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Health & Wellness

A Mission to Help Others Find Friends After 50

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Having meaningful friendships may be critical to physical, emotional, and mental well-being,

as the Harvard Health Letter points out. The problem: making new friends later in life can be difficult. 

That was the experience of Dale Pollekoff, now 72, who moved from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in the year 2000. Pollekoff loved L.A.’s sunny weather and rich cultural diversity. But, retired from a career as a graphic designer, single and child-free, she found herself exploring her new city on her own more often than she would have liked.

“Post middle age can be a disconnected time,” she says. “There are a lot of transitions that can leave you feeling isolated. If you’re no longer working, you don’t have a network of colleagues or a workplace to develop friendships. Your children have moved on to their own lives. Spouses may have died. Friends have moved.”

Pollekoff tried doing activities with groups she found on Meetup, the online platform where users can organize in-person gatherings around shared interests. Those get-togethers sometimes ended up deepening her sense of aloneness rather than relieving it. For one thing, many of the Meetup groups skewed young, with members primarily in their 20s and 30s.

Gatherings that were filled with Baby Boomers still left Pollekoff finding herself on the fringes of the group. “I did things where there were plenty of people my age,” she says. “Even then, it’s not an easy thing to walk up to a stranger, put out your hand and say, hi, my name is so-and-so. I came here because I don’t have enough friends, and I hope you may become one.”

So, Pollekoff decided to create the kinds of gatherings that she wished existed. In 2015, she started a Meetup group called Finding Female Friends Past Fifty.

She was clear about her mission. “I thought carefully about what to call the group,” she says. “I wanted ‘finding friends’ to be part of the name so you couldn’t overlook the fact that everyone was there for the same purpose. That makes it a lot easier to walk up to someone and say, ‘hi, do you want to meet for coffee next week?’”

Pollekoff restricted the group to women only because, she says, “I knew if I opened it up to men, people would come looking for partners instead of only for friends.”

Within weeks, the group had a couple of hundred members. Today, there are nearly 2,500 members with more signing up every day. The group’s activities have been wide ranging, with visits to art galleries and architecture tours, theater and opera outings, happy hours, evenings at comedy clubs, picnics and outdoor concerts, a hands-on class in creating a succulent container garden, whale-watching expeditions, hikes, and more.

Interesting as the activity may be, the goal of making friends remains primary. There’s always a gathering before or after the activity, for coffee, drinks, or a meal, so people have a chance to interact. Pollekoff is a gracious and active host. “I greet each woman warmly and introduce women to each other,” she says. “I let them know by my warmth and attitude that they belong, they came to the right place; we are all here to make friends.”

How to “work the room,” as Pollekoff puts it, is among the advice she shares in her lengthy conversations with the many women eager to launch a Finding Female Friends After Fifty chapter in their own city. There are now chapters across the country, including in Chicago and Seattle; Miami and Boston; Atlanta, Georgia, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with more in the works.

No one is more surprised at this interest than Pollekoff herself. “At first I thought I was the only person finding it hard to make friends,” she says. “But when I started the group and it grew so fast, I realized that lots of people in L.A. were having the same experience.” After the New York Times ran a story on Finding Female Friends After Fifty and Pollekoff began hearing from women in all parts of the U.S., “I realized that I had tapped into something huge,” she says.

Today, Pollekoff has co-organizers who help run events in Los Angeles, and she’s working on starting a national Finding Female Friends After Fifty nonprofit. “That way I can connect all the groups under one umbrella,” she says, “and we can establish some guidelines so we’re all subscribing to the same mission. I’m happy to share my wisdom and give away all my secrets. I don’t want to make money on this. I just want women everywhere to feel connected and friended.”

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