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."

The hormonal drama of middle-school relationships or those first lonely weeks in a new town are nothing in comparison to the challenges of making new friends and keeping the old at midlife.

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 ...

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