How To Make Friends In Your 30s, 40s And 50s

by MindJournal - 8 min read

How To Make Friends In Your 30s, 40s And 50s - MindJournal

If the last few years have taught us all anything, it's that having a good group of mates to talk to is vital. Unfortunately, many men feel alone.

According to a 2019 YouGov poll, 18 per cent of men admitted not having a single close friend, and more than a third said they didn't have a best friend. In the same survey, 44 per cent of men said they felt lonely "sometimes, often, or all of the time".

All of this builds on a 2016 survey by the Movember organisation, which found that men lack "social connectedness", with 10 per cent of men unable to remember the last time they spoke to a friend, and over half of the men questioned, saying they had fewer than two friends they could discuss a serious issue with. 

And it only gets worse as we get older. According to the same Movember study, 19 per cent of men over 55 said they lacked a close friend at all. Worrying statistics, indeed.

Putting The Work In

There’s a reason men find it challenging to make new friends, especially as we age. According to Marisa Franco, a psychologist at the University of Maryland, men need “continuous unplanned interaction and shared vulnerability” in order to forge real bonds.

With the fear of vulnerability notoriously strong in men, and work and family commitments making ‘unplanned interaction’ tricky, it’s clear where the difficulties lie – especially so considering a new study found making casual friends takes 50 hours while developing close friends requires a whopping 200 hours of work. And who the heck has 200 hours free?

Health Matters

It may seem like a daunting task, but pursuing new mates could be the boost you need. Being lonely doesnt just mean we dont have anyone to go to the pub/cinema/five a side pitch with it can actually be hugely damaging to your health. According to the US Centre for Disease Control:

Social isolation significantly increased a person's risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation was associated with about a 50 per cent increased risk of dementia

Yikes. Whats more, a study from the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) found that loneliness in older men means they are at greater risk of early mortality. Its eye opening stuff, but (!) all is not lost. The NIA article also notes Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose.

Research suggests that those who have rich social connections are much more likely to live longer and happier lives,adds Anthony Mullally, a former Leeds Rhinos rugby player, and founder of the Men’s Mental Wellness Retreat.


The Right Stuff

Sometimes, loneliness isn’t about being alone but about being around people who don’t necessarily fulfil us to the fullest extent. Mullally is keen to stress that making the right friends is what matters and that losing touch with old friends isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

“A middle age man hanging around with the same group of people for 20 years will have most likely experienced some major changes in himself,” Mullally notes. “Change is the only constant, so this theoretical man may no longer enjoy going to the pub every Friday. Instead, he might have developed new interests that aren’t in alignment with his current friendship group. He naturally starts to feel less fulfilled by the same old conversations and activities – and that’s fine.”

If work, family circumstances or lifestyle changes have led you to drift from your friends, Mullally says you have two choices: be afraid of change and stay the same, or pursue the activities that give us a truer sense of authenticity and purpose.

So, whether you’re looking for new friends who you might have more in common with or are looking to make new friends full stop, how can we actually go about it?

Reaching Out

The most obvious solution is to find people with a shared interest. Often, there’ll be a local club for whatever you’re into, from running to photography to haute cuisine to, erm, astronomy. Signing up is your first step, but Mullally warns that you might struggle to connect with the men there if you’re not genuinely interested in the subject matter and are only there to get out of the house.

“Authenticity is key,” he says. “When you align your actions with your values, I believe we attract exactly who and what we need in life. Taking some time to enquire internally to what it is exactly that brings us a sense of meaning and joy is a good place to start.”

“Loneliness is often an absence of ‘belonging,’” adds Lou Campbell, a certified psychologist at Wellbeing Partners. “Focusing on activities that increase our sense of belonging, purpose and contribution tend to make us feel better in the long run, rather than just being around others or purely distracting ourselves from an absence of belonging.”

In other words, think about what actually brings a smile to your face, then seek out people who genuinely share your interest.

Don’t feel ready to get out there? Connecting with others can start with connecting with yourself. “Start off by doing things that boost serotonin,” suggests Campbell. Getting outside, even for a walk to the coffee shop, can be an instant mood-booster, giving you the confidence you need to reach out to those mates you’ve let slip or start a new conversation over your flat white.

The Introverts Guide

If joining a club seems like a daunting first step, don’t worry, Campbell has you covered. “Social Snacking – short transactional interactions with others – can give us hits of serotonin,” she explains. “Start saying hello to shopkeepers, bus drivers, fellow motorists, other cyclists, people you walk past in the street. Notice how you feel after you’ve said a quick hello to a relative stranger!”

Do this, and you’ll slowly build up your confidence when it comes to making small talk. And remember, conversation is a two-way thing – it isn’t all on you to be interesting! You could even take it a step further and volunteer with a local charity. “Volunteering is one of the best ways to meet people and feel like you are contributing to your community,” Campbell says. Volunteering Matters is a good resource.

You can also form connections online. Apps like BorrowMyDoggy, give you a canine companion for the afternoon. And, as everyone knows, dogs are a sure-fire conversation starter. Meanwhile, websites like Meetup.com have made meeting new people through shared interests so much easier. What’s more, most people go along to these activities on their own – so you won’t be the only one on your tod.

You've Got This

Making friends can be difficult, especially if you’re out of the habit. But, whatever your interests, however old you are, it’s important to remember you have so much to offer. We may be in the midst of a male loneliness epidemic, but maybe, if all of the lonely men out there actually took the first step to start a conversation with each other, things might not be so bad after all…


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