Friendship Over 30: Why is it so much harder?

One of my favorite BFF’s of all times
Copyright JC Politi Photography

I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar,
but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.

Robert Brault
Why does it get more difficult to make friends as we age? This is the question posed by an article in the New York Times this week called “Friends of a Certain Age.” The article explores the complexities of friendships during different life stages.
We can all probably relate to the fact that developing meaningful friendships as we age is less common, but it seems that people of all ages would like to renew or strengthen friendships and develop new ones.
I have certainly noticed how much harder it is to make lasting friendships at this point in my life.
Even if I have a certain spark with someone that would, in my younger days, have rapidly led to an invitation to a happy hour, this does not happen as frequently.  Now, many of us have other people we need to check in with just to schedule a meet-up.

It can be so complicated to schedule time with friends that I sometimes end up avoiding the entire thing altogether – which means I sacrifice what could have been a beautiful friendship or allow a strong friendship to atrophy, which just exacerbates the problem.

My Baltimore BFFs from my wedding in 2007 – I love you guys!

But don’t we all miss the carefree nature and ease of developing and maintaining friendships we had when we were younger? If we didn’t, blogs and books like MWF seeking BFF would not skyrocket to the top of the bestseller lists. But they do.

I wonder if this is all related to the issues that we have been exploring here on this blog in other posts. Perhaps so much of our time and energy is spent keeping busy with work that we have no time left for friendship. If that is the case, we have lost something precious and sacred and must reprioritize.

What do you think? Have you found it harder to make close friends as you age? Have you found that this goes in waves, where sometimes you have more time and energy for friends than others? Do you have any tips or strategies for people who would like to maintain and strengthen their friendships, but struggle with this? Have you found that people’s choice of partners or their phase in life (married/unmarried, kids/no kids) impacts your ability to maintain friendships?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy:

Do You Prioritize Your Life or Your Work? Maybe It Is Time To Rethink

The Importance of Slowing Down in a Busy Bee Culture

To Connect or Not To Connect: That is the Question

 

45 Comments

Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Health, Photos, Relationships, Social Media, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology

45 responses to “Friendship Over 30: Why is it so much harder?

  1. I have actually found it easier to make friends as I grew older — especially after I retired and had time to let the dust of a busy life settle. What I regret most is losing the few close friends I made over the years. They move away and out of our lives. That makes me sad. But I have made several new friends lately through blogging. One is named “Jennifer,” and that is a good thing!

    • That’s encouraging! I have seen that my mom has kept friendships really well and it has really allowed her to strengthen them in retirement. Another thing to look forward to in retirement! 🙂

  2. My guess is that we have been through so many of the points where we are thrown in with people in the same stage of life–many lasting friendships are formed in high school, college, or as pre-school moms, or with the parents of our children’s friends. Also, we have busy work lives that we didn’t have when we were in high school or college. I still meet people through writing or storytelling, but it does require extending yourself, and even so, it is an investment that often doesn’t pay out. But once in awhile, you meet someone who clicks, and that one friendship is worth even the time invested on friendships that just don’t pan out.

  3. Loretta Holland

    Sadly, I think a lot of people either stop trying to form new friendships or let go of existing friendships once they get married or find a life partner. They expect their spouse to be their everything and the relationship becomes a closed unit. that may work while the relationship is new, exciting and consuming or while things are running smoothly and the couple is happy or healthy or faithful. The discovery that friends are lacking yet needed is only an illness, emergency or divorce away. it’s a choice. I have married friends who have nurtured friendships and valued their importance and I have married or coupled friends who haven’t and then expected me to be there when that wall they built crumbled. never, ever schedule time with a friend because your spouse or bf or gf is busy. Just schedule it.

    • Loretta! Speaking of friends!! 🙂 Glad to know you are reading! Great advice. I think people who build those walls end up regretting it. But it is often too late. Thanks for leaving a comment with such wise advice!

  4. As I am in that retirement age…yes, it is sometimes harder to make new friends but I have renewed older friendships via Internet as I have more time. And I have more time for those around me.

  5. perryswanson

    For me, making friends is much easier as I get older. That’s not to say it’s easy, but still it’s not the gut-wrenching challenge it was when I was a kid with very low self-confidence. As I get older, I find it’s easier to avoid the jerks of the world and focus my attention on quality people. That was all but impossible when I was young.

    Jennifer mentions one difficulty I encounter frequently, the hassle of checking in with a significant other before agreeing to spend time with a potential friend. I am in an exceedingly happy and committed relationship, and I would never think to ask my partner’s permission before making plans. It would just seem weird. But I do find a lot of people are in relationships with different expectations, and I find a lot of people wrongly assume I am on a similarly tight leash even after I repeatedly assure them otherwise.

    • Hi Perry!! I don’t think it is as much about asking permission as making sure you don’t already have something previously scheduled with your partner or family. But I really hear what you say about self-confidence making it easier to reach out to people and to make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Perry. Great to know you are out there reading. 🙂

  6. I believe that I have 4 good friends that I have maintained for more than 25 years…one of them for more than 40 years. My life is busy enough with my family and other responsibilities, so I don’t have the time to make too many more close friends. But I am always open to friendly conversations when appropriate. .

    • That’s a long time to have a friend. I have some amazing longtime friends too, but they are spread out across the country. But I have found as I get older, I appreciate having a small number of close friends rather than a large number of acquaintances. Thanks so much for the comment!

  7. We have grown apart from our friends that don’t have children. Unfortunately, it is easy to grow apart from friends when the kids don’t enjoy each others company. I have a handful of close friends that know me well. It is hard to make friends as adults…especially as a working parent that wants to spend home time as a family.

    • That’s a shame. But I guess once you become a family unit it can be more complicated. I have friends with husbands who I am not crazy about, but I try to stay connected through girls-only events. But it is important to me to have some friends outside my marriage whether they like my husband or not…it is probably different and much more complex when you have children. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

  8. Relationships are hard work, so I think people take the easier path of multiple acquaintances. I cannot remember the term for it, but the Japanese had an old proverb about six layers of contact with the world, with your most intimate being in the closest layer and strangers being in the outer layer. I think we let people in to various layers. We have some good acquaintances where will find time for, but we dare not share anything private. My wife is a superb listener, so people looking for someone to talk to gravitate toward her. Yet, when she becomes too empathetic, she is overwhelmed by their problems – the price of being a good listener. I find it easier to have select friends with a mutual interest, but it takes time to build the trust and let people into the deeper layers. This maybe why the oldest friends are the deepest friends. Good post.

    • Yes, Jennifer’s posts are almost always good as you say (just look at the number or responses she always gets!). And your comments always add to the mix. I really like the Japanese notion of layers. But, as I said in my comment, I regret most the loss of those friends who were in the deepest layers of my being. There were so few of them and as one grows older their numbers shrink.

      • Thank you!! That is very sweet. I think with technology, you can frequently reconnect with those old friends you have lost touch with…it is almost never too late and usually appreciated when someone from the past reaches out. Just my peanut gallery comment. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

    • Thanks!! You are so right – relationships take a lot of work. I like the concept of the various layers – that makes a lot of sense to me. Sounds like you wife is one of the special people whocan make people feel heard – that is a rare and beautiful quality. You are very lucky. And I couldn’t agree more that the oldest friends are the deepest – they knew me before I was even me! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  9. The majority of my friends I have known for 30 years or more, but I did discover one very special friend in my thirties who was a parent volunteer with me at our kids’ school. We hit it off immediately and now have ‘rampages’ as she likes to call them – all day activities beginning with a ‘cheap breakfast’ before heading off to museums or the art gallery or a movie – just the two of us.

    I made many friends when I re-entered the work force about 17 years ago, but rarely see them after hours except for Facebook comments. So, yes, I would say that it does get harder to make new friends as we age. I still make a point of getting together with my long-time friends, those who knew me back in school or even before that. Those friendships I value above all others. How many people can say they have friendships that have survived over 50 years?

    • Wow! That is impressive. You must be a great friend and one of the people who prioritized your friendships regardless of what else you had going on in your life. I love people like you! 🙂 Thanks for the comment and the hopeful life experience!

  10. julie jacobs

    This post definitely resonates with me. I have always been someone who only has a small group of friends, but I find now that I have almost no one who is more than an acquaintence (other than my sister, my mother and my partner). I think it is partly due to time; I get so busy during the days that even if someone calls who I really enjoy, I find myself resenting the intrusion on my free time (just for a second, but it’s there….). It’s hard enough to find time for myself, I can’t imagine fitting in even more sometimes!! And I don’t have kids, which is a big difference from most people my age and another challenge sometimes to finding people with common interests…

    • I can relate 100 percent. And most of my friends live at least 40 minutes away, which adds another challenge. But I value my friendships so much and I think I am going to start silencing the inner voice that feels like I don’t have enough time. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  11. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become to value my family more and more and make them a priority. As the saying goes, “Friends may come and friends may go, but family is forever.”

  12. Interesting topic, I was just thinking about it for a next blog post! I find it harder to name someone my “best friend” at age 29 than it was 5 to 10 years ago. I feel like I have several good friends but I wouldn’t pick only one of them as the best.

  13. I agree it is harder to make and maintain friendships as we age. Life gets busy and any free time is family time. I don’t have kids and find it harder to get together with friends who do. If I don’t make the effort they rarely if ever call or email. I went to work overseas and I thought we would all be in the same boat and it would be easier to make friends, but again it is hard work and little cliques form and I am left out. I wonder am I too sensitive? Am I left out because I came with my husband and many others are alone? Being alone would probably force me into bonds more. I am busy with work and I don’t persue them too much. Besides with the cliques and the back-stabbing nature of people I guess it is best to steer clear. The people I seem to get along best with people find eccentric, but I am drawn to them because they are ‘real’ and not into these silly, highschoolish games. Geesh we range from 25-55 years of age this isn’t highschool anymore!
    I come home for just over a month in the summers and old friends want to see you, but don’t make the effort to make it too easy and I feel drained and ragged trying to fit them all in. I don’t relax as I schedule and try to make everyone happy. My husband says don’t worry about it, but again I feel the need to make the effort and work on the relationship to keep the few friends that I have. Am I wrong?

    • Sounds like you are doing a great job making the effort to reach out. As someone said earlier, it is worth all the work when you find someone you really click with. I say make the effort, but don’t get to concerned when it doesn’t pay off. Just like dating, you have to kiss a lot of frogs. 🙂 Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      • Thanks… no I am too old for games now so I try, but don’t worry too much. Still a disapointment though when people ignore you or brush you off. Plus it can get pretty lonely when you are in a country without many people you know…

        • I hear you. That has to be the hard part of moving to another country. It can be very isolating, I imagine. At least you speak the language! 🙂

          • I don’t speak Chinese, so I miss out on understanding and communicating there, but smiles and gestures go a long way! Luckily I teach in English and I have very loving students. I don’t think I could have made it this long without them 😉

            • Wow – chinese would be one of the most difficult – you can’t really even try to figure it out! I envy you, but I can imagine that that could be a very hard transition at first. I would suggest that you do as much as you can to learn the language so you can feel a little less isolated. I have thought about that because my husband is from Argentina and sometimes we think we want to move there someday. But I would need to learn the language as quickly as possible so that I could communicate and not be so dependent on him for everything. I wonder if there are some other expats there that you could connect with…the internet is pretty great for making those connecions…maybe one of our blogger buddies is there and going through the same thing…?

              • Thanks for the help. After 2 years I think I am ready to try and learn the language. Before that I couldn’t hear the tones or make out words. Now I can pick it out (a little), so I think it would be easier for me to learn now then it would have been 2 years ago! I am thinking about trying it out this fall.

  14. Gomyway

    I think it is easier for to me to make new friends now, as I enter my mid-forties, but I still cherish my friendships from college, law school and my first few years as a lawyer. For me, it was harder in my 30s, when almost everyone was focused on pairing up and procreating (I do not mean that negatively). I also was one of those people at that time who said, and believed, “I don’t need any new friends, I can’t keep up with the ones I have!”

    Now that everyone has moved through that period (the rush of the ticking clock, the societal pressures – sending the message that the ONLY way I could POSSIBLY be happy was if I did both, and NOW), and the stress it brings for all of us, I find that I am able to develop and maintain deep, meaningful relationships with a wide range of folks, mostly women – some single parenting, some raising children with a partner, some single and all working a ton. I realize that I’m much less rigid in my expectations and much more flexible about methods for developing and maintaining connections. I have fully embraced every method of communication that I’m aware of – Facebook, email, blogging, letters, postcards, and yes, even phone calls, because each of my friends has preferences for methods of communication that support us between inevitable long gaps between in person meetings.

    Interestingly, as a single woman, there was a time when most of my friends were also single – we felt we just couldn’t relate to our friends with kids – but now I find it a little harder to maintain closeness with my single friends because they, like me, are a bit all over the place. My friends with kids have developed structures and routines in their lives that enable integration of friendships, whereas my single friends, and I am guilty of this, often are much less structured, and thus much harder to “pin down” even for coffee. As a result, I find myself thankful of my friends who are willing to stick with me as I move from North Dakota, to DC, to Beijing, etc., but I also make a point of sticking with them through marriage, divorce, miscarriage, loss, heartbreak, welcoming new family members, and career changes.

    The key that I’ve found with my new and old friends is that we both recognize the value of our friendships and prioritize them – and we communicate that. Everything is a trade off, I believe – absolutely, positively everything. I recognize that when I am focusing on my friendships, I’m not focusing on something else – my career, my family, etc., but I’m making the decision that it is what is best in that moment. I feel so fortunate to have a life that is so full of so many amazing people and I can’t wait to learn more from more in the future. I’m in, all in.

    • Robin!!! So glad to know you are out there and reading!!! You raise an interesting point about the life phase and single/married, with/without kids. I do feel like after 5 years of marriage and no kids that I am starting to be able to reestablish or strengthen old friendships and make a few new ones. Maybe that will only get easier. You have renewed my hope. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I hope you are doing great. Looks like you are back in DC, which is exciting. I miss you!

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  17. Pingback: Friends after 30? | Social Misfit Tomboy

  18. Helen

    I am in my mid-30s, and yes, it’s definitely harder to make new friends nowadays. I also find that I am losing quite a lot of friends, whether through them moving overseas, getting married, having children, or just finding out that we don’t have much in common any more. Most of the friends I see on a regular basis are in the same situation as me- single or in a de facto relationship, living by ourselves or with a pet- and whilst I enjoy their company a lot, I do feel that it’s a bit of a shame that I don’t know many people who are different to me.

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