker, of Birmingham, Alabama, who is the mother of two college-age children, a podcaster and founder of a self-care website where she talks a lot about friendship.​

Friends supported her through the challenges of becoming an empty nester and losing both her parents within two years, she says. But since her children went to college, her friendships have shifted. While Fluker, 43, believes in “make new friends, but keep the old,” she’s finding new friends focused on her interests, “not the people at the volleyball game because their kids play volleyball. That’s our kids’ [thing], not our thing.”

Not everyone is as outgoing as Fluker. Finding and keeping friends isn’t easy for some parents used to relying on the connections made through their children. There’s no longer the camaraderie of cheering for school sports, working backstage or attending PTO meetings. Life gets busy with work, homes, children and aging relatives. Friends from college or childhood drift away because of new jobs, caring for elderly parents or divisions over politics. Social groups splinter due to divorce or relocation. ​

But research leaves little doubt about the benefits of having strong friendships. A lack of socialization can lead to depression, poor sleep quality, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity, according to a 2019 report by the American Psychological Association. ​

Yet society tends to value romantic relationships more than friendships, says Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends, a book that looks at the science of lasting friendship.

“We do all these things that lead to friendships being second class,” Franco says. “We invest less time, right? We reach out less. We don’t show as much love and adoration compared to a romantic relationship. And that’s what leads to our friendships being less powerful.” ​

Science teaches that we must nurture friendships just as we nurture romantic connections, Franco says. “What makes [a platonic] relationship succeed is going to make your romantic relationship succeed and vice versa,” she says. ​

What can you do to better support friendships or make new friends, even if you feel you don’t have the time, energy or built-in ways to meet people? Making friends may require that you build some scaffolding, such as taking a class or hanging out at the dog park. But there are even more important attitudinal changes that will help you, experts and friend-rich people say. Here are suggestions from Franco, Fluker and others:​

Be brave and practice

Jen McDonald, 53, is a pro at making friends, having moved a dozen times during her husband’s 30-year military career. She now lives in San Antonio, Texas, and is the author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse. Making friends wasn’t always easy, she says. In her early 20s, she was so nervous about attending a women’s group that she convinced her husband to wait for her in the entryway. “I’m not like that at all now,” she says. “I think it’s just something you must practice. You reach out to people and see how it goes.”

Health & Wellness

Target Optical

50% off additional pairs of eyeglasses and $10 off eyewear and contacts

See more Health & Wellness offers >

​There have been times in her life when that bravery was important, she says, such as when her kids left home.

​“When your kids are young, you are automatically connected with people because you’re going to sit in for practice or you’re dropping them off or you’re at the pool or wherever,” she says. “And then you kind of hit that phase as they’re teenagers where you phase out of that. And it is challenging at this age, you kind of have to go seek it out.”​

Be vulnerable

spinner image male friends socializing In backyard together
monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

Friendships should be “whispers of confidentiality,” says Billy Baker, a reporter with The Boston Globe and author of We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends. When Baker, 46, was assigned a story about male friendship, it sparked a quest to reconnect with longtime buddies and to make new ones. Baker’s kids haven’t yet reached independence, but his search for friends took him beyond fellow parents, setting him up to be prepared for empty nesting. One key to his success was vulnerability, a challenge for most men, he says. ​

“Putting yourself out there is always going to be a vulnerable thing, but anytime I put myself out there, the universe reciprocated by rewarding me,” Baker says. “By making myself vulnerable, it made it OK for other guys to feel vulnerable.” ​

Be intentional

Fluker uses her commute to call friends. “If they’re up, we may say, ‘OK, Wednesdays at 6 a.m., we’re going to do a 15-minute phone call,’ ” she says. “We know we can’t do that every day, but maybe like once a week or once every other week, we’re going to schedule a phone call.”

Baker organized Wednesday night gatherings for guys at a friend’s barn. That eventually morphed into something more meaningful and flexible. “I built a squad,” he says. “I didn’t have a squad, a gang, a crew, and now I do.” The social evenings are no longer limited to Wednesday nights and can take place anytime with whoever might be available. ​

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

Be habitual

“If you really want to reap the health benefits — the health miracles of connection and friendship — it needs to be something that’s as much a part of your daily life as your diet and your fitness,” Baker says. “That’s where I feel great. That’s when it’s every day. It’s now a habit, and I’ve made it a habit for the people I’m connected with.” ​

Be optimistic

Optimism is key for meeting people, Franco says. “If you’re pessimistic, you’re not even going to try,” she says. ​

Assume people are going to like you or be glad to hear from you, she advises. “There was recently a study that came out that found that our friends are happier to receive our rekindling text messages than we think they might be,” Franco says. “And the more surprised by it they are, because they haven’t heard from us in a while, the happier they actually are.” ​

Use the right technology

Baker believes that although social media sites such as Facebook create the illusion of having “friends,” what he refers to as his “tribal media” — more intimate forms of electronic communication ­­— is best for truly connecting. “Social media is when you get your megaphone and you broadcast to anyone that wants to listen,” he says. “Tribal media, which is the group text, which is the group Zoom, those things feel like they have value.” ​

Be welcoming

Spending holidays as a single parent while her husband was deployed encouraged McDonald to think less about her own loneliness and more about other people. “There’s always someone, and I think when we get too inwardly focused and we’re just unhappy or lonely, we stop seeing what’s right around us,” she says. “I think that because of the years of being a new person [after moving to a new place], my eyes are drawn to the edge of whatever room I’m in. If I’m at a work conference, if I’m at church, I’ll look for that person that’s just kind of by themselves because I still relate to that.” ​

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?