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Friendship in Midlife and Beyond
Friendships are never formed out of formulas; they're birthed in shared time.
Several years ago, when we were living in Southern California, my family and I began attending a new church. We were hopeful, if still a little cautious from previous church wounds.
When a bubbly woman at church asked if she and I could get together for coffee, I was elated. I connect better one on one than I do in groups, so I thought this would be a great way to start building a friendship.
When we met for coffee, she showed up late and flustered. I could certainly understand what it’s like to have a harried and frenetic morning. I’ve been there! But then she started asking questions about publishing: how to get an agent, how to get a contract, and how to get your name on a book cover.
I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned over the years about writing and publishing (which are two very different things), but when it became clear this woman wasn’t interested in getting to know me as a person, a sickly feeling came over me. She wasn’t interested in genuine friendship. She saw me as a tool she could possibly use to get her foot in the door of publishing.
I answered her questions and shared what I knew, including some great resources for getting started, but I didn’t offer to introduce her to my literary agent. She never called again. To be fair, I never called again either. The whole conversation felt grossly disappointing.
Making friends in midlife is no easy task. For lots of reasons.
Sometimes there are hidden agendas, and whenever interactions like this occur, it’s easy to withdraw and return to the safe places in our lives. It’s also easy to get caught up in just the regular busyness of midlife: raising families, working jobs, running errands, making dinner, cleaning house, and so much more.
There are other hurdles, too, that will be unique to each of us. For me personally, I grew up with older brothers and no sisters, so I’ve often felt out of step whenever women gather. I don’t do “girlfriend convos” with ease. I’d rather talk about football. I’m also a true-blue introvert, so I’m fairly content spending time with my books and pens. I don’t feel lonely often, but after a while, I do sense a deepening desire to connect more with others.
At the risk of sounding cliche, we really were made for community.
Being new to the East Coast has provided me with opportunities to meet new people. But the choice to stay home where I’m comfortable is ever before me. Sometimes I have to push myself out of my comfort zone.
So, I reach out. I make a call. I send a text.
Recently, I reached out to someone at our new church here in the Carolinas. We had only met briefly on a Sunday morning, but I emailed anyway to ask if she’d like to get together for lunch. She agreed and on the day we met, she arrived early. She asked me lots of questions about me and my family, and she seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me as a person. I left that day feeling seen and heard.
I don’t have a five-step plan for finding friends because I don’t think friendships are formed out of formulas.
More often than not, friendships are birthed in shared time.
A long-time friend once asked me what my top two love languages are. If you’re not familiar with Gary Chapman’s popular book, he listed the five love languages as:
Acts of service
Words of affirmation
Chapman says most folks have a primary and a secondary love language. My top two? I answered my friend, “Quality time and quality time.”
Given the fact that I’m an English teacher and a writer who works with words, my friend expressed surprise that “words of affirmation” isn’t my favored love language. I know for some writers it is, but I’m kind of glad it’s not mine, because as a writer, it would be easy to use words as a means to get affirming words given back to me. I’m not saying that’s what some writers do, but I think it would be a temptation.
In my experience, friendship is all about logging time together. Sharing a meal. Taking a walk. Enjoying a concert. Doing whatever.
This is also why I find the Internet a woefully deficient place to find and make friends. Don’t get me wrong. I have met some wonderful people in various online spaces, and I enjoy those connections. But those connections have always been made stronger whenever we could gather, like at a conference, where we could actually sit across from each other and talk face to face.
But I do understand the Internet’s appeal.
When we’ve experienced deep hurt in our personal relationships, or when we’ve experienced deep wounds in our local churches, the Internet becomes a relatively safe place to connect with people again. We can easily find people who share our interests and maybe even our values. We can connect as much as we want, until it becomes too much, then we can simply log off.
Our “online friendships” can be very convenient, but deep lasting friendships rarely ever are. True friendship — the kind that goes the distance — involves ups and downs because we’re human. There will be disappointments, both given and received, and then the need to work through it arises. This is why the Internet makes friendship so much neater and tidier, but the real work of true friendship is worth the effort.
We need people in our lives who know what is really going on inside our hearts.
We need people who will celebrate the good times with us.
We need people who will grieve the hard times with us, too.
And we need people who will sometimes need us to be there for them.
Because that’s what friendship is: people who are for each other.
Maybe you’re in a place where you’re surrounded by lifelong friends. Or maybe, if you’re like most Americans, deep friendships have been somewhat elusive, especially in midlife. If that’s you, I want you to know you’re not alone. I’ve been through plenty of seasons where friendships felt far away. I’ve also been through seasons where I preferred the relative ease of online connections.
But I can tell you one thing that has always made a difference. Whenever I show up, in person, to study God’s Word with other women, relationships are formed — with Christ at the center of everything we share and discuss.
Sometimes it has been a Thursday morning Bible study. Other times it has been a Tuesday evening Bible study. But every time I gather with women and we make God our focus, sweet friendships follow. These friendships are usually with women from different generations, too, because what we share in common is not our stage of life, but God and the story of redemption he has written on our hearts.
So, if you’re in a season where friendships feel distant, I want to encourage you. Find a group of women who are committed to studying the Bible regularly and join them. Or maybe ask a few acquaintances if they’d like to get together to study God’s Word.
When Christ is our focus, friendships tend to form more organically, because as we study God’s Word, we also share about our lives, and our hearts become naturally intertwined.
Friendships don’t have to belong only to those in their teens and twenties when school life makes daily interaction an easy reality. Friendships are possible in midlife, too. It will look differently, for sure, but it is possible.
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