MY COLLEGE BUDDY Joe really looked forward to retirement. But in the weeks and months following his last day of work, he began to realize he didn’t have a core group of friends with whom to share his newfound freedom. Those he counted as friends were simply friendly workplace acquaintances. And several people who he thought might become deeper friends were still busy working and couldn’t “come out to play.”
So, after retiring two years ago, Joe briefly returned to work, in part for the social interaction. He also had a better understanding of the need to nurture friendships outside of work and to rethink what retirement meant to him.
The social aspect of retirement is more important than many of us assume. Loneliness is not something we want to face in our later years. Some quiet time is needed, but healthy solitude is not the same as loneliness. As author Arthur C. Brooks notes, “The kind of people who don’t know how to manage social interactions (i.e. friendships) outside of work get lonelier when they retire—and that describes a lot of successful people I know.”
You may discover once you retire that you don’t have many real friends. Instead, you have what Brooks calls “deal friends,” people you’re frequently in touch with during the course of your career, where there’s a professional bond but no deeper connection. These people aren’t part of the friend group you’d call if you were in trouble.
In May 2023, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy reported that chronic loneliness in the U.S. poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, costing the health industry billions of dollars annually. In declaring the latest public health epidemic, Murthy said, “There’s really no substitute for in-person interaction. As we shifted to use technology more and more for our communication, we lost out on a lot of that in-person interaction.”
If your target age range for retirement is your mid-60s, there’s a better-than-50% chance you’ll live more than 20 to 25 years in retirement. That’s a large window of time either to face loneliness—or to take control and start cultivating deep, valuable friendships.
Start strengthening your social network now by connecting with current friends and family, engaging more frequently in activities you enjoy, and building new and deeper relationships. Here are three ideas to consider:
If you opt for a phased approach to retirement, winding down your working days gradually rather than suddenly, you should start these practices now and increase them over time.
My friend Joe is now in year two of his second attempt at retirement. This one looks like it’ll take. He’s met some wonderful people by volunteering at an education-based nonprofit. He’s part of a couple of groups that meet weekly to discuss books or just to socialize. And he’s risked exploring deeper topics and sharing more of himself, and has been rewarded with some meaningful friendships.
Dan McDermott is an information technology executive in Minneapolis. He and his wife Sarah split their time between Minnesota and Arizona. They have two grown children. Dan works hard to learn about cryptocurrency from his son and Instagram from his daughter. Going for a long, leisurely run is his precious thinking time. Check out Dan’s blog, as well as his earlier articles for HumbleDollar.