“I never want to quit working because I’ll be socially isolated and I won’t be able to make new friends.” Is this a legitimate concern or one of the worst objections to early retirement?
There is reason in worrying about loneliness in retirement but it’s not a good reason to work forever, especially if you don’t like your job! Getting out of a stressful work situation will make you a nicer, better person and therefore more likable and friendly.
If work is your only source of friends and social interaction, then perhaps it’s time to broaden your social network and look for friendship in other places.
Do you have enough friends already?
Are you an overly friendly person and find yourself fighting people off so you have some free time for yourself? Did your iphone run out of space in the Contacts list because of too many friends? If so, then you probably have enough friends. But you might want to read the rest of the article to make sure you have the right kind of friends for the long term.
For the rest of you, perhaps you wish for more human interaction, more friends to share experiences with, and more people to bounce ideas off of? If you said “yes, more please” then you definitely need to read on.
First, accept that you are not alone (<– loneliness joke; get it?). Lots of smart, successful, seemingly well composed adults struggle to make and keep friends. Friends also come and go as life changes, people move, and interests shift throughout life.
How to gain more friends
I don’t have a magic formula for becoming an immediately likable person. I can, however, assign some reading that will help. Go to your library and check out Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Although the book was originally released in 1936, I feel the advice is timeless and will remain just as relevant for several centuries to come. It all boils down to human nature.
Since I don’t own a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, I had to copy/paste these six ways to make people like you from the Wikipedia summary of Carnegie’s book:
- Become genuinely interested in other people. “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you.” The only way to make quality, lasting friendships is to learn to be genuinely interested in them and their interests.
- Smile. Happiness does not depend on outside circumstances, but rather on inward attitudes. Smiles are free to give and have an amazing ability to make others feel wonderful. Smile in everything that you do.
- Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. “The average person is more interested in their own name than in all the other names in the world put together.” People love their names so much that they will often donate large amounts of money just to have a building named after themselves. We can make people feel extremely valued and important by remembering their name.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. The easiest way to become a good conversationalist is to become a good listener. To be a good listener, we must actually care about what people have to say. Many times people don’t want an entertaining conversation partner; they just want someone who will listen to them.
- Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. The royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most. If we talk to people about what they are interested in, they will feel valued and value us in return.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. The golden rule is to treat other people how we would like to be treated. We love to feel important and so does everyone else. People will talk to us for hours if we allow them to talk about themselves. If we can make people feel important in a sincere and appreciative way, then we will win all the friends we could ever dream of.
To summarize: smile, listen, remember names, talk about other people and make others feel important.
But you have to do all that in a genuine, sincere way.
Where do I find these friends?
People that like other people are everywhere. The hard part is finding and identifying them.
The first place to look is in your existing social circles. Neighbors and friends of friends are a good place to start.
Beyond that, focus on groups that are full of people likely to share your interests. Think hobbies, pastimes, volunteer opportunities, sports, fitness, and outdoor activities.
Where can I find these “groups”, you ask? Meetup.com and Facebook are full of thousands of local groups centered around just as many different interests and sub-interests. I did a quick search for sports and fitness groups in Raleigh, North Carolina and found 124 groups of people dying to do fun, active things with other people. I could become member #264 in the Raleigh Swordfighting Meetup group or member #600 in the Triangle Pickeball group. Don’t know anything about swordfighting or pickleball? Me neither! Go learn!
Joining a group is easy and low commitment. If you don’t like it, you can drop out and never show up again. Usually these events are free, but sometimes they ask for a couple bucks to offset facility rental space or to offset cost of refreshments.
After attending a few events, you’ll start to see familiar faces and can strike up conversations with people. Just walk up to them and say “Will U be my friend?”. Or something like that. Just remember Dale Carnegie’s advice and be smooth, dude.
In case you haven’t noticed, one of my hobbies is Financial Independence and Early Retirement. I like the subject because attaining FIRE has been very rewarding personally and it’s a subject worth sharing with others. I also find average FIRE-ees to be very interesting people that enjoy a good conversation and usually know more than me.
I’m a member of a few “FIRE” clubs in Raleigh and get together with these groups at least a few times per year. On top of that, people find me through my blog and occasionally become more than casual acquaintances in real life.
When I attended CampFI Midatlantic in April, I made several new friends. While chatting with one couple, I mentioned a cruise to Cuba that we booked for 2019. Once they returned home, they looked into the cruise and decided to join us on that cruise. New friends maybe?
But all the people my age work Mon-Fri and can’t come out to play during the week!
When you retire early you’re typically free almost 24/7. However, most people that continue to work are stuck in an office Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.
This could be a problem, but don’t forget that there are evenings and weekends for socializing and fun. Schedule all your boring stuff and solitary activities during standard office hours, then let it rip with the working stiffs at night and over the weekend.
However, I’ve found that a lot of working people are free on weekdays. Tons of folks like nurses, firefighters, police, and factory workers all have non-routine schedules. Some do shift work that leaves them free during the day time. Others work an average of three or four days per week, often on weekends. Others are hourly employees with different schedules every week that means they occasionally have slots during the middle of the day when they are free.
Other folks are temporarily unemployed, self employed, or work from home and can take off chunks of time whenever they want (within reason). Find these people and get them to do fun stuff with you.
The miracle of children
If you do have kids, they seem to magically make new friends. Don’t overlook the parents of your kids’ friends as a source of new friends for you! Your kids can play together and the adults can play, too. We’ve cultivated several new friendships in this way.
If you don’t have kids, or your kids are grown and gone, and you are approaching age 55, consider moving to an “active adult community”. You’ll be surrounded by other older-but-not-necessarily-old-yet folks that you might find something in common with.
Spouses as friends?
Since Mrs. Root of Good joined me in retirement a few years ago, we tend to do a lot of activities together during the week while the kids are in school. Tennis, hiking, biking, swimming, going for walks, and watching Netflix are all more fun with a partner.
We still do plenty of stuff on our own since I’m more extroverted and tend to attend more social events by myself. Do some things together and some things alone – it works for us!
Our work on the blog is a good example. She’s more interested in photography and takes 99.9% of all the pictures you see on this blog. I write all the articles on the blog, and she proofreads them. We brainstorm ideas for the blog together. It’s a fun project we both work on, and each one of us takes on the tasks that interest us the most.
Start making friends before you retire completely
If you’re worried about leaving work and not having any friends, then start searching for friendship before you quit work. It will give you the peace of mind to know that other people are out there and make the leap into the unknown a little more knowable.
And don’t plan on your old work friends sticking with you long term. Maybe it will happen, but in my personal experience leaving two long-term jobs and talking to many others who have moved on from full time work, most coworker friends don’t stick around forever.
Consider why you became friends in the first place. Most likely it was the fact that you both worked for the same employer in the same office and you both needed a paycheck. When you no longer work in the same office and one of you no longer needs a paycheck, you tend to grow apart. Those daily or weekly lunches you used to enjoy start to happen monthly or just a couple times per year. Eventually you realize your old work friend moved to Memphis (or Des Moines?) two years ago, remarried, and had a kid and you didn’t know about any of that because you unfollowed them on facebook for a reason you can no longer remember. You slowly drift apart since you no longer have office politics and the project du jour to occupy your chat sessions.
Don’t take it personally – I haven’t kept in touch with more than a handful of my former coworker-friends. And for those that I do keep in touch with, it’s mostly through facebook and lunches out on a very infrequent basis.
Starting the friendship hunt is even more important for those about to relocate as part of their early retirement plans. Move to a new place and you’ll be severing physical ties with a lot of casual friends in your old home city. Making a few friends or acquaintances in your new city (or country!) will be helpful in your transition away from the lack of people surrounding you at your job.
Is this only a concern for socially awkward, type B personalities?
My hypothesis is that people who are very extroverted and make new friends easily will find this entire article not incredibly relevant or meaningful. Why worry about making new friends? Just show up to a new bar at happy hour, hang out for a bit, buy a round of drinks and you’ll have 20 brand new insta-friends, right?!
On the other hand, many people aren’t that outgoing. A lot of people are genuinely worried about finding an adequate amount of social interaction and friendship in retirement. For those people, I have written this article. Retired fighters of loneliness unite!
It’s completely reasonable to worry about having friends that share your interests during retirement. You don’t want to be alone. But you don’t have to work forever just to have friends.
If you need tips on making new friends, check out Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” for some solid, timeless advice on making new friends and being a more likable person in general.
If you’re struggling to find all these potential friends in real life, join groups filled with people that share common interests with you. This might be volunteer activities or groups centered around sports, fitness, the outdoors, hobbies, or intellectual or cultural interests.
Finding and keeping friends will contribute to your long term happiness and fulfillment as you enter retirement. If you struggle to make friends outside of the workplace, you need to take positive steps now to find friends during retirement.
If you are still working, how concerned are you about finding friends during early retirement? If you’re already retired, have you felt socially isolated or had a hard time finding or keeping friends in retirement?
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