Written by Carol Marak, founder of the Elder Orphan Facebook Group

When aging alone and residing in a single family home located in the suburbs or a rural area, you may feel isolated and have few close relations to rely on for friendship, conversation, and help when needed. This post expands the ideas offered in exercise 3 of the Action Plan for Living Alone.

How to Use This Exercise

We invite you to further explore creating and developing a support system. The benefits of having a reliable team of friends and neighbors to count on when and if you need help is a good way to age independently and safely at home. 

  • Step 1: Read through the article to learn ways to create more friends
  • Step 2: Ask a friend to join you in creating more social connections together 
  • Step 3: Hold one another accountable and work each step together

Begin to build confidence by putting yourself in new situations.   — The most difficult part of uncertainty, at least for me, is the inability to feel in control.

Make a list of the things you want to do and learn. To join a jewelry making class or volunteer. The point is to start small and take baby steps in expanding the comfort zone. It’s hard to do, yes, but the more you do it, the more “in control” and more comfortable you will feel in trying new things. Remember, to invite a friend along if you wish.

Gain confidence by overcoming challenges, but when you fail to put yourself in challenging new situations because you assume the outcome won’t be positive, you will be unable to grow.

  • You gain confidence by attending new events and circumstances
  • You move beyond the ordinary and routine
  • You become more flexible and able to overcome challenges 
  • Develop your list of exciting challenges you’re interested in overcoming

Things to do

  • Develop a list of fun, exciting challenges you want to overcome. 
  • Explore a city on your own – start smaller, go to a restaurant and eat alone
  • Visit a museum or take the metro
  • Enroll in a challenging course at your local university
  • Learn a new language
  • Take a writing class
  • Volunteer and meet new people

A Checklist to Discover Social Engagement

Social engagement increases our sense of wellbeing and support, connection with people, developing friendships, and finding people who care about us. Broadening our circle with peers who understand the challenges of growing older alone will see you through the tough times. And the time and effort you put into building a network will pay off in dividends. 

We are social beings and the older we get, if we have someone nearby who cares about our wellbeing will serve as a safeguard and safety net when we feel frightened and secluded. The family system gives people the opportunities for socialization and feeding the sense of togetherness. But if you’re aging alone, maybe your family has diminished or reduced. The children have moved away, the spouse or partner is gone, and siblings have lost touch or died. Even if you prefer living alone, there may be instances where you wished someone was there to call. 

Other losses that promote disengagement is retirement. The employer system typically offers consistent, day-to-day, social interaction with colleagues. And quitting our jobs can leave a big gap in our social circles. Seniors lose their means of socialization and networking post retirement. The job doesn’t exist, taking with it our avenues to meet new people.

Maintaining a social engagement gives a greater sense of purpose and a sense of motivation that makes you behave in ways that are better for your health.

Facebook is one way to connect and make potential friends. After all, it’s where many of us go to share experiences, and to feel less lonely. The medical professionals agree that staying social enhances our lives as we get older by staving off conditions such as dementia and depression.

After I moved to another city, I used Facebook as the starting point to connect with new people in the area. Fortunately, years earlier, I launched a closed group called the Elder Orphans. It was a global community. However, I knew some members lived in my new city. So, I created a sub-group for people living in Dallas. It’s been over two years, and now we connect for lunch, dinner, few educational classes, try new activities, share our hopes and concerns, and even give rides to each other for medical appointments. Many friendships have been formed through the group. 

Awhile back, someone I know complained in her status update that she didn’t have enough friends IRL (in real life), and a woman who lives in the same area asked the person to lunch. They plan to meet again.

Facebook is like the virtual water cooler, networking tool, family updater, information gatherer and general a window to the world.

If you don’t like using Facebook, there are many options locally to create engagement and connection.

Meetup.com groups are designed for the local areas. It has many members using the platform but unlike Facebook, it’s specifically designed for the locals. Your profile isn’t shared with the general public or even with friends. Meetup groups give a sense of privacy, more so than Facebook. But some groups using the Meetup platform charge a minuscule fee to participate. 

If you’ve never tried meeting new people through a website or app before, it could feel a bit odd or peculiar. You may be unsure whether Meetup or Facebook will work for you. 

I like Meetup because of the “local” significance and the sense that it’s an option to put yourself around new people. You can potentially make friends, or not, through any method of meeting others, whether it’s a Meetup.com dance night, a volunteer position, or a drawing class. And once you’ve met those people you might click with them. The unique benefits of Meetup.com and even local groups on Facebook can facilitate friendships and increase engagement.

Find Social Events

Meetup.com offers a wide variety of social events. Pick events according to your interests, hobbies, or new skills, then attend them. There may be a wait list or require some pre-planning, but for most–just show up.

People at Events

Meetup.com, but you attend the first meeting as a guest. There’s no other commitment.  

Most people who attend Meetup events are open to making new friends. 

Attending groups based on your interests will increase the chances of meeting like-minded, compatible peers.  There are groups for camping, trying new restaurants, badminton, discussing philosophy, dancing, quilting, and tabletop games. 

Connect with Attendees After the Event

It has member profiles to help you connect with people – If you go to a meet up and get along with someone, but didn’t get their contact information that day, you can send them a message through the site. 

The most frequent complaint about Meetup.com is, “I went to a few meet ups and everyone was way older.” That’s the good news for people in our age group. Just know that Meetup.com is for all adult ages, but some groups will  skew toward certain ages. 

Build Closer Relationships Using Facebook

Just friending your family on Facebook is a good thing but that strategy will limit the number of peers for friendship. To expand your circle of connection, start with people you know, then branch out. Using the search box, look up old high school and college buddies, friends you used to work with or enjoyed hobbies with. Using this strategy, reconnected me with an old friend from college.

Friend your neighbor 

Put your town in the search box and look for people you know in your area. Some may accept but don’t take it personally if they don’t. Others who connect with local residents, will use their ‘friend network’ to find a good local restaurant or a plumber. They depend on the network for referrals and things to do. It’s a great way to get find out what’s happening socially. (But don’t friend too many people at the same time or Facebook will flag your account.)

Friend people with shared interests

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Use the search box to find and friend others with similar interests. Whether you’re an engineer, filmmaker or teacher, do a search for those occupations and friend interesting people who do what you do. When you send friend requests, Facebook will generate a list of similar people who you might want to send requests to. Glance through the list. There are usually a few on there who you actually know and want to add.

Comment on friends’ statuses

The whole point of Facebook is to make friends. The more you comment on a status, the more those friends will appear in your Newsfeed, and the more you’ll appear in theirs. If you want to make new friends, being active on threads with people you’d like to be friends with will make your name familiar to them and make it more likely they’ll accept your friend request.

Find New Friends at Senior Centers

As baby boomers turn 60 and older, active adult centers (aka, senior centers) are changing to accommodate the boomer generation and lifestyle. I have visited some impressive ones and want to encourage you to do the same. As you read through this section on senior centers, you will notice many activities offered today far surpass those our parents attended. The centers offered in communities today will keep you healthy and enjoying life.

But overall, a senior center can be a great resource as you age in place in the larger community. Senior centers have moved beyond Friday-night bingo. Most have a variety of classes, activities and even trips. While living in Austin, I attended several dances and took line dancing classes. It was a great way to meet new people. The key is going back consistently so people become familiar with you.

Most community centers offer a variety of activities, which is why they exist – to keep people active and engaged. Activities include exercise and fitness programs; computer classes; arts and crafts; recreational, educational, and social activities; health screenings and services; special programs and speakers; and volunteer opportunities.

There are travel opportunities both locally, regionally and worldwide. 

Types of activities offered:

Groups/Clubs: Walking & Hiking Clubs, Theater Trips, Dinner Clubs, Book Clubs, Current Events Groups, Theme Festivals, Chess Clubs, Bird Clubs, Movie Clubs, Golfers, Writers, Ancestry, Travel, Cruises, Special Interest Groups.

Classes: For personal growth and learning, computer classes, woodworking, knitting, painting, photography, ceramics, AARP driver’s safety program, grandparenting, nutrition, culinary classes retirement investments, financial planning seminars.

Health Screenings: FREE Screenings for hearing, hearth, blood sugar, blood pressure testing.

Trips: trips to attractions in the city, plays, theater, farms, sightseeing. Also travel trips to vacation spots, some even out of the country. 

Dancing: Dancing is a big activity from ballroom dancing to line dancing. Waltz, Cha Cha, you name it. The Zumba Gold combines Latin and international music with a safe and effective workout for the most enjoyable fitness party in town!

Exercise: Yoga, walking, stretching, exercise, Tai Chi, swimming, bowling. Some Senior Centers have parks and walking trails. 

Socialization: You’ll get plenty of engagement while participating at parties, sharing meals, sitting in conversation. Holiday and theme parties are common. Special events and holiday celebrations. 

Recreation for active adults is important and Senior Centers are a great resource. Please visit one soon, I’m sure you’ll be impressed. 

Never too old to find new friends

Please use this guide as a roadmap to spark ideas on how you can connect with other people and to make friends. The lifestyle of aging alone can be challenging as we get older and especially when facing disruptions of our health and skills. Each of us must think how to navigate these disruptions before the chaos of aging happens. Some of us will adapt better than others it’s true, but as Benjamin Disraeli famously said, “I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.” Make that your mantra!

Start now. Start local and explore ways to create a reliable support system. The benefits of having a reliable team of friends and neighbors to count on when and if you need help is the best way to age independently and safely at home.