Studies prove the theory that the older you get, the fewer friends you have. Scientists from Aalto University in Finland and the University of Oxford in England found that people start decreasing their friend pool around the age of 25 and the decline continues up to retirement. With data confirming that friends are essential to our medical, psychological and social well-being as we age, what can we do to keep a good circle of friends?
Structure Your Friend Time
Ryan Hubbard, the principal at Hinterland Innovation in Melbourne, suggests we create a schedule to ensure we hang out with our friends on a regular basis. As we get older it becomes even more important to schedule face-to-face time with our friends. The superficial contact of social media doesn't count.
Maintaining close friendships can be hard as there can be ups and downs and periods of time not speaking to one another. Close friends can go a long time without seeing or talking to one another and still feel close. However, a long silence may be a sign that the friendship needs some nurturing. William K. Rawlins, professor of communication studies at Ohio University, suggests reaching out if time keeps passing without contact or explanation. He suggested an opening line such as, "We've been friends a long time, and I miss hearing from you. If you're going through something at work or at home, I want to know and be there for you." If the reason for silence is a disagreement or hurt, people need to be flexible and able to forgive in order to keep long-term friendships.
"Repot" Your Friendship
Robin Parkin, a design researcher, suggests we look at "repotting" our friendships. In this garden metaphor, he says friendships have the capacity to grow beyond their initial containers. For instance, a friendship from work can change after retirement to enjoying shared interests together, like golfing or photography. When the original context of work is gone, you need to put the friendship in a new container to keep it going.
Making New Friends Doesn't Have to Be Difficult
People often have casual friends or colleagues that, given the opportunity, can become closer friends. Look at your outer circle and see if there are people you'd like to get to know better and give them a chance ("repot" them!). Also, consider becoming more active in the activities you enjoy or causes you care about. Have you been wanting to learn a new hobby? Participating in activities you enjoy is not only good for your own well-being, but can also be a great source of finding friends with common interests.
Have Friends of All Ages
A sad reality of growing older is that friends will pass away. If most of your close friends are the same age, the losses will become increasingly pronounced over time and create a void. Having friends of all ages can not only curb this but can also expand your world views and keep things interesting as your friends go through different life stages at different times.
Pruning Is Okay
Having a smaller circle of friends is not necessarily a bad thing. As we age, we tend to prune away friendships that no longer serve our well-being; the toxic, unfulfilling, one-sided friendships tend to fall to the wayside and the ones that provide us with joy and fulfillment stay. It leads to having more positive interactions in your life with the friends you choose to keep. Surrounding yourself with a good, but small, circle of friends can be just what you need.