We know that a strong social network is fundamental to healthy aging, especially for older adults without a spouse or children, but the pandemic may have led many people to drastically shrink their social circle. Now that restrictions are easing and people can once again gather, how do we start reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen or talked with for months or even years?
Reaching out to friends or family members that have been distant during the pandemic can be difficult and it takes a little bit of bravery to put yourself “out there”. But keep in mind that others will likely be feeling much the same as you, wishing for greater social connectivity, but unsure how to begin. There may be awkward moments – or you may fall back into a familiar rapport, chatting and sharing stories.
Many families have been personally affected by the pandemic, either suffering the loss of a loved one, becoming ill themselves or experiencing financial hardships. Others, too, may find it challenging to reconnect, so it’s important to be patient and not take it personally if it takes several attempts to establish a time to catch up. There may be relationships that don’t flourish again for various reasons, not the least of which can be vaccination hesitancy or polar political beliefs.
If there are friendships that don’t recover from the interruption of the pandemic, it may be helpful to view this time as an opportunity for new friendships to develop. It can be more challenging to meet new people as we age, retire from work, and our nests empty. Remote work or a move can also add to a sense of loneliness and isolation. By volunteering, or taking a new class, new connections may be forged with other like-minded people.
Because research has repeatedly demonstrated that friendship is a strong indicator of happiness and promotes better health and longevity, more friendship apps are popping up to help connect people “in real life” and not just through social media. Dog lovers can connect through PawDates, people can find community activities on Meetup, and new neighbors can connect through Nextdoor.
Be patient with yourself, it will take time to strengthen your social muscles, but it will get easier, even for introverts. Try to be interested in what others have to say and ask lots of questions, most people love to talk about themselves! A shared interest or hobby can help make it easier to start conversations and develop meaningful friendships. It is also important to respect others’ comfort level with social contact – an outdoor meetup for a coffee and a walk is a good place to start.