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Never too old for new friends

Both work and play bring men together
Both work and play bring men together
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

If you watch television programs or see popular movies, you may have noticed that young men usually have a lot of buddies they hang out with…they travel in groups to parties, sports events, or even when they are up to no good. But other than gangster movies and a few films about grumpy old men, it is hard to find stories built around the friendships of older men.

Why is this and what happened to all those friends?

I have been thinking of this absence of male buddies because suddenly you are retired, and have NO friends. If you re lucky, you may have some golf or tennis buddies, but when your wife goes off to her luncheons and exercise class and book club with her friends, are you sitting home alone?

For too many male retirees, their friends were people with whom they worked; the office was their community and their social life. Retirement didn’t just mean the end of work—it meant the end of the social activity that connected to it. As a result, many retirees…especially men…find themselves having to make new friends---or be alone.

A solid social support system can make the difference between a successful or a stressful retirement. Dozens of studies have found that friendships are vital to our emotional health throughout our lives. Some retirees find themselves gravitating back to friends from their youth, even if they haven’t been in touch for years. Local alumni chapters and school reunions, Facebook, or just picking up the phone, are great ways to contact friends with whom you have lost touch. Friends are important at all times in your life, particularly when you have happy occasions to share. And they are especially valuable when you experience a loss, like the death of a parent or spouse. If you are lucky enough to have good old friends, embrace them. They are literally keeping you alive.

It is never too late to make new friends. Remember taking your children to the park and watching them approach another child and begin to play together, without fear of rejection? At a certain age, children do learn about exclusion and rejection, but they keep trying. You have to do the same. The trick to making new friends is to turn yourself back into that three-year-old who doesn’t expect or accept exclusion. As adults, we often stop putting ourselves in situations where we might be left out or ignored. So at the next meeting or class or lecture you attend, choose a group of people, walk over, and introduce yourself. Talk with the “strangers” about the speaker, the music, or other events you have attended, and you might find that the people you meet share your interests.

However you go about doing it, remember: if your first attempt to make friends doesn’t work, don’t give up. As always, to make a friend, you must be a friend, so appear responsive and open to conversation. No one wants to approach a newcomer who looks unfriendly and aloof. If someone meets your eye, don’t look away. If a person looks like he or she needs assistance, even if it means helping to open a folding chair at a lecture, offer it. That person could turn out to be a new friend.

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