You Need Friends to Be Happy as You Get Older

I have begun to worry about my close relationships. Let’s face it, I might never have a “significant other.” According to the longest ongoing study on happiness, having emotionally supportive relationships in mid-life will help ensure you have better health and more happiness at 80. If I want to be happy as I get older, I’m going to have to make more friends!

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.” – From Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Good Genes are Nice But Joy is Better, Harvard Gazette

This means that we all need to be deliberate and create and maintain relationships going forward because nothing less than the future of our health and happiness is at stake!

Hey! Who am I to argue with brainiacs from Harvard?!

Relationship? What Relationship?

While married people have consistently come out as happier than their unmarried counterparts, the study originally only included men. Think about that. ONLY men answered the questionnaires.

“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

George Vaillant, director from 1972 to 2004

In my opinion, because they didn’t study women until fairly recently and because men my age are not as likely to form close friendships, the results are somewhat skewed. I have only anecdotal evidence to back this up but I believe women are better at making friends. We are even open to being creative in our living arrangements, too. Remember the Golden Girls?

Take my recent online dating experiences, for example.

Rebel Without a Clue

Rebel rebel

On a daily basis, I can see the influence of Rebel Without a Cause on the older men suggested by the algorithm. They have photos of themselves with a mean looking street bike in order to project the air of “who cares” like a young Brando in The Wild Ones. They want a woman to accompany them on the back of these death (or worse) traps.

Retirement Blues

Some studies have found that up to one third of male retirees are depressed. These guys are Boomers who have traditionally been career-oriented. If you associate your identity so strongly with your career, what happens when that is over?

“… For many it’s also the human interaction of the workplace that they miss. The workplace provides a social setting of conversation and camaraderie…A 2003 study published by the Journal of Aging and Mental Health found the most significant contributor to self-reported depression was a sense of loneliness.” – Fifth Third Bank

Typically, the guy was so focused on making a success of his career that he didn’t spend enough time on his relationships. If his marriage ended, he probably threw himself even more fully into work and didn’t bother keeping up with friends. Finally he retires. He goes from being the head honcho, driven and purposeful, to just another grey-haired divorced guy waiting for the mail in his PJ’s.

Maybe he buys a street bike…and joins a dating site.

How to End Up Alone & Angry as Hell

I have dated several men who had no friends for me to meet. I would organize dinner nights or plan a theme party, or get concert tickets or arrange to go out dancing with my friends and they’d tag along. We’d always spend time together at my place because it was more comfortable. Often my kids or other people would drop by. It felt like I was making all the effort in the relationship. I guess I was. Soon I’d grow resentful and stop inviting him out. No one likes to feel used.

Women, too, do this – especially at first. Both women and men can get wrapped up in nasty baggage that they can’t seem to let go of. We can get bitter, angry, and complain about everything. It’s always someone else’s fault for our terrible circumstances.

These are the people that are most at risk of ending up unhappy at 80. Those of us who won’t stop feeling sorry for ourselves and who refuse to go out and find our own lives.

Making friends as adults is crucial to our mental AND physical well-being. If we want to be happy as we get older, it’s essential we seek out emotionally supportive relationships.

Lost Friends

Most of us spend the first few months and years trying desperately to replace the partner we’ve lost. We are not the best people to date during this time. It took me awhile to realize that I needed to make new friends and not just adopt a guy and his life.

I wanted to have someone fun to hang out with and bounce ideas off of, etc. I went to every talk at the library, every art exhibition, every concert for months. When I look back, dang! I ended up having fun – even going alone!

Finally, I met a friend at one of these events. I was ecstatic!

We began hanging out and I really enjoyed her viewpoint, which was very different from my own. We spent a lot of time out dancing. I didn’t realize that she might have a problem with alcohol until I invited her along to my cousin’s wedding camp out.

She was already drunk when I picked her up at noon and things went downhill from there. When we arrived, after a harrowing trip to a grocery store for supplies, she refused to help set up the tent. Then she began complaining loudly and insulted nearly everyone within ear shot. Thankfully, she passed out soon after and the wedding went off without a hitch. Eventually she recognized she needed help and I’m happy to say that she is sober now. Our friendship, however, didn’t survive.

Bravely, I went to the next wedding alone. The only other single person felt it necessary to bring a date. One that became a stranger soon after the wedding and who will forever stare sullenly out from the wedding photos, I might add.

How to Win Friends

After the hell of the past few years, I find myself again needing to make new friends. I know that having friends is key to being happy as I get older. I’ve been watching Mel Robbins on YouTube lately to get advice on how to make friends as an adult. Mel is “A New York Times Bestselling author and (has) the #1 ranking The Mel Robbins Podcast.” Her advice is practical and reassuring. We can do this!

There are also groups on Facebook (try searching for “friends over 50”) and a new site called that is just for finding friends to do things with, although its user base is pretty small.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a partner or a friend you’re looking for, it’s the quality of the relationships with others that matter as you get older. They need to be emotionally supportive.

The best advice I’ve heard is to become more like the person you’d like to date or be friends with. Have interesting hobbies to share or causes you’re passionate about. You can also keep up with your existing friends, especially those that are single. I need to get better at this. Make your friendships a priority so you have people to go out and do fun things with.

Above all, don’t let the odd disappointment get you down for long.

Their Loss

Recently I got rebuffed and it’s taken the wind out of my sails.

I ran into someone I’d met a few years ago and during the course of our conversation, she told me that she found herself getting depressed every night from 5PM to 7PM. She said she felt especially lonely at this time of night. I could relate as I sometimes feel that way on Sundays. This is why I don’t mind working Sunday nights.

We exchanged numbers.

I texted her a week later to see if she’d like to go out for appies. When she finally texted me back a few days later, she said she’d thought about it and decided she had too many friends already.

Did I do something wrong? Maybe she found out I was unvaccinated and she is a Covidian or something. (This is a name that unvaccinated people give those who are still really gung-ho about the whole standard Covid narrative and are still angry and blaming the unvaxxed for the whole pandemic.)

The REAL Living Dead Girl

Then I remembered something. A few years ago at a chance meeting downtown, I ran into her. I was walking home after yet another disastrous first date. It had ended up in a graveyard. (Now there’s a metaphor!) I told her about it and she let out a squeal of excitement. Apparently, this would be her ideal first date!

She is not really my cup of tea. Besides being single women, we don’t have a lot in common. I decided to be grateful that she rejected me as a friend. I just wish she hadn’t gotten my hopes up first.

I’m not going to let this experience stop me from reaching out to others.

Thank You for Being a Friend

So, if making (and keeping) friends is the best way to keep us happy, healthy, and having fun as we get older, we’d better get on it! I’m going to do a little soul-searching, take up a new hobby that involves other people and get out of the house regularly for a walk or for coffee.

One tip from me, though: stay out of the graveyard. Looks like we’ll be spending all our time there soon enough….


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