Moved to a new area lately? Perhaps you’ve retired or decided on a sea-change. If so, you’re probably wondering how to make new friends. You probably also realise that it can take some time to get re-established. And that’s not just on the domestic front. Making a big move also sometimes means leaving behind the social circle that has taken you years to build. The natural connections that evolved from being schoolmates, neighbours, parents or colleagues no longer exist. This means you may need to think a little more creatively about how to make new friends. Making and maintaining friendships is something that technology has made harder and easier all at once. On one hand, things like social media and Skype enable us to stay in touch with friends and family all over the world. On the other hand, they can make relationships feel very superficial and varnished. They can cause people to feel as though they have no ‘real’ friends.

Science says that friendships are essential

In spite of all the new challenges you may be facing, it’s definitely clear that making new friends and maintaining worthwhile friendships is essential, no matter your age. Being able to rely on people for companionship and conversation is essential for emotional well-being and our general health too. Naturally, you could be tempted to just slide quietly into a life revolving around ready-made meals and reality television, but that’s not living, is it? We need to have friends in our lives, not only because shared experiences are more fun, but because science tells us it’s important.  In fact, compelling new research says that having supportive friendships in old age is a better predictor of wellbeing than having strong family connections.

As reported in Time Magazine, the new paper explored the findings of two studies about relationships. The first one involved more than 270,000 people in nearly 100 countries. The author, William Chopik (a Professor at Michigan University) found that both family and friend relationships were associated with better health and happiness overall. But at advanced ages, the link remained only for people who reported strong friendships. Unfortunately, for a lot of people this is also seen as the hardest time of your life to make new friendships. But it doesn’t have to be.

It’s OK to feel lonely and unsure

Some people panic at the feeling of loneliness and the fear of making new friends, and try to plug those feelings with ‘stuff’. They go shopping, or busy themselves with unnecessary jobs around the house to distract themselves. They focus on perfecting the new lounge room to make the right impression on their new friends, instead of focusing on the friendships themselves. Don’t see feelings of loneliness and fear as negatives. Experiencing these feelings is simply your psyche’s signal that a change needs to happen. Feelings this strong are what compel us to take action, so embrace the feeling and allow its energy to propel you to change. When you allow yourself to register these emotions, you are most in touch with your authentic self. This means that you’re also in the right frame of mind for making new friends. Now is your chance!

Be gentle with yourself

One’s harshest critic is usually oneself. Develop some compassion for yourself when it comes to meeting new people. Pretend you’re a parent on your child’s first day at school, and speak to your five-year-old self with compassion. Tell yourself: “I know you feel worried and scared, but just do your best. You don’t have to be the coolest, or the smartest. Being kind and friendly is enough”. Don’t expect results straight away. This isn’t a process that’s going to be completed in a single afternoon! The best relationships are built over time, in small steps.

New mind-set = new friends

Before you moved, you probably had several networks of friends. Personally, you’d socialise with neighbours, work colleagues and friends you made in your younger years. If you have children, then their school friends, sporting or musical activities would also have launched new relationships for you. Moving in your retirement years or making a sea-change requires a whole new mindset to making new friends. First, you need to be comfortable with your image of yourself. This is a great opportunity to press the ‘re-set’ button and shake off old ideas and limitations. Up to now, people have had certain expectations of you and a picture in their mind of who you were. You probably felt compelled to live up to that. In your new location, you can seize the change and find your true self, stripped of the expectations of others.

Get to know yourself, first

This is the time when you need to do a little homework. Before you get to know other people, get to know yourself. What subjects or activities grab your interest? What are the things that make you feel awkward, or that you find utterly boring. The answers to these questions will set you on the right path a to where to look for new friends. Another worthwhile activity in this process is to reflect on one of your valuable friendships.Make a list of your current friends and what they mean in your life. Taking inventory of the friends you have now will help you evaluate what your current friends have to offer and what to look for in new friends. Another worthwhile activity in this process is to reflect on one of your valuable friendships.  Try to think about spending time with that person, and how it has made you feel. Reflect upon your happiest times together. This will give you a great roadmap for what you’re looking for in a new friend. On the other side of the coin, this activity can be useful to help you avoid unhealthy relationships.


Eleven suggestions on how to make new friends

1. Start right on your doorstep

If you are brand new to your neighbourhood, host your own ‘welcome to the neighbourhood’ party. Invite the neighbours on either side, the people across the road and the people over your back fence. Chances are you’ll find that they’re keen to get to know you, and since they’re likely to know each other, your party won’t be filled with long silences. If you’ve been there a while, it’s probably too late to take that tactic. In this case, take a simple walk around your neighbourhood and stop to talk to people on the way. Make this a routine, and over time you’ll become familiar with each other. You may even discover common interests, upon which you can build your friendship. For instance, if they’re always out in their garden and you’re a keen gardener, you might invite them along the next time you go to your local garden centre.

2. Say yes

It’s easy to feign busy-ness, but if you don’t take people up on their offers and invitations, you’ll never make friends, and they may stop asking. Make it a rule that the next time someone invites you somewhere, that you attend. If, while chatting to someone you’ve met, they say “Let’s meet up for a coffee”, get their number and call them a few days later to invite them out. It may push you out of your comfort zone, but don’t be held back by nerves. Just try.

3. Buy a dog

If you like dogs, go out and get one. If you find one at a pound or rescue shelter, you’ll be doing a great thing for both the dog and yourself! People naturally stop to pat other people’s dogs, and this is your chance to strike up conversations. You’ll have your love of dogs as a basis for your friendship, and chatting while you’re at the local dog park allows you to get to know each other. From there, suggesting a walk is a good way to spend time together without any social awkwardness.

4. Volunteer

If you’re newly retired, chances are that you have a bit more time on your hands these days. Stopping work can be a big adjustment as your routine changes drastically, but taking on a volunteer position could ease you into that. As an added bonus, it’s a great forum to meet new people. All you need to think about is where your passions lie. Do you have skills you can teach? Maybe you like children. Perhaps you enjoy the company of people older than yourself? Are you an animal lover? A history buff? No matter your interest, there is likely to be a volunteer role that suits. And the other volunteers are likely to be people whose interests match your own.

5. Join a Meetup

Something that’s purpose-built for making new friends is Meetup It’s an online platform that offers ‘get to know you’ opportunities for people with shared interests. One of the greatest things about it is that everyone there is in the same frame of mind as you – looking to meet some nice people who they have something in common with. Sure, it does mean that you have to get comfy of meeting a bunch of total strangers. You just have to have faith that those particular strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet. Regardless – picking a meetup that matches with your interests or curiosities almost guarantees you’ll meet someone interesting.

6. Go on tour

They say that the best way to get to know someone is to travel with them. Going on an organised group holiday is like doing that by a factor of ten. And if you’re single, it also neatly provides a bunch of people to go on holiday with, which you may have struggled to find. Now before you get all caught up in horrified visions of Contiki Tours, relax in the knowledge that their cut-off age is 35. There are lots of better options for you! There are travel groups on Meetup, and we even have our very own sub-club – The Westport Travel Club.

7. Take up a new sport

By suggesting this, we’re certainly not advocating you pick up something radical like body building, or ultra-marathons. Chess and darts are sports, and you don’t have to break a sweat! The reason sport is a great forum for making friends is that it bonds people together in teams, and pits them against each other as competitors. Both of these dynamics cause minds to connect, which is how friendships are born. Sporting groups are everywhere in the Port Macquarie community, and no matter what level you’re at, there’s likely to be a group for you. Here at The Westport Club, we have a number of sub- and affiliate-clubs that deliver a warm welcome to new members.

8. Join Toastmasters

This may seem like an odd suggestion, since the main Toastmasters goal is to enhance professional development. But it can work equally well for the purposes of making new friends. Why? We hear you ask. It’s because it provides the opportunity to meet lots of new people and it helps to build your self-confidence at the same time. As discussed above, there are many people who find the idea of making new friends un-nerving. Given the choice, they’d probably put their hand up for a session of root canal therapy, rather than strike up a conversation with a stranger at a party. It sounds a little radical, but there’s no better way to improve your social skills than by conquering any fear of public speaking that you might have.

9. Take a course

Learning something new is another good way to connect with new people. The fact that you’re all starting with zero knowledge bonds you together and can often lead to a few laughs. Humour is a wonderful social lubricant. In the Port Macquarie area, there are a number of ways to find a course or workshop that piques your interest. The Glasshouse is a very popular venue for courses, and TripAdvisor also lists and rates courses in the area. The best thing about taking a course is that you’re likely to come out at the end with a useful new skill as well as the beginnings of a new social circle.

10. Find a new hobby

Write a list of activities that you enjoy and why they appeal to you. This list will help you crystallise the best ways for you to spend your time. Rank your list and then start your search by word of mouth, or on Google. You’ll then find businesses and groups that support the activities you enjoy. Joining up will put you in touch with an instant circle of like-minded people, and the fact that hobby groups usually meet quite frequently will mean that you have a regular outing to look forward to on your calendar. Even simple activities like a friendly Bingo game at The Westport Club can help you meet new people.

11. Join The Westport Club

Of course we’ve saved the best until last. That’s because we truly believe that there’s no better place to meet people and make new friends in Port Macquarie. At The Westport Club, we strive to provide an environment that’s welcoming and relaxing for our members. When you walk through the door, you’re immediately met with a smile and a greeting, and you’ll be on a first-name basis with our friendly staff members in no time. Their warmth is infectious, and it spreads through the club, filling it with laughter and familiar, welcoming faces. The Westport Club is also the gateway for a range of sub-clubs and affiliates for you to join – there’s something for everyone! So if you’re new in the area, come on over! We’d love to meet you, and you can start the joining process right here.

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