5 Ways Friendships Change in Late Adulthood

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The value of friends when you’re in your 60s and beyond cannot be overstated. 


In later life stages, when your friendships change, and you find yourself losing friends and struggling with loneliness, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

 

As life happens, loss occurs, circles shrink, and people focus on their little worlds.

 

And then, of course, time has an uncanny knack for sneaking up on you. 

 

Before you know it, your hair is gray and late adulthood has arrived. 

 

To help you capture the most from your social circles and deepend your meaningful relationships during retirement, in this article, we’ll discuss how friendships change in adulthood.

 

How Friendships Change in Late Adulthood

#1 It’s Harder to Make Friends…

Making new friends when you’re in your 50s (and beyond) is no easy feat. 

 

As you get older, your focus tends to shift from building a large network of friends and acquaintances to maintaining the friendships you already have.

 

And making new friends takes time. To be exact, it takes about:

 

  • 50 hours of quality interactions to take acquaintances to the level of casual friends
  • 90 hours to go from casual friend to friend
  • 200 hours to make a best friend-type connection

 

how long it takes to making friends after 50

 

In other words, friendships are an investment of your time and energy. And as life’s obligations get in the way, time can become a precious commodity that’s hard to come by.

 

Apart from lack of time, a recent study uncovered five other compelling reasons contributing to the challenge of making friends in adulthood, including low trust and introversion.  

 

Perhaps the most striking of these factors is the diminished sense of trust you experience as you age. Life’s disappointments and betrayals gradually erode your willingness to open up and fully connect with others. 

 

But here’s the good news: it’s easier to maintain friendships.

 

#2 … But Easier to Maintain Them

On the flip side, in late adulthood, it’s easier to maintain friendships than when you were younger.

 

Why? 

 

Because as you get older, you tend to become more comfortable with your identity and how you relate to others. As a result, when relationships weather the storm of time, they often become stronger and deeper.

 

A recent Gallup poll revealed that individuals aged 65 and above seem to have more close friends, with an average of 13, compared to their younger cohorts.

number of close friends per age group

And even retirement doesn’t decrease your friend count — no need for those social connections to clock out along with your work life. 

 

The secret sauce for nurturing friendships (or rekindling old ones) in late adulthood simply comes down to one key ingredient: being more intentional in your efforts. 

 

If you’re familiar with our content, you know the power of our favorite tip in the area of Community:

 

  • Spend more time and energy with people in your Circle of Influence
  • Spend less time and energy on people in your Circle of Concern

 

be choosy with who you let in your circle of influence
Keep in mind that you need to be picky when it comes to expanding your social circle.

 

This triaging of where to put your social effort can make all the difference in nurturing quality, meaningful relationships.

 

#3 You Start Looking for Different Qualities

A recent study exploring the changing nature of friendships across the lifespan unveiled some intriguing findings, including the changing qualities you prioritize in friendships.

 

It turns out that when you’re young, you tend to stick with your age group, like toast to butter. But with age, you begin to let go of age-based boundaries and embrace intergenerational friendships.

 

The study also revealed that older adults place significant importance on sensitivity within their friendships. 

 

Which makes sense because, with life experience, you begin to understand the intricacies of emotions and how crucial it is for your friends to be supportive and empathetic (and vice versa).

 

Ultimately, prioritizing emotional connections can be nurturing to your well-being and provide a sense of comfort and stability that’s especially important as you age. 

 

So, while the days of reveling in wild parties might be behind you (along with what your teenage self may deem “cool”), your friendships take on a deeper and more meaningful timbre the older you get. 

 

#4 They Matter More…

With age also comes wisdom. And when friendships change in late adulthood, the connection you build with certain individuals can become more meaningful.

 

A study published in the Journal of Personal Relationships revealed that older adults are especially likely to rely on close relationships. It highlights the significance of these connections — they even surpass the impact of strong family ties in certain aspects of your well-being.

 

The friendships you maintain when you’re in your 60s, 70s, and beyond have the power to enrich your life in ways you never expected. They can help provide much-needed support when faced with difficult times and offer insight when making important decisions.

 

Just look to lifelong friends Patricia, Tracy, and Zerlina, who have stayed very close over the years (Patricia and Tracy since the 80s). 

 

As Patricia put it:

 

“We have been through births, deaths, marriages, relationship problems, fertility issues, sickness, and they’ve always been there,”

 

And Zerlina said:

 

“The strength of their bond means it weathered waves of greater and lesser intensity of contact and feels unconditional, allowing for space.”

#5 … Because They Tend to Be Better

It turns out friendships are like wine — better with age.

 

A recent study confirmed what many of us suspected: friendships become more meaningful and fulfilling as they evolve. 

 

The study found that older adults experience more positive and satisfying social relationships, feel more supported by their closest friends and family, and have less stressful friendships overall. 

how friendships change with age: they get better

 

So when it comes to friendships in late adulthood, the silver lining is clear. Despite losing some friends along the way, it’s much easier to maintain the ones that last, and they tend to be even better than before.

Prioritize & Appreciate Meaningful Connections

When friendships change in late adulthood, there can be some tough times — but when you look at the bigger picture, there’s plenty to appreciate.

 

In the end, having a few close friends who understand and support you is worth the effort it takes to keep those relationships strong.

 

Here’s how relationships change in late adulthood:

 

  • #1 It’s harder to make friends when you’re older but easier to maintain them
  • #2 Because when friendships do form, they tend to be more meaningful and satisfying
  • #3 Older adults place more importance on the emotional connection when it comes to their friendships
  • #4 And therefore, they rely heavily on the support of the friends closest to them
  • #5 … which is why they tend to be better 

 

All this to say, when it comes to friendships in late adulthood, cherish the ones that last and revel in the meaningfulness of these connections.

 

A little (intentional) effort can go a long way when it comes to nurturing your deepest relationships. 

 

So when times get tough, remember: when friendships change in late adulthood, they tend to be better than before.

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portrait of Cyn Meyer, founder of Second Wind Movement and a certified retirement life coach
Cyn Meyer 

Retirement Life Coach

As a certified retirement life coach since 2018, Cyn has helped thousands of older adults turn their retirement years into remarkable years full of growth, purpose, and passion. Through her signature program Rewire My Retirement, she helps people achieve their best life across the 5 Rings of Retirement, which covers topics Growth, Community, Health, Giving Back, and Finance.


Cyn combines specific life coaching tools, neuroscience, and her extensive background in marketing (spanning 17 years) to make a powerful impact with Second Wind Movement – an organization dedicated to providing educational resources and coaching for seniors.

With meticulous research, insight, and passion, Cyn’s mission is to usher in a new wave of positive experiences for generations of retirees.

portrait of Cyn Meyer, founder of Second Wind Movement and a certified retirement life coach

Cyn Meyer 

Retirement Life Coach

As a certified retirement life coach since 2018, Cyn has helped thousands of older adults turn their retirement years into remarkable years full of growth, purpose, and passion (beyond the stereotypical financial planning side of retirement). 

She combines specific life coaching tools, neuroscience, and her extensive background in marketing (spanning 17 years) to make a powerful impact with Second Wind Movement – an organization dedicated to providing educational resources and coaching for seniors.

With meticulous research, insight, and passion, Cyn’s mission is to usher in a new wave of positive experiences for generations of retirees.