Fact or Fiction: Is it hard to make new friends in midlife?
I recently saw a post on a Facebook women’s community group I belong to from a 42-year-old woman who shared a short personal bio and indicated that she was seeking new friends. “It’s so hard to make friends at this age,” she lamented at the end of her post.
Her post didn’t surprise me. I’ve seen these posts before, in fact, many. What I am always amazed to see on this one (and others) is how many other women replied with the same sentiment on making new friends at ages 40 to 60-ish or as some describe, midlife. My same-age own friends, family members and colleagues of mine have shared the same comments.
Is it really that hard to make new friends at midlife?
The question makes you think and examine your own experiences. For me, the facts tend to line up easily.
I’ve been working mostly remotely for 15 years for small organizations. While I’ve enjoyed developing lovely friendships in these experiences, making new friends, and meeting new colleagues, was rare and frankly still is. Yet, I love the work I do, and how I do it, to give it up or change it currently.
I’ve lived in the same house and community for over two decades and many of my neighbors have, too. I’m happy here. So, the activities I enjoy tend to involve the same faces.
My children are adults, so the new friend outlets provided for parents of young and school-aged children are long, long gone.
Don’t get me wrong; I have a lovely group of friends in my life, some that I have had for many years, some for most of my life. And then there’s this question that feels a little weird to ponder, but I suspect some of us do: do I need new friends? I guess not technically; but do I want new friends?
Sure! I don’t really know anyone personally who wouldn’t.
And to be perfectly honest, I don’t think about making new friends, until these discussions pop up. And then I wonder about it. And even sometimes, I long for new people in my life and think about how to make that happen. But do I do anything about it? Not particularly.
My observations of my peers aren’t much different really. Why is that?
I don’t have solid answers, just observations.
Here’s what I’ve noticed:
· Busyness. There’s a lot going on with families, aging relatives, work issues, home life issues, more self-care practices, self-discovery, ailments, and so much more at this age. Where do new friends fit in? Sometimes, they just don’t, through no fault of our own.
· Better sense of self. People seem to know a little better what they want and what they don’t. But they know something. It’s easier to let friendships (or potential friendships) go that just aren’t working for whatever reason, because of this knowledge. I’ve also observed since the pandemic and quarantine, some of my peers grew to love it (or secretly loved it) being home and not having plans. Being social couldn’t be a priority because of the pandemic, and that feeling may have carried over to today to create a legion of ambiverts or reinforced introverts. Finally, self-care, connecting to oneself and better enjoyment of one’s own company is big at any age, but in this age, I feel even more so. New friends in that self-equation? Perhaps not.
· Tried and true. I know this group of women from high school who have stayed in this tight friendship group for many years. Most live locally, and their social posts are all and only about their group. There’s never a new member. I have friend groups like this. Why? It’s predictable, easy, and fulfilling.
· Privilege. It’s a privilege and honor to have friendships, new or old. Many of us, including myself, take that for granted. We don’t recognize and practice gratitude for friendship enough. Maybe during special times of year, or in tough times.
Conclusion: time, our personal needs and wants, the work it takes, fears or concerns, comfort level, forgetting how magical friendship is, and actual opportunities, all factor into making new friends.
Exceptions? Yes, indeed.
Mid-lifers who have moved elsewhere or traveled for long periods of time seem to be making new friends. Opportunity + desire + personal needs/wants = new friends. Some have turned over a new leaf in some way (recovering from a serious illness, sobriety, or making a huge life/career change), are making new friends. See previous equation. I have also noticed some that have loosened and relaxed their feelings on what is a friend and what makes a friendship, meaning that everyone is a friend, because life is short, and why not? I’m also at the age where some of my peers have retired early. See the earlier three sentences in this paragraph.
It can be complicated, and lines tend to blur between fact and fiction; but that’s the cheap or unsatisfying answer, at least to me. I believe in midlife we have more knowledge, wherewithal, and vision to better craft our stories and that includes our friendship stories. We may not always have the chances, but we have the choices.