Dear Thelma: I am 50 and I don't know how to make friends

Dear Thelma: I am 50 and I don't know how to make friends
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

I am an unmarried 50-year-old woman and live with my mother in a condominium. I have a sister who is living and working in the United States.

I do not have a job. I paint and am hoping to sell my paintings.

I am very lonely. I have cousins and cousins-in-law but I am not close to them. I do not know how to start a conversation or communicate with them.

I am desperate for friends.

I want some suggestions, advice and tips on how to make friends with my neighbours in my condominium and also my relatives.

How do I get them to respond to me?

I survive on my late father's pension and money that my sister sends to me, which are modest but enough.

Please tell me how to present myself to others, get talking and make deep lasting friendships.

Lonely

Dear Lonely,

Isn't it curious that we spend years at school, and yet we're not taught one of the most important things in life: how to make friends? I agree that you need to address your loneliness; we're social animals and we need companionship to stay healthy.

You enjoy painting and are hoping to sell your work, so why don't we start there? Start by connecting with working artists. If you are discussing art, you will have a subject in common, which means you won't have to dig for interesting topics.

The simplest way to find artists is to go to an exhibition, museum, or trade fair. Schools hold viewings, too.

When meeting new people, remember that we all love talking about ourselves. So, walk up to an artist, and say, "I like your work. Tell me bit about this piece?" And then if the conversation flags, ask what inspires them, which is their favourite work, what painters do they admire?

Keep it short, positive and after five minutes or so, ask for their card. Then move on to the next person. This kind of practice will give you confidence, and you will get to know the community.

Also, while you are there, look out for advertisements for other gatherings. Pick up brochures for talks, clubs and gatherings. Make yourself a social calendar, and get out and about.

At the same time, you need to get going on the business of selling your work. Go to a gallery and speak to the owner. If you get a good vibe, ask, "I am a painter and I want to get into the business. Could you advise me how to get started?" If the person seems too busy or unapproachable, ask if she can direct you to a local artist community or club.

Another way is to ask an art teacher for advice. Again, you're asking for input, so don't be afraid to say, "I want to learn from your experience, how about I buy you lunch at X?" You never know, you may make a friend right there and then.

The best place to find art teachers is a college or museum. Go to the reception area or department secretary, explain who you are, what you want, and ask who you should talk to. You may have to make several visits and appointments. That's okay, because each time you go, you're advancing towards your goal.

Now, about your relatives. Talk to them frankly, "I need to expand my horizons. I want to meet artists, both to talk to about my painting, and maybe to sell my work. Who do you know that you could introduce me to?"

They may not know anyone, but it would get you talking. You never know, they may have some wild idea that you enjoy a solitary life because you're artistic. Once they know you're lonely, they may be right on board with helping you make new friends.

If your family offers, go out with them for tea, lunch and to parties. It doesn't matter where you go; anywhere you meet new people is good.

Rules for conversation? Smile and ask people about themselves. "I love your shoes. Where did you get them?" and "My cousin says you're a lawyer. That sounds interesting. What do you love about your job?" Again, be positive and mingle.

A point to keep in mind: you won't dive into friendship in one meeting. Expect to see someone two, three or four times before suggesting you meet for a coffee or lunch. Friendships are built over time, so be patient.

If you can afford it, pick a second hobby or interest that you want to develop. It might be an interest you gave up some years ago, or something you've always wanted to do. I'm thinking dancing, tennis or joining an amateur theatre. Join a group or take a class.

Finally, what is happening in your condo? Do you have people who swim? Garden? Cook? If there's any kind of club, join it. If anyone needs a hand painting their apartment, volunteer. Good luck and I hope you write back soon to say you're making new friends and have sold your first painting!

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