I’m not good with people, I’m too shy, I’ve got nothing to offer, I’m not a people person. Sound familiar? Regardless of our age, we have probably suffered a few of these thoughts. But take comfort. You are not alone in this thinking. A whopping 72 percent of Americans admit to loneliness, according to a survey done by the Harris Poll in 2016.
Personally, I was shocked to read that statistic. Are nearly three-quarters of Americans lonely? Then again, since leaving the super social world of public school teaching, I have felt the pangs of loneliness. The truth is that so often in jobs that require us to be around many people, we confuse quantity with quality of relationships. Whether we are younger or older, many of these relationships quickly fall away after we leave our current job. Often this is because we don’t socialize with our colleagues outside the bonds of work.
Our story is not unusual, as relationship experts tell us: “After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with,” says Marla Paul in her book The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore.
We must push and prod ourselves, regardless of our age, to seek out others. This is especially true when our children have left, and we feel the emptiness of our home. Start this process of seeking out others with compassionate self-honesty.
Right now, journal your thoughts about what relationship baggage you are carrying. Everybody has some. When we become aware of these things, we become more connected to ourselves. And self-connection is necessary for connection to others.
After you have done this, inventory your passions. Margaret Manning, writing for the Huffington Post, says to “chase your passions, not people.” Operate from a position of strength, not weakness. Know what fires your passions and then get involved with others whose passions you share, she says. This way we meet people on an “equal footing.”
This next step requires courage and may be the reason why our lives are filled with acquaintances but not friends. We have to move from being around others to “inviting others in” as Manning says. We need to initiate, inviting people to join us for dinner or to attend an event or to participate in a project. If we play it safe and wait for others to act, we will be waiting a long time.
“Become a joiner,” says speaker and workshop presenter Dr. Kathy Jordan. Many people say that they “don’t join groups.” Her recommendation: “Accept your discomfort, and do it anyway.”
The good news! According to Diane Cole, of The Wall Street Journal, there are “a surge of people” who are “not only eager to make friends and develop relationships, they’re actively pursuing these social interactions.”
Places to meet people regardless of your age:
- Take a class at your neighborhood rec center.
- Form a book club—even if it’s only you and another person.
- Join a church or take a meditation or yoga class
- Join a support group: tackle your fear and get the help that you need to overcome an addiction.
- Go on a sight-seeing tour or culinary tour in your area.
- Visit Meetup.com. This is a great online resource. You may be surprised to find that there are others who share your passion who are already meeting together.
- Volunteer at a shelter.
- Join a non-profit.
- Invite people over for dinner. If you’re not a great cook, make it a potluck.
- Neighbors: Invite one of them to do something and move from acquaintance to friendship.
- Join an online forum: this may lead to meeting other people who share your views and interests.
- Head to the dog park.
- Attend conferences, especially those that involve an overnight commitment.
- Join a hobby group.
- Facebook: make a play date with a Facebook friend.
- ManKind Project: work on self-improvement with men who are seeking the same.
- Join a gym: workout and join a class there.
- Work on your landscaping in the front yard. Passersby are always curious.
- Get involved in a cooking class or a wine-tasting group.
- Take walks on public trails. Start a conversation with a fellow walker.
Your efforts to “put yourself out there” will pay big dividends. Remember, that you need to be seen to be known. So make the commitment to engage with others, and you will find the vital freshness that new friends can bring to your life.