En español | When you were in school, you had no problem making friends. Ditto for those years when you were a parent of growing kids. But now that you've reached a new stage of life — and maybe have relocated or retired — making new acquaintances can be a little trickier.
Also see: Be a Better Friend
Not only do you have fewer opportunities to meet new people, but "there's also a little more resistance to forming new relationships later in life, and your skills can get a bit rusty," says Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You're Not a Kid Anymore. Besides, you may feel just plain awkward.
Still, it's important to make the effort. Close relationships with others are vital to your health — physical, mental and emotional — your self-esteem and even your longevity, according to recent research. So if watching Grey's Anatomy is the highlight of your week, or you find yourself enthusiastically chatting with telemarketers, you probably need to make some new connections. Here are 15 things that can help you.
1. Get over the idea that everybody else your age already has all the friends they need. "Nobody wears a sign that says 'I'm looking for a friend,' but there are a lot of people out there in the same boat," Paul says.
2. Accept invitations, even if you suspect it won't be the night of your life. Just getting out increases the chances of meeting new people — and friends are sometimes found in unlikely places.
3. Check out continuing-education classes at your local college or university. In addition, many colleges allow older adults to audit regular classes for free, and some have programs specifically for seniors.
4. Senior centers have moved way beyond Friday-night bingo. Most have a variety of classes, activities and even trips. Stop by and ask for a schedule.
5. If you're retired, take a part-time job, even for just a few hours a week. It will expose you to new people and give you a little extra pocket money to boot.
6. Pursue your own interests — concerts, lectures, tai chi, cooking classes, whatever. "Look for things you're passionate about and attend consistently so that you have time to build relationships naturally," Paul says.
7. Set up a page on Facebook. You can connect with old friends and friends of friends — who just may happen to know someone in your area. Worst case: you'll find a few online soul mates.
8. Invite a few of your neighbors for dinner if you like to cook, or organize a potluck meal if you don't.
9. Get a dog if you're an animal lover. Conversations with other dog walkers are guaranteed, and even people without pets will stop to say hello to Max, giving you the perfect opener. Can't have a pet? Volunteer at your local shelter.
10. Work out at a nearby gym or the Y — but don't just do the machine routine: Join a class so you see the same people every week.
11. "Don't put too much pressure on a fragile new friendship because that can scare people away," Paul says. If someone doesn't call you back immediately, don't assume they simply don't like you. Try again.
12. Have faith — and exercise it. Many churches and synagogues make it a point to welcome newbies and introduce them around.
13. Volunteer in your community. Museums, hospitals, churches, animal shelters and schools are always looking for people to help out. Find opportunities in your area at AARP's createthegood.org or VolunteersofAmerica.org.
14. Log on to Meetup.com and enter your ZIP code. You'll find dozens, even hundreds, of groups in your area, focusing on everything from animals to Zen meditation. Also check out the AARP online community. If you can't find the right group, you can start your own.
15. Be willing to take a risk. When you meet someone you like — a salesperson or someone seated next to you at a lunch counter — take the initiative and ask for an email address. What's the worst that can happen?