Nine Ways to Embrace Challenges In Your Midlife Female Friendships
Fostering friendship and connection in your life is one of the most powerful things you can do for your wellbeing if you are a woman’s or identify as female. “For women, friendship not only [feels incredibly supportive], it protects. It buffers the hardships of life’s transitions, lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and promotes healing. It might help explain why women, on average, have lower rates of heart disease and longer life expectancies than men.”
I’ve done a lot of talking about friendship with my mom, my clients, my friends, and my sister. As I have landed in midlife, I feel so blessed by so many friends. And, I’ve noticed that we all struggle from time to time with our friendships. So I asked you all to share what you’ve learned so far in life that has helped your friendships and distilled your fabulous insights down to nine ideas.
- Be OK with Whatever it Looks Like Now.
Transitions can be extremely challenging for friendships. When you or your friend transitions in some major way, it can destabilize the relationship: Somebody gets partnered/married, becomes a mother, becomes a widow, takes a more demanding job, goes back to school, gets a divorce. All of these things can spell trouble for a friendship because whatever connective tissue you shared before is now missing. This doesn’t mean that the friendship has to end. But typically, it means that we’ve got to meet our friends where they are at now. We will need to accept that there is less time in their schedule for us now that [she’s become a grandmother] and discovered that it’s her greatest joy. Or maybe now she’s single again and she needs to create a #girlsquad to process her online dating experiences and we aren’t part of it. How can we celebrate our friend as she is now and accept that, for now, we won’t be as tightly woven together. One woman offered, “[Friendships] go through seasons and transform into other ways of being beyond your control. I have such grief around friendships I feel I’ve “lost” when in fact maybe they’ve become something new.”
2. Laughter is NECESSARY:
Several people responded by mentioning that they needed “deep down snorting laughter” and “low maintenance friends” where you can “soak up what you can when you can…no pressure”. Life can be heavy in midlife with supporting aging parents, facing illness or other challenges with ourselves, our spouses, or our adult children. Geographic moves don’t necessarily need to curtail these buoyant meet-ups as one respondent shared, “Two of my childhood friends and I live in three different countries. We make plans to meet up at least once a year. I’m so glad we do!” I’ve personally had several hour long over zoom reconnections over coffee with childhood friends and old friends and it was magical. Sharing silly GIF’s, SNL clips or connecting over what’s funny lightens everybody’s load.
3. The Marie-Kondo-ing Can Wait.
To have successful friendships that nourish us, several people responded that we must prioritize and schedule this “precious medicine for the soul”. Everybody is busy. Being too busy to nurture your friendships can cause them to wither. That means regularly calling, texting and putting things on the calendar together. One woman offered, “An easy thing I do is to send short voice memos to friends every so often. Phone calls and get-togethers are amazing. But with everyone so busy, it doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. Texting is great, but a spoken message feels more present to me and more intimate and personal. I like to hear my friends’ voices! It’s a balm for the soul in those weary moments.”
4. Assume that People Like You and Get Out There and Initiate.
Whether you are seeking new connections or simply long to rekindle long standing ones. This is the advice that comes from research that shows that we humans are terrible at predicting how much another person likes us. It turns out that if you believe people might not like you, they won’t. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Especially those who have Rejection Sensitivity, like me (RS is common with ADHD ). So, smile and tell yourself “I AM LIKEABLE” and then, pick up the phone or knock on their door. Chances are that you’ll be more liked than you can imagine and, without the taking the risk, we will be disconnected.
“When I feel lonely, I’ve learned to reach out to a friend that I haven’t seen for a while. Invariably they have been feeling lonely too and just haven’t had the motivation to reach out. We all get into our own silos at times, so reach out if you feel lonely! Most likely your friends are feeling lonely too. I think this is especially true in our post-pandemic world. We have all become a little too comfortable in our little home cocoon.”
6. See Your Friendships In Circles .
Did you know that it’s normal for your circle of friends to change? Research shows that the folks we are hanging with changes every seven years. Not all of the players….but many of them. Think back to seven years ago, how have your friendships changed?
Sometimes I mourn when I get super close with one person and that closeness seems to evaporate due to shifting circumstances and/or availability of the other person. I’ve often told myself a not so great story about what it meant that I’m no longer receiving their texts or invitations. Here’s the helpful framework:
“Circles of intimacy….. I see myself at the center of orbits of friends. The closest circular orbit being the most close or intimate. And the further out the less intimate. This helps me to realize that friends can move in and out of different levels of intimacy, depending on life circumstances, but still be friends. It also makes me aware that people I like, for very different reasons, can sometimes be at a similar level of trust and closeness in my life.”
What a relief. With this framework I can accept that I have dozens of friends and that it is OK that we are not all in the deepest intimate connection all of the time. That would be hard to manage!
Finally, this important addition was offered by another woman who also thinks of friends in circles: “I’ve learned that there are some people I can love only from a safe distance – they are exiled to an outer orbit far, far away (i.e., one batsh*t-crazy ex) – but I still send them love. Visualizing friendships and love in this way makes sense to me and it feels good.”
7. To have A Dear Friend You Must Be A Dear Friend.
“Traditions in friendships wax and wain. You may be really tight and then at some point not. You might do everything together and then hardly anything. ….I hope that my friends see me as a friend and valued acquaintance that cares for them, has memories, can respect their busy life and support who they are. This comes in different ways and different timelines. And that’s ok.”
If we spend our time worrying over little slights or wondering just how important we are to our friends, we may miss the boat. Take action and BE A FRIEND. Friendship is a verb. Listen, Check in. Cut flowers from your garden and deliver them. Write them a card and mail it. What lovely things have friends done for you? What felt the best? How could you do something for them?
8. Be Aware of Your Jealousies and Let Them Go.
“….when I was younger my mom told me that to be jealous was the same as saying a swear word lol! I’m sure her mom taught her that & she passed it on… anyway, I’ve always been so happy for my friends when something good happened for them. If they had other good friends, I was happy that they had other good friends and adventures! I feel like being jealous takes something away from their good fortune. There is something I won’t tolerate. I don’t like women tearing other women down. I hate those shows like The Housewives of Beverly Hills where women talk about each other & are subversive .” It is natural and normal to have moments of jealousy with your nearest and dearest. We are, after all, human! Grant yourself permission to be human when you get slightly green with envy over their kid’s accomplishments, their new house, their new partner or promotion! Talk it out with another friend (speaking the jealously out loud can diffuse it and even make you laugh!).
9. Choose Your Closest Friends Like You’re Going to War.
That inner circle. That ring closest to you is a tender place. One person offered, “Choose Your friends like you are going to WAR.” For a moment, I don’t know exactly what she meant. But then I remembered an active duty soldier sharing this with me, “It’s unfortunate, but there are fellow soldiers that you may not feel entirely confidant that they have your back.” (Paraphrasing here!). Who’s got your back? Celebrate them. Tend them lovingly.
My final thought. After reading a lot of pop psych, I used to believe that maybe I should break-up with a friend who I no longer felt as close with. I think this was my rejection sensitivity at play. With the help of a wise friend, I’ve come to understand that sometimes, I need to step back from a friendship. For a week or for a season. I’ve also learned that in this life, I need all the friends that I can get.*
Friends. Celebrate them, tend to them. They are your treasures.
Thank you Jen, Tracie, Cathryn, Melissa, Katja, Leah, Katie, Anxietychikk, Jennifer, Inger, Lisa and Rebecca for your wonderful wisdom!! Please forgive me if I forgot anyone!
*Obviously, if a “friend” is repeatedly unkind or abusive it’s best to exit.