two women hugging goodbye

The Ebb and Flow of Friendships in Midlife

I procrastinated this post.  I’ve spent February exploring the relationships we have–to ourselves, our friends, and romantic relationships.  I have future posts about the benefits of enneagram in the workplace and with teams or organizations.  THIS post is hard, because it acknowledges that not all our relationships are forever.

We have all faced this–time, place, circumstance can change how people fit into our lives.  The longer the life of the friendship, often the harder to accept that the relationship may have reached an end.

silhouettes of girlfriends and a quote about friendship
absolute truth

As a 50-something woman, I hold fiercely to my friends.  We are at a point where we have likely lost someone our own age, we have lost parents, and we crave connection to people who share our history, experience, and memories. I have many childhood friends in the roster, so to speak, and I have newer friends who are like sisters as well.

When our kids are no longer involved in the local school and activities, our investments in those relationships (ie the parents of their friends) can wane.  As empty nesters, we gravitate towards those who share OUR interests, rather than those of our children.  Often this can be rekindling old friendships as well.  Social media has been a powerful force for good in this regard–I am reconnected to hundreds of old classmates.  We have discovered through sharing memes, career updates, or news articles our commonality.  One example I love is a woman who, in high school, I never would have called my friend.  Classmate or acquaintance, but that’s about it.  When my dad passed away in 2022, she was the very first person to call me, and we are planning a trip to NYC soon in our shared passion for the Met!  Ask 1988 me if that was possible, I likely would have laughed.

Sadly, we all also outgrow certain friendships.  There is no fault.  Like any important relationship, we fight to stay connected when it may not be the best course.  The longer the history, the harder we fight.  We know mutual friends may end up in the crossfire, so we stay at it.

Sometimes, however, there comes a point where you have to let go.  Frequent miscommunications or misalignment of personalities become painful through no one’s individual fault.  Accepting this is the challenge and many of us keep people in our lives who would not ride or die with us.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

So how do you recognize the end of the era and make the break?  First, take an inventory of the relationship equality.  While friendships are not quid pro quo, it is fairly easy to ascertain whether you give far more of your time and energy than you receive.  If you recognize that you have endured hurt and care to give it a try to resolve it (perhaps because of that long history/mutual friends), approach with honesty and vulnerability.  Use “I” language for softening (“I feel that there is a lack of communication/reciprocity/whatever”), and listen. Is there something you can or are willing to adjust?  Are they willing to meet you halfway (and no less)? And are they willing to, regardless of the outcome, respect your feelings and not betray your trust to others?  If your vulnerable moment becomes discussion amongst others, HARD PASS.

If the results of the conversation are not enough to honor who you are, there is the next big decision…how over it are you?  With time and mutual friends invested, this can be so difficult.  There is a way to be civil and even friendly–but do not reveal anything of value to you.  It may feel like controlling the narrative, and that is ok.  If that is the price for protecting your joy with that person in an unavoidable social situation, so be it. Most importantly, if there are mutual friends involved, take the high road and do not involve them.  Allow them to take the time and space they need and know that, while you have not compromised them, your friend may.  Simply put, you may lose more than just her…

I hope you never have a hard end to your friendships.  If you do, grieve the loss.  Remember the funny history and shared memories, but you do not need to make yourself OTHER to maintain relationships that no longer serve you or your goals.  You may always continue to love the friend for who she WAS to you.  Wish them well.

I want to hear from YOU!!!

Let's talk midlife friendships...

What have you experienced about changes in friendships over the years? The old adage of “friends for a season, a reason, or life” exists because that’s how life is.  The advent of social media connected us to our pasts in a way that wasn’t dreamed possible, but does that mean we let those people back in.

Have you connected with old friends?  Found common friendships with people you never expected? Had to break from someone or simply grown apart? AND how has social media influenced this, if at all?

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