By: Sarah Oswald
Have you ever caught up with a friend after years of being apart, but everything falls into place and it’s as though no time had passed between you? Nothing feels better than the love and understanding of an old friend. The nature of our friendships is really interesting because we often prioritize them after our romantic partners, parents and children. We tend to them when we have the time. We have times of year—holidays and celebrations—that bring family together in an organized way. But the time we spend with our friends is completely voluntary.
Regardless of our age, we expect the same things from our close friends: someone to talk to, someone to depend on and someone to enjoy. Throughout the course of our lives friendships give us so much mor, including both mental and physical benefits. This grows even more important as we age.
Young Adulthood: Collecting Friends and Forming Families
Young adulthood is when we begin to form our strongest friendships. We have the luxury of time. We are also seeking our identity through our friendships. Did your mother ever tell you that you’d be known by the company you keep?
Once we move into romantic relationships and form our own households, friendships really take a hit. It can take weeks to make a date for a drink and days to return a phone call. Many people lose touch with those friends in their younger life and find friendship in the parents of kids in their children’s class or in their neighborhood. Maintaining old friendships feels like more work than play at this time of our lives—though commiserating with other parents can be a bonding experience.
This period can be really difficult for people who don’t marry. They often feel the loss of friendship most keenly and work the hardest to maintain those relationships. Midlife can be particularly hard on our friendships as we manage our careers, older children and the care for elderly loved ones. After all, it is much easier to cancel a drink with a friend than it is to miss a school play or a doctor’s appointment with your mom.
Empty Nest, Full Friendships
And then something very profound happens—our households empty and we are suddenly free to reconnect, socialize and explore in ways we couldn’t before. As we get older, we tend to favor experiences more, so spending time with close friends becomes a priority and adds to our overall wellbeing and sense of happiness. The good thing about digital media is that we have more ways to find people we have lost touch with.
Interestingly, by midlife we’ve collected a lot of different types of friends—work friends, neighbors, parents of our kids’ friends, people from our childhoods and many more. Friendship researchers categorize them as active friendships, dormant friendships (friends we have history with but haven’t seen for some time) and commemorative friendships (such as your summer friend from eighth grade Girl Scout camp). Interestingly, many of our online friendships tend to fall into the commemorative category.
Sorting Out Our Friendships
It’s the dormant relationships that we can revive for the most rewarding friendships at this point in our lives. Reconnecting can be powerful and shared memories can be so much fun. As we become the most authentic version of ourselves, we can make our friendships deeper, richer and more intentional. As we become more aware of what makes us happy, we also tend to let go of friendships that don’t have the same richness. Or we simply want out of the drama that some relationships bring into our lives. The beautiful thing is, that’s ok.
Fewer close friends can be far more rewarding than a huge group of people with no real intimacy and history. That’s where you find those beautiful moments when you both remember the same old funny story or finish each other’s sentences. When we feel needed, cared for and happy, it has positive effects on our physical and mental health. That is why working our way out of drama-filled, negative relationships is so important and freeing!
Give yourself a gift today. Call an old friend or reach out on social media. Make a connection that you’ve been meaning to make!