Growing Friends

Friendships Near Fifty: Growing Friends Later in Life

Growing FriendsWhen I was a child, it was easy to make friends.

I formed friendships with neighbor kids, girls in my classes, and girls involved in the same activities I was (theater, chorus, gymnastics). I found friends at the pool in the summer and at the skating rink in the winter. In college, shared classes and passions led to friendships. Munching egg and potato tacos at two in the morning at Taco Cabana after six hours of studying for a biology exam, and debating the merits of mild salsa versus “maim your tastebuds” salsa, forges bonds like few others. Once I joined the Air Force, I found friends in the work place; spending twelve hours on a mid-shift during an exercise gives lots of time to discuss the meaning of life and favorite childhood cartoons, argue about politics and rival sports teams, and reveal career ambitions or relationship tribulations.

Imaginary People Don’t Have Real Kids

But. But my Air Force career separated me (geographically) from most of the aforementioned friends. We married, had children, moved away and grew apart. Four of the women and men are still my good friends, but we’re half a country apart, so it’s not like we’re meeting up weekly for lunch or a workout. I find myself now, coming up on fifty, having difficulty forming new friendships. I’m not “out in the world” the way I used to be, where I spent enough time with other people that friendships evolved naturally. I have plenty of “friendly acquaintances,” but few real friends in town. I’ve retired from the workplace and spend my days holed up in my upstairs office, writing about imaginary people. My work as a mystery writer requires almost no contact with actual human beings except for the occasional convention or book event. So I don’t meet potential friends through my work. My girls are now in middle school and high school, so I’m no longer standing around the elementary school playground, waiting for them to emerge at the end of the day, chatting with other parents. So there’s little scope for meeting friends through my kids.

15 Minutes Is Not Enough

I meet congenial women at church and at the Y, but fifteen minutes of chatting over coffee after the early service, or between leg presses and triceps dips at the gym, isn’t enough to build intimacy. There used to be talk about how spending “quality” time with your kids was more important than spending a lot of time with them. I’ve always thought that was hooey and it applies to friendships as well. Especially when starting a friendship, you have to spend real time with each other. That’s hard to arrange if you don’t meet in school or the workplace. I’ve deliberately reached out recently to several women I thought might become friends, inviting them to meet up for tea or lunch. Lunches are all good and well, but it takes a lot of hour-long lunches together to build up real intimacy.

If the spouses are compatible, it’s easier because you can spend evenings together, or go on day-long outings. If that’s not the case, then it’s hard. I don’t know too many women who can take a whole day away from spouses, work, and kids to go off on an adventure with a buddy. Maybe it gets easier to spend time with friends, spend time making friends, once the kids are gone and the chauffeuring commitments, volleyball tournament and voice recital attendance, and basic “spend time with the kids” requirements have dwindled. Perhaps this is one of those life phases one simply has to slog through . . . but I’d rather slog with some friends by my side.

When Life Moves You, How Do You Make the First Move?

I don’t mean this to be a whine-fest, but I’m wondering if other women in their forties, fifties, and sixties are experiencing the same thing. If life has moved you away (geographically or emotionally) from your childhood/college/workplace friends, how do you make new ones? It takes a certain amount of courage to make the first move, to say “I’d like to be friends,” to carve out time in your schedule, and to open up to someone new. How do you do that? I hope I’m not the only one with this issue. If so, perhaps the problem lies in me, and I should be analyzing why I’m not good friend material. I’d rather not go there, so please comment about your existing friendships and the ways in which you nurture new ones.

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Author of the Swift Investigations, Mall Cop, and Readaholics mystery series. Ex-Air Force intelligence officer, now a full-time writer. Spying was easier.

4 thoughts on “Friendships Near Fifty: Growing Friends Later in Life”

  1. I just worked my way out of this kind of situations recently. I want to make friends again after hiding at home with my kids. I had one best friend but not a lot of different friends to draw upon and expand my horizons. The first thing I did was make a list of the kinds of friends I wanted, like attributes, humor, social requirements, Like I couldn’t spend tons of time out drinking at bars so I needed friends who could spend time doing things we both liked. I started going to more events at my kids school. Talking to people about things I like and making jokes. Basically just trying to be myself so that people who are attracted to me are the right people, ie if I were putting on airs then only people attracted to fake people would want to befriend me etc. I also started spending more time talking to other moms on the phone when setting up play dates. Very soon after that I was asked to join a book club and that opend up 6 new friends that rock my world and it really spun out from there. I say start a book club.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful post. You certainly went about the process of finding new friends very intelligently. I love your book club idea and don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself!

  2. Laura,
    As a military spouse, I can so relate to your post!

    I just finished reading an inspiring article about you and found this. Just wanted to tell you I am inspired by you. I’ve found my way back to my creative roots in art but haven’t written in years due and I have a degree in journalism. I really should start writing again in addition to my painting and photography.

    And book clubs are a great way to connect with other women. I’ve belonged to a couple but we always move lol.

    Anyway, congrats on your hard work and persistency paying off! And thank you for the inspiration.

    1. Susan, thanks so much for your kind words. It’s great that you’ve found your way back to being creative. I think it’s easy for women who are working and raising children to put their creativity in a box and not take it out very often.

      I know just what you mean about always moving since I grew up in a military family and then spent 20 yrs in the Air Force as an adult. It’s nice to finally get to “nest.”

      Best of luck with your creative endeavors!

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