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Finding True Friends Later in Life

Making true friends can be tough at any age. As we get older, it gets harder. But here's what makes for a truly timeless friendship.

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Chubby, awkward, and shy as a girl, making friends was hard for me.

As I progressed through high school and college I honed my social skills but often felt like the odd geeky girl in big groups. I always had one or two girls in my close inner circle.

Later, as a working mother, I rarely made time for girls' weekends or spa excursions.  My friendships revolved around play dates and the occasional family vacation with another couple and their kids. 

Now, an empty nester and free agent, I have come to realize it's all about quality of friendships rather than quantity.  Our definition of true friends changes too. Or perhaps we simply see the definition of true friends more clearly. 

You will find as you age that you have your besties and the "resties." The latter may be fun to hang out with, chatting about life, work, and men (often our fave topics), but the besties are rare.  They self-identify over time. 

Last week I surprised Beth (who I've known since I was 17) at her art show. We've lost touch from time to time but were present for each other when our younger brothers died. I've stood by my college friend's side (online, because we lived far apart) during her cancer diagnosis, her chemo, and her subsequent recovery.

Here's the reality: as we age, our physical and emotional needs become more complex than boy problems and mall excursions.  That's when the besties truly distinguish themselves from the resties. 

Making new friends gets tougher as we get older too. The pool to which we have to select from may shrink. Friends move away, get involved in new romances, and sometimes just change their interests.  My 92-year old mother told me that her book club disbanded when women started dying.

Plus, as we get older we may become more selective. I no longer want to serve as a therapist or full-time cheerleader.  I seek people who seek reinvention and laughter and adventure.  But, most of all, I seek compassion and mutual respect, a tough combination to find.

Old Versus New

You can often find it in the past. Old friends can sometimes be the truest friends. They may remember you at a stage in your life when you had big dreams and less of a cynical shell, formed through the roller coaster ride of life and work.

What constitutes a true friend? I'll add my perspective to the hundreds of others:

  1. Balance: At times, you may be a giver or a taker. The same holds true for a friend. No one should ever keep score, but when the balance gets out-of-whack, you need to move on.
  2. Healthy conflict: You won't always agree. But you should always know how to communicate. My younger daughter recommended this book. We both try to live by its principles.
  3. Trust: Never violate a confidence or turn someone's word's against her in anger.
  4. Age- and Stage-Blindness: I have discovered friends who are much older or younger than I am. They provide a unique perspective on many things. My guy friends help me understand what goes on between men's ears, which is often helpful.
  5. Forgiveness: No matter what has transpired between you, you usually cut each other slack. Finding new relationships can be tough when you're older, so you need to be sure that whatever "crime" was committed that it is not worthy of "punishment by death" of the friendship. Sometimes you just need to give each other a little time and get a perspective on what was going on in the other person's life at the time.

Don't give up on making new friends, however. I moved to Arizona about a year ago and have already connected with a couple of people who may become friends for life. 

Ironically, one of my favorite friendship quotes is the same person who wrote, "People are strange when you're a stranger." He said:

A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself

Jim Morrison of the Doors
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