Isn’t it sweet to watch a group of rollicking kids become instant friends on the playground? If only it could be as easy for adults. A few months ago, when I moved back to my hometown after being gone for 20 years, I was more or less starting over in the friend department. Although getting my family settled has been my top priority, a woman’s gotta have girlfriends. So I’m working on it… and making slow but steady progress. It might not be as easy as bonding over some sandbox toys, but I’m starting to find my people.
I’ve heard a lot of wise advice about how to make friends, so I’ll pass along to you what’s helped me. And even if you didn’t move recently, these tips can be for all of us who are—let’s face it—hitting the social reset button after the pandemic.
- Get schooled. The most obvious way to meet like-minded mom friends, of course, is through your kids’ school. It’s convenient because you’re there twice a day and you already have something in common with the other parents. And your kids are built-in wingmen/excuses, if you need them; if you get stuck in an awkward conversation, they’re sure to interrupt you and drag you away soon enough.
- Be flexible and adapt to others’ schedules when you can. Women our age are busy with work, family, taking care of parents, carrying the world’s problems on our shoulders, you know. This isn’t college, where you could spend hours just hanging out. So adapt to prospective friends’ lives by fitting into their schedules. When a neighbor invited me on one of her daily walks, I rearranged my schedule to make it happen. Easy-ish as pie.
- Practice the art of small talk. If you haven’t been out as much as usual because of that dratted pandemic, you may feel like your social skills are rusty. Don’t worry, we all feel that way. I’ve been practicing small talk with baristas, grocery clerks, whoever. Because I moved to the south, everyone’s game. Small talk is the meat and potatoes of life here. Eat up.
- Host a ‘Bring-a-Friend’ BBQ. That’s right, each invitee brings a friend. Let’s call this the domino effect. It could be a bit of a gamble, but you have to hope that you like your friends’ friends, and worst case scenario, you enjoy a burger and beer together.
- Work out. Join a sports league, running club, or fitness class. Keeping fit while making friends is a healthy enough way to kill two birds with one stone.
- Team up to share childcare. Some of my most successful friend hangouts have occurred when we went in together for a group sitter. In one situation, we had a Mary Poppins-type watch our collected kids (7 in total omg) while we went out for a triple date. Another time, a friend asked me out for coffee next door to an art shop where our kids took a lesson while we gabbed. How civilized. The takeaway here is that it can be worth ponying up some cash in order to have an uninterrupted conversation.
- Pay attention. It should go without saying that to make new friends, you’ll want to be a good friend. We all know that, right? Moving on. I noticed that a neighbor was always carrying around a Chick-fil-A cup so I brought her some of her favorite sweet tea one afternoon. That simple gesture instantly took me from neighbor to girlfriend status. Yessss.
- Volunteer. One of the surest ways to find new people is to do some volunteer work, which allows you to socialize with folks who care about the same things you do. Use VolunteerMatch to find ways to plug into your city.
- Start your own activity group. Book clubs are my favorite way to keep up with friends because it combines two of my greatest loves: reading and eating. So I decided to start a new one by pulling together existing friends. You don’t need many people to make a group; three will do. Other ideas for clubs: film club, articles club, cookbook club. This can be ideal for introverted folks who like to have a dedicated event and topic to spark conversation.
- Break out of your comfort zone. Try something totally out of the ordinary by finding a local workshop or DIY class. Rollerblading? Improv? Maybe you’ve always wanted to try pottery. Now’s your chance to learn a skill and meet a new batch of people. Plus, you’ll walk away with a pinch pot.
- Get a dog. One instant friend right there. Plus, your walks and trips to the dog park will lead to human friends. Dog people tend to stick together and you’ll always have a conversation starter.
- Don’t forget about your friends’ friends. Announce far and wide to your network where you’re moving because chances are they have friends in your new town. The second I posted about our move on social media, friends I hadn’t heard from in years were coming out of the woodwork offering to make introductions in my new city.
- Become a ‘yes’ person, at least for a while. Accept any and all invites that come your way and keep yourself open to new opportunities which will inevitably lead to making new friends. Am I sounding a little thirsty here? So be it.
- Join something. Anything. Whatever you’re into. Find a local advocacy org that focuses on issues you care about, join a sports team, a religious congregation, etc. Or…
- Actively meet thy neighbor.This sounds like an easy one, and sometimes it can happen organically. But it’s definitely easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of work, kids, home, bed. Try to go beyond a longish chat and invite them over. Oh, and make sure to remember their names. You weren’t raised in a barn, afterall.
- Keep a routine. Go to the park every day and eventually you’ll find people who also go to the park every day. Then you’ll have no option but to talk to each other!
- Cast a wide net. Remember, friendship can take form in many different ways. So mix it up. Find people who are different ages than you, both older and younger. Try to find other people who just moved to town. Chances are they’re looking for new friends, too. And don’t forget to have f-u-n.
After being cooped up for the past year, on some level, all of us are kinda the new-girl-on-the-block. So keep these tips in mind whether you’re connecting with new friends or reconnecting with old ones. And as for whether it’s possible to make friends at 40? I’ll keep you posted. But the outlook is good.