Friendship in the Land of Middle Age

Oh, the days of easy friendship. (Image by Erikona, iStockphoto)

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately—a preoccupation brought on by the experience I wrote about in Give until it hurts? Really?

As a 42-year-old in the land of middle age, I no longer use the word “friend” lightly.

My current definition of a friend is person who gives a little. She’s not just a taker. She’s also someone with whom you can fearlessly share your heart. She won’t use what you’ve shared against you later. She won’t discuss your conversation with anyone else. She’ll cherish your pearls and won’t cast them before swine.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs…” Matthew 7:6

Why is this so hard to find?

Far away are the days of easy, plentiful friendships. The childhood friends at Sunday School and youth group. The teammates on my high school soccer team. The smorgasbord of beautiful friendships in college. There wasn’t enough time for all of them.

In a recent New York Times article, Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?, Alex Williams wrote:

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends:

  • proximity
  • repeated, unplanned interactions
  • a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other

After college, friends dropped like flies into the marriage mill. Their time was now dedicated to their new husbands and later, to their kids. Or friends moved far away to pursue their careers or to return to their hometowns.

Meanwhile, I had adventures and jobs and loneliness—along with a new friend or two—until I met my husband in my late twenties. I moved a thousand miles away into his world.

Then it was all about family. His dozen siblings. Family gatherings. Visits to each other’s homes. We didn’t have kids but later, we became guardians for our eleven-year-old nephew. Parenthood, extended family, and work was all encompassing. There was little time for friends beyond family connections.

Sure, there were “friends” at work, but as Williams wrote in his article, “The workplace can crackle with competition, so people learn to hide vulnerabilities and quirks from colleagues… Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins.”

Family drama over the past several years has caused my husband and I to retreat into our own little world. It’s a long story. Suffice it to say, we’ve gotten picky. We’re much more selective about who we allow into our lives. Our home and hearts are no longer welcoming to harsh critics, users, slanderers, and complainers who are miserable but unwilling to do anything to change and grow.

He has reached out to successfully rekindle childhood friends while I have focused on my job and writing.

It’s a no-drama home and life. Peace reigns.

I adore my husband. He’s my best friend in the world. But I’m ready to make a new girlfriend or two. I Googled “friendship in middle age” and came across several great articles. Clearly, obstacles are plentiful—it’s not easy to make new friends at this stage in life, especially with the baggage of past experience, distrust, self-protection, and a sense of futility about the lack of permanence in friendships.

More from Williams’ New York Times article: “…you become more wary about making yourself emotionally available to new people. ‘You’re more keenly aware of the downside,’ said Mr. Koppelman, 46. ‘You’re also more keenly aware of your own capacity to disappoint.’”

I just spent a day with a good friend. A great friend. I drove two hours each way to see her. Rare, real friends are worth a 200-mile drive. If only she lived closer so that proximity and repeated, unplanned interactions could nourish our friendship. In the meantime, I’m going to be more intentional about developing friendships closer to home.

Do you find it challenging to maintain your friendships? In what ways have you made new friends as an adult?

Articles on friendship in middle age:

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6 Comments

  1. I haven’t made a new, close friend in years, and I think that’s normal as we get older. I have two trusty friends of over 30 years and we’d drop everything to come to each other’s rescue. We share a meal every few months, check in regularly via phone/e-mail, and go about our lives. But I still consider them my close friends. Then there are the church friendships I make with women I would have never approached had I met them on the street. It’s that spiritual bond. And I’m never at a loss for listening ears and shoulders for tears. Do you attend a church, Natalie? I think that’s where those external conditions can be met today.

    Reply
    • I’ve retained a couple of cherished friends that I see once a year when I visit family in Oregon that date back to childhood and college. Life wouldn’t be as full without them. 🙂 I also have 3 older sisters – also far away – but we love each other dearly, even with our occasional squabbles.

      As for church, I must admit that 15 years ago, I took a “sabbatical” from which I haven’t been able to fully return – except for a 2-year stint a couple of years ago at a Calvary Chapel (a huge church of 10,000+, by the way). It’s something that’s been nagging at me. I had a great reminder of satisfying fellowship at the OC Christian Writers Conference. These are my kind of people! Like-minded people of faith who struggle and try to make sense of it all while relying on God.

      I know I need to get back to it. I have a church picked out that I’m going to visit in the next week or two. My excuse lately has been – how can I add one more thing? Because it’s not just Sunday morning. It’s ministry, commitments, etc. Maybe I should just go and be fed for awhile before I jump into all the busyness… Join a Bible study/fellowship group… Thoughts for another blog post… 🙂

      Reply
      • Well, I have a lot to say about church membership (I’ve been with mine for 20 years), but I’ll wait for your blog post or you can email me. I can send you some pages from a book I’m reading on the topic, if you’d like.

      • Hi Darla. Yes, please send me some pages on the topic. I’ve got all kinds of excuses… but am also wary of the “shoulds.” I’m slightly nervous writing about it… But I have a feeling there are other Christians like me who struggle with this.

  2. I was not very good at making friends when I was younger, because I was painfully shy. It wasn’t until I had kids and they started making friends, that I realized I wanted to know who my kids were hanging out with–so I should meet the moms. That’s what did it. By finding common ground, I was able to make friends easily at the playground, play dates, school events, etc.

    Yes, our biggest link is the friendship between our children so I wouldn’t necessarily call many of these women (and some men who are heavily involved in their kids’ social lives) true friends. But there are a few I have gotten to know that I discovered we have other common interests such as the environment or writing or reading.

    The oldest friend I have (besides my sister who is my best friend) is a girl I went to college with. I have known her for over 20 years. We don’t see each other except once or twice a year, but when we do manage to get together it’s like not even a day has passed since we last hung out. I think that’s the mark of a true friendship. And they are rare.

    Nowadays, I have found that through blogging I have come to know a small handful of women who I would love to meet outside of blogosphere. We always dish about writing, but then our conversations tend to segue into other areas and I realize I’m actually building friendships with people I haven’t met. At first I was leery about that, because in all reality how can that be possible? But I think these days especially, it is more possible than we care to admit.

    I still yearn for those teatime chats with a neighbor/friend, but my hectic life prevents that right now. So, I have to make the most with what is available to me.

    Reply
    • I appreciate your comments so much, Kathryn. Thanks for sharing. As someone who chose not to have kids (other than raising our nephew from age 11 on), I’ve realized there’s a whole world I’ve missed in terms of friendships with other moms. Not having that huge, huge, huge thing in common makes friendship take a lot more effort.

      And I totally agree about blogging friends. There’s richness and depth there for sure – and a like-mindedness we can’t always find in our everyday relationships. (BTW, back in ’97, I fell in love with my husband online before I ever met him. Talk about a seriously real connection.) 🙂

      Reply

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