By Rori Boyce
If there is one thing I did not expect to struggle with as I moved into my 40’s, it was having enough friends. Making friends has never been a challenge for me. I am the person who can walk into a new group of people and seem like I have always belonged. Over the course of my adult life I have seen friends of varying degrees of closeness come and go from my life. But the one constant I’ve always had is a large circle of friends with whom I was connected. At least that was always a constant, until now.
I would never have picked “maintaining friendships” as one of the challenges I would face at this stage in my life, and yet, here I am, feeling disconnected and as though my friends are very far away. I have been through several difficult and trying years, the kind when you most need the love and support of your friends but I find myself feeling more and more as if I have been weathering that storm alone. As I sat down to write about friendship in the 40s, I found myself looking a little deeper at why I am feeling friendless and forgotten to see if it is me … or if it is simply being 40.
Here is what I found. There are many reasons that women in their 40s struggle to maintain old friendships and to make new ones. After a little insight from the experts and some soul searching, I seem to be suffering several of them.
Same Ages, Different Stages
If you are like me, most of your friends are around the same age as you. For me, this means most of my close friends range in age from 35-45. But as I looked across the friendships I miss the most, I find that while we are close in age, we are in very different life stages. I had my kids young which means that at 41 I am halfway to an empty nest. Most of my friends are either childless by choice or just at the beginning of their journey as a parent and I have found that nothing makes sustaining a friendship harder than children. My friends with small children don’t have time to commit to friends and my childless-by-choicers have more money to do things I cannot afford. I don’t have a single friend with whom I can share the rollercoaster of emotions that comes when a child leaves home.
No Time for Nonsense
I am not sure if this stems from the fact that when you turn 40 you gain a different sense of your own mortality or if people just become grumpier, but there is something about your 40s that makes it harder to sustain unfulfilling friendships. I have watched several of my other friends go through this and for each there came a point at which they became much more particular about whom they were willing to spend their available time with. For me, this has meant letting go of toxic people, frenemies, and people who were nice enough but just didn’t add much to my life. If you are used to having a large group of people you call friends, this culling of the herd can leave you feeling a little lost and lonely, even if it was your choice.
Changing Lives and Changing Landscapes
Another thing that can significantly impact your friendships in your 40s is big life changes. You might move to a new city, get divorced, get re-married, change jobs, or start caring for a parent. During these years we are more likely to experience big losses, big changes, and big upheavals. For me, I had the tri-fecta—I left a job I had worked at for more than a decade, got remarried, and had to deal with the aftermath of a family tragedy all at the same time. At a time that I needed my friends more than ever, I was too spent to reach out and too concerned with being a burden to lean on others. These kinds of major life changes can sever ties of all kinds and it is important to remember that our friendships do need nurturing.
So, does this mean that women in their 40s are destined to be friendless and lonely?
Definitely not! What it means is that you may need to work a little harder to maintain the friendships you have and look a little harder for the new ones waiting to be built. It means you can’t focus so intently on the friendships that have faded away that you fail to seize the opportunities to make new ones. It means you may become more selective about whom you are friends with but that the bonds you build can be just as strong and possibly more meaningful as those at other ages.