How to Make New Friends in Your 30s, 40s, 50s and Beyond

By Eric Helmsley | | People
How to Make New Friends in Your 30s, 40s, 50s and Beyond
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Friendships are the stuff of life. They enrich our days, they sustain us through hard times and they brighten the moments we look back on most fondly.

Every lonely person out there wants to know how to make friends when you have none. But having friends isn’t just fun, it’s deeply important for many reasons.

Why are friends important?

Good friendships can enrich your life.

“There is emerging research that shows that friendships help bolster our [health],” said Gina Handley Schmitt, a Seattle-based psychotherapist and author of “Friending: Creating Meaningful, Lasting, Adult Friendships.” “For instance, we now know that these brands of intimate connections help ward off depression and anxiety as well as helping our bodies fight infections.”

And that’s not all.

“Research has shown that good friendships contribute to better overall health by decreasing our risk of health problems, such as diabetes, heart attack and stroke,” said Dorlee Michaeli, a licensed clinical social worker in New York. “Furthermore, the emotional support provided by friends reduces our feelings of loneliness and stress levels, both of which increase our resiliency and improve our mental and overall physical health.”

Ray Sadoun, a London-based mental health and addiction recovery specialist with OK Rehab, said friends “remind us who we are and what we enjoy,” which strengthens personal identity.

“They can also laugh with us about past memories, which is incredibly healing,” Sadoun said. “On the other hand, new friends can boost our self-esteem by showing us our positive traits. Friends help us to stay grounded and connected. We can turn to them in hard times and celebrate with them in good times.”

How to make new friends when you have none

Whether you’re the new person at school or work or you and your family are new to the neighborhood, figuring out how to make friends when you don’t know anyone is a position we all face at one point or another in our lives. Finding new people isn’t always easy, but it can be done.

Issue invitations

Handley Schmitt said one of the most important things for friendship is asking people to do things with you.

“Issue invitations,” she said. “Whether that is inviting a fellow volunteer at the pet rescue to grab a coffee after your shifts or inviting a coworker on a lunchtime walk and talk or inviting a group of people from your rec soccer team to meet for beers at the pub after your next game.”

Ask for advice

Sadoun suggested asking your acquaintances for advice as a way to strike up a closer relationship.

“Even if you’re a very independent person, it’s always a good idea to ask your friends for advice,” Sadoun said. “This will bring you closer, as your friend will feel more involved in your life and you will learn more about their worldview by listening to the type of advice they offer.”

Focus on communication

Pareen Sehat, a clinical counselor and mental health professional at Vancouver’s Well Beings Counselling, emphasized the importance of open and honest discussion.

“Make sure there is proper and effective communication between you and your friends,” Sehat said. “A lack of communication can be detrimental to intimate friendships.”

Be vulnerable

Angela Banks, a licensed clinical therapist at The Clarity Couch in Cleveland, said openness can help.

“Healthy friendships require effort, compassion and life balance,” Banks said.

“Adults get so caught up in their own lives and some struggle to allow others in. Transparency and vulnerability are great ways to strengthen friendships.”

Michaeli said being vulnerable and open about your struggles helps people “feel comfortable and encouraged to share some personal things in kind with you.”

Join new groups together

Michaeli also suggested volunteering or taking up a hobby or a class with an acquaintance.

Growing and maintaining friendships takes attention and effort, but the beauty of group activities is that they remove the guesswork—when everyone is expected to show up for something, that’s a natural opportunity to continue building the friendship.

Find the time to hang out

Everyone has a busy schedule, but letting friend interactions take a back seat to your other priorities is a surefire way to find yourself feeling both burned out and lonely.

“Make time for them even if you are busy,” Sehat said. It’ll prove that this bond is important to you.

Message regularly

“Some people go months without talking to their friends and expect the friendship to stay the same,” Sadoun said. “You don’t have to constantly meet up with your friends, but messaging them every few weeks is a great way of staying updated with their lives and to show them that you care about them.”

Put an emphasis on listening

A conversation where one person isn’t listening is closer to a monologue with interruptions. Listening is the glue of genuine conversation, and genuine conversations are incredibly important to friendship.

“Be a good listener and keep your bond genuine,” Sehat said, and you’ll see acquaintanceships develop into friendships over time.

Go on trips together

A fun way to mix up and grow a relationship is by traveling together.

“We often find ourselves reminiscing about the past with friends,” Sadoun said. “But do we put enough effort into making memories to treasure in the future? Going on trips with your friends is a great way to do this. You will have a shared experience that you can look back on fondly for years to come. You will also learn so much more about your friends by travelling with them.”

Prioritize close friendships

In a social media-saturated age, it’s easy to lean on digital interactions with a large group of people as a proxy for true connection, but Sehat cautioned against that.

“I would advise everyone to keep their friend circle very small and close,” Sehat said. “It is better to have a few genuine friends than a large group of friends where no one is loyal to you.”

How to make new friends in your 20s

The 20s used to be a difficult decade to lump together. Knowing how to make new friends at 21 hasn’t always been the same as knowing how to make friends at 29 because many significant life changes occurred during these formative early adulthood years.

But cultural shifts in the past few decades mean people in their late 20s are increasingly childless, unmarried and still figuring out their careers, so it can be easier to befriend a wider swath of 20-somethings today than it was in the 20th century. With so many people in similar boats, that only widens the pool of people you could turn into your brand-new friends.

Try to meet friends of friends

One of the best ways to meet people you get along with is to meet people your existing friends already know. Or, as Sadoun put it, you could try “getting to know friends of friends in more laid-back settings.”

House parties, undefined hangouts and so forth where you know people can offer you opportunities to chat with new people in a relaxed, social atmosphere with a sense of security afforded by your existing connections.

Use an app

People spend too much time on their phones, but your phone could actually be the way you can make friends.

“I would recommend using apps such as Bumble to make friends,” said Sadoun, referring to the dating app’s friend-finding functionality, Bumble BFF. Lots of young people “are using these apps to make friends in cities they’ve recently moved to, and it often proves to be successful.”

Attend school events

If, like many 20-somethings, you attend college or university, you’re in luck: Traditionally schools are places where people socialize through shared classes, dorm rooms and social events.

If you’re a student, Sadoun said you can “put yourself out there by attending as many social events as you can and introducing yourself to people.”

Most of the people you meet won’t turn out to be good friend material, but saying “hi” to dozens of people will be worth it if you come out of it with just one true pal.

Join clubs

Of course, not every student is built to just go around saying hello to random strangers.

“If you’re more introverted, I would suggest getting involved in more low-key societies” or clubs, Sadoun said.

Joining some of your school’s many clubs or organizations could be a quick path to a reliable social life, allowing you to meet people with similar interests or sensibilities.

Don’t overthink it

If you’re a 20-something student and feeling friendless, remember that you’re not alone in this and, especially if you’re in your early 20s, there’s still time to make great and lasting connections.

“If you’re at university, you will find that everyone wants to make friends, so the process may be simpler than you think,” Sadoun said.

Going with the flow and meeting more new people is likely to organically lead to you meeting people you’ll click with, so try to prioritize that over agonizing about your lack of a social life.

How to make new friends in your 30s

By now, you’re probably out of the built-in socializing network that school offered and fully entrenched in career mode. You may have kids by now. You also have access to social media, making staying in touch with everyone you know easier than ever before.

Yet despite the network of friends many of us have online, shrinking leisure time, building a family and the financial security to support your future leave people feeling less connected to friends. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing with friendships.

Join something

Many friendships begin over shared interests, and if you want to create a friendship grounded in something real, a great tactic is to join a group or organization that overlaps with your interests or ideals.

That could be a gym or sports team, a meet-up or networking event or even volunteering at a cause that is of interest to you, Michaeli said.

Putting yourself out there in that way will allow you to encounter like-minded people, and sometimes that’s all the spark a burgeoning friendship needs.

Meet through friends

According to Michaeli, you shouldn’t be above asking your friends to introduce you to some of their friends. There’s lots to be said for shared interests, but shared friendships can also be a strong basis for connection.

Get a dog

People congregating at dog parks almost always talk, and treating your dogs like kids who might want to play together can be a low-stakes way to plan a hangout with another person or couple.

“You could also consider getting a dog,” Michaeli said, “which would require you to go on walks, and having one is a great conversation starter.”

Say hi to those in your life

Sometimes, our new best friends are sitting there right under our noses just waiting for us to make a move.

It might feel awkward to befriend someone in your 30s, but Michaeli suggests things like reaching out to neighbors (this requires trying to have an actual conversation the next time you see your neighbor) and connecting with coworkers by offering to do something fun with them during your off-hours.

Use an app

If you grew up as part of the digital generation, you might feel more comfortable making friends online. In that case, Michaeli suggests using a friend-making app such as BumbleBFF, Huggle or Whistle.

How to make new friends in your 40s

Forty is the new thirty and the friendship challenges you face now are the same ones 30-somethings used to face: Between raising kids, your career, laying down the foundations of your future financial security and maintaining good health, you might be feeling the need for new friendships.

But those challenges can also be opportunities if you look at them the right way. Making friends in your 40s is about weaponizing that most 40-somethings are in the same hectic boat as you and bonding over that.

Befriend the people in your life

If you find yourself overwhelmed and sorely lacking in free time, it might be time for you to shop for friends who are already in your daily orbit and share some of your already-established interests and routines.

“Extending offers of friendship can be infinitely easier, and more feasible,” Handley Schmitt said, “if we give ourselves permission to reach out to people who are already in close proximity, at least until our hectic schedules can be more reasonable.”.

That could mean fellow parents, coworkers or people at your gym.

Get to know your kids’ friends’ parents

Sadoun suggested making friends with the parents of your kids’ friends.

“If you have children, try to get to know the parents of their friends,” Sadoun said, “as this is an easy way to build up a solid friendship group.”

It could take the form of “connecting with another parent at your kiddo’s youth basketball games,” Handley Schmitt said, or when picking them up from a hang at a friend’s house.

Socialize at work

No kids? Don’t get along with your kids’ friends’ parents? You could try another tack and get involved with work events as much as you can and chat with people from different departments.

You might try to plan a social event outside of work or just try talking with people in the breakroom. Commiserating over shared frustrations—like a third-quarter goal you’re both struggling to hit—is a time-honored way of bonding with people.

Socialize at the gym

If you’re childless and work isn’t a great place for socializing, try connecting with someone at your gym.

Asking a fellow gym goer for advice or bonding over a shared interest in a specific workout, machine or class could be a source of a new gym buddy, who could then become a friend you interact with outside the gym, too, if all goes well.

Go on lunch or coffee dates

One trick for turbo-charging a casual acquaintance into a friendship is to suggest daytime hangs.

“As we get older, our life obligations increase and we become busier,” Banks said. “Our time with our friends may begin to look different. I encourage folks to reach out to invite their friend to run those errands together.

“Maybe it becomes harder to plan a night of partying into the wee hours, so consider planning a quick lunch date to catch up. Just because our friendships look different doesn’t mean they are not meaningful.”

How to make new friends in your 50s and beyond

In your 50s, you might be further removed from a lot of the pre-existing networks younger people can tap into. You’re probably not in school, you might not be interacting with other parents via play-groups anymore, and trying to befriend coworkers might feel awkward at this stage of your life.

But there’s no reason for you to be lonely, unless being alone is by choice. If you’re wondering how to make new friends when you are older, you should remember your added life experience often means you can see past the anxieties that plague people earlier in life as they try to make friends. Someone in their 20s or 30s might feel too shy to extend an offer of friendship to someone they know, but you know that’s kids’ stuff.

Pick up a hobby

Whether you retired yet or not, by this point you hopefully have extra time for hobbies.

“I would recommend finding a new hobby and making friends that way,” Sadoun said.

Michaeli agreed, noting now could be a good time to “take some time to reconnect with yourself so that you know what your interests are.”

Finding locals who are also into painting, music, stamp collecting or whatever your interests are will likely prove less daunting and complex than simply trying to find friends.

Get active

Find a local hiking group and get involved with weekly walks.

“It’s easy to get to know people in a walking group,” Sadoun said, “as you’re socializing in a natural environment rather than being forced together in an inauthentic way.”

If you’re feeling more ambitious, Michaeli suggested joining your local YMCA or sports club.

Go online

If you’re comfortable navigating the web, there are some great options for those in their 50s and up.

You might try “joining some Facebook groups specifically geared towards individuals in their 50s and then trying to meet up face-to-face with some of them,” Michaeli said, or “looking on Meetup.com for events that interest you.”

And don’t forget about friends you may have had in earlier chapters of your life. The internet makes it easier than ever to find and reconnect with people from our past.

Go back to school

You’re never too old to be a continuing education student. Michaeli suggested taking a class at a local community college.

You might not necessarily befriend the youthful undergraduates, but it could be a great way to find similar-minded people who are also taking a second crack at higher education.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.