If you’ve recently left the workplace or moved out of state, you may be feeling a little isolated. But don’t despair. New opportunities can still abound, and cultivating new friends can be good for your mental health, too.
When Stanford University invited retired people to come to campus to take classes for a year, the 30 people in that group bonded tightly, says Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.
“What surprised them was the very important friendships that these folks were forming with one another,” she says. Like the younger students, the retirees were able to leave their previous lives and professional images behind when they got on campus and enjoyed the freedom of being who they were now.
“Social networks get smaller as people age but, surprisingly, older people are more satisfied with them and often report levels of emotional well-being that are higher than those of younger adults,” Carstensen adds.
It may take extra effort to make those new social bonds, as I discovered after leaving the companionship of the workplace and moving away from my home in the Northeast. Here are several steps that can make the process of forging new friendships a bit easier.
1. Explore the landscape
Some organizations, such as Newcomer’s Clubs and MeetUp, focus on providing get-acquainted opportunities for their members with similar interests.
“Even if you haven’t moved, when you retire or semi-retire, you can act like a newcomer in your own city, and do and join the things you missed out on before,” advises life coach Barbara Beizer of Washington, D.C.
Beizer eventually became a board member of The Transition Network, a national group that focuses on “what’s next?” issues for professional women over 50. Joining my local chapter (and volunteering for two committees) helped me get over my “friendless in Florida” phase.
Volunteer, community, and religious groups, as well as lifelong learning classes, are other places to find people with interests like yours who may also be looking for new friends.
2. Pave your way
Don’t be surprised if you enthusiastically put events on your calendar only to find that when the time comes, you’ve got a tiny stomach ache and a large reluctance to leave the house.
Many of us get a bit anxious—I call it “stage fright”—when we enter new situations. It may help to pave your way beforehand by calling or emailing the organization’s officers, introducing yourself to someone, and saying you plan to attend their next function.
If possible, arrange to drive to the event with someone. Hopefully, you’ll have at least one person to look for when you get there, and that will lead to other introductions.
3. Make the first (and second) move
If you feel a spark when chatting with a new person, or just want to continue the conversation, don’t be shy about asking for an email or phone number. I always try to follow up immediately, so we don’t forget each other and propose meeting for coffee. If you enjoy each other, the next time, each of you can invite another acquaintance or two and broaden the circle.
“Just say yes,” to invitations from new individuals or groups. The more I said yes, the more I was invited (no one likes rejection), and the more often people said yes to me when I proposed my favorite activities.
4. Be alert for social connectors
It’s a good idea to mention to people that you’re looking for more social connections. Just as some people fancy themselves to be matchmakers, others have a special talent for connecting people and the generosity of heart to share friends. I was fortunate to meet such a person, and she introduced me to a number of interesting people.
5. Become a regular
Whether it’s at a committee meeting or a dog park, meeting regularly can deepen a connection. “Seeing each other often develops a kind of affection and shared experience,” Beizer says. “It’s the fastest way to get to know people.”
If you see people regularly at an activity you all enjoy, you’re much more likely to find friendship and the health boost that can come with it.
“Elegance and class without the high prices!” That’s the selling point of the newest Ballet Boutique in a spanking new shopping center in downtown Doral, FL, a fast-growing city near Miami. Entering the spacious store is like walking into a theater. A 4 1/2–foot rosy pink moiré satin curtain hangs from the high ceiling, and five delicate chandeliers light the stage. Behind the curvaceous white checkout desk straight ahead sits owner Gabriela Martinez, who does much of the pointe shoe fitting herself at her two stores in Florida and three in Mexico. To scale the brand, she has also sold a franchise—her first—in Veracruz.
The secret to her success? “Desperation,” Martinez says, with a rueful smile. When a divorce left her with three boys to support, her earnings from teaching ballet didn’t cover her expenses. So she began to visit ballet studios in her native Yucatan Peninsula to sell pointe shoes from the back of her old car.
Decades of performing and teaching ballet made her sensitive to the plight of dancers suffering from poorly fitted shoes. “It’s a myth that ballet has to cause pain and destroy your feet,” she says.
Winning customers with well-fitted shoes, Martinez soon closed her ballet school and devoted herself to the art and science of pointe shoe fitting. Her university studies in business helped, and a higher degree in marine biology inspired her to take a scientific approach. “I have over 4,000 charts so I can track individual customers’ histories,” she says. “My stores carry all the major brands of pointe shoes and keep a huge inventory, more than 600 pairs, in stock.”
At the barre where she fits the dancers, there’s a sign stating that she charges $30 for the fitting if the customer doesn’t buy the shoes. But, she notes, this has never actually happened. The attention to customer service may explain why. “I’ll open the store for teachers at 8:30 am. I want every customer to leave satisfied,” she says.
Martinez recently lectured on fitting methods at the Florida Dance Education Organization, and she trains employees, and now franchise owners, in fitting technique, including padding selection, which she feels is as important as the shoes themselves.
Dance moms are her best source of customers. “If a girl is dancing in pain and I fit her, both she and her mom stop crying,” she says. “The word of mouth spreads fast.” Expert pointe shoe fittings are a draw for the store. Martinez, who has performed and taught ballet, trains her employees in her fitting technique and has lectured about fitting methods at the Florida Dance Education Organization.
It was the cost of pointe shoes that inspired Martinez to open her first U.S. store in South Miami. “Because pointe shoes are not manufactured in Mexico, I need to pay for them in dollars, so to have enough margin to grow, I need to earn dollars,” she says. She had a rough start when a couple of Miami landlords refused to lease her prime locations because she was Mexican.
Once the South Miami store was profitable, she cast her net to Doral, a growing community with a large Venezuelan population. “It’s home to young two-income families who want their kids in cultural activities, to be well-rounded. I was the new girl in town, so when I opened the store, I visited 30 dance schools in the area.”
To help combat prejudice and establish her image, she framed dozens of large photos of herself performing and posing with star dancers from august companies, such as American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Cuba and Paris Opéra Ballet. “I don’t have photos in my stores in Mexico,” she says. “There everybody knows me.”
Martinez pulls out a stack of pretty handwritten thank-you notes ready to be mailed out to the dance teachers she’d met with. “Small details count,” she says.
So does giving back, through simple things like volunteering to put the dancers’ hair in buns before a recital and contributing to schools’ silent auctions. There is also a Ballet Boutique scholarship award in the U.S. and Mexico. A public art school chooses a ballet student who is very talented, has good grades in school and is struggling financially. The prize is all dance attire for a year. In the U.S., the award is presented by the head of the Mexican consulate.
Martinez planned the award program with her three sons, now all professionals. Her youngest works for her on Saturdays and travels with her to Mexico, where she goes every other week. And she’s now been remarried for a year, to a banker who helped her with her first U.S. store.
Not Just Pointe Shoes
Six months after opening, the Doral store is covering rent and payroll, and business is expected to double or triple soon. While pointe and other dance shoes are the main profit center, each store—which has its own manager in charge—adapts to the local market.
In South Miami, a lot of the customers are gymnasts. In Doral, there is more interest in flamenco and ballroom dance. Martinez works with the teachers to design and choose fabrics for flamenco costumes, which she manufactures in a small factory in Mexico. “Flamenco skirts need artistry for the ruffling and can be very expensive and are not found easily online.” The factory also makes Ballet Boutique’s own brand of ballet slippers, jazz shoes, and flamenco shoes.
At the Doral shop, dance uniforms can be embroidered with the schools’ names. In February, the store window was full of warm-up booties, another popular item. She carries racks of fancy tutus for ballerinas-to-be, which are mainly purchased by grandmothers. And there was a big stuffed dog in a tutu and hair bows sitting on a tiny chair outside the store.
For the sheer pleasure of it, Martinez teaches a baby ballet class for 2- and 3-year-olds early Saturday mornings in the store’s small studio. Her goal is simply to instill a love of ballet. And,
of course, by inspiring very young dancers and their mothers, she hopes
to see them back as customers for years to come.
Many exhibitors at ArtPalmBeach seemed to have your living room in mind. Unlike the haute wares at ArtBaselMiami, the 85 international galleries at ArtPalmBeach displayed an array of less expensive work by both emerging and well-known artists. For example, limited edition signed, framed lithographs by famous artists, such as Leger, Lichtenstein, Miro, and Stella, cost less than $15,000 and would look dazzling over your couch.
Perhaps, the biggest crowd-pleasers were Colombian artist Camille Matiz’ double-think neon installations which offered a counter message when viewed through their ornate mirrors. One paired the messages “Take a selfie” and “Fake a Life.” And, my favorite read “Believe you can,” which morphed to “Lie to yourself anyway,” when viewed through the mirror.
The annual Palm Beach exhibit attracted a number of galleries which also displayed during ArtBaselMiami. Unfortunately, I missed the Hecho en Cuba (Made in Cuba) exhibit by Arte Collective during ArtBasel, but curator Yubal Marquez Fleites brought some riveting pieces from that show to Palm Beach. I was particularly impressed by Edel Morales’ inked “Pájaro pez, mujer, árbaol: la noche, marzo-abril, variaciones” and Abel Masot’s “Voces de Abandono,” in acrylic. Both these young artists live in Havana, and their works have a Renaissance-like visual depth and soulfulness. Also powerful and unsettling, was German artist Hans Aichinger’s Das Zeichen (the sign), in oil.
There was ample selection of art masquerading as home furnishings (or vice versa) throughout the fair. I was very absorbed by a simple but stunning tabletop collection of oil painted glass objects, argristocracy 2007-2010, by Pittsburgh-Based Matthew Eskuche. And couldn’t stop smiling at the paint-spilling artist’s table by Colombian artist Jorge Magyaroff. I also have just the spot for Bostonian Toots Zynsky’s very sensuous Red Vase, $27,000.
Yeah, I can’t afford any of this either, but its fun to look, and fantasize. If you missed the Jan 21-24 Palm Beach exhibit, consider a jaunt to the curated Art Boca Raton Contemporary Art Fair, March 17-21, at the International Pavilion of the Palm Beaches in cooperation with Florida Atlantic University.