I turned 62 this week, marking a midlife milestone and one year since I became a blogger and took The Hot (as in hot flash) Goddess public.
An early search for an outfit I wanted to wear for an evening of birthday and blog celebrating turned into an unplanned stretch of closet cleaning. I didn’t find the clothing I was looking for (turns out I gave it away during an earlier cleaning-out session before I sold my house), but it was a useful chore as I prepare to move to Portugal later this year. I added more things to my giveaway pile, and took silly selfies posing in various old garments and a wig I unboxed.
At the same time this closet editing was going on, I was proofing and finalizing my scheduled blog posts, including this week’s made-up word post featuring my word for the loss of interest in a friendship. I started thinking about how friends and friendships change in midlife, and how people — like outfits — can lose their appeal…their usefulness…their fit in our lives as we age. Sometimes, we reach a point in midlife where we need to clean out friends the way we clean out clothes that no longer suit us.
That sounds cold, I know, but I think it’s part of living an authentic life.
What is a Friend, Really?
I have never been one to use the word “friend” lightly IRL. I have friendly acquaintances I like and socialize with, but a friend is someone I not only do things with but also know and trust and confide in. I don’t have many of those.
Four close friends, including my two best friends, have died. Two other women friends have also died since the beginning of the pandemic. The loss of all these women, some closer to me than my own family, is immeasurable. I talked to my best friends every day. Talked…not texted or emailed. There is no one — no one — I talk to every day now. My life without these women in it changed profoundly, and will never be the same again. Those pieces of clothing I’m holding on to each have these women woven into their stories. I cherish that. I won’t make friends like that again now, in midlife. It’s too hard. I’m too old. I don’t know how. I wrote here about being a bad friend in midlife.
“Sometimes, we reach a point in midlife where we need to clean out friends the way we clean out clothes that no longer suit us.“The Hot Goddess
I am fortunate to have good friends living here and in other states. Two close childhood friends are among the only six still-living friends I have locally. We don’t talk daily or even weekly. We text. We might get together two or three times a month at most.
Two more dear and longtime friends, one of whom I consider to be another best friend, live a couple of hours away in my state. Two additional longtime friends live in other states. That’s only 10 total remaining friends. I’m not counting friendly acquaintances, virtual friends I’ve never met in person from blogging/social media communities, friendly former coworkers, friendly former classmates, or spouses/SOs of friends. Ten living friends. Six dead friends. More than a third of my “real” friends are no longer living. They were removed from my Friend Closet — my collection of cherished friends — involuntarily.
There are also a few friends I lost touch with after they moved out of state. I’m getting older and friends are dying while others are drying up. No falling out or disagreements. Just a gradual waning of contact and interest. I’m just as much to blame as they are. Frindifference is real and can clean out a Friend Closet before you know it.
Former romantic partners who slide into the friend zone can then slide into frindifference territory. You still like and care about each other as people, and have good intentions when you declare yourselves “friends” after ending your romantic relationship. But really, it’s often more about what you think the label says about you (“good person”) than it is about a true commitment to forging an authentic friendship with an ex. After a while, these artificial friendships just naturally fade away and any remnants may finally need to be swept out of the Friend Closet. Not always, though. Sometimes they are authentic friendships that become long-lasting treasures.
A close friend, for me, is rare. Trust is rare. Loyalty is rare.
Like many women, I’ve had my share of “frenemies.” In language learning, False Amigos — false friends — is what false cognates are called. Cognates are words in one language that look and mean the same as words in another language. “Special” in English and “especial” in Portuguese, for example. “Preservativos” is a false cognate or false friend. It looks like the English word “preservatives” but it is Portuguese for “condoms.” False friends can get you into trouble by tricking you. I have no space for them in midlife and cleaned them out of my Friend Closet years ago.
“Friends with benefits” is another fake friendship category in my book. Trickery may not be involved, but neither is true friendship as far as I’m concerned. The benefit of these “friendships” is unpaid sex. Free booty without having to pay a male or female “escort,” and often without having to pay for a hotel room. These arrangements can be very enjoyable and effective fillers during dry spells or bouts of boredom. FWB connections often are made online, and typically do not include any romance. There are no flowers or cards. There are no shared activities, or doing anything together other than free sex. That’s not a friend. It may be fun, easy, and satisfying, but it’s not a friendship and doesn’t go in my Friend Closet.
Making New Friends in Midlife
My Friend Closet, like my clothes closet, is small and looks different in midlife than it did in earlier years. It’s been harder to add new friends. Perhaps because I’m more selective as I’ve grown more self-aware and confident. But mostly because I just don’t put myself out there.
Like most February Aquarians, I’m outwardly friendly, engaging, and extroverted while my inner true self is something else. I’m outgoing and make friendly acquaintances easily, but it can take me years to be truly open and vulnerable with someone. And even when I reach that point there will still be periods when I retreat and need to distance myself. I’ve always been this way.
But now, as a 62-year-old woman, being this way adds another layer of difficulty at a point in life that’s already made meeting people and forming and nurturing friendships more difficult. For me, a not-shy introvert, this will be especially challenging when I move to a foreign country in the fall.
I realize this is an awkward and superficial metaphor. Friends and clothing in a closet. Collections of people and garments. They are not both material things, of course. But both can be timeless and lasting with proper care and attention. Both can be fleeting fads that don’t stand the test of time, or simply cease to fit as we change. Both are a trove of stories and memories. And both are cleaned out, sometimes involuntarily, as we age.
What about you? How have your friendships changed in midlife? Other than the virtual connections made here in the blogging community, how do you find making new friends in midlife?
Happy Friday! Today is National Drink Wine Day in the US. As if we needed a special day. May your weekend find you toasting a special friendship or sharing a favorite bottle with friends.
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