Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
It happens to everyone: You have close friends at a certain point in your life, but you all get older. Families grow, jobs change, moves happen – and suddenly, you’ve fallen out of touch with people you once saw and spoke to all the time.
While drifting apart is natural, it’s important to make the effort to stay in contact with treasured friends, especially as you age. The New York Times reported that strong social relationships have numerous positive effects, including increased immune system functionality, longevity, and ability to deal with chronic pain.
On the other hand, an AARP study found that nearly 43 million Americans over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness, which has a significantly greater impact on your physical and emotional health than you might think. The study suggests that chronically lonely individuals have a higher risk of premature death.
Lonely, vulnerable people are also more susceptible to falling for online scams. When you’re desperate for social connections, you’ll trust anyone who shows you attention – even though that person may just be looking to gain enough personal information to rip you off and steal from you.
Social support from true, reliable, real-life friends may diminish the need to seek connections with internet strangers – or, if you do reach out to new virtual friends, talking to your trusted circle about them can help steer you away from fraud.
Based on advice from experts interviewed by The New York Times, here are a few things you can do to strengthen your existing social bonds:
1. Set Clear Expectations
Everyone is busy, and sometimes your schedule will be more hectic than usual. Therapist and friend researcher Miriam Kirmayer told The Times that it’s important to be clear about your limits during these times. Give friends a heads up when you’re going to be less available, she said – at least they’ll know you’re busy and not ignoring them when you don’t see them or return their messages. Tell them when you’ll have more free time and get something in the books, if it’s just a scheduled phone call to catch up.
2. Check In With Friends In Between Visits
While it doesn’t need to be every single day, make a point to regularly reach out to friends via text or email with a personal message that sparks a conversation. Ask them about their recent vacation; find out how their kids are doing; inquire about their latest side project – just send something that will start a meaningful back-and-forth.
3. Build ‘Friend Time’ Into Your Schedule
Remember when you were younger and had standing plans to meet your friends for a movie, cocktails, or brunch every single weekend? You likely don’t have that kind of time anymore, but you can suggest a scheduled “friend date” as far in advance as possible so you both have it on your calendars.
4. Express Your Gratitude
Kirmayer reminds us to let friends know how much it means that they check in with you and make time for you. Author Shasta Nelson agrees, telling The Times that “most people just want to know they’re loved and thought of.” Simply acknowledging the efforts they put in will make your friends feel appreciated – and they’ll likely reciprocate the gratitude when they see you putting in effort, too.
If your current friend group is toxic – or if you’re simply not sure that they’re worth staying in touch with – try making new ones. Though it can sometimes feel awkward forging new friendships when you’re older, it’s worth it to build (or rebuild) the social support network that will keep you healthy and happy for years to come.