The older you get, the harder it is to make new friends. But it’s not impossible. Here’s your complete guide to healthier friendships and how to be more social after the age of fifty – even as an introvert.
For additional motivation, refer to the video lower within this article.
An Introvert’s Perfect Storm for Friendship-Building
Introverts process information differently than extroverts. Because their central nervous system is wired a bit differently, over-stimulation is best avoided. You won’t see as many introverts at a stadium concert or a networking mixer.
The way modern society works, the best place for an introvert to make friends is at college. Why? Because college creates the perfect storm for friendship building: the hundred lazy hangouts.
Lazy hangouts are the best way for an introvert to make friends because it’s an informal environment in which people are at their most relaxed and authentic – and that fosters genuine intimacy and depth.
Introverts love depth.
However, not everyone goes to college, and, for many who have, it was a long time ago.
Adulting gets in the way of friendships.
Jobs, bills, kids, stress, and – most importantly – multiple relocations can all be hindrances.
As modern adults, we tend to move for work. And each time we move, our local friendships take a hit.
Sure, we try to stay in touch – online or on the phone – but eventually, things fizzle. There is just no substitute for proximity.
You Can Build Even Healthier Friendships Over Time
Healthy relationships provide feelings of warmth and belonging, and the sensation of being known.
Everyone is different, so there’s no perfect formula for evaluating this exchange:
- Extrovert Over 50: an extrovert tends to get energy from being around others and prefers larger numbers and quick, bright exchanges.
- Introvert Over 50: an introvert is often comfortable with smaller numbers of people and is generally able to go deeper in each of those relationships.
If you happen to be an introvert, I encourage you to remember that it’s much easier to remove negative people from your environment than it is to add new positive people into your life, especially after the age of fifty when it’s simply harder to meet new people.
Removing negativity can be relatively fast and is the best place to start – adding positivity takes longer for mature adults and is a journey.
Why an Introvert Should Keep “Stretching” Past the Comfort Level
Why are friendships important for everyone, including the introvert?
Research establishes that health and joy are correlated with quality friendships.
Reciprocal friendships are an essential aspect of wellness for human beings.
It’s in relating to other human beings through which you evolve – and how you deepen and expand your experience of love, fulfillment, and meaning.
The amount of joy you feel – and the amount of health you experience – during any given year correlates to the quality of friendships you possess.
Putting a bit more strategic effort toward your acquaintanceships, friendships, and kinships could help you improve your health and prosperity:
- First, you have to decide which relationships should be your most important.
- Next, you can choose to reinvest in those friendships.
- Additionally, you may decide that you need to create some brand new relationships.
- Plan social activities that involve exercising – such as long walks, gym workouts, or projects.
- The time and energy you invest in your friendships will, over the long-term, reap big dividends.
You can learn to form healthier relationships by discovering the social benefits of exercising. Even an introvert can learn how to be social with the following techniques.
Human History is the Story of People Exercising Together
Imagine that, for most of human existence, our species typically lived in groups of 40-50 members (visualize a small village of 28 adults, 7 children, and a few elderly). When the groups grew larger there was a tendency to split and form smaller groups.
It’s possible that 28 is the upper limit of close adult friendships that one person can handle effectively.
Over the last 160,000 years, we as humans have spent much of our time together being social while exercising. It’s built into us.
It’s only over the last few hundred years that our lives have become so compartmentalized and sedentary.
We used to be in the same village.
In today’s mobile culture, it seems nearly impossible to gather our entire tribe together in person so that we can make observations about how to define our roles – and how to strengthen as a happy, unified group.
Has the biological wiring of our brains evolved at the same pace as external technological advances? If not, is it impacting our mental health?
Some of the social benefits of exercising include:
- developing social skills
- reducing feelings of loneliness
- a more positive self-image
- raising energy levels
- reducing risk for chronic diseases
- improving cognitive function
- improving overall physical health
- weight loss
- developing confidence
- improving one’s overall quality of life.
Among the easiest ways for social interaction are physical activities such as team sports, which are perhaps the best way for extroverts to meet new people while getting regular exercise.
For the introvert, as well as older adults, team sports might not be the first choice and, instead, a regular physical activity that can be done side-by-side or in smaller groups can be preferable.
Finding a workout partner for the gym or a friend with whom you can participate in group exercise classes can also be a good place to start.
The Friendships List: Make A List of 28 People You Know Who You Like or Respect
What you need to get started are:
- a positive attitude
- a relationship list
- and a friendship action-plan.
If living a happy and healthy life is important to you – especially as you age – then you must pay attention to the relationships in your life. A good place to start is to identify your 28 biggest givers.
If you’re an introvert like me, you might not even know 28 people.
Just make a list, however small, of the people you do know who you experience as generous and kind.
Write down 28 names of your most favorite, most generous friends and acquaintances – and also write down when the last time was you reached out and connected with each person.
The number 28 is derived from the capacity of the human brain to form intimate attachments.
28 is thought to be around the upper limit of close adult friendships that one person can handle effectively.
For an introvert – someone who recharges their emotional batteries in solitude – 28 is just an inspiring goal – not a mandatory requirement.
Social Benefits of Exercising: Living a Dimensional Life
It’s connections with other human beings that turn life from black-and-white into color.
The more healthy, intimate connections you have, the more vitality you will have in your later years – and research suggests (see sources below) the more of those later years you will actually have.
Some animals only thrive amidst an environment of healthy relationships.
Reciprocal, gratifying relationships are an important part of your successful aging strategy.
Any hospice volunteer will tell you that – in the end – the realizations people have as they are dying are related in some way to a wish that they had been more intentional with relationships while alive.
Paying close attention to your connections with others is not an extracurricular activity – it’s the reason for life itself.
It is relationships that matter most, and any new wellness regimen that does not include a component for improving relationships is incomplete.
Interpersonal experts such as Brian Buffini, Keith Ferrazzi, and Michael Port passionately devote their entire professional lives to helping others understand this simple concept: to increase your success, you must improve your friendships.
Longevity science is revealing a significant correlation between:
- the quality of the relationships in your life
- how long you will live
- how healthy and happy your remaining years of life will be
Healthy relationships are what provide you with the sensation of being fully alive – of being heard, seen, deeply known, and loved.
Make your list of 28 relationships today – give yourself a month to reach out and connect with each of them.
Think of it as your personal social experiment.
After a month, you can determine for yourself in what ways your life feels enriched.
Think of life as a delicious journey during which you get to add positive people gradually over time, as you get to know yourself better and better – and as opportunities arrive intermittently.
There is an irony in today’s culture: people often feel underutilized, feeling a lack of meaning in their lives while – at the same time – experiencing themselves as too busy and physically drained.
Many people have convinced themselves that they are imagining it. Surrounded by noise, chaos, and responsibilities throughout the day, how could they be isolated?
When people increase their feelings of connection and intimacy, disconcerting feelings diminish. This highlights the importance of tending to our tribe.
Prioritizing Relationships: Who to Keep in Your Tribe (and Who to Let Drift Away)
As much as we love those with whom we share much in common, it can be those who stand in opposition to us who can help us understand ourselves more fully and assist us in reflecting upon the positions we take and the values we want to cultivate.
There can be blessings in all types of relationships, especially when we come to use those differences as a catalyst for personal growth.
Ah, if only there was unlimited time, unlimited energy, and our brains were able to process and hold space for thousands of intimate relationships.
But time is limited, our physical energy has limits, and our cognition, too, requires a limit to the number of close friendships we can sustain.
The first exercise is to write down your 28 closest adult relationships.
You can always revise and fine-tune it later (you will periodically need to revise the list).
This isn’t a high school popularity contest, and you don’t have to share the results of your list with anyone else.
Survival Strategy for the Introvert: Give to Your Givers
The Pareto Principle – also known as the 80/20 rule – is named after an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who first observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.
This principle seems to operate as a natural law of the universe, and when we align with it, our lives can become uncommonly effective and productive.
What the Pareto Principle reveals, basically, is that 20% of your tasks deserve 80% of your energy.
For example, you probably have a ‘to-do list’ (be it in your head, scribbled on paper, or saved on a smartphone). These are the things that need to get done.
But which items on your to-do list will lead most directly to your increased joy and prosperity?
- 80% of profits come from 20% of customers
- 80% of health care resources are used by 20% of patients
- 80% of sales come for 20% of sales staff
- 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals
- 80% of profits come from 20% of the time you spend
- 80% of your energy investment will come from only 20% of your tasks
Writer Tim Ferris speaks boldly about attention as a currency and how it determines the value of time. “Income is renewable,” he writes, “but some other resources – like attention, are not.”
I encourage you to run everything in your life through the 80/20 filter, but most especially your relationships.
The Complete Guide to Healthier Friendships
Pay attention to your daily habits and weekly calendar, look through those 28 names on your Relationship List and examine which of these people seem to most contribute to your sense of well-being, prosperity, or joy.
- Who are the most generous people in your life?
Keep in mind that when I use words like “generous” and “equitable,” I’m talking about overall energy.
I’m asking you to look down from a high altitude over a longer course of time.
Someone you care about at this moment might not be “generous” or able to exchange energy equally with you, but over the course of your life, they have been a generous soul.
So when crafting your list, look at the long term (not just the immediate):
- Are you giving the most generous people in your life about as much time and energy as you give everyone else – or, perhaps, even less?
- Do you even have an awareness of who the equitable givers in your realm are?
Imagine for a moment that your life is like a glass jar.
You have rocks, pebbles, and sand.
Your goal is to fit as much into the glass jar as you can.
You will find that you fit far more when you start with the rocks first. (After the rocks are in place, then come the pebbles and finally, the sand, to fill in whatever spaces might remain.)
The “givers” in your life are like those rocks. You’ll want to make room for them first!
With the time that remains, you’ll have the opportunity to utilize some of your remaining energy resources on your life’s less-pivotal relationships, as you choose.
Repeat after me: “Give to your givers!”
As you consider where you will choose to devote your resources going forward, I encourage you to be aware of the mistake most modern people are making: offering their loved ones and “givers” their energy leftovers.
Now, from your list of 28 – of your favorite friendships, relationships, colleagues, and acquaintances – choose your 9 biggest givers.
Write next to these 9 names when you last saw each person socially, face-to-face (even if it was online video conferencing, like FaceTime).
Next, plan a get-together or webcam appointment (some of your givers might live out-of-town).
Start with the Giver with whom it has been the longest since you’ve spent some quality time.
Formula for Healthy Social Connecting and Being a Thriving Introvert
It’s important to remain mindful that there is a spectrum of brain-style differences and that everyone processes information differently.
Research has established that many people find long periods of direct eye contact intrusive, so not everyone is going to enjoy “let’s grab a coffee and sit two feet across from each other for an hour.” Another social benefit of exercising is that you can do it side by side instead of always directly facing each other.
- To keep your tribe healthy, thriving, and meeting your relational needs, the formula is simple: see each of your 9 Givers once each quarter (every three months).
- Connect with each of the remaining 19 in your tribe once every half-year.
About the 9:
- The time you spend with your givers should be quality time. These are the people who help to infuse your life with its magic. Even if you’re shy, extend yourself. Make the call, and plan something together.
About the 19:
- The remaining 19 names on the list of relationships will look very different for each person. If you’re a busy parent with five kids in the school system, you may know thousands of people. If you’re an introvert who works from home, you may know only a few people. It doesn’t matter. Just fill out as many names as you can.
Some people you’ll be able to see one-on-one, others you can group together into recreational pursuits — a casual Sunday brunch at home, coffee at the corner cafe, or an easy hike.
Relating is a verb.
As a garden needs cultivating — water, nourished soil, sunlight to grow — so relationships require consistent effort. Come harvest time, however, what rewards we reap: your crop will be abundant!
Additional Sources on How to Be Social as an Introvert Over 50:
• Bowling Alone: Collapse and Revival of American Community – Robert Putnam – “Social Capital Primer” http://bowlingalone.com/?page_id=13
• Evolutionary Psychiatry – Steven Anthony – “Mood Disorders and Psychiatric Symptoms are Manifestations of Ancient Adaptive Strategies” http://www.anthonystevens.co.uk/evolutionary.htm
• 10 Types of Odd Friendships You’re Probably Part Of – Tim Urban – http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/12/10-types-odd-friendships-youre-probably-part.html
• Men’s Social Connections – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142169/
• The Introvert and Mental Health – https://scholarworks.uni.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1312&context=grp
• Absent Friendships – The Consequences of Social Isolation – Miranda Bauer – “Building a Social Safety Net” https://www.bluezones.com/2012/04/friends-nourish-the-body-and-soul/
• Friendships Matter: Health risks from Isolation Comparable to Risks of Cigarette-Smoking – Mary Jo Kreitzer, RN, PhD – http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/relationships/why-personal-relationships-are-important