“I’ve always had a lot of friends,” said Madeleine, who has lived alone in her family home since her husband died of cancer a few years ago. “But I’ve slowly lost touch with most of my friends over the years. I made some new ones through a support group here in San Francisco while I was caring for Walter, but when his cancer got worse toward the end, I couldn’t make it to the meetups anymore, and I fell out of touch with those people too.”
The more time that goes by without developing new friendships, the harder it seems to Madeleine to find and make connections. A lot of older adults experience similar feelings of isolation for a variety of reasons: with increased age comes a greater likelihood of living alone, the loss of a partner or many friends over the years, busy sons and daughters caring for their young families, or physical limitations preventing participation in sports or other group activities.
Life changes common to aging often bring an even greater need for warm, supportive connections, though. But older, retired adults can’t always count on the social networks they used to naturally form around school, work, and parenting. If your circumstances have led you to an isolated lifestyle, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck and it doesn’t mean you have to live in loneliness. Reach out. Opportunities are awaiting you in the San Francisco community. You can overcome your feelings of loneliness, and along the way possibly even find greater health in body, mind, and spirit.
Friendships Improve Emotional and Physical Health
Close your eyes and think back to some of your best friendships; get in touch with the emotional benefits we find in these connections with others. Social isolation has been shown to have a stronger negative impact on an aging adult’s health than even diabetes, while researchers have linked strong social relationships with lowered risks of dementia, hypertension, obesity, and inflammation.
We experience the same benefits from friendships later in life as we do in our youth, like:
- Giving us a place to feel we belong
- Helping us connect to our sense of purpose
- Relieving stress and improving our mood
- Encouraging self-esteem and confidence
- Supporting us in our healthy habits and lifestyle
- Offering us companionship, compassion, and support when we’re going through challenges and tough times
As Madeline noted, “I was so grateful for my friends in that support group. They understood what I was feeling, even when I had a hard time putting it into words. I regret that I let it slip away because it really was a supportive group. I feel as though I don’t know how to make friends anymore.”
Opportunities for Friendship as an Older Adult in San Francisco
Madeleine’s memory of the strong connections she found in her local caregiver support group brings up the possibility of reaching out and reconnecting with friends from the past. But what if you’ve moved away from your old circle of friends, what if they’ve passed away, or you have no way to reach them anymore? Making new friends may seem difficult, but it’s never impossible. You’d be surprised how many groups for older adults there are in San Francisco that promote community and sharing of interests.
It may feel odd to have to strategize to make new friends, but don’t let that discourage you from getting started. A lot of aging adults, no longer connected to their former social networks, can feel as if they’re all alone in their experience. But remember that it’s only hard for you to make new friends because it’s hard to do so in general. You’re not the only one out there looking for friendship and wondering how to find it.
Digital tools help us stay connected with our family and friends from a distance, and the internet has become an invaluable resource for finding local opportunities for connection, but one rule of thumb when you’re starting on your journey toward friendship is to stay local. While online communities open up virtually the whole world to us, you may end up having more of a relationship with the computer than the unfiltered, authentic, and deeply connected friendships that provide the most physical and emotional benefits.
Local San Francisco Opportunities That Encourage Connection
Just like in your younger years, connections will open up for you if you keep pursuing your interests and stay open to growth and learning. Keep this in mind as you venture down your new path, inviting and nurturing brand new friendships. Here are some great San Francisco hot spots to begin exploring community:
- The San Francisco Senior Center: The oldest nonprofit senior center in the US offers an enormous range of community opportunities for older adults at the Aquatic Park and Downtown Centers. In order to join, just make an annual membership donation of $70 as an individual or $125 as a household. That membership opens up opportunities for art classes, craft groups, computer access and assistance, Mahjong and Bridge game groups, theater groups, dementia caregiver support groups, fitness and dance classes, diabetes education classes, choirs, movie groups, and chances to just meet and get to know others in the community. Take a look at the schedules for the two locations. You’re bound to find something that sparks your interest!
- The Older Adults Program (OLAD): City College of San Francisco offers free classes specifically for students 55 years and older. These classes take place in different locations throughout the city, and they’re geared toward various subjects, literature to art, computer skills to overall wellness. Return to your school days when making friends was an integral part of learning.
- Bay Area volunteering: One great way to meet people is by getting out and volunteering in the community. You can find plenty of these opportunities in San Francisco through the public library, organizations that support the homeless, public schools, and animal care.
- San Francisco Senior Meetups: Meetup is a website that allows individuals to start groups. Other people can learn about those groups, join them, and take part in local meetups that revolve around shared interests. You can sign up for free; all you need is an email address or a Facebook account.
- Aging in Community: This San Francisco Bay Area meetup brings older adults together to explore possibilities for senior cohousing and other empowering topics on self-realization, activism, and personal responsibility as elders.
- Bay Area Seniors Rock!: This is a large group of active adults wanting to connect through diverse interests. Once you join, you’re even invited to propose your own Meetup idea for group members to get involved in.
One thing’s for sure, you’ll meet more people by getting out into the community than you will by staying at home. The effort that it takes to join in will be well worth it as you find others searching for friendship and companionship as well.
When a group or activity sparks your interest, commit to attending regularly, giving authentic friendships a chance to develop naturally. Creating these new and empowering relationships in our older age is a chance for rebirth, a renewed connection to ourselves—and to our true happiness.
Reach out to Institute on Aging for even more ideas and ways to make friends as an older adult in San Francisco. We are passionate about creating and connecting resources to help you thrive.