I made a new friend this week. Well kinda.  While out walking Meeker, our dog, I met a couple walking their two dogs.  They just bought a house in the neighborhood and will be moving in soon.  Normally I would have finished the hello-nice-to-meet-you-what’s-your-basic-background chat and said I looked forward to seeing them soon. But, I didn’t. In a somewhat unusual move for me, I actually made a plan to meet them the next morning to walk the dogs and show them our favorite dog park. It was the first step to creating a new friendship.

We’ve owned our future retirement home for nearly ten years, using it primarily for family vacations.  As a result, we have yet to create a community here. But, with one child getting married, and the other having just moved across the country, it’s time to be proactive and start creating our future.

Making friends as an empty nester is not so easy.  And if I don’t start following the advice I used to give our kids about making friends – e.g., “invite them over for a play date”-  it’s going to be a very lonely life. 

I have a friend who relocated from Connecticut last year to be near his children. He’s a master at connecting with people; he and his wife always had plans for activities with neighbors, friends and co-workers. They’re definitely “that couple” who everyone wants to be around, But even he was saying that creating new relationships is now slow and challenging.  They’ve met some neighbors with whom they’ve gotten dinner. And have gone mountain biking with one couple and skiing with another.  It’s pleasant, but far from the dear friendships that developed during childhood, college, or while raising children together.

When I was in my twenties I actually foresaw the varied tiers of relationships. I remember clearly having a conversation about the different types of friends I had… work friends, gym friends, go-to-the-movies friends, and those few special long time friends with whom I had grown up or gone to college with. The ones who know your soul.  

After marrying and having kids, I added on great neighbors who watch out for each other and always have that cup of sugar, and the priceless mommy-network of parents of kids’ friends, PTA members and, in my case, the parents from my kids’ sports teams.

It’s an amazing patchwork quilt of different people for different times that we all develop through the years. But then, poof… the kids are grown, you decide to relocate and that network is disconnected.  Sure there’s texting, and phone calls and occasional get togethers, but the day to day support has vanished.

Now what are you going to do?

Twist that old cliche…Keep the old, but make new friends….being sure in the process that you do it with a clean heart, without comparison or regret. You’re not replacing the old dear friends.  You’re simply adding to the quilt.

I have two amazing women who have done this perfectly and whom I respect so much for it. My mother and my mother in law.  Since my dad died nearly eight years ago, I have watched my mother develop as an independent being, rather than “dad’s wife.”  Yes, she kept her old friends but now, as a single person, she was more proactive in developing her own circle of friends through book clubs, her synagogue, education programs and assorted volunteer groups.   Similarly, when my father-in-law died four years ago, his wife (my husband’s step mother) left the city where they had lived for 30+ years and moved to Phoenix to be near her children.  But, no, it’s not that she suddenly latched on to their lives. She has built a rich and vibrant set of friends in her new neighborhood – a far larger community than she has been part of for a very long time. 

Both women weren’t replacing the old – they were adding new activities, interests and relationships into their lives.  

I talk about empty nesters, but the truth is, this is going to affect all those people who think remote work is the cat’s meow. Millions of people relocated during the pandemic from high priced cities, to lower cost areas such as Austin, Charlotte and Tulsa, OK and likely will not return to their prior locations, either because they can continue to work remotely for the previous job, or deciding that they want a change in lifestyle and environment (especially as crime surges in many cities). (https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-remote-work-is-reshaping-americas-urban-geography-11614960100) Sure you can work in your pajamas all day – but zoom is not really effective at forming connections and getting to know people.  You can’t share a lava cake through zoom. 

Social interaction and connection is vital to our long term health and longevity.  It starts with returning to the basics….

  1. Say “hello” – all conversations start with “hello.”  Smile at others in the dog park or your place of worship. Don’t know where to start?  Here are some suggestions.
  2. Join a group – there is a group for everything.  It’s a sure fire way to find those who share your interests. 
  3. Connect with your alumni association. I have a dear friend who has relocated numerous times. In every city she connects with the University of Alabama parents groups since her son (and her husband) attended school there.  She is a master at quickly finding new community wherever she goes.
  4.  Make a “play date”. It’s what we had our kids do because it worked.

You’ve waited and planned for this new and exciting chapter in a whole new place. Lean into it fully with an expanded universe of friends.