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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Are You As Close to Your Friends As You Imagined You’d Be?

The LW of this post, who asked how she could be less annoying to her friends, sent me an email yesterday. It’s not exactly an update, but it brings up a topic I thought others could relate to and so I want to share it:

Thanks so much for your advice. No update (although your point about nursing homes made me commit to a move date with my partner to be closer to his parents, who are lovely and treat me like a daughter, so you expanded my idea of what connection may look like) but this article, about adult female friendships, resonated with me and I think may with some of the women who commented. It did not seem like I was alone in thinking we’d have this sort of social life organized around a group of friends/ friends as family (which was definitely true in my 20s, and for me even in early 30s as we partnered up) like “Sex and the City” and other media implied we would, adjusting as circumstances changed. But in real life, most people shift focus to partner/ nuclear family/ their own parents (if lucky enough to have them), especially because of Covid. So those of us without partners/ kids can feel left behind. And again, I just may be needier – my partner sees his friends much more rarely than I do for all the same reasons but doesn’t feel lonely. For all my close friends with kids, they see friends much less than I do, so it seems like I’m an outlier. I may have friends, but I do not “friends as family” in the same way I expected/ want. (And yes I’m making notes of this for my therapist!).

 
I read the article, and I even watched the first 1-1/2 episodes last night of the SATC reboot , And Just Like That, and I have some thoughts. First, I will not be watching any more of AJLT, but also: my friendships as a 45-year-old married mom definitely look a lot different than they did as a single and childfree 25-year-old although I wouldn’t say I feel less close to my friends now than I did then. My availability – physical availability, especially, but emotional availability, too – is different now, but the bonds feel just as tight if not tighter. I do have friends who feel like family to me, and as with my actual family of origin, I find that I don’t need to see them frequently to keep the relationships strong (although, of course, it’s lovely and wonderful when I do see them!).

In my 20s and even in my early 30s before I had kids, my friendships did revolve around a lot of the kinds of activities I cannot easily partake in on a regular basis anymore – spontaneous nights out, bottomless mimosa brunches, spending entire weekends just hanging out together – and, you know, I didn’t expect that would continue forever anyway. I don’t really miss that lifestyle very much. I mean, it was great, and sometimes I long for a weekend like I used to have, but that’s what my 2-3 annual weekend vacations with friends are for! And maybe I’d feel different if I were the friend who didn’t get married or didn’t have kids, but I chose the lifestyle I have now, I mostly enjoy it, and I know it won’t last forever either. I’m in a stage in life that doesn’t match the stage all of my friends are currently in, but that’s ok. We still find ways to stay connected. And for the friends who ARE in the same stage I’m in – parenting school-age kids – we find ways to stay connected, too, and those ways don’t *always* include our children. I enjoy where I am now, and I also look forward to eventually having more personal time back that I can invest in myself and re-invest in the friendships that continue to sustain me through multiple decades and life stages.

I guess my point is that my friendships look different now than they used to but not in a way that I regret or mourn or that has surprised me. I sometimes wish I had more time to just hang out, I wish that my friends who are also mothers initiated hang-outs more often (I’m frequently the one who gets us together), I wish that the long conversations I enjoy with friends happened more often in bars over beer or cocktails instead of on a bench in the playground, but I’m also totally fine with how things are and I wouldn’t choose a different lifestyle to accommodate any of the small wishes I have from time to time. I like investing most of my time in my family right now. My kids are growing so fast, and in a few years they’re going to be far less interested in spending their weekends with me and more interested in hanging out with their friends. And when that happens, I feel pretty confident that I’ll have the friendships I’ll want and need to enrich my life, because they’re here now and being tended to enough to remain here for me, when I’m ready and able, to give them more of myself again.

What about you? Whether you’re married, single, divorced, raising young kids, raising older kids, done raising your kids, or totally kid-free, do your friendships in your 30s, 40s, or 50s+ look like how you imagined or hoped they would when you were younger? Do you have friends in your life that feel like family, and if so, what does that mean for you and what does that look like?

15 comments… add one
  • Kipiani December 10, 2021, 11:49 am

    Wendy, I agree with you – friendships look different now, but that doesn’t mean they’re not close/deep. I find getting together with more than one friend to be particularly challenging because of all the schedules that have to be coordinated. But we still manage it (at least, pre-Covid) from time to time, for example to celebrate a birthday. Sometimes it feels lame to have to plan a phone call two weeks in advance (especially with friends overseas!), but it’s an investment in the friendship.

    Before I had kids, I became friends with a neighbor who already had three children. It did take some flexibility: Coming over to her house while her kids were asleep was easier for her because it meant she didn’t need to find a babysitter. Years later, we’re still so close that we call each other “sister.”

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  • CanadaGoose December 10, 2021, 12:02 pm

    On AJLT – I’d love to hear what other people thought and why you won’t watch more, Wendy. Their comments about Samantha in the first episode would seem to tank their stated hope of luring her back in the future. I was so displeased that they’d bring a major character back to do what they did in ep 1 and watching that storyline with Willie Garson as mourner was hard to do. The actions of the characters were also pretty unbelievable related to that. I was really hoping for light and funny. What we got was not that.

    On friends, I think there is a season for everything and when people are in the sandwich years with both kid and parent responsibilities, plus work, friendships have to be less intense. You can have it all, just not all at once. Tools like texting and social media do make it easy to keep in touch, though, which i s nice and once the responsibilities of middle age wane, friends will take a larger role again.

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      Dear Wendy December 10, 2021, 12:11 pm

      Yeah, you know, I think it’s a combination of things as to why I didn’t enjoy AJLT. First, I probably wouldn’t enjoy the original series as much now as I did 20 years ago, and that’s simply due to my own evolution. But if I catch at SATC episode randomly, which usually only happens on a long flight, I’ll watch it and enjoy (just not as much as I used to). I did not enjoy AJLT for a variety of reasons, with the biggest reason being the terrible writing and super cringey storylines and dialogue (I’m thinking of Miranda’s interaction with the professor, especially). I also don’t need a series about grief and mourning and it seems that’s where this series is headed. At this point in my life and with the state of the world, I want entertainment that is light and funny or quirky and weird or, if it’s going to be sad and dark, it needs to do sad and dark really, really well and this isn’t that. I also don’t really find any of the AJLT main characters all that likable or sympathetic. And the levity that Samantha’s character brings is really missing.

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      • CanadaGoose December 10, 2021, 4:14 pm

        I’d blocked out those Miranda scenes. I did physically cringe and distracted myself with the internet to get through them. I agree with all your points. I did think they spent that first episode as a bit of a checklist: pandemic, women’s different responses to the signs of aging, Samantha’s absence, BIPOC representation, LGBTQ+ representation, here are the characters you were expecting, dispatch a favourite, set up for the rest of the season. The mourning thing is a real turnoff. That’s not what anyone wants to see right now. Have them divorced, fine, but that, so awful.

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    Copa December 10, 2021, 12:26 pm

    I don’t know that I ever thought much about what my friendships would look like in my 30s. I bopped around a bit in my 20s and had to make new friends in new cities. I also moved a lot growing up and have old friends with whom I am still very close despite not living geographically close to for many years. Pre-COVID, I’d see these friends 1-2x/year usually (sometimes more if I was lucky) and it was like we hadn’t missed a beat. I think I’ll always be close to them no matter the season of life. I’m good at keeping up with people despite distance.

    A friend I’ve known most of my life and with whom I was very close for years stopped reciprocating our friendship when she met her now-husband. I noticed within a year or so of them meeting that I was the only one making an effort, so I scaled back and she did not pick up the slack. I still consider her a friend, but now she’s an old friend rather than a close friend. This friendship changing caused me a lot of pain and grief — it felt like a break-up.

    Otherwise, I’d say there were two big shifts in friendship that I experienced, the first in my late 20s/early 30s when friends paired off more seriously. The second is happening now, the baby boom. I met my boyfriend a little later than many of my friends met their partners and it did get a bit lonely. I had to make an effort to keep meeting new people in the same stage of life… and still do this since I’m childless. I have to be the flexible friend with my friends who are new parents and I’m okay with this.

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    MaterialsGirl December 10, 2021, 3:50 pm

    This is really timely. I have a few sets of friends, some crossover based on all of the years and geography, but for the most part separate in my head. One of my groups was very sex and the city ask, but as we have aged, married, had children and moved across the country our friendship and gathering are not as frequent, but I would say no less intense. They are definitely a ride or die group.
    Another set of friends from a similar background and timeframe would be my pledge class sisters, since Covid, we’ve had a more regular zoom call and during one of those last night, one of the women informed us she has a rare type of breast cancer. It is slow growing, but it brought to light a syndrome she has had since birth that is the explanation for all of her other weird medical stuff and certainly complicates the cancer diagnosis. It also means that she will be on alert for cancer everywhere for the rest of her life.
    Since we didn’t travel during Covid, I had a lot of vacation days to use. My children have tried their hardest to cut short those vacation days due to quarantining and getting sick, but I have been successful in using these days for their original purpose. I had taken single days off to spend more time eith friends doing one on one activities. It’s been really nice to nurture those friendships without also chasing after children

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    Guy Friday December 10, 2021, 7:32 pm

    So this is a topic I’ve actually had a LOT of conversations with my friends about in the last couple of months. As guys, there’s that instinct that we should go out after work for beers and talk sports and women and whatever, and that was fine when I was single and even newly married and in my 20s. But now I work a bunch of hours and live in the suburbs and, honestly, I don’t want to pay $6 for a beer when that almost buys me a full 6-pack, you know? And, really, I’m at the stage of my life where I enjoy tackling the bigger questions and things that actually have substance, and there’s almost this palpable sense of relief with my friends when I mention that and they realize they’re not alone in feeling that way.

    My absolute best friend hang in the last few months? I got a call from a buddy who was going to get lunch with me on a Saturday, only his ex bailed on picking up their 8 year old son and his new wife was out doing stuff and couldn’t watch him. He told me I was welcome to come over if I didn’t mind hanging with him and his son, and his son is an awesome kid, so I agreed. I got over there, and my buddy told me that he had a new Reuben recipe he just discovered and asked me to be his guinea pig (which, come on, how can I say no to?), so he made us lunch while I played Mario Kart with his son, and then we had some lunch and had this surprisingly deep conversation about masculinity when his son asked us when it was OK to cry (and his new HVAC system too, but that’s not as memorable 🙂 ). It was like 2 hours, but it was incredible, nobody felt like they had to be anyone they weren’t during it, and I got a new sandwich recipe out of the deal, so win-win all around.

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      Dear Wendy December 11, 2021, 7:59 am

      ??

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    • allathian December 13, 2021, 1:11 am

      Oh wow, this is awesome. Your friend’s son sounds awesome, too.

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  • Ange December 11, 2021, 3:45 am

    My friendships have definitely evolved over the years and I’ve felt the lack of people in my life physically while moving around and the pandemic, but they feel richer now. I have people who are super excited to have me back in their city in a week or so (hopefully) and it’s a great feeling, I can’t wait to see them again. I know we won’t be in each other’s pockets like we were back in the day but it doesn’t matter.

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    Cleopatra_30 December 11, 2021, 2:50 pm

    I have also moved around ALOT and have friends in various cities across Canada, which poses challenges for maintaining them. That is one thing I did not expect from my life, moving around so much and having those friendships develop in each of those places. I definitely feel the need to have a good group of core friends, I kind of have that but am closer with only one friend who is my BFF, and I relate that to seeing it portrayed in media, so I do realize as well it isn’t always realistic.

    Many of the friendships I have are spread out across the country are good, but not deep. Social media has been a huge help, as I often chat with them through IG, FB or other platforms. Especially with me being long distance, that is often the best way to keep in touch. So in that same breath, having deeper relationships with friends is made more difficult because of that. But I have had some good deep conversations with some of these friends, and the openness and willingness to be emotionally vulnerable is up to them and me, and makes a huge difference in how that friendship develops.

    I am currently single and planning to be child-free indefinitely (but with future pets). A good chunk of my friends are intending to have kids/start a family in the next few years, and I am looking forward to being an “aunt” to them. I am quite open about my childfree lifestyle with my friends, and have discovered a few friendships that way, which will be very valuable as the dynamics of friends with kids and without is very different, understandably.

    I have one solid BFF that I continue to talk with daily from HS back in Ontario (she lives in the maritimes now). We have bonded a lot over similar values in life, career choices, and general compatibility. So I am very happy to have her in my life, she is a sister I didn’t have (oldest sibling with two younger brothers). At this point we have both done higher levels of education, had various careers, and gone through short and long term relationships. So have further bonded over the emotional challenges that have come our way through those life changes/experiences. While I do have a better relationship with my brothers, it isn’t nearly as open as it is with this friend. So I appreciate that closeness that I don’t get from my actual siblings (but we are getting better).

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  • Miss MJ December 11, 2021, 9:31 pm

    So I’m the friend without kids. And I have friends with kids and also a lot (like probably disproportionate number) of friends without kids or without you get than college aged kids. I honestly don’t know why that is, but it works.

    My circle shrank due to Covid and that is fine, but I find that my lack of kids enables me to be flexible for my friends with them and largely, when hanging out with my friends with kids, we either do things during happy hour times when the kids are at school or aftercare or at their or my home where the kids are welcome. There’s a real emphasis on women are women and also moms but also understanding that friends with kids have responsibilities we that don’t can work around. Do we have boozy brunches every Sunday? No. Did we schedule a spa day, lunch and happy hour on Friday that ended by 6 pm? Yes. (And, yes, we all work and I fully appreciate the privilege of being able to just take a day off to have a “girls day.”)

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  • allathian December 13, 2021, 2:13 am

    My friendships have definitely changed during the decades.

    My very best friends to this day are women I met in college, or even earlier. I’m in a country that’s a lot smaller than the US, and I already lived in the capital metropolitan area when I went to college, so unlike many commenters, I’ve lived in my current city since I was 13, with the notable exceptions of 6 months in France on student exchange, and a year or so later, another 6 months interning in Spain. I’m still friends with some people I met in middle school, although my best friends are those who were in my class in high school and who went to the same college as I did. I had a lot of friends and friendly acquaintances in college, but the friends who have stayed with me are mainly those I who’ve known me since high school.

    I’m pretty introverted and honestly don’t have the energy to maintain a huge group of friends. It’s enough for me to have a handful of close friends who’ve known me for a long time. My circle of friends and acquaintances has never been larger than it was in college. But due to some mental health issues I graduated late, and I lost touch with most of the people who were friendly acquaintances rather than friends during that time. At the time I was also in a serious relationship, and although it didn’t work out, I focused a bit too much on him and neglected my friends (my mental health issues were related to the dysfunctional relationship). My true friends stuck around even when I wasn’t a very good friend to them, and I’m very grateful for that.

    But I graduated late, and had very little money when most of my friends were working after college, at entry-level jobs to be sure, but they still had more money to spend than I did. At this point my friends were also pairing up, and for nearly ten years during my late 20s and early 30s I was the single friend who wanted to see my friends more often than they had time for me. That’s when we had the biggest disconnect in lifestyles. But I met my husband when I was 33, and after that things went fast, and I “caught up” with my friends when our son was born four years later. Most of them started earlier and had more than one child, so my son’s about the same age as a number of younger children in my friend group.

    I’ve only made one close friend since my son was born, she has a child who’s a few months older than my son, and she’s peripherally connected to my husband’s main friend group.

    Before Covid, we met about once every month to every six weeks or so at one of our homes, with kids and husbands/SOs invited, as well as our single, childfree friend, who is just as much a part of our group even if her life stage is a bit different than most of ours. We also used to go out for girls’ nights out, and actually went to celebrate the childfree friend’s 50th birthday a couple months ago at an indoor restaurant, before the omicron variant hit the news.

    My husband’s similar, he spends time with his friends on guys’ nights out, and occasionally I go with him when SOs are invited. Neither one of us has any close friends of the opposite gender. There’s nothing intentional about that, it’s just happened.

    I’m fully embracing middle age. I’ll hit 50 next year, and I couldn’t be happier. My parents and MIL are still healthy enough to manage on their own, so I’m not being sandwiched yet (and I hope our son’ll be at least in college before our older relatives need significant help). My FIL is suffering from dementia, but his wife has pretty successfully isolated him from us, so there’s not much we can do, or my husband is willing to do, to help him, unfortunately.

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    • allathian December 13, 2021, 2:15 am

      I’m busy and introverted enough that seeing my friends a couple times a year outdoors, and our group texts and occasional phone calls, kept our friendships alive during the worst of the pandemic lockdowns.

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  • anonymousse December 13, 2021, 10:55 am

    I don’t know how close to friends or where I thought I’d be right now. I never thought I’d have kids, for example but here I am. Or get married, and deal with in laws, ha! So life had other plans to my art star dreams, which is fine with me.

    I am actually feeling full of friends right now. I have reignited a number of far away but close friends during the pandemic. I met and made a really great friend who lives super close to me and we’ve been friends for maybe 3 years now? We moved here 4 years ago in February. Which boggles my mind. It feels like time speeds up as you get older. And have kids growing in front of you. My half sister (8 yrs younger than me) and I are really close. We text everyday, all day. As kids we shared a bedroom and annoyed the crap out of each other but we’re oddly very close now.

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