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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