Retaining Friendships in Your Frantic Thirties and Forties


by Sarah Hughes


We’ve all seen the memes on Instagram haven’t we? The ones along the lines of;

“Friendship is… trying to arrange a night out and realising the next date you’re all free is in August 2034.”


Yes, they’re full of hyperbole but they’re also painfully recognisable. Seeing your friends regularly in your thirties and forties is hard.


I was in the airport with my husband on the way to a family wedding recently and the departures lounge was littered with groups of girls in their late teens and twenties heading off to sunnier climes. I felt a pang of jealousy each time I clocked them all laughing together, raising their glasses to say cheese and posing for the thousands of selfies which are a pre-requisite for their generation.


I realised I wasn’t just jealous of their carefree existence, I was jealous of the apparent closeness amongst the friends. Their physical proximity, the easy intimacy with which they snuggled into each other on the plane, the endless, constant chatter, despite the fact that I’d bet they already knew everything about what was going on in each others lives.Friendships in our twenties are sustained by that daily contact, that almost sisterly bond where fall-outs are frequent but easily forgotten. Where you know the minutiae of each others’ lives and the intimate details of everything that happened with that boy last night.


In contrast, friendships in our thirties are more likely to be sustained by monthly (if we’re lucky) catch-up coffees or wine nights, where we try to cram in everything we wanted to tell our friend, whilst ensuring we also check in on everything that’s going on in their lives too. We’ve got between one and three hours to impart and receive the full low-down. Kids ok? Still hate your husband? Work still manic? Check. Check. Check.


Add to that, that by our thirties we’re often far more geographically distanced from our friends so physically seeing them is even harder. It’s twice yearly girly weekends and Facetime calls to sustain us for the next decade. Our jobs are more time-consuming and stressful, lots of us have partners and young children who take up the vast majority of our time and it’s suddenly easy to see that our thirties are the time friendships are most likely to fall by the wayside.


But now for the good news: As a wise old woman heading into my forties, let me tell you that shedding some friendships is no bad thing. And as callous as that sounds, it really doesn’t need to be. I’m not suggesting you ghost anybody, hurt someone or let them down. But if and when there are those natural unravellings, where months and months have gone by without a catch-up and neither of you seem to be prioritising scheduling one; let that ship sail. It doesn’t have to be a fall-out or a drama, you can look back on those friendships with a smile and know that you served a purpose for each other for a moment in time but that the glue that held you together just wasn’t as sticky as some others.


I’ve always been a person who prided myself on having lots of friends from lots of different phases of my life, and on being the type of person who made friends easily. I’d held onto some of my school friends, had my tight group from college, my uni crew and then a disparate but brilliant rabble of friends I’d made in my many jobs over the years. Then of course there’s the Mum Mafia, the friendships I made through pregnancy classes, baby groups and the school yard.


I’m exhausted just reading that list.


It is frankly impossible to keep that many relationships alive, especially if we want them to be meaningful and full of love. Spreading yourself too thin on the friendship front is stressful, which is why I made the decision about five years ago to just stop making any more.


That’s right. My books are closed. Move along now.


Now I am self-aware enough to know that sounds slightly arrogant and I’ll bet my bottom dollar you’re thinking; “Well I don’t actually want to be your friend anyway” right now, but hear me out.


I don’t have time to see all the dear, cherished friends I already have, without trying to squeeze in a coffee with someone I met at the gym who seems nice and likes Hot Yoga as much as me. I want to invest my very limited time in the relationships that have stood the tests of time. The ones that have weathered the storms of teenage acne, first heartbreaks, grief, divorce, redundancies, hideous childbirth traumas and holidays to Malia circa 2001.


In the melee of responsibilities that swamp our thirties and forties, we need the security, the comfort blanket of drama-free friendships. Ones who understand that although you love each other dearly, it will be borderline impossible to see or even speak to each other too regularly. Ones who won’t be offended that you forgot to send their kid a fourth birthday card. Who know it’s not a reflection of your feelings for their child, it’s a reflection of the fact that you currently have 73 things on the ‘To do’ list in your iphone notes. In short we need friends who won’t judge us, who love the fact we’re a hot mess… or just a mess.


With a smaller inner circle we can really nourish our friendships as we head into our forties. Yes, it’ll be a while before we can book a week away in Portugal together but we can count down the days together until those pesky kids leave home and we can have a bit of time back. In the meantime, there are ways we can keep that sense of intimacy with our friends, even when our lives seem to be pulling us apart.


Scheduling a weekly phone call at a time that works for both of you (and sticking to it). Checking in via text when you know they’ve got a big day ahead. Tagging them in something you see on Instagram which reminds you of them. Sending them a voicenote when you hear a song you both used to love… it’s the small personal things which count. They don’t take up much time but they show that the person is on your mind.


Most importantly I think the key for retaining friendships in your thirties and forties is to show up when it counts. These are the decades of our lives when lots of the big life events can land on us without much warning. When the poop hits the fan, pull on your rubber gloves, get in there in whichever way you can, and help your friend navigate their way through the mess. They’ll do the same for you one day, and your bond will be deeper as a result.