We have all kinds of big plans for our early retirement, from the purpose we hope to live out, to the day-to-day things we hope to build into our lives, to the life list adventures that we hope to undertake over the course of decades. To be honest, it’s hard to believe that we’ll check even half that stuff off our list even after we have a lot more time on our hands.
But something we need to plan for better is how we’ll get social interaction after we leave (or mostly leave) the workforce. In other words: We need more friends! We love our current friends, of course, and have even started to tell a very small number about the blog (hi guys!), but very soon our time will be a mismatch with theirs — our best free time will be in the middle of the day and week, and we’ll be traveling more of the time (or at least more of the weekends, since we’re often gone midweek now for work travel).
Make New Friends! Your Life Depends on It!
Why are friends so important to us, beyond the obvious reasons (mostly: the love)? For starters, having a robust set of friends is closely tied to health outcomes, including how long you live. According to the American Society on Aging:
Social relationships have as much impact on physical health as blood pressure, smoking, physical activity, and obesity, as demonstrated in 1988 by House, Landis, and Umberson. Their meta-analysis of 148 longitudinal studies found a 50 percent increase in survival of people with robust social relationships, regardless of age, gender, country of origin, or how such relationships were defined. Just as obesity has taken center stage in our cultural self-awareness, social relationships belong on the list of potent risk and protective factors for morbidity and mortality.
— Sara Honn Qualls, Journal of the American Society on Aging
I plan to get to 100 (Mr. ONL isn’t sold he wants to go quite that long, but I have a long time to convince him), and the data is clear on what that means for me: Get busy building that social circle, sister! And even if Mr. ONL isn’t quite as sold on making it to triple digits, he knows he needs to do the same thing.
If everybody’s singing “I get by with a little help from my friends!” by the end of this, we will have succeeded. (Sidebar: Did the next line, “I get high with a little help from my friends!” mean something different in the 60s? Always wondered.) ;-)
Friends Make Everything Better
If living to an advanced age isn’t on your to do list, there are still lots of great reasons to focus on building your social circles, even in early retirement. According to Mayo Clinic, good friends also:
Increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your happiness and reduce your stress, improve your self-confidence and self-worth, help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one, and encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise.
All of that is good for both physical and mental health, which ensure that we don’t just live long lives, but good quality lives, which I know a lot of us strive for. Happiness goes a long way toward keeping us healthy — I’m completely convinced of that.
Making a Plan to Make Friends
There are times in life when it’s relatively easy to make friends — when we’re young and in school, in the first year of college, at times away like summer camp or study abroad, or later when parents can meet other parents of similar-aged kids. Most of those times are when we’re really young, or apply only to certain people. The rest of the time, or for many of us, making friends is a little tougher. So being successful at it requires either one of those magnetic personalities that not all of us have, or a solid plan for putting ourselves out there.
Add to that the friend complications that many of us could have built into our FIRE plans…
- Heavier travel schedule
- Location independence or nomadic lifestyle
- A plan to relocate once or multiple times
… and it’s easy to see how making solid social connections could be even tougher. But not impossible! While being on the move might make it more onerous to make friends in the first place, technology makes it easy to stay in touch and maintain those friendships. So those of us looking at early retirement these days have it better than ever. Hooray!
We’re making a plan to meet more people right away after we retire, and we encourage you to do the same. That plan includes thinking through:
- What type of activities we’d like to share with friends
- What opportunities for social interaction exist where we live
- What places might naturally draw like-minded people
After we answer those questions, the plan begins to take shape.
Activities We’d Like to Share
Where you live and what you’re into both make a big difference in how you might approach making friends. For us, living in a mountain town where outdoor recreation is top of most people’s lists, the best opportunity we see to make friends is by keeping our eyes open when we’re out doing stuff. That could mean talking to people on the chairlift while skiing, especially people riding the lifts in the middle of a weekday, who are more likely to have schedules similar to ours in early retirement. And it could mean striking up conversations with people out hiking or biking. There are also clubs and clinics for activities that we might explore as a way to have more structured time with people (as well as to build our own skills — personal enrichment as a side effect never hurts!).
But we want to look beyond those obvious activities, too, to focus on friends who share our more creative interests. For example, in our first year of retirement, I know I want to join a writers’ workshop (once I have time to write more than just this blog!), and I view that as being as much about social interaction as writing support. I’d really just love to know more local writers, and maybe strike up some friendships, so it’s a no-brainer. But that will mean not just joining a workshop itself, but putting myself into all of the literary circles in our little town, and going to as many of those events as possible.
Thinking through what activities you want to share with new friends, and letting that dictate some of what you put on your calendar, is a great way to start the friend-making process.
Local Opportunities for Social Interaction
If you’re less focused on having “activity friends” or just want to go for the easier wins, a good place to start is to think about what opportunities for friend-making already exist where you live — or where you’ll be visiting, for those who are more nomadic. Religious services are a good one if you’re into that sort of thing, as are community service programs and organized volunteering efforts. And the rest varies by place. In the mountain west, where people skew toward the more hippie dippy, there are often new agey spiritual centers where you can do plenty of guided meditation or yoga and have wonderful open-hearted conversations with people afterward. Any of those places are a great starting point.
Meeting Like-Minded People
Of course, we aren’t just looking to add quantity of friends — we really want to bring people into our lives who are like-minded in some way and with whom we connect deeply on some level. We’d love to have lots of skiing friends and writing friends, but we want to make an effort to ensure that we have a few close friends we can talk about the more intimate stuff with. And while we could certainly happen upon people like that along the way in any of our friend pursuits, we also know that it could require special effort.
For that, we’ll use as our starting point the causes we care most deeply about, and look to meet people by volunteering locally for organizations that work on those causes — if possible, volunteering in a leadership capacity. We’re each already on one local board but hope to expand that to help fulfill our service purpose as well as to meet people who care about things we care about. And we’ll follow the threads from there, wherever they lead us.
Online Friends Can Count Too
One of the best things about writing this blog has been how many online friendships we’ve made that have turned into what I would definitely consider real friendships. We’ve met a few bloggers so far, and I can’t wait to meet more of you at FinCon in San Diego in two months. And we’re hopeful that we can meet even more of you guys over time! So don’t write off online activities that could connect you to like-minded people — not all of your new friends have to live where you live! Especially for us in the FIRE community, lots of whom plan to travel anyway, having a network of friends around the country (and world!) is a beautiful thing.
How Will You Widen Your Social Circles?
We’d love to hear from you guys on this — Is making new circles of friends in FIRE something you’re planning to do? For those of you planning or considering a location-independent lifestyle, how are you thinking about this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and we’ll chat about it!