“Sola?” is a question I’m frequently asked when I make a new acquaintance here in Spain. It means, “Are you alone?” My answer is always an upbeat “Si!” I am happily “sola en España.”
In 2017, at the age of 70, I moved to Spain alone. I’d visited the country for the first time the year before, when I spent six weeks traveling around on my own. I’d been searching for the perfect, affordable retirement destination for some time.
Spain ticked a lot of boxes on my list: warm weather, affordable cost of living, great food, wonderful wine, fascinating culture, dependable infrastructure, and most important: warm, welcoming people. I found it easy to make friends, and by the time I left, I had about a dozen friends in Madrid. I thought, “I could live here.”
I researched the residency requirements, and when I realized I could qualify, I decided to make the move. Without a doubt, it was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. Today, my social life is on fire. My health is fantastic. I’m learning a new language. I’m seeing the world. I have more friends than I can count, most of them 30 or 40 years younger than me. My late-life adventure is in full swing.
The streets of Spain are so much safer than any city in the U.S. that I feel perfectly comfortable walking alone any time of the day or night. In fact, the sidewalks of central Madrid are lively and crowded at midnight every night of the week. Aside from a few pickpockets, crime is negligible compared to American cities. According to statistics on the website Nationmaster.com, the U.S. has 92% more crime than Spain. Violent crime is extremely rare.
My friends have come from several different sources. Classes are always good for making connections, both classes you teach and classes you take. My original Madrid friends were students in English classes that I taught in the U.S., but I also met people when I took Spanish classes in Madrid. Instructors are always interesting people who often become friends. Language exchange meet-ups, called intercambios, are a great way to get to know people. Many websites facilitate these meetings.
If you pursue your interests, you will meet other people who have the same interests, so take language classes, dance classes, yoga classes, cooking classes, or art classes. It doesn’t matter, you will meet people who will ask, “Quieres tomar algo?” which literally means, “Do you want to take something?” In Spain, it’s an invitation to go for a coffee, a beer, a glass of wine, or a bite to eat, so you can get to know each other. Say, “si!”
Volunteer work is a sure-fire way to make new friends. Again, pursue whatever interests you, whether it’s helping at an animal shelter, working with refugees, or teaching English. Personally, I have made several close friends, both Spaniards and expats, by volunteering in English immersion programs. Several companies in Spain offer this opportunity including Diverbo, Estacion Inglesa, and Vaughan Town.
Many of my friendships start on the dance floor. I love to dance, so I go to different types of dance gatherings like salsa, swing, ecstatic dance, African dance, Zumba, and Biodanza. Each type of dance has its own community, which will instantly welcome you. If you don’t know how to dance, learn! You will make new friends in class. Start with swing. We boomers remember how to do that from we were teenagers.
The most important key to making new friends is to always say “Yes” to invitations. That’s how you say “yes” to life!