Why Friends Disappear When You Reach Midlife
I thought we were friends.
At midlife I learned that I might have overstated some of these relationships a tad. It seemed that my BFFs had really been church and parenting co-workers.
Inspirational speaker Barbara Bartocci parsed the difference, noting, "People frequently think they have friends at work—or church or the tennis club or any location where like-minded people gather—when in fact what they have are 'work neighbors.' Once you move out of the 'neighborhood,' you're no longer thought about or included."
Like many other women, I had enjoyed a stable posse of friendships during my childrearing years. My pals and I compared notes about potty training, shuttled kids to one another's homes for play dates, cheered and coached and prayed for one another. I never doubted that our shared experiences and, in most cases, our shared faith, would be enough to cement our friendships for life.
Shifts at midlife threw us out of sync with one another. Our kids scattered, some to college, others into the workforce or the military. Some friends relocated or put new energy into their careers. A few marriages ended. The easiest way to deal with the new distance in these relationships was to make excuses for it ("How did we get so busy? Let's get a date on the calendar ASAP!") or to try to pretend nothing had changed.
In middle age, many women discover they're downsizing and moving into a brand-new neighborhood, so to speak. Midlife strips us of the things that formed our network of relationships back in the old neighborhood of our 20s and 30s: children's activities or the drive to find meaning in a career. This new life location can be lonely. No one I know is riding in a red convertible with her empty-nester Gal Pals, singing along to oldies while heading together to a beach house weekend. Most of us aren't looking for Gal Pals, anyway. We're simply looking for a few friends in our new neighborhood. Studies confirm what we intuitively know: loneliness is a serious issue with far-reaching consequences as we get older.
The standard friend-making advice offers motivational action steps: take a class, join a group, serve those in need in your community. In addition, Christians are encouraged to find fellowship at church, though they may discover that there aren't always as many age peers attending as they might hope.