Home Personal Finance So I’ve Retired Early – Now Where Did All My Friends Go? Part 3 of 5: The Relationship Hurdle
Group of friends sitting on a mountain top.

So I’ve Retired Early – Now Where Did All My Friends Go? Part 3 of 5: The Relationship Hurdle

by Phia @ Freedom 101

Welcome to part 3 of our retirement series, where we’re diving into the wonderful world of friendships, and how they are most certainly not exempt from the multi-faceted impacts of retiring.

There is study after study after study documenting just how important friendships are in terms of a person’s happiness. Healthy friendships give us a sense of community, belonging, and a whole host of other emotional benefits.

Regardless of whether you are a classic introvert, extrovert, or fall somewhere in the middle of the scale, while the nature and quality of your friendship “needs” may change, the overarching necessity for connection doesn’t.

We are social creatures, and we all absolutely need a social connection to the world around us. In fact our brains require it, look no further than the impacts of solitary confinement to see what can happen to people when they lose those connections for any extended period of time.

So investing a decent amount of time into our friendships is probably a good call.  But we do want to ensure we are getting a  solid ROI on that investment.

One of the beautiful things about retirement, is that it provides a perfect opportunity to perform what I like to call a “Friends Cleanse”.

An opportunity to honestly assess the quality of your relationships, and intentionally make the decision to continue investing or cut your losses.

So what makes a friendship worth keeping?

Research has demonstrated that there are four key factors integral to building meaningful and lasting friendships.

  • Proximity (How close we are geographically to the other person)
  • Frequency (How regularly we see them)
  • Commonality (The degree of similarity in our lives, views, etc)
  • Secrets (While this is a bit of a wild card, but it’s been shown that the closest relationship are those where each party is comfortable sharing secrets with the other. Underscoring a strong degree of trust).

While a great friendship can survive without all four, it gets increasingly more difficult when you begin to chip away at multiple areas.

While there are always exceptions, these pillars can be a helpful tool in determining which of your friendships are going to survive your transition to retirement, and which ones it might be time to let go.

But in making this assessment, you’ll need to apply the parameters of your new retired lifestyle in order to get a true idea if you’ll remain compatible.

Now – you may be thinking, why do this at all? “Why not just keep all the friends I already have, and invest more time with them once I’m retired?”

Well – odds are, that’s going to work for some of your relationships, but think back to instances when you made your biggest life changes? Maybe you relocated for work when you left school? Or what about when you got married? Or when you had kids?

Now think about how those life changes impacted the existing relationships in your life? Did you lose commonality with people who were once very close friends? Did your lack of proximity to some people have a a dramatic impact on how frequently you got together?

Did your single friends with no kids have a tough time relating to why as a parent you suddenly don’t want to party until 2am? Or they won’t leave your dinner party at 10PM when you were hoping to be in bed by 1030 because your kids are early risers and don’t care how many bottles of wine your crushed the night before??? (I’ve decided to just start saying goodnight and going to bed. It’s awkward, but I’ve seen it in action and man does it work.)

Which brings us to retirement. It’s exactly the same thing. It’s a major life change that will absolutely impact your ability to relate to many of your friends (and vice versa).

While everybody’s experience in this area will vary based on their own individual personality type, how much they value their friendships, and the quality of those friendships, I’ve experienced a number of aspects in this transition that apply across a pretty broad spectrum.

Let’s split these impacts into two categories; 1 being the impacts on your existing friendships, and 2 being the impact on new ones.

Your Existing Friends

There are 3 things that I found happened after retirement when it comes to my relationships:

1 – A big chunk of my “friends” disappeared entirely from my life;

2 – A smaller chunk slowly lapsed into essentially non-existent relationships; and

3 – A handful of key relationships made the cut.

So let’s start with #1. For me, a substantial number of my friendships were centered around work. I relocated not long before starting my career, and ended up working a LOT of hours.

Those two factors resulted in the vast majority of my friendships being formed with my co-workers. Not exactly an uncommon occurrence for people who relocate from where they grew up.

The beauty of work friendships? Proximity, frequency and common ground are built in for you. Essentially, you barely have to try.

Odds are, you even have some degree of built in “secrets”. Complaining about your horrible boss, or venting about your crappy co-worker who constantly makes personal phone calls at a decibel level that makes you wonder if they’ve ever had their hearing checked.

But when all those factors are removed, and your contact with those people hinges on your own willingness (and theirs) to maintain the relationship, well that is a whole other thing.

As I learned very quickly, neither I – nor many of my friends found each other all that interesting once we lost the biggest piece of common ground, frequency and proximity we had.

Remove that structure of work, and for many “friendships”, there is often little left by way of the essential ingredients of meaningful interaction.

But the same thing happened with a lot of my non-work friends. We ended up being in such different places in our lives, that it was difficult to relate to each other. And that impact cut both ways.

Not only was it hard for many of them to understand how exactly I managed to pull off early retirement (despite being more than happy to talk about it with anyone who is willing!), for those who’d had entirely different life experiences with money, completely different perspectives on how to manage money, and zero interest in changing their habits, it didn’t leave a lot of room to talk about my new found freedom, or for them to vent about their ongoing money problems.

I found this especially true of friendships where we made similar incomes. It was just way too hard for some of those friends to wrap their heads around how I could be retiring, when they were still living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Which brings me to point #2, the friendships that I thought would last, but instead lapsed into non-existence.

It takes a serious commitment to maintain the friendships that stem from your work environment, even the ones that you really value.

To really throw a curve ball into things, the time invested into those relationships now has to take place outside of working hours. Which you might have done to some degree pre-retirement, but now it ALL has been done outside of work hours.

Not so much of a problem for your retired self – but potentially a HUGE problem for the other person.

They are still putting in their 40+ hours a week, with already limited time outside of the work schedule to fit in activities, family commitments, and their “other” friends outside the work place. So frankly – it’s a big ask.

Consider the work friends you have now. How many would you voluntarily move entirely from your work time zone, into your personal time zone?

This one is going to happen – even to friendships you would like to maintain, but you can’t hold it against the other person, they simply don’t/won’t have the same luxury of available time as you.

It was also in this space of friendships where I found that the very unpleasant emotion of envy came into play.

Envy is an emotion we would all like to pretend doesn’t occur in friendships. Unfortunately, envy is a very base human emotion/reaction, and like any major life changes that send people down very different paths, retirement is plenty fertile soil for this unpleasant emotion to fester. And envy is a feeling that can quickly end even the best of friendships.

Financial security and the ability to retire are pretty major pressure points for a lot of people. For someone who is having non-stop money problems, it can be pretty difficult to maintain a positive and healthy friendship with someone who just retired in their 30’s/40’s. Certainly not impossible – but it does pose some difficulties.

The important aspect here is to be aware of it. If you see it beginning to build in any of your friendships, by all means do your best to diffuse it if possible, but if not, it may be time to end that friendship before the toxicity spreads.

Another danger zone to watch out for in your existing relationships is those friends who suddenly feel that because you are retired, they can utilize your time to make their own lives easier. While I am all for helping out friends, there’s definitely a fine line between giving a helping hand and having your time abused.

I thought learning to say no at work had a steep learning curve – learning to say no to your friends can be an even bigger challenge, but in retirement, it’s a very necessary skill. Lest you spend all the time you worked so hard to regain putting out other peoples fires.

Even with the best of intentions, odds are some of the relationships you intend to maintain will in actuality lapse over time, and guess what? That’s ok. In fact – it’s probably for the best.

Which brings me to point #3. The ones that make the cut.

Of all the work relationships I had, 2 have made the retirement cut. Where I (and they) will go out of their way to ensure we stay in touch and see each other regularly.

Undoubtedly – these were the relationships where all of the four pillars of friendship were the strongest. We had substantial commonality (at work, and personally), we saw each other daily, live in close proximity, and shared plenty of secrets. (And yes – we all shared a boss that provided a lot of conversational fodder.)

It probably doesn’t hurt that all three of us seem to take turns carrying the torch and making sure we all make time to get together. That way the responsibility of keeping the friendships on track is not just falling to one person (as it often can).

The same is true of the non-work friends. Each and every one where the four pillars were strongest – made it past the friend’s cleanse.

The best part – once you get to this point, you no longer have to worry about screening your calls because you reeeaaalllllyyy don’t want to talk to or get together with certain people.

Now you can look forward to hearing from ALL of your friends, because you genuinely want to talk to them!

Making New Friends

Given that retirement is a whole new chapter of life, with a lot of new experiences, it only makes sense that its a great opportunity to make some new friendships too!

Not to say your old friends aren’t awesome – after you’ve done a thorough housecleaning of the relationships you want to invest in during retirement, you probably have a skookum list of people that you want to hang out with.

The creme de la creme of your friendships.

BUT – odds are, they probably aren’t about to head off into early retirement with you. If they are – LUCKY YOU! Seriously – super lucky.

But for most, if you want to find other early retired folk to travel with, talk shop, or otherwise hang around with, you’re probably going to have to branch out and look for some new friendships.

Not to say your new friendships should be restricted to early retirement people, but safe to say that if you just keep adding more friends who can only hang out on evenings and weekends, you are rapidly going to run out of time to invest in those friendships.

And overall – it’s nice to have a broad spectrum of friendships. People that colour your life with different perspectives, life experience, idea’s and personalities. Who wants 20 of the exact same cookie cutter friends?

So how to find people who are retired.

Well – Mike and I tried to join a beginners bridge club, but turns out it’s restricted to people age 55+. Talk about age discrimination!

In fact, after looking pretty hard, most structured activities during daytime hours are exclusively restricted to those under 5, or those over 55. (Whatever – I didn’t want to join your aqua-aerobics class anyway….I mean, unless you’ll make an age exception….then I’ll join….they really do look like they are having fun.)

So while it’s very easy for me to meet other stay-at-home moms with toddlers, its no so easy to meet early retired moms with toddlers.

All in – after nearly two years of thinking it would be nice to just meet early retirees “organically”, I’m ready to admit that it appears the best way to meet people in similar circumstances is (not surprisingly) is to make use of a local meetup in your community.

Despite the fact that it would be nice to have ER friends to share that common ground with, making new friends in general is really as simple as getting out there and pursuing your own interests.

Whether it’s working with a volunteer program, helping out at your kids school, coaching one of their activities, being a helping parent on the sidelines, or joining your own recreational sports league, anything along those lines will provide a forum to meet people with a common interest, with a set degree of frequency, and in all likelihood, geographic proximity. All of which greatly increases your odds of building new and  meaningful relationships.

The Bottom Line

The key of Early Retirement is to be mindful of your relationships.

Don’t keep friendships that aren’t bringing value into your life, as they will only serve to absorb the very valuable time you’ve worked so hard to free up.

Do get out into your community and participate. New relationships that are compatible with your new chapter of life will naturally form from there.

One of the great aspects of retired life is that it also opens the door to having a broad range of friendships with people of all ages.

Too often in life we restrict our relationships to those who are within a similar age range to ourselves. It’s a societal norm that can cause us to ignore the opportunity to form some really amazing, interesting and influential relationships with people who have substantially more life experience to offer, or conversely, the opportunity to mentor others just getting started.

While it’s sad to think of leaving friendships behind, we can’t all move along the exact same paths, at the exact same time, and therefore growing apart and forming new relationships is all part of the journey.

Celebrate the old, look forward to the new, and move into retirement with the knowledge that your existing relationships are unlikely to stay static for long.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s post, next week we’ll be turning our attention to the area of health and wellness, and what we can all do to improve our odds at enjoying our retired years for as long as possible!

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Savvy History April 17, 2019 - 3:03 pm

This is an insightful and intriguing read. Thank you for tackling some sticky issues with relationships here. I think jealousy is a very difficult negative emotion for many people to face. I especially agree with this:

Envy is an emotion we would all like to pretend doesn’t occur in friendships. Unfortunately, envy is a very base human emotion/reaction, and like any major life changes that send people down very different paths, retirement is plenty fertile soil for this unpleasant emotion to fester. And envy is a feeling that can quickly end even the best of friendships.

I see this with people my parent’s age and my husband’s parent’s age. They will complain about someone if they can retire before them. It’s actually created an environment where we don’t feel comfortable talking about our financial successes. Even though we are their children (and they are happy for us), I don’t rule out that people could resent their children!

Relationships are more important to me than money (obviously) and I find they lead to more contentment and happiness when they are healthy. Growing apart with certain people can all be a part of the cycle of health! Well said.

Phia@Freedom101 April 18, 2019 - 3:00 pm

Thank you!!! I also find that this emotion is very prevalent in our parents generation (frequently more so than ours) – I find this intriguing, and am super curious as to why that is, but haven’t found a clear answer yet!

I think it’s sad anytime we can’t express and share excitement in our successes. I’ve been trying to pay closer attention to relationships in my life where I feel like I can’t openly share my excitement, and try to drill down to why I feel that way. Sometimes it’s definitely a “me” issue – but frequently it does seem to be a red flag that not all is well with the health of the relationship.

It’s a tricky, but rewarding area of life to navigate in terms of finding the right balance (at least I’ve found so!), and early retirement does seem to throw an extra curve ball into the mix!

Chrissy @ Eat Sleep Breathe FI April 29, 2019 - 10:34 pm

I’d meant to comment on this ages ago, and glad I remembered to do so today. This post resonated with me. But it’s not because I reached FF and left my job, but because I see the same patterns with my mom friends.

When our kids were young, we saw each other everyday, sometimes several times in one day. As the kids have grown, we’ve drifted apart. Much like you’ve experienced, without a common element to bind us, it turns out there wasn’t enough there to keep the relationship going.

But the bright side is, same as you’ve found, the best of these friends do end up sticking around. So I guess it’s survival of the most suitable? 😀

My husband will undoubtedly go through this transition with his work friends. They’re a huge part of his life right now, but I suspect nearly all will drift away very quickly (he’s the boss to most of them, so he’s quite a bit older).

This series has been so helpful for me to get a glimpse into life after FF. Thanks for sharing Phia!

Phia@Freedom101 April 30, 2019 - 12:25 pm

Thank you for coming back to comment on this one! I can absolutely see the parallels between the two transitions – I think it’s true of any major change in life circumstances. You start to lose that commonality, and if it’s the only foundation of the relationship, drifting apart becomes the natural result.

I like your survival of the most suitable – sums it up perfectly!

I have also thought the overall transition to retirement is probably very similar in feeling to becoming an empty nester. Our kids come with their own very substantial sense of purpose, and definitely keep us busy, so suddenly not having that anymore would probably be equally (if not more) dramatic.

Although it may be a bit more of a gradual transition as our kids gain independence, I suspect many of the same factors will come into play.

Sharon May 20, 2019 - 1:52 pm

I found this article relevant even though I am not close to FF yet – so thank you Phia 🙂

Having moved away from home for studies and returning after 2-years, I was disappointed that some friendships had drifted apart. Like you said those friendships were mostly bonded over the 4 pillars, and once those were gone – so was the friendship! And despite some efforts meet up, those hangouts started lacking value or spark.

For those still pursuing FF like myself, I’ve been reflecting on who I choose to invest time in since a good chunk of time is still working. With such precious free time, I am becoming more mindful and intentional with every friend I meet up with. Needless to say, but there an element of truth behind “you are the average of the 5 people you hang out with”.

With FF being my ultimate goal (until I reach it), I’ve been in situations where maintaining certain friendships have been in conflict with my values. For example, going on a road trip with friends and the rest of them would rather eat out ALL meals, than cook at home (even with a full kitchen) – because it’s less hassle. How would you suggest I navigate this situation Phia?

Positively thinking, the world is full of beautiful strangers waiting to be my friend. So I’m sure I will find more like-minded people with time. I’ve also found great value in being friends with people of all ages and backgrounds, which is one of the reasons I love to travel!

P.S. Been loving your blog Phia & Mike since I met you at the meetup. Keep it up! 🙂

Phia@Freedom101 May 20, 2019 - 3:06 pm

Hey Sharon! Thanks for the comment – we’re so glad you’ve been enjoying the blog!

I definitely agree that there is truth to the average of 5 🙂 (I wrote a post about it awhile back!) And I can completely relate when it comes to experiencing friendships that consistently conflict with personal values and the goals you are setting for FF. Mike and I worked to maintain a number of our friendships where we had polar opposite approaches to finance for quite some time trying to overcome those challenges. Ultimately we chose to let some of them go and make space in our lives for people who we share more commonality with. For others, we were able to compromise in a way that worked for us and them.

For the friends that weren’t interested in any type of compromises, it made the decision to part ways easier, because there wasn’t a mutual respect for each others priorities. I think that’s an important piece when evaluating friendships. Finance in and of itself is not a great reason to lose a great friendship, but if mutual respect for each others priorities and goals isn’t at the heart of that friendship, then maybe it’s not so great after all.

In terms of your example with the road trip, the mutual respect aspect pops to mind. Would your friends be willing to compromise to also recognize and meet your goals and values? Alternating between eating out, cooking in, or even leftovers? Or they could order in while you cook yours, and all eat together?

A tactic I also use when friends want to eat out and I don’t want to spend the money, is I cook something for myself before I go, then I have a beverage or small appy at the restaurant. Cuts my bill drastically, but allows me to enjoy the company of my friends and experience of the restaurant.

As an aside, when I do eat out with friends, I always insist on separate bills, I find when people want to do the old “oh we’ll just split it 4 ways”, I end up paying for a lot of things I didn’t have!!!

Sonia Williams September 21, 2019 - 11:43 am

Thank you for your post. My husband retired several years before me, so he kept house and did most of the chores etc, while I worked. I subsequently retired, when we calculated that financially, I too could retire early; so,17 months ago, at 57, we sold our house, downsized and moved to the coast, some two hours away from our old workplaces and family.

We have always loved the sea and beach life, hence moving closer to the sea on retiring. We love it and walk our two dogs every day, sometimes by the sea, sometimes in woods or forests or National Trust places etc. Retiring early has been wonderful and I can thoroughly recommend it.

Last Christmas, I told one of the girls in the office that I would go to their Xmas meal, but not to tell the others, as I wanted to surprise them. It was a fantastic evening and when they spotted me walking into the restaurant, there were hugs, tears and laughter and it was a brilliant evening out, catching up with everyone.

However, in the last month or two, the texts have slowly diminished and there are longer and longer gaps between messages. I suppose I am no longer ‘in’ the thick of it and the office has moved on. That said, it has been quite sad for me to accept this and although I knew it would probably happen, as others had said it might, there are a couple of people who I thought would still stay in contact, but they haven’t. Even my long term friend from school days has cooled off and has only visited us once this year and even that was just for one night. If she invited us to her house, we would definitely go, but she hasn’t, as she doesn’t like dogs much and we are not prepared to go without them. We’ve made acquaintances in our new area and as we have dogs, we meet lots of dog owners on our walks, and have had some lovely chats with them.

Its still sad when I think of my old friends, but I know I’ll get over it and I do understand, for the most part. However, I’d still rather be retired and enjoying my free time, as we don’t have that much time on this earth and I’m grateful to have been able to enjoy it sooner rather than later, when perhaps there would be health issues etc. Having eventually lost my father to the damage done by a stroke, when he was 83, I was pleased for him that he had retired early, at 50 and had had 30 odd years of good retirement before his stroke left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. I think it was my dad dying at only 83, that made me decide to retire early, as up until that point, he had been as fit as a fiddle; it made me realise that life and time are precious.

We live and learn, and get wiser with age. 😀😎

Phia@Freedom101 September 21, 2019 - 1:46 pm

Hi Sonia! Thanks so much for your comment, and congrats on your retirement!

I do find it rather ironic that at a point in life when we’ve acquired more time to invest in our friendships, that many instead seem to lapse. Adding a geographic change – even just 2 hours can be a substantial additional hurdle to maintaining frequency with pre-existing friendships.

I really like how you reached out and attended the Christmas party. I’m sure you friends were sincere in their happiness to catch up and reconnect, and yet as time moves on it’s all too easy for all of us to allow contact to lapse – even though it’s not intentional.

In retirement, I’m beginning to think it might take a bit more effort on our parts to keep our valued friendships going, and maintaining a degree of frequency.

You’re so right abut valuing and enjoying the time we do have. I’m sorry to hear that your father passed, but that’s wonderful that he was able to retire early and have multiple decades to maximize what he was doing.

This whole retirement thing is undoubtedly a transition, and I think no matter how much we hear others warn that things will change, or how much we prepare, it’s just another of life seasons that takes some time to adjust to, including building a updated social circle.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience in this transition!


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