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: