How to … expand your social circle

“If you can count your close friends on one hand, then you’re a lucky person,” I remember my mother telling me when I was young, back when the world was a haze of colouring-in and swing sets. I remember counting every child in my kindergarten class on my fingers and toes, and grinning, believing I was the luckiest person in world, because the kids around me were surely good, lifelong friends in the making. 

Years later my mother would tell me that there are times in life when you make friends, and times in your life when you hold them. “School,” she told me, “University, work, and then again when you have children of your own, and you and the other parents send them off to school.” I waited for more, but that seemed to be it. As a teenager I mused over this, a fear of loneliness fuelled my already urgent desire to make friends.

But without an enforced structure that concentrates you and your peers together, it seems that friend making becomes a harder, and rarer pursuit.

In 2018, one in four Aussies report feeling lonely at least one day a week. With isolation forcefully cutting off many people’s social contact, this statistic has likely worsened. In fact, a ‘loneliness epidemic’ may be our next public health crisis. Social support decreases after the age of 55, and the loss of partners and friends, paired with the potential decline of physical and mental health, can worsen feelings of loneliness.

A YourLifeChoices survey revealed that only 22 per cent of our members never felt lonely, while 16 per cent felt lonely all the time. Others reported feeling lonely once a day (five per cent), every two to three days (13 per cent) and every now and then (39 per cent).

Australia is an ageing population, meaning that we are moving towards a time when one quarter of our population will be over 65. Fortunately, there are people, programs and communities eager to connect, you just have to know where to look.

Volunteer
Whether you’re working or living in retirement, you likely have a useful skillset that would be greatly appreciated by a charity. Search for volunteer opportunities in your area, or visit websites such as GoVolunteer or SEEK Volunteer to try and find the right match for you.

Join a club
What better way to meet likeminded people and bond over similar interests than to join a club. Clubs can be about anything, from sports, books, games, craft to cooking, though many are an excuse to get together and have a laugh with peers. Search online for clubs in your local area, if you can’t find any, search for groups on Facebook that may give you further direction. A website called Meetup also allows you to find or start groups with people who share similar passions. It’s also designed to connect people in the time of COVID-19, so you can start talking and sharing with groups online now.

Don’t let gender deter you
Despite how much we learn and mature as we get older, some people still let trivial barriers such as gender deter them from friendships. The truth is there are lots of people of the opposite gender with whom you share interests and passions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you find interesting and would like to get to know, regardless of their gender.

Speak up
Many people feel nervous talking to strangers and make the mistake of thinking they are the only ones who do. When you attend an event or meeting, make sure you reach out. Asking questions and including others is a great way to start conversations and friendships.

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Written by Liv Gardiner

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