Friends for Life

September 13, 2010  |  Uncategorized

Getty ImageA supportive network of family and friends may have an impact on longevity according to new research just out from Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.(LA Times 9/13/10)
Betty Friedan also quoted similar research findings in 1993 in her book “The Fountain of Age”

So the experts are telling us…friends are good for us as we age.

However these “golden friendships” may differ from the ones you had when you were younger.
Friendship issues was an unexpected topic,which came up in my interviews with vibrant women 50+ while researching for my last book. It took me by surprise when my interviewees identified that their friendship patterns had changed in two significant ways as they had aged.

First of all, women 50+ report that they may have more time but few friends to spend it with. In the preceding years they have had their heads down and focused on all the essential roles they have to play in life and they have failed to nurture the friendship role. This is a quantity issue.
This quote from a women’s blog may explain why, “Women give themselves away to functions, husbands, children, and work.”
I think there is a lot of truth to this. Women work very hard balancing multiple tasks for much of their adult lives. This predisposition to multi tasking and multi care giving has many positive consequences for the women themselves and for those around them but there are also negative consequences. The busy task jugglers are left with little or no time for themselves or for some of life’s basic, indulged comforts, like friendship.

Secondly, women 50+ may have been able to maintain friendships through the busy years but when they raise their heads at 50 and look around they find they are not satisfied with the sort of friendships they have maintained. This is a quality issue.
Women 50 + have lost their tolerance for superficial friendships or friendships which “must be maintained out of social responsibility. If friendships, which began earlier in life have not ripened into a deep connection they will often be set aside at this point. And here is the really good news ladies….as we age we are able to make these friendship changes without heart piercing guilt.

So where do these new friendships come from? They often come from our past. I call these old friendships recycled into new friendships, retro relationships. Women 50 + will often reconnect with friends they had in school either as children or in university or at a first job. The internet and social networking makes such re connections much easier than they used to be. But what is the attraction to these people we have not seen in years?
“….as the pressure of adult roles eases, women feel a natural urge to spend time with people who knew them before they were consumed by those roles. To be known again as Sue, May, or Karen, not as CFO, Mrs. Smith, or even Mom”
The wise women I interviewed approached their search for new friendships with the same wisdom and experience they applied to other issues in their lives. “Now, just as we have earned the good taste to know cheap shoes from Italian-designed and great wine from boxed, we have higher standards for friendship as well.” Women 50+ are not in a rush to find the new friends. They know that these are important decisions and they make them with improved, or at least different, criteria than they would have when they were younger.

As women enter the age of gerotranscendence, the stage of human development which comes after 50 and which is a great open field of exploration, they want to be sure they have the appropriate companions for the journey. The more intimate camaraderie of new 50+ acquaintances or the revitalized friendships of youth may turn out to be the perfect support network for this next stage of live.
Introvert or extrovert we all need friends and friendship fills a place in our relationship network that no other person, not spouse or partner, sibling, child or parent is able to fill.

According to Dr Lars Tornstam, a Swedish sociologist, featured recently in the NY Times, “Our values and interests don’t remain static from…20 years old until the time we’re 45, so why …expect that sort of consistency in later decades.” The nature of our friendships continues to grow as we do and the changes which begin at 50 evolve as we age. An elderly woman may display a healthy need for “increased solitude, and for the company of only a few intimates…she isn’t deteriorating, necessarily- she’s evolving.”
Here once again is proof that life after 50 is a stage of human development which offers us growth and change in many aspects of our life.

If you are lucky enough to have some fantastic current friendships which have bolstered you along your way…keep them and cherish them. If you are seeking new friendships I hope these insights will help you to live long and nurtured in the circle of your friends.

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  1. I really appreciate you writing about this subject. I have been trying to figure out at this stage of life how to make new friends. As outgoing as I am, I find this very difficult and even a little intimidating. Thank-you for your insight!

    • I hear you Debi. It is not easy to make new friends at our age. But I think it may be, in part, because we are selective. We are looking for that deeper connection which sometimes takes time and shared experiences to blossom. I wish you good fortune in your hunt and suggest you maybe engage new acquaintances in a discussion on the topic of friendship and aging.It is a good ice breaker and you may find some folks who are looking for exactly what you are looking for. Another suggestion, if appropriate for you, is to participate in extended events which connect people in a shared experience which involves openness and self expression.e.g a women’s retreat. This sort of experience can connect women and generate lifelong friendships.
      All the best to you