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FRIENDSHIFTS: Navigating Rocky Friendships in Middle Age

FRIENDSHIFTS: Navigating Rocky Friendships in Middle Age
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BY JILL MATLOW

Remember when you were younger and you had tons of friends? If you were like me, you liked most of your classmates and had so many friends that when your birthday party rolled around, you had to actually pare down the list before the invitations were sent out.

Sometimes, I wish I still had that dilemma.

Over the decades, did you start to see an interesting shift in the types of friendships you developed? Most of us were still trying to figure out who we were in high school and college, so we probably weren’t as discriminating as we could have been with the friends we chose back then.

Were you part of a clique back in those days?

I always prided myself on the fact that I was a bit unconventional and marched to the beat of my own drummer. I was never comfortable in the big cliques in high school and college, as I loved being a free agent and mingling with everyone. Needless to say, I was never a member of a sorority in college and fortunately, where I went to college, sororities were not a big part of campus life.

In my 20s, I moved to a big city where most of my friendships were formed at work and at my gym. For most of us, that was a carefree part of our lives – everyone was still single and unencumbered. We had boyfriends but those romances were usually fleeting, and we took comfort in knowing that our girlfriends would always be there to pick up the pieces and get us back on track.

I always loved hanging out with my partners-in-crime!

And then the shift slowly began to happen. Friends moved away, friends got married, friends had kids, friends got divorced. All of a sudden, the common denominator became more about our past shared experiences instead of our present shared experiences.

What was once an idyllic part of our lives, had suddenly taken a turn. Priorities changed, and certain friends and friendships were no longer what we once knew.  As a single person in middle age, I have recently begun to take stock of my friendships and wonder how many other women my age are experiencing this same transitional period.

As I began reflecting on my friendships recently, I noticed that there were givers and takers. In a perfect world, you hope there is a balance between the two, but after time a harsh reality sets in.

I’ve heard this lamenting from many of my single friends: “I’m usually the one reaching out or initiating plans”, “We seem to have drifted apart”, “The only thing we share is our past history” and the dialogue goes on and on.

I admit, sometimes I have felt that maintaining certain friendships required a lot of work. I struggled with the reality that people are busy with their own lives and yet I often wondered, is there always the same effort made on both sides? How do you strike a balance without ‘keeping score’ while making sure your expectations are also in check?

I know what has changed for me over the years is that I’m less concerned with the quantity of friends, and more concerned with the quality of friendships that I have. For many people, this involves compartmentalizing different friendships. We all have friends we can count on no matter what, who will have our backs and would be there for us in a flash if needed.

Others, not so much.

And then there are those friends with whom we have shared such a huge part of our lives with – who seem to come in and out of our lives sporadically. You’re there for them when the chips are down, but is this gesture reciprocated when the tables are turned? If not, when is sharing a long history with someone not enough reason to give them carte blanche?

I struggle with both those scenarios. Like some of my other single friends, I do wonder if I am always the one doing the work or rallying the troops. I’m often reminded of that Volkswagon ad: “On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers. Drivers wanted”.

As most of my family and friends know, I don’t drive (although I do have a license), yet ironically I feel as though I am the “driver” in many of my friendships. Can you relate? Are you guilty of giving certain friends one too many ‘passes’ on the road of life and then resenting your decisions?

As a good friend of mine recently pointed out, we are in essence ‘stuck’ with our family members but we can always end a romantic relationship. Ending a friendship (be it one from childhood or a recently formed friendship) is obviously a lot more complicated. But unfortunately, we do learn that sometimes we just outgrow certain friends or we come to the realization that with so many other stresses in life, certain friends seem to be bringing more stress (not joy) into our lives.

How do you navigate your friendships in middle age that seem more challenging as the years go on? Do you find yourself being the driver or in the passenger seat? Have you ever had to ‘put on the brakes’ with a friend? We love your anecdotes so please share them with us.

And now, I wonder…

“What would you do if I sang out of tune

Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song

But I’ll try not to sing out of key…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jill Matlow
Jill Matlow spent much of her career working in many different facets of the healthcare industry writing marketing proposals, creative briefs and tactical plans. She is thrilled to now be writing articles geared to baby boomers who are nostalgic about their past but still hopeful about their futures. While music is her first passion, writing comes in a close second.