The Evolution of Friendship: Has your support network changed in middle age?

We all know the saying “friends are the family you choose”, and I’m very choosy when it comes to friends. I don’t mean acquaintances that we collect through our lives … I mean the people who see the real us. The puffy-faced, snot-encrusted, unwashed-hair, still-in-our-pyjamas-at-2pm-on-a-Saturday us.

My friends list now is a little different to the one I had pre-pandemic. I don’t know if I can totally blame lockdown for the changes to my social circle. On the contrary, I think enforced solitude has helped me finally say goodbye to a toxic relationship or two. But COVID-19 aside, can I be sure that my inner circle wasn’t already reducing before restrictions gave me a helping hand?

When I was younger, further education coupled with an enthusiastic social life and a series of full and part-time jobs meant I mixed with a huge group of people with similar interests to me. I could pick and choose friends to my hearts content.

As I grew older, many of the people I would meet socially were not really ‘friend’ material. I settled down into one full time job and nobody there was worthy of joining my inner circle. I started to become rather picky about who I shared my time and secrets with.

So while I was no longer consciously adding to my friend list, what I hadn’t noticed was that some of my older friends were naturally drifting away. Marriages, babies, divorces and deaths have meant that various people went MIA.

I was no different to the friends I lost – they were changing and reducing their friends list, too. As I concentrated on my career, my first home and my love life, I lived in a world with no smart phones or social media giving me instant access to people. As relationships became neglected, they came to a gentle and natural end.

Scrolling through my phone recently, I noticed something rather interesting about the people I reach out to the most. Have a look at your phone and see who the most recent calls and messages are to … if you are around the same age as me, you might spot something similar.

Taking the other half, family and neighbours out of the equation, my friends I contact the most have been around since infant’s school, my late teens or have only been in my social circle since my forties. Most of my school friends and many of the friends I made in my twenties and thirties are the ones who have drifted away.

I lost my first chunk of friends when I bought my first home. This surprised me as I only moved 20 miles away, but it proved too much for some people. For some it was genuinely a time and distance thing and unless I made an effort we just didn’t meet up. With others it was small-town small-mind mentality…they were settling down with kids and tutting as I was loving life in a new town.

My interests changed in my 20s and I got hugely into sport and exercise. Being in another town it was difficult logistically to attend the same gyms and sports centres as some of my friends. This suited me as I did not see the point of doing a dozen slow laps of a pool while my friend did nothing but chat, knowing that on my own I could bang out a mile of laps and get my heart rate up.

I didn’t pick up a Frenemy until my 30s. Maybe I was naive, but I hadn’t had this kind of issue before. She was older than me, and I didn’t suspect anything, respecting her age and experience and happily taking my place in the natural packing order. It took me a long time to realise what a snake she was.

After years of little snipes (“I’ve got a necklace for you darling … they look great on people your size” when I was overweight, and writing “hope you have a wonderful family Christmas” in a card when she knew there were family issues), enough was enough. Needless to say I’ve let that one fizzle out.

I didn’t meet my Bestie until I was 17 when she started dating a male friend of mine. We would never have met, have little in common, but for some reason just clicked. She is the warmest, kindest, strongest woman I know and does not have a bad bone in her body.

These days we rarely see each other and hardly ever call each other – we don’t need to be in each other’s pockets. But I have supported her through the toughest times in her life and she has me. This is my BFF friendship … besties till we die. She is the only woman I’ve said ‘I love you’ to and I swear we could be sisters. It’s the friendship I hold above all others.

In my forties I have discovered I don’t have the fuck budget for flakes and fakes. I’m now in a calmer and settled phase of my life. I know what I like, have learned to say ‘no’ and no longer meet up with people that cause me pain and anguish or have an agenda – life is too short. My friendship group is now small and perfectly formed, falling into the following categories:

  • My Loyal Bestie – she is the one who knows my secrets, made me godmother to her children and loves me for who I am. Even my bad bits.
  • My Life-Coach-Confidant – she is a hard cow, ex-military and doesn’t mince her words. We have very frank conversations, sometimes brutally honest, and is the person that can be relied upon to tell me when I need to put my big girl pants on and crack on with my life.
  • My Wise-Owl – she is the calm one who helps me see a different perspective who, although younger than me, is wiser than her years. When I grow up, I’d like to be more like her.
  • My Bad Influence – both of these are gay men and delight in leading me astray and getting me into trouble. Just when I get a little serious about life, one of these amazing men will drag me out of my comfort zone and remind me what it is like to enjoy myself. One of them is also incredibly knowledgeable about wine which is an added bonus.
  • My ‘Got Your Back’ Girls – these are a group of non-related ladies who don’t know each other and have never met, but each one can be relied upon if I need a favour. A quick WhatsApp and I’ve got someone that will watch out for a forgotten DPD delivery, water the plants while I’m way, or let the dog out if I’m unexpectedly delayed

I finally have a settled life with the right people by my side. I often feel sad when people judge themselves by the number of Facebook friends or Instagram followers they have. Why on earth would you want to publicly share your innermost worries and secrets with people you barely know?

Mid-life might be culling your friends list, but don’t feel sad if you are buying less birthday cards and sending less Christmas cards as you get older. You’ve worked hard to get and keep the right people in your life and with them by your side, you can’t go wrong.


Published by So Just Be

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