When I was growing up, I had two very close girlfriends. We did everything together. After spending as much of the school day together as possible, we’d hang out after school and then at the weekend as well. We were all as different as chalk and cheese and armadillos.
I was obnoxiously extroverted, boy crazy and didn’t give a toss what anybody else thought. One friend was as quiet as I was loud, which made her a sharp observer of human behaviour with a wicked and delightfully absurd sense of humour. The other friend was sensible, passionate and kind. She gave me a hug the moment we were introduced – who couldn’t be besties with someone like that?
I’m not saying we didn’t have our disagreements and falling outs, but those girls were my sisters. We had no secrets from each other and lived in each other’s pockets. When I recently went back to visit after not seeing them for 15 years, it was like we could pick up where we left off. We’d all changed so much, but the basic connection was still there.
It was a wrench for me when I moved across the world from those friends, and inevitably they were no longer such a big part of my life. But a few years after leaving I fell in with another kindred spirit. She and I did our PhDs together and during that time were practically inseparable. Although we both had boyfriends, people used to joke that she was my other partner.
However, student days ended, and we both got married and had kids. We kept in touch but no longer lived particularly near to each other so the relationship became less intense. Then she moved overseas, and our main interactions now are very occasional phone calls, lots of fb tags and a weekly Fitbit competition. Not bad – but not hanging all day telling each other our deepest secrets friendship either.
I’ve been thinking about the wonderful friendships that I was lucky enough to have, because lately I’ve heard from more than one person how they feel like they don’t have any good friends anymore. Like, they don’t have anyone who would help them move … let alone help them move bodies.
And I get where they’re coming from. I have many people in my life who I’m happy to call friends, but since my youthful best friends, I’ve never been able to quite find friends who I would admit murder to (disclaimer: I have never murdered, nor do I have any intentions of murdering – this is a metaphor based on a popular saying). I also don’t have any group of friends that I hang with on the regular like I did when I was in my twenties.
I remember looking forward to the chance motherhood was going to give me to meet a whole new group of people. I’d make some new besties at baby groups and since we were all off work we would totally hang together all the time. That did not happen for me. It was actually a bit crushing. I tried to make some good friends but slowly realised that the only thing I had in common with these people was that we had sex during the same year.
I’m not saying I’m friendless. I actually have some lovely friends. I now have two close mum friends local to me (they would probably help me move but secretly resent me for moving away). Those friendships took several years to get to the great stage they’re at now and I hope they continue to grow. I’ve also met some very fun mums at my eldest son’s school. We have boozy and inappropriate nights out and I love hanging with them. I also have some wonderful friends who I used to work with or study with, who I see only rarely but when I do see them it’s a fantastic time.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because I’ve come to the conclusion that friendships change when you start to trot towards ‘middle age’. So many people have been telling me that:
- They’ve lost touch or fallen out with old friends that they valued
- It’s difficult to make new friends
- They don’t have time to invest in their friendships
- They feel bad about not having close friendships or regular social engagements
- They miss the security and enjoyment of their old friendships and groups of friends
And it’s not just mum friends who’ve told me this. I’ve heard it from at least two different childless male friends as well. They think there must be something wrong with them because they don’t have ‘enough’ ‘good’ friends.
So I want to tell you that, if this is the case for you, it’s not your fault. There’s nothing wrong with you for not having the quantity or quality of friends that you feel you should have. My extremely unscientific anecdotal research shows that it’s perfectly normal for friendships to change and become less intense as you get older.
These days, I don’t have one friend who I do everything with. I have different friends for different occasions. Some I see weekly, some I see every few months, some I might only see once a year (or less). They all bring joy to my life in different ways. There’s the friends I talk about my kids with, the friends I go out on the town with, the friends I talk about work with, and the friends who will join me in contemplating the true meaning of life.
So if you’re missing your friendships, step back and consider how you might be having unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. It’s okay to play bit parts in each others lives. The time you spend together is still valuable. If you have a laugh together, if the interaction is effortless once you’re together, then these are your people – even if you don’t see them often or know everything about their lives, the way you did with your youthful besties. Life is, after all (as a random motivational speaker once said) ‘just a collection of happy moments’.