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The Joys of Friendship Over 50

HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT YOUR GIRLFRIENDS LATELY?

Have Your Friendships Changed Over the Years? Are You Still Friends With The Same Women? Are There Any Friendships That Aren’t Working For You? Many Friendships Last A Lifetime, And Some Just Don’t

“Friendship between women is different than between men” – Jane Fonda


What Would We Do Without Them

We all know the importance of women friends (to be clear I’m talking about friendships between heterosexual women), yet we tend to take it for granted. At different phases of our lives our women friends have played different roles, and we don’t know how we would survive without them. They have supported us (as we’ve supported them) for major life events, for minor events and simply to get us through the day and night. We’ve learned that husbands, boyfriends, and siblings can’t fill the unique role of a chosen friend.


Quantity vs. Quality

We have an inner circle, and an extended circle of friends. Yours may be much larger than mine (for example, my stepmother knew everyone in Los Angeles and was friends with half of them), or it may only have a few friends. Obviously there is no right way to decide what’s best, and what’s best for each of us can change over time. Maybe you had a bunch of girlfriends in high school, but if you count your current group there may only be a handful of women you feel really close to.


What Makes a Close Friend

In my book she has to be like-minded in key areas, and she has to be non-judgmental and see the best in me. I have my own inner critic voice, thank you very much, so I don’t need more criticism. I need to know she will be a good listener, not try to impose her own agenda on me and will remember what we talk about. In turn, I will do the same for her, and I will be flexible when required and keep track of her life. The easiest friendships are the one in which you pick up right where you left off, even if you haven’t seen each other in ages. A good friend needs to meet me halfway when it comes to communicating and making plans. I lost one friendship with a woman (I’ll call Alisa) who didn’t initiate plans and more often than not would reschedule. Eventually I felt taken advantage of and I stopped being the one to get in touch. Alisa never did reach out again to me and mutual friends told me she is like that with everyone; they advised me not to take it personally, but it was hard not to. I was sorry to see the friendship go, but eventually I wanted to protect myself from getting hurt more than I desired to take walks with Alisa.


Is It Time to Re-evaluate

“It’s easy to be friends when everyone’s 18. It gets harder the older you get, as you make different life choices” – Zadie Smith

Relationships do not always last a lifetime. Sometimes it’s due to the phase you are in and the friendship serves a specific purpose. As a new mom you may become friends with some other new moms, and this support gets you through those trying first months. Later you discover that you don’t really like each other that much. When your kids are in school it’s easy to meet the moms of your kid’s friends and if you’re lucky you’ll become friends with one of the moms. However, when the kids grow apart you your friendship with the mom could be tested if you don’t have more in common than your kids. Or you may outgrow a friendship when a friend is stuck in the past and you don’t feel the same pull to constantly revisit the past. I ended a friendship with a girlfriend from college (I’ll call her Marie) because her husband was just awful. When my husband and I would have dinner with them we were put off by his obnoxious manner. It was awkward for me and painful for her when I told her we didn’t want to get together anymore. I felt guilty about ending hurting her feelings and not explaining the real reason.


Perhaps you’ve lost touch with another friend because one of you has moved or your life circumstances changed. I’ve often been friends with a woman at work, only to find we drift apart when we no longer work together. You may be okay with these relationships ending, or more accurately, drifting away. It’s natural that you may miss them at times, regardless of the reasons you are no longer close. I consider myself a loyal friend, yet many of my relationships have dissipated over the years for a variety of reasons. Thankfully I still have my dearest inner circle to support me (and me them), and I’ve been lucky enough to make new friends over the years.


Some friendships end and it isn’t our choice. There is pain involved if you’ve been dropped, especially if you don’t understand why. You may also have chosen to end a friendship at some point and it has caused you guilt. Just like relationships with lovers, it may take years to get over, particularly if you don’t get closure. I can think of one friend, (I’ll call her Caroline) of mine with whom I’d been very close. Caroline moved across the country, and we never had contact again, even in the age of digital communication. I tried (although not that much, as there were some raw feelings regarding her departure) but I never heard from her again. I’m embarrassed to say that the friendship lasted 10 years, and it’s been 11 years since the friendship ended and I’m still trying to let go of my friendship with Caroline.


Taking the Long View

As time passes, we value our long-term friendships even more. These women knew our families, our circumstances in all of the past phases of our lives. They’ve been there for us when we’ve struggled, as we have been there for them. We know how much work we’ve put in to keep it going. There have been irritations, miscommunications, unmet expectations. Yet we know it’s been worth the effort. We also may want to clean house as we get older. There may be some dead wood friendships that drag you down and don’t serve you well anymore. At this point in our lives, do we have time and energy for those negative relationships? True, it’s easy to say that and quite another to actually end a relationship, but it’s worth doing a cost/benefit analysis.


Making New Friends Later in Life

It’s never too late to make new friends, in fact it’s a gift when you bond with someone when you’re older. The most baked version of yourself is what this new friends gets, and chances are you have something important in common if you’ve found each other. If you find you don’t have enough trusted friends at this stage, then I’d encourage you to take a class or find a way to meet people doing things you’re interested in. You may need to push yourself to approach them, but you’ve got nothing to lose. It doesn’t matter how you find them, just that you make a connection.


In a research study from UCLA on Friendship Among Women in 2002, it was shown that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%. The study didn’t call out female friendships specifically, but nonetheless the benefit is clear.



Friends also help us live better. The famed Nurses' Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. Results were significant, so much so that researchers concluded not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as carrying extra weight or smoking.

Although we don’t need proof from a study to convince us of what we already know, it’s helpful to see how universal the need is. We do better with friends! So go call one of yours right now and make each other happy!

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