The Joy of Making New Friends
We all need a circle of pals, but making new friends after 50 is challenging
(This article was originally published on Next Tribe .)
The year I turned 60 my life collapsed like a bridge built by a crooked contractor. My investment broker stole my life’s savings, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my freelance writing career tanked and most heartbreakingly, my blissful 15-year marriage fell apart. I was down so low it looked like up to me — and then, a miracle, in the form of a job offer. In Los Angeles, where I knew no one. Four hundred miles from Oakland, where all my friends and family lived, where I’d made my home for the past 30 years.
I was all out of options. I walked through that one open door.
It didn’t take long to realize that solving my most pressing practical problems had surfaced a pressing emotional problem. Its name was loneliness, and I could only think of two ways to solve it. I could throw myself the world’s least festive pity party. Or I could do whatever it took to make some new friends.
Social Media S.O.S.
I was all out of black balloons, so I went with Plan B. I threw pride to the winds and posted messages on Facebook and Twitter, asking if any of my friends knew anyone in Los Angeles who I might like and who might like me. To my delight, the platonic matchmaking offers started pouring in.
For the next month, I engaged in a blitz of friend speed-dating, meeting a different stranger at a different bar, coffee shop or hiking trail three or four days or nights each week. Before we’d even met, I knew things — important things — about them; I learned to read the signs.
The married women with kids could only meet for lunch during the workweek — no nights, no weekends, when I was loneliest.
The divorced women with kids were eager to meet on nights and weekends, when their joint-custodial husbands had their kids.
The women on diets wanted to meet for coffee, not dinner.
The women who’d had problems with alcohol wanted to meet for dinner, not drinks.
Reading the Signs
As the dates went on, I got better at quickly determining whether the new face sitting across the table from me was one I wanted to see more of.
Great sense of humor? Yes.
Willing to share and be shared with? Double yes.
Interesting and interested? Engaged in the events of La-La Land and the turnings of the real world? Living or working within a 30-minutes-with-traffic trek? Woo hoo.
Unlike romantic dating, I wasn’t looking for the Right One, but a small, select coterie of Right Ones. And I found them.
Three months after arriving in a city famous for its shallow, starved and surgically altered women, I had a dozen-plus people to hang out with and four new close friends, the kind whose couches I can comfortably cuddle up on and who comfortably cuddle up on mine.
Inside the Inner Circle
Lucky me: I’ve been adopted by Nichole and Donna, a modern-day Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, whose 30 happy years together have given them a surfeit of love to share with others, and who have made it their project to help me fall in love with L.A.
Their best friend, Marie, booked front-row box seats for the four of us for Ziggy Marley at the Hollywood Bowl, where they poured bubbly into sparkling glass flutes and fed me a delicious Mediterranean meal.
I was prepared to mope alone through my first L.A. Fourth of July, but Nichole and Donna invited me to their barbecue, where a dozen of their closest friends, including me, ate our body weight in baby back ribs. When I finally rented my own place, Nichole, Donna, and Marie were my first dinner guests.
A Facebook connection led me into the inner circle of a socialite philanthropist named Patsy Sue, who had me to lunch at her Beverly Hills mansion. Over mango chicken salad and perfect petits fours served by her live-in housekeeper, Patsy confided that at age 70, she’d packed up her life and relocated to L.A. “I haven’t regretted it once,” she told me. When she reassured me, “And you’re young, with your whole life ahead of you,” I wanted to kiss her Chanel-shod feet.
At the end of my first carbs-and-confession brunch with Hannah, a writer my age, we agreed that we felt we’d known each other all our lives. Hannah introduced me to the hiking trails of Santa Monica, the bookstores and cafés of downtown L.A., the wonders of her chicken Marsala and her circle of novelist friends.
When 40-year-old Charlotte and I discovered shared passions for affordable bars, unaffordable couture and unrepeatable disclosures, our friendship leapt over our 20-year age difference — just as Patsy and I bonded despite the decade between us. By night, Charlotte and I explored the diviest watering holes of Melrose and West Hollywood; by day, we emailed each other biting commentary, verging-on-corny inspirational quotes, and pictures of her good-enough-to-eat baby boys.
Complications and Rewards
Starting from friendship-scratch in my 61st year brought complications I didn’t encounter when I was young.
It was challenging, catching up and being caught up on the missing 50 or 60 years of each other’s lives. Memorizing new casts of characters would have been no picnic at 30; at 60 it’s scrambled eggs on the brain.
But in my 60s, I have an extra appreciation for the infectious giggling binges, shopping sprees and late-night tell-all sessions I thought I might have sacrificed along with my former ZIP code.
Towing my own frailties in my U-Haul of failed relationships helps me forgive the flaws I find in my new friends. More than I could have at 12 or 30 or even 50, I treasure the chance they offer for a friendship makeover, which beats the hell out of the alternative I feared: that for me, the love and laughter of friendship were over.
Excerpted from The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention, by Meredith Maran, published by Blue Rider Press.