by Hayley Doyle
Here’s the thing.
You meet up with one of your best friends. You’ve known each other for 20 years. More. The second you catch a glimpse of them waiting at the restaurant table or stepping off the train, you fizz with excitement. You cannot stop your feet from dancing towards them. You hug hard. You say one word and you’re both in a fit of laughter. The date goes quickly. You’ve barely scratched the surface of that good ol’ catch up you both needed. Well, one of the reasons you didn’t catch up as such is because you both click so fabulously that you simply picked up where you last left off. True friendship. You promise to make this happen more often. To make the effort. And hey, it wasn’t even an effort! It was pure joy! Then, you say goodbye…and don’t see them for another year.
Look. You’re not a lousy friend. And neither are they. It’s likely you met at school or uni, or struck up a friendship during your first proper job. You bonded over microwave meals and burnt toast. You danced (and fell off) tables. You released big, hearty, fat sobs knowing you felt comfortable to cry your eyes out in front of each other. You probably shared clothes, makeup, beds. Whatever one of you was going through, the other was going through something very similar, and this created the magic ingredient to your friendship. But the path you were both on had to split at some point. The friendship itself remains watertight, but living in each other’s pockets becomes impossible when lovers, career opportunities, family, travel, children, health and finances shuffle in to play.
So what do you do?
Make new friends.
Oh no. No way. Nope. You don’t want new friends. You don’t need them. You’ve got plenty. You put in the ground work years ago. You’re in your 40s for goodness sake! You’re too old to start making new friends…
Imagine yourself in 10, 20 or 30 years time, and meeting a friend; a friend who you made when you were in your 40s. Now, re-read the opening of this article and picture yourself seeing this new friend in the future. It’s wonderful! You have so much to love and laugh about from this era of your life and beyond. So please, don’t close the door on welcoming new friendships. There aren’t any rules about how many friends a person is entitled to, are there?
Last night, I went for dinner with a friend I’ve known for more than a decade. I was 29 when we met, but she was 40. We became acquaintances who saw one another at social events organised by a mutual friend and within a couple of years, we were good pals. Our friendship continued to blossom, and although we now live in different countries, she remains one of the most important, supportive and fun people I know. I’m so grateful that she welcomed me into her life beyond 40. We now consider one another as family.
Since turning 40 myself, I’ve made some new friends. Or I’m on the cusp - I hope - of what will turn into real friendship. You see, when my little boy started school, I was so focused on him settling in okay and finding his tribe, I didn’t realise that by him entering into a new phase of his life, I was too! Suddenly, seeing the same faces at drop-off and pick-up developed into familiar hellos, eye-rolling at the weather or giving one another a look of deep solidarity when one of our kids was kicking off. Covid kept barging its way in, though. Every step I got closer to making a potential friend, I was pushed two steps back with ongoing isolation. We’ve definitely become the Stop-Start Generation, haven’t we? But I wonder if this has helped us, in some way? For once the coffee shops and pubs reopened, we were all so eager to hang out IRL that we pushed aside our anxieties and broke into chit-chat quite effortlessly. We had more than just parenthood in common; homeschooling, lockdown, general Covid woes. Collectively, we all went through a strange process together and are finding our feet on the other side. I now have post-pandemic pals, a couple of whom I’ve truly opened up to, shared hugs and plenty of giggles.
But wait! What about all my friends I’ve shared the best (and worst) times of my life with so far? Do I feel guilty? Of course not. They’re still the loves of my life. If I could click my fingers and get my old gang together right now, nothing would make me happier…
Last year, we did get the gang together (about 70% of them, anyway) to celebrate us all turning 40, and it was a long weekend of joy, side-splitting laugher, hot-tub deep-and-meaningfuls, and ridiculous dancing (with videos to prove it). But my goodness, the logistics of getting us all together in one place, under the same roof, was a mind-boggling, long-winded process. Babysitters, work commitments, money, travel, agh! The list of stuff standing in our way was endless, not to mention Covid. Every one of us - at some point - considered pulling out. Anyway, it was more than worth it in the end and we made a pact to do it all over again next year. Except. It’s quickly creeping up to a year. No plans have been made. Yet. Our intentions are real, but, ahhh, you know how it is.
Making friends can be off-putting the older we get. We know our limits and our comfort zones, even if they make us a little joyless and cynical. As new chapters inevitably begin, such as having babies or moving from the city to the countryside, the promise to keep in touch often with old friends is heartfelt and honest. But it might not be realistic and you risk spending your 40s feeling lonely and missing the good times.
Of course, it can be scary to open up. To give a part of yourself to somebody. To learn about them, and in return, allow them in to learn all about you. Especially when there are people you care so deeply for who already know your good, your bad and your uglies. But you’re still evolving. Like it or not, your journey is progressing every single day, never halting.
So here’s why it’s important to keep making friends in your 40s.
There’s no age restriction on a good giggle
And there’s nothing more important than laughter, right? What’s it all for if we can’t crack a smile and find the funny side? As we enter into our 40s, it’s no secret that our responsibilities feel heavier. We might have teenagers to consider. Or babies to care for. We might be running a business we’ve grafted away at for the past few decades, or embarking upon a whole new career altogether. We feel tired, and we’re happy to admit that an early night is a total treat. So talk to your neighbours, parents on the school run, the woman running the new coffee shop in your area, anybody who might just be on the same life-level as you, and laugh about it all. You’ll find the most trivial things hilarious, if you just let yourself go.
Dive in and devour conversation… Or don’t
Don’t waste time on small talk. If your gut is telling you that a potential friendship might be on the horizon with somebody, don’t just chat about the weather. You’ll never progress. Dive in and ask them about something more specific. Their job. The kids. What they’re bingeing on TV. It will become obvious quite quickly if they’re up for a proper gab or not interested, and then fine, stick to the pleasantries. At least you’re not wasting your energy. More often that not, they’ll be hoping for a more in-depth chat with you too.
Close in proximity, close in contact
Although social media has made it extremely accessible to check in on your friends and their lives, it still doesn’t give you the satisfaction of hanging out. If your best friends are from your school or uni days, then you made that big connection from living super close to one another for an extended period of time. Modern living doesn’t grant the luxury of families sticking around in one town forever, with more and more people moving away for work and relationships and the growing option of more choice. So as much as you can plan to meet up every six months or so, don’t restrict your enjoyment to only that. Build on the network around you and be patient. This could be the start of a precious journey.
You know yourself better, and you like what you like
I love how my kids make a friend with somebody every time we go to the park. Kids are just drawn to other kids. They break the ice quickly. If my son sees somebody on the monkey bars, he’s there in a heartbeat; yep, that’s enough for them to have in common for a couple of hours of bliss. As children, it takes years, but we start to figure out who we get on with, and who we don’t. We make a lot of mistakes along the way. Our teenage friendships shift, change and deepen. We learn about who we are, what makes us tick. So by the time we reach 40, we should know ourselves pretty damn well. We might not share the same interests anymore with old friends, and perhaps, feel like we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. There’s always that mate you feel the need to impress or act a certain way around, simply because that’s how the friendship started and how it’s always been. Making new friends at this stage of life means you can zoom in directly on people you can be yourself with. And by that, I mean yourself as you are right now, with 40 years plus of life in your soul.
Your true friends will never want you to be lonely
Your longstanding besties won’t begrudge you making new friends. They should be at it, too! And if they do have a problem with it, well, come on. It’s definitely time to walk away from that toxic relationship, right?
So cheers! Here’s to (at least) the next 40 years of friendship. May you learn, grow, love, laugh and forever enjoy being silly with wonderful people!