How to find older friends?
July 26, 2011 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm 31. I'd like to make some friends who are older than I am--even significantly older. How can I go about this?

I just moved from Montreal, where I happened to become good friends with my neighbor, a sixty-one-year-old filmmaker, who opened my eyes to the value of the intergenerational friendship. (I love my family, but we're from different worlds.)

So now I'm in Chicago and would love to find some interesting friends who are older than me. But how to go about this?

There’s the Mefi meet-ups, of course. I've also thought about joining some kind of religious organization, though I'm not particularly spiritual--maybe Buddhism or Reform Judaism. Aikido was another idea. Or something like a triathlon club. Anyway, I'm willing to give pretty much anything a shot.

For the record, too, I'm a guy, bookish but social, with artistic leanings. I'm living as a writer now, but I've done filmmaking and theater in the past.

For anybody who feels like sharing, I'd also be game to hear some inspirational stories. How did you meet your cool older friends? What general advice would have for cultivating these kinds of relationships?

Thanks all!
posted by vecchio to Human Relations (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My father made lots of younger friends by taking art classes in his retirement - these were lots of people who weren't artists by trade, but wanted to get together for formal (for credit) or informal (just chip in for a model) figure drawing classes. This was often through local community colleges. I have a hunch if you took some of those classes, you'd be in touch with other older folks / retirees who are pursuing an interest or hobby.

I don't have kids, which seems like the obvious way people connect with each other where I live (where you might have a 25 year old and 45 year old mother of kids in the same school, for example). But, I've connected with older folks in my community by getting involved with my ward / neighborhood association - since I'm "young" (at 30), I'm helping them set up an email list and simple web site to post local events, etc, and also learning about the ideas they have for fun community activities (a bulb show - sure!, a neighborhood watch - eeeh, maybe not for me). It's been a great experience and it sounds like you have a lot of skills (writing newsletters?) that could be helpful. Community gardens are another activity that tends to attract an older generation as well as plenty of young families.
posted by pants at 10:24 AM on July 26, 2011

Join a fraternal organization like the Elks, Moose, Odd Fellows, Freemasons, etc.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:25 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're looking for friends. The "inter-generational" aspect and the attendant wisdom (or at least experience) is a bonus. If that's not the way you're thinking about it then you should be. Otherwise it's not really any different than asking: "How can I become friends with hot chick in their twenties?"

Nobody wants to be your "older friend."

Your instincts are basically right. The advice is the same as in any other how-to-meet-people question: Join groups, take part in social activities. Just choose things that appeal to all ages. Join a poker or scrabble league rather than a beer pong league. You'll meet cool people and assholes. The people in both categories will come in all ages.
posted by 256 at 10:26 AM on July 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Find a bar with an older crowd of regulars. I started hanging out at a bar near my old place, because they had the cheapest drinks in the neighborhood, but stayed for all the interesting old folk that had already made the place their own. It wasn't very hard to make friends; I came with my book, sat and read until people started including me in conversations. The staff loved having someone of their own generation to talk to, and the regulars loved having someone new to share their stories with.
posted by nomisxid at 10:30 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's easy. When you see someone doing something cool, ask them to show you how.
posted by fritley at 10:43 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

We took up birding. We're not exactly spring chickens any more, but a significant percentage of folks we regularly bird and volunteer-hawkwatch with are at least 10 years older. Google "Aududon+[your city/county]." It's about to be fall migration season, and there are good spots in and near Chicago for birding. You could even go to Duluth for their hawkwatch!
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on July 26, 2011

When I worked for a nonprofit we had loads of volunteers of all ages. Is there a particular cause you feel like you can get behind? Lots of people throw themselves into volunteer work once they retire and have the time.
posted by corey flood at 10:43 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some of the groups I've been in that included a good number of mature folks include: church, birdwatching groups, service organizations, and classical music/opera.
posted by ldthomps at 10:44 AM on July 26, 2011

Historical Societies. You will absolutely be the youngest person there unless they have an active junior-junior league of some kind.

Groups that meet during normal M-F 9-5 hours may have more retirees demographically, so if your schedule allows that, it may be one way to do whatever you like, but with a different group.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:46 AM on July 26, 2011

posted by sweetkid at 11:00 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Community/recreational sports teams are a great way to meet an interesting cross-section of people.

Obviously, some are going to be biased toward a younger crowd, but running/rowing/swimming clubs usually have a ridiculously diverse range of members that are usually very friendly and social. Most clubs cater to people of all ability levels, and are very supportive of newcomers.

Doing volunteer work is another great way to meet people of all walks of life. There are plenty of worthy organizations in the Chicago area. [I'm sure a native Chicagoian can jump in here and provide a few examples]

I've done plenty of community theatre, and have usually found it to be a "meh" way to meet people in the best of cases, and a pressure-cooker of strong/conflicting/EMOTIONAL personalities at the worst. If you've got a bad director, it can also turn into a particularly hellish experience. [I wrote, then deleted a huge rant about the last show I worked on. Let's just say that most of the techies walked away from the show on opening night, and vowed to never work with that director or theater company ever again.]

Fraternal organizations creep me out, as does anything that's organized solely for the sake of being organized. I've been a part of a few of these organizations, and have indeed made friends through them, but ultimately ended up leaving because I was only there for the friends, and actually kind of hated the actual purpose of the organization. Your group should at least have a nominal excuse for gathering, even if it's a silly one (see also: every kickball team on the planet).

Finding a photography/filmmaking buddy can be fun too, although that seems very hit-or-miss. Not sure how you'd go about seeking out a friend specifically for this purpose...
posted by schmod at 11:03 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've made a number of friends who are older than me through traditional music circles - people involved in old time, bluegrass, vocal harmony, gospel, contra and square dance, etc. In my experience it's a very warm, friendly community that's welcoming to younger people who want to learn from the "old-timers". I think the same is probably true of any traditional craft where there is a richness of experience to be passed on.

The Old Time School of Folk Music is an amazing Chicago resource for traditional music.
posted by messica at 11:12 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Politics. If you're at all political, get involved in your county party. You'll meet like minded people, and generally speaking, they'll be old. =)
posted by stenseng at 11:19 AM on July 26, 2011

I just found out about this on a recent trip to Classical Pursuits in Toronto, but Chicago is home to the Great Books Foundation and they have annual Great Books Events as well as Great Book Discussion Groups(not just in Chicago). The participants tend to attract an older 45+ crowd.
posted by storybored at 11:20 AM on July 26, 2011

If you're interested in the arts, become a docent at the art museum (especially smaller, independent museums), or become a subscriber or volunteer at the opera, ballet, symphony, or chamber music society.
posted by matildaben at 11:20 AM on July 26, 2011

I would recommend for this the same thing I recommend for people seeking romance: Find a group or groups that shares your interest or interests. Participate. Get to know the people involved. Invite them out socially.

You'll be swimming in friends in no time, and unless your interests are very specific to an age range (like, I suppose, a group dedicated to a television show targeted to children that you watched as a child), there will probably be people of all ages there.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:23 AM on July 26, 2011

Whoops I should have added a bit more detail to the Great Books Foundation suggestion. Their discussion groups focus on the classics but what's cool is that they use an approach called 'shared inquiry' centred around direct participation rather than having someone lecturing. This makes friendships easier because you get to see what each participant is like, what they care about, what makes them tick.
posted by storybored at 11:28 AM on July 26, 2011

Volunteer! My particular suggestion is old planes/the warbird movement. Cool group, cool people, and the perks of being flown around in old cool planes. From what I see in my local-ish group, they need young people constantly.
posted by Jacen at 11:34 AM on July 26, 2011

Following from Jacen's suggestion, what about contacting your local VA hospital/organization, to see if any of the guys there are interested in a new face at the poker table? (Bonus: those guys tell great stories, and usually love being around anyone who wants to talk about something other than their health.) Also, I know that most Masonic lodges are actively trying to recruit younger members, so the traditional 'someone in your family needs to have been a Mason' doesn't always apply anymore.

Also, I see what you did there.
posted by amy lecteur at 12:14 PM on July 26, 2011

Suss out the local chess club
posted by lakersfan1222 at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2011

Interesting that you're in Chicago and that your previous "old man friend" was a film guy - my boyfriend has a ton of those through the film-going / film collecting / film projecting community in Chicago. (That community has a more youthful side but also a older side).

A lot of the activity in that scene happens in peoples basement screening rooms and that kind of thing, but the go-to place these days if you want to get to know some of the people involved is probably the Northwest Chicago Film Society's series at the Portage Theater (which took over the audience described in the "older side" link above when that series ended - not linking to it because I'm involved with it, but say hi if you stop in!) or the Silent Summer Film Festival (currently ongoing!), also at the Portage.
posted by bubukaba at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2011

I would try to find a weekly mediation like this one. Obviously you don't have to go every week, even once or just whenever you feel inspired or have some free time. I'm sure that in a setting like that you could make some meaningful connections with some interesting older people.

My three closest friends who are significantly older than I am (I'm 29 and they are all over 60) are musicians whom I met through having a shared interest in meditation. In terms of how I cultivated those relationships, it happened because we spent time together, shared meals, took walks, sat at the kitchen table and drank tea and talked. Also, I often ask for their advice and guidance as far as projects I'm working on (I'm also a musician), and I find that my desire to learn, and their wealth of knowledge and desire to share it gives us a lot to discuss!
posted by seriousmoonlight at 3:24 PM on July 26, 2011

well, I can't figure out how to edit my above comment... and it's probably unnecessary to say it, but I did meant to write "meditation" not "mediation" :)
posted by seriousmoonlight at 3:30 PM on July 26, 2011

oh brother :)
posted by seriousmoonlight at 3:31 PM on July 26, 2011

You're a writer - join (or form) a writer's group. I did and met some truly amazing people 30, 40 & 50 years older than I was, who became lifelong friends.
posted by clarkstonian at 3:43 PM on July 26, 2011

I've been meeting a lot of nice older folks at the church we joined earlier this year. The most friendly and outgoing people seem to be the ones involved in volunteer activities. So my suggestion would be to find a church that does a lot of community outreach, become a regular at church services, stay around to chat during coffee hour if there is one, and volunteer for some stuff through the church. You could make a ton of older friends this way.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:24 PM on July 26, 2011

I'm on the other side of this equation (57 yo) and met two of my best friends through book reading clubs and music meetups - one's 29 and the other's 34. Sure, there's lots of areas where we don't have all that much in common, but where we do have affinities and mutual interests we have quite meaningful and interesting conversations.

I also like the various suggestions people have been making about volunteering or political organizing. It's fun at times to rant or despair or exult with people from other generations who share your cultural and political values.
posted by Rain Man at 4:59 PM on July 26, 2011

This is in the SF Bay Area, but I think it might apply well to Chicago, too.

I met the majority of my older friends (sixtysomethings up to ninetysomethings) when I started going to historical presentations -- book launches, slideshows, talks, that sort of thing -- and just got chatting to people there. Some older people don't like going out late at night, so these can be perfect -- these events start around 6 or 7 p.m.

Movie matinees are also a good way to make new, older friends. I see the same faces at a couple of repertory houses, and we often make small talk.

I also volunteered as a "friendly visitor" for my local neighborhood center. I visited a woman in her early nineties once a week and would take her on errands, to church, etc., or just sit around and yak about whatever we felt like. If you want a one-on-one buddy, I recommend doing something like that. You can ask for someone who likes to talk, which is what I did!

I have another gang of older friends who I see at a monthly spaghetti lunch at a church in my neighborhood. You don't have to be religious to attend -- you just need to be comfortable eating a pile of food while lots of people get curious about you. And they will be curious, I promise!
posted by vickyverky at 5:16 PM on July 26, 2011

Can you sing? Choirs often have an older population, and are pretty much always desparate for men.
posted by kjs4 at 6:54 PM on July 26, 2011

volunteer at a senior citizen's center or nursing home. Maybe not what you had in mind, exactly, but it could be a good experience.
posted by bearette at 7:25 PM on July 26, 2011

Talk to your neighbors when you see them on the street. I like talking to strangers and older people are much more open to chatting than others.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:44 PM on July 26, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, so many good ideas here. Thank you all!

I'd never heard of the warbird movement. Or the Great Books.

buukaba: I'll definitely check out the Portage Theater scene. Thanks for the rec.

Anyway, I sincerely appreciate all.
posted by vecchio at 10:00 PM on July 26, 2011

I live in an area where most people are over 50, so most of my friends are older (I'm 28.) You could meet people through someone you already know. I've become really close to my 77 year old father-in-law and his group of friends.
posted by xyla2000 at 3:53 AM on July 27, 2011

Bridge is a pretty good way of meeting and interacting with older people, and it's also a fun game if you are a particularly analytical person.
posted by that girl at 5:10 AM on July 27, 2011

Take up photography. Most photographers seem to be 55-65+, middle class, engineers or professionals, male (predominately), and nice. Some are pompous asses, but you'll identify those right away and steer clear.

Also, Scuba divers, same demographic.

Also, convert yourself into a 40-something female, and these types will be coming out of the woodwork. ;-)
posted by bluesky78987 at 10:21 PM on July 27, 2011

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