These days, many people are using the same strategy to find new friends that they would use to search for a new house, a new job, or a new marriage partner: They're harnessing the power of the Internet.
A growing number of websites make the task easier by setting up social networks exclusively focused on facilitating platonic friendships. Before I list some of the sites, let me explain why they're thriving.
The growing problem of loneliness in midlife
It's common to feel lonely in midlife. That's because many predictable or unexpected life transitions have the potential to disrupt existing ties with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. These transitions include, for example:
- Changing jobs, retiring, or losing a job
- Moving to a new town, a new state, or across the globe – or having close family members move away from you
- Getting married, separated, divorced, or losing a spouse through death
- Becoming an empty-nester
- Being diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, which either limits mobility and/or abilities to socialize outside the home
In addition, some people simply outgrow the friends they have had in the past or wind up getting dumped along a former-BFF's path to self-actualization.
A recent survey of more than 3000 individuals over the age of 45 found that 35 percent of respondents characterized themselves as "chronically lonely," compared with 20 percent in a similar survey a decade ago. Although the reasons are unclear, loneliness was more severe among adults in their 40s and 50s than among those in their 60s and 70s.
Places on the web to make new friends
Most social networking sites focused on connecting new friends function in ways similar to Match.com or other dating sites. Users complete a profile and are able to search a database of others who are also seeking new friends. Some services are free; others charge a small monthly fee to ensure commitment from users. In addition to making the match, some facilitate in person meetings in small or larger groups. The majority of them, although not all, are women-only sites.
So if you are feeling lonely, here are 5 sites worth checking out:
- Companion Tree is open to both men and women between the ages of 18 and 80 but unlike dating sites, this environment is free of romantic expectations. The average age of members is 50 years old and while most members are from the U.S. and Canada, there are members from 25 countries.
- Girlfriend Circles connects women, ages 21-65, with other women online and sets up local "Connecting Circles" for 3 to 6 women to meet in a neighborhood café or such, in 35 cities. The circles are based on the premise that women feel more comfortable in a small group where they can engage in meaningful conversation as opposed to a large social event which often winds up in small talk. It's also less threatening than meeting one-on-one and offers more choices.
- Social Jane is a women-only social networking site that allows women to connect with others and then exchange emails to set up appointments to share activities (e.g. for taking a vacation, becoming walking partners, etc.) or free time. It is currently available in the U.S. only for women of all ages.
- Girlfriend Social allows women, ages 18 and over, to seek out and connect with like-mined women in cities and communities across the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia. With a few clicks, women can find someone with kids the same age or someone who shares the same reading interests, message them, and start connecting. The site also sponsors local events.
- The Social Woman allows female members to find others in the same city, who share common interests (such as. yoga, traveling, sports, shopping, night life, etc.), and meet them locally. Active members live in Montreal and Toronto and the organization is expanding into Western Canada.
As always, be sure to practice "Safe Internet." Be an informed consumer. Before you enroll, read the privacy and confidentiality information, as well as the fine print on membership and pricing. Make sure any in-person meetings take place in public places.
Some people suggest that the use of social media has made us lax about forming real relationships. The burgeoning growth of social networking sites like these suggests that real and virtual friendships can go hand in hand.
Check out my prior post, 5 Tips for Making New Friends after 50, which offers other suggestions for overcoming the challenges in making friendship later in life.
You may also like to read: Words with Friends: A Serendipitous Way to Make New Friends.