Sadly, the answer is yes – it is harder to make new friends as we age. As humans, we tend to bond over shared experiences. So it’s easy to make friends at pivotal life stages – when we start kindergarten, for example, or when we go to university, or when we have children and make friends with other parents. As we get older, and have fewer major life experiences, and interact with fewer people, it means our chances of making new friends are greatly reduced.
And as we age, many of us become more lonely. In the UK, loneliness has become so much of a problem that the government introduced a “Minister of Loneliness” in 2018. It turns out that being lonely causes all sorts of health and social problems, which the program aims to address. Loneliness can contribute to heart disease, depression and even Alzheimer’s. By providing government resources to help people feel less lonely, the programs (which will include things like classes at community centers, walking clubs, etc.) will also save on health costs.
But why are we so lonely? In an article in the Walrus, The Science of Loneliness, author Sam Juric says that people have never been lonelier. It’s partly due to technology, and partly due to changes in the way we live now – more people live alone, across all ages.
So is there anything we can do about it?
Well, researchers at the University of Kansas[i] have found that it takes 50 hours of time spent together for people to become “casual friends.” To become close friends, they say, it takes 200 hours.
Those figures seem awfully high. If you were to take a cooking class, for example, you wouldn’t need 50 hours of interaction with your classmates to strike up an acquaintanceship. You’d likely graduate to coffee after class, or a drink, in a lot less time than 50 hours.
And it turns out that taking a class, or joining a club, is the best way to become less lonely – which is the first step on the way to making new friends. Expand your circle of acquaintances. Do things that mean you interact with more people. Focus on increasing your volume of acquaintances first, and then see what happens.
Most important – stay off your phone, and reduce the time you spend on social media. It’s a downward spiral. According to an article in Psychology Today, “The 2 Reasons Why So Many People Are Becoming Lonelier,” by Caroline Beaton, going online can make us even more isolated, and damage our remaining relationships. (The other reason is that loneliness is contagious – people will respond negatively to a lonely person, which compounds their isolation.)
But it’s not impossible to become more social at mid-life, and beyond. It just takes more work – but in terms of the health and happiness benefits, it’s more than worth it.
[i] Hall, Jeffrey. (2018). How many hours does it take to make a friend?. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 026540751876122. 10.1177/0265407518761225. retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323783184_How_many_hours_does_it_take_to_make_a_friend