One of my good friends lives a few miles away from me and I see her a few times a month. And that’s when we put in quite a bit of work to make that happen. Between running our businesses, taking care of older parents, and pushing everything aside for when our grown kids want to spend time with us, there isn’t a whole lot of extra time to catch up. I have a few other friends who don’t live as close but they certainly aren't far from me. A half hour tops. I see them even less. It’s usually a rushed lunch that’s been planned months ahead of time because we only have slivers of time that can be offered up and it’s rare if they match. And my best friend of over thirty years lives a few states away and we see each other once a year, twice with a little sweat and tears. It never fails each time I see one of my friends — we always say, “We really should do this more,” as we hug and go our separate ways as our minds return to circling with everything we need to do to get through the week after a much-needed respite.
My girlfriends and I talk about the lack of time we make for each other and there was a time we wondered if we were doing life wrong. Seems like we are just like a lot of middle-aged women in that our friendships, and the time we have for them, have drastically changed since our younger years. Louise, A forty-five years old mother says, “Midlife friendships are usually squeezed in around family life and supporting my kids and husband. When I was younger, I had a lot more time to invest in people of my choosing. A lot of my friends now are those I’ve met through my children.” Jennifer is nearing the empty nest stage of her life and had her kids later in life. “I remember being in my 30s without kids and couldn’t understand why my girlfriends (who had kids) couldn’t make a lot of time for me. Now I get it of course. My friends and I chat a lot, but we are lucky if we get together six times a year.
Many women also feel that social media and texting are the reason they don’t see their friends as much but are also their saving grace. Since we can keep up with everyone’s life with the tap of our phone, right from our sofa, it makes it harder to want to put in the effort to go out in the real world and see each other face to face. Being able to keep up with friends through our phones is also a blessing because we know there are stages when we have no time to squeeze out of our lives, especially if we are taking care of older parents, to sit for hours in a cafe and just talk and laugh with friends. Shannon’s three best friends are all in their mid-forties and are in different stages in their lives; one has younger children, one is a grandmother, and one is a near-empty nester. “Since we are all in different seasons, it's hard to connect. I long for more friend time. We text almost every day but only see each other once every few months if that.” Jamie says being able to text with her friends is the only way her friendships can be maintained. “I’m forty-four and have an amazing group of women friends but we rarely get together. We live through our text messages and our ability to complain to each other without guilt is everything.”
Many of us notice our circle tightens as we get older. It’s not because of our busy lives either. Midlife is a time when you can spot things and people who don’t belong in our life. We don’t have the bandwidth for drama, or fake friendships, and realize we don’t need a lot of friends to feel fulfilled or happy. There are times when we choose to stay home and decline invitations because that’s the only time we can care for ourselves. If a friendship drifts away, or we feel like we are the only ones putting in the effort to keep it alive, we are more comfortable with letting it be what it is at this stage in our lives than we were in our twenties. Carla says her circle is a lot smaller now that she’s in her 50s, and she’s more than fine with that. “I have fewer friends than I used to but that’s more than enough. Lots of online connections too.” It’s not that women going through midlife don’t want or crave friendships. They are simply harder to maintain and it can feel almost impossible to make new friends. Missing our younger years when our girlfriends were a bigger part of our life is normal and so is accepting times have changed and our focus is on different relationships. And if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with keeping in touch through group text as we lie on the sofa in our pajamas at eight o'clock on a Friday evening.
Women need friendships during midlife just as much as any other time. We are often surrounded by people who need things from us, yet we are lonely. We are busy caring for others and don’t make as much time as we should for ourselves. We have the best intentions of making more time for friendships yet when the day is over, we have nothing left to give. Oftentimes the only thing I want at the end of the day is the sofa, Netflix, and a good dose of catching up through my phone. And while I do miss the days of seeing my girlfriends a lot more often, I know our lives are different now. Instead of calling a friend to go shopping and out to lunch on a Saturday, I am running to the store to grab whatever I need when I have a moment to do so. Weekends away have to be planned almost a year in advance and spontaneous dinners rarely happen. My days of having friendships and get-togethers that emulate shows like “Friends” and “Sex and the City” are a thing of the past. Sunday Brunches have been replaced with household chores, spending time with my kids, and doing meal prep. Friday nights outings have turned into putting on my pajamas and getting in bed with a good book. I know I’m not alone.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full time freelance writer, living in Maine with her three teens, two ducks, and a Goldendoodle. Her work has appeared in Woman’s World, Health, Scary Mommy, AARP, and Grown and Flown. She writing her first Romance novel.