- Many factors make it more difficult to develop and sustain friendships as we age.
- Examples include increased focus on work and, for many, a dwindling capacity to listen and be present.
- It's important to express gratitude and routinely turn toward others.
Shortly after arriving at college, I was invited with a couple of my friends by my resident director to his apartment to watch Seinfeld, a show about nothing. We gathered every week to keep watching together. As we did, we got to know a lot about each other and deeply enjoyed the company.
It was nothing. It was everything. Fears and insecurities, as well as ambition and desperation, nearly ceased to exist in the midst of it. C.S. Lewis wrote of friendship, “It makes good men better and bad men worse.” The friendship we enjoyed was a better version of the show that drew us together.
During one Seinfeld episode, Jerry joked about distinctions between qualifications for a new friend as a child versus as an adult. He explained how children respond to mere availability.
“Remember when you were a little kid...? If someone's in front of my house now, that's my friend. They're my friend. That's it... And if you have anything in common at all—You like Cherry Soda? I like Cherry Soda!—We'll be best friends!”
In your 30s and 40s, it’s difficult to make new friends. Seinfeld joked that you’ll meet someone and think—
“I’m sure you’re a very nice person. You seem to have a lot of potential. But we’re just not hiring right now.”
Some ambiguous combination of fear and unavailability act as wedges.
The character of George Costanza is the poster child for the neurosis of modern man—petty, paranoid, controlling, insecure, and self-centered. Brene Brown (2012) has said that “shame drives two primary tapes: not good enough, and who do you think you are?”
Self-pity and self-pride are, in a way, a kind of false dichotomy.
Brown mused that one of the deepest paradoxes about vulnerability is that it is “the very first thing I try to find in you and the very last thing I want to show you in me,” adding, “Feeling vulnerable, imperfect, and afraid is human. It’s when we lose our capacity to hold space for these struggles that we become dangerous.”
Henri Nouwen once said that there are three lies we all face—“I am what I do, I am what others say about me, and I am what I have.”
Stopped at a traffic signal on my way back to work after lunch, my friend Matt spotted me and leaped onto the front of my vehicle, roaring like a wild bear. The contrast between his behavior and my slow to warm up, “Uh, hi Matt” reaction was stark, at least in my inward experience. I reflected after driving away how often I have tunnel vision and am, as an introvert, frequently startled by any intrusion into my mind-space as I focus on surviving the day. I have noticed that in spite of circumstances or difficulties being faced, Matt consistently chooses gratefulness, turns otherward, and often radiates joy.
We work to curate our lives and lose touch with instincts for spontaneity, creativity, and love. We often find ourselves doing little more than just that—doing. The family therapist Carl Whitaker (1989) argued, “Doing is to keep from being, meaning that if you keep busy enough, you don’t have to be anybody. You can keep trying harder and harder to be somebody different than you are, either better, more powerful, more like somebody else, less like what you’ve discovered of yourself in the past.”
Our aptitude and proclivity for cultivating both solitude and relationship are eroding at the breakneck pace of our schedules and the volume of incessant noise in our lives. We seek distraction, attention, or both, while praying for those that watch to give us laud and dignify our shenanigans.
In the midst of middle-aged workaholism, in the age of the personal brand, we run the risk of a narcissistic gaze into the proverbial lake, where the inverted reflection of vanity and natural gravity of time work in tandem to absorb life into its unfeeling gaze.
With the dwindling of our capacity to listen and be present with another also dwindles civility and the rugged, persistent give-and-take of friendship. Brene Brown (2010), a researcher of shame, promoter of vulnerability and courage, has concluded, “Love is not something we give or get. It is something that we nurture and grow.”
Some of us are tempted toward isolation, yet we are fundamentally social creatures. As we lean generously into one another’s lives, we become more of ourselves. The more we allow our strengths to become enlivened within the frictions of life together, the more creative and loving we become.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Brown, B. (2012). The courage to be vulnerable. Interviewed by Krista Tippett (Host). On Being, 22 November.
Lewis, C. S. (1960). The four loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Peck, M. S. (1998). The road less traveled: A new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth. New York: Touchstone.
Whitaker, C. A. (1989). Midnight musings of a family therapist. New York: Norton.