Make two new friends every year and dodge the loneliness trap


Spartan girls with cithara. (Public domain image)

bootcamp2015-small 2

Long read, written in 2015. In which I accidentally make three new friends and thereby diminish my chances of suffering from loneliness in old age.


One goal of my boot camp for old age is to make at least two new friends this year and every year. Now why would I set myself such a goal? I think you know.

Loneliness is a scourge of the old. Loneliness is a killer, and I’m not exaggerating. Some research findings:

  • Risk of early death caused by loneliness was double the impact caused by obesity.
  • Scientists tracked more than 2,000 people aged 50 and over and found that the loneliest were nearly twice as likely to die during the six-year study than the least lonely.
  • Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism, accidents, depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent with social isolation.

When you’re the last one standing

You probably know some very old people who have lost all their personal friends. Over the years, every friend has either moved away to Florida or the Gold Coast or Tauranga, or passed away. That’s a sad thing to see and an even sadder way to be.

So how can we avoid falling into the lonely trap? I didn’t set this goal because I am lonely. If anything, there are far too many wonderful people in my life for me to keep up with. But, you see, I’m just a spring chicken so far, and things change.

I assume that most people find it harder to make new friends as they get older, and I figure that making new friends—just like going to the gym—should become a solid habit, an expectation, an automatic behaviour. Then we’re more likely to stick with that habit to the very end.

When Mim, my grandmother, went to hospital for her final few weeks, she made friends left, right and centre. All the staff loved being with her because she was so interested in them, and of course such a fascinating person herself. So she died attended by new friends as well as old friends and family.

We can’t all be fascinating, but we can be interested in others.

A friend is a friend, no more, no less

By friend, I don’t mean a best buddy, necessarily. If when you think about a person, you pause, picture them and smile, that’s a friend.

The beauty of old friends is that they share memories and know each other inside out. They can reminisce together, see the shape of their lives whole, trust each other, communicate volumes with a single word or a raised eyebrow.

The beauty of new friends is that they do not share memories or know each other inside out. Every new friend is truly a wonder, for that very reason. There are brand new stories to hear and a chance to tell your own stories in a brand new way.

New friend mission for 2015: check!

This year I have exceeded my target without even trying. There’s Esther, new to our body corporate and a delightful ally in all matters financial and managerial. And Viv, who adorns, inspires and amuses our bumbling local group of Ukulaliens. And Jas, who provides spirited conversation over coffee every month or so.

Luckily, two of my three new friends are at least 20 years younger than me.

Big effort, no effort: both can win friends

Sometimes, you certainly do need to get out there, join a club, take the initiative. When I first came to live in Wellington, I religiously phoned one acquaintance every week to make a date for dinner or a movie or whatever: I had to push myself in their faces. It’s the same whenever you move to a new place. Then it’s not enough to say you’d like to join a book club: you have to get out there and find one or start one.

But I spy an anomaly. On the one hand, making two new friends every year is now my conscious, chosen, publicly documented goal. On the other hand, I forgot all about it until I revisited my boot camp list and realised this one was already done and dusted.

I have a hunch that this sneaky win was not a coincidence. Maybe the most successful friend-acquisition programmes are based on not-trying. Instead, to make friends, maybe we just need to keep our minds and eyes and doors open. Just do stuff and talk to people. Oops, you just made a friend!

8 thoughts on “Make two new friends every year and dodge the loneliness trap

  1. What a great post. When we retired we joined U3A university of the 3rd Age which is an Australian government backed organisation. Our local branch has over 900 fascinating members and a broad range of subjects. The beauty is that for a small fee we can take up to four subjects and come and go as we please. Which suits those of us fit enough to travel or shoot through in the winter. It surely ticks two boxes: making new friends and learning new skills. Sadly an awful lot of seniors have never heard of it and bemoan being retired. I raise my arms in despair 😩

    1. I am the Chair for our local U3A club in Hawera New Zealand and love it, but like you am amazed at how few know about it or want to join. Unfortunately it is not a govt initiative here.

      1. Hi Lynne, if it wasn’t for U3A encouraging me to write I would never have started blogging. Keep up the hard work and spread the word.

  2. I have many friends in U3A in New Zealand and Canada: thanks for reminding me. I do love their model, where members are the teachers. Maybe it’s time for me to join 🙂

  3. Thank you for this as I did not see the first blog. It struck a real cord with me and so I am going to make it my goal too as since leaving work I have noticed a lack of ranges of ages in the groups I attend and mix with.

    1. Hello Lynne! It’s good to find new Kiwi bloggers on WordPress. That’s great good luck — sometimes the making of young friends happens naturally, but it’s very easy to slip into a life populated by one age group.

  4. joared says:

    Interesting, but write on this topic again in ten or fifteen years, though I don’t know your age. I was overflowing with friends all my life, but, as you said, during the ensuing years as I focused on working part time, being a caregiver, my friends — younger, contemporary and older — either moved away, died, or both. I became a widow, kept working but became involved in various interest groups. Curiously, to me, I found these group members were engaging in the group, but none of them socialized outside the group. They had spouses to care for, had their own circle of friends that didn’t add more, attending the group was the only outing they had or wanted just to describe some of the primary I learned.

    I’m sure my much younger friend and her husband who live over an hour away thought there was more I could do to acquire new friends. Then, they retired and proceeded to join various groups, attend Sr. Univ. classes there. After considerable time she phoned me one day, frustrated that they had encountered the same sort of experience as I had.

    Even a friend before she and I began working again in our professions midlife, retired, developed a debilitating medical issue but doesn’t discuss it more last we talked two years ago, rejected mutual co-worker friends as well as me who attempted on several occasions to socialize anywhere, anyway. She’s not initiated contact, so I’ve ceased contacting her — had said she got out some with husband and know she has other family.

    Frankly, I’ve heard similar stories from widows, as what my friend and I have encountered, from others in various U.S. states, including some individuals a decade younger than me. So, I “do my thing”, make little or no extra effort and have no real expectation of having the casual friends I so readily acquired years ago. Seems like a lot of people become reclusive, or don’t want to venture out after dark, have only so much energy they easily use up — I don’t know. I just know it’s different in ways I could never have anticipated or imagined possible.

    1. You’re right: at 77 I cannot visualise how my life will have changed by 87 or 92. We’ll see. You have helped me to imagine how frustrating it is when older friends shut themselves off. I feel for you! Our life patterns change and change again. The childless get exasperated because they rarely see their friends with young children. Certain good friends I rarely see outside of dance or choir rehearsals, and last week one said, “I’m retiring soon: then we might do some walks together.” Meantime new friends, however casual, bring rewards — and (almost inevitably) are mostly younger. I hold my grandmother as a role model in this respect: she was in hospital for four weeks before she died, and all the nurses used to gravitate to her bed. They loved her … because besides being very witty and wise, she was intensely interested in them and their lives. I must remember that!