Lifetime Connections

Exploring women's relationships in families and friendscapes

Friendships at Midlife: Ripe, Juicy, Authentic

We long for friends who see us for who we are becoming, not just who we are.

Women entering their forties (and beyond) are a powerful force in every sphere of society—the personal, the social, and the professional arenas provide us with the opportunity to freely self-explore and self-develop. With this renewed focus on flat out authenticity, women grow to recognize the value of their time, energy, and relationships. Thus, you grow increasingly less likely to waste time on pursuits or relationships that have little value or meaning in your life.

In fact, research shows that women in their midlife years have fewer friends than their younger counterparts, but that is not a bad thing! Women are now able to establish friendships based on their own personal interests and emotional needs unlike earlier years when instrumental friendships were integral to functioning in multiple roles as parent, co-worker, carpool driver, or soccer mom. Thus, the number of friends may fall, but the depth of the remaining relationships can grow.

The fourth and fifth decade also provide a space in which you have time to more fully explore the person you are and the friendships that would best energize and more likely satisfy you. Midlife is a period of “letting go” of roles and stages that once defined you. In addition to letting go of your children as they grow into adults, you may also be letting go of the friendships that were developed to be functional (carpool duty drivers, soccer team parents, etc.) rather than fun. By gracefully exiting friendships that were built on shared calendars rather than shared commonalities, you are better positioned to develop authentic and personally fulfilling friendships.

Friendships built on convenience, not connection, often simply fall away when life stages shift and alter. The need for connection, however, does not evaporate. For some women who are simply “social by nature,” the desire for an abundance of friends may continue throughout each life stage. For others who are satisfied with fewer connections, their friendships may be more highly selective and lesser in number. You want to be around friends who accept the woman you are deep inside—not just the public persona and façade that is shared with all and sundry.

Midlife is a glorious time in which women realize that they no longer have to embody the “sugar and spice and all things nice” identity. Assertiveness is easier, boundary-making and keeping is easier, and tolerating the shortcomings of true friends becomes easier while tolerating the misbehavior of superficial acquaintances grows more difficult and less likely. By ridding yourself of friendships that compromise your integrity or lead to hurt feelings or wasted time, you will bolster your self-confidence and self-esteem and allow you to experience the joy of honest and open relationships.

As you reach midlife, you have the opportunity to become the woman that you have always dreamed of becoming—and while you better know your limits, you also better know yourself. And as you accept the person you are—flaws and all—you can form the truest and most cherished friendships since your early years when friendships were intense, “blood brothers,” vows-of-fidelity close. Adult friendships can be ripened into juicy, satisfying bonds in which you can drop your mask and drop your guard without fear of having true friends drop their jaws. Judgment disappears in friendships of the heart. And regardless of age, all of us need the validation of who we are, where we have been, and where we are going that only a true friend can offer.

 

(You are invited to participate in a research study exploring adult friendship experiences. We are hoping to learn about the ways in which adults manage friendship conflict and the behaviors they value most in enduring relationships. If you would like to share your experiences, please click on the following link: Friendship Experiences Survey)

Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, is a licensed counselor and professor at Northern Illinois University.
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