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Making Friends after age 50. Where's the playground?

In a span of three weeks in July of 2013 I got divorced, closed on the sale of our 16-year family home, sent my two youngest kids to college and put my head on a pillow in a rented condo. I woke up the next morning feeling like a grenade had gone off in my life. Admittedly, I had thrown the grenade, but the result was the same. I had to take a serious re-evaluation of my life and it wasn’t healthy. At age 53 I had no friends, no hobbies, no “fun” in my life. (So as not to offend those who knew me, loved me, helped me through this period, I do not mean to discount your friendship, you know who you are and you are cherished.) But, in reality, my days were filled with two things: kids and work. The further the kids migrated from the nest, the more I worked.

If my quality of life were put in balance the “work/financial” side would hit the table and the “relationships/joy” side would be hanging perilously in the air.

I thought of this personal history while reading an article in The Wall Street Journal. (December 29, 2022 “To Invest for Retirement, Build Friendships and Hobbies” by Anne Tergesen). It details the lengths to which men and women go to prepare themselves financially for leaving the workplace while putting virtually no thought into the equally important challenge of cultivating relationships and interests that fill the “nowhere-to-be” hole. It quoted Harvard University studies that consistently find quality relationships outweigh blood pressure as a predictor of life longevity and happiness.

Borrowing a quote from that article, Yale University Psychology Professor Dr. Laurie Santos put statistics behind what I found to be anecdotally true: “We think friendships just happen and if the friendship is genuine we won’t have to put the work in.” But, she says, research suggests the opposite. On average it takes 200 hours over four months to build close friendships and 60 hours to establish even a casual friendship.

Just as the old money adage suggests that investing earlier is better – the same is true for relationships and avocational pursuits. It is normal to be “in-focused” when life is filled with small children, school, shuttling to extracurricular activities and all of the time-sucking pursuits of raising a family.

The mistake most retirees make is waiting too long to become “out-focused”. At age 53 it took me 2-3 years before life was “full” and the scales were somewhat balanced. That goal was reached with good health, financial stability, and great effort. To do the same at age 73 is, for most, not possible. These purposeful “investments” in your long-term well being should start much earlier. Evidence suggests that even the mid 40’s is an optimum time to begin making those ‘deposits.’


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