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Do You Want to Build a Friendship?

By Karen Austin


3382147567_8081049721_oMaking friends at midlife seems to be more challenging than making friends when I was younger.  My perception might be skewed.  Maybe it’s always a challenge.

Many women at midlife are busy with full-time or part-time work as well as with volunteering work.  If they have children, they are busy launching them and perhaps caring for grandchildren as time allows. If they have husbands, they are supporting them. If their parents are still living, they are supporting their parents.

[Photo credit: Bekassine via Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/69SoD6]

Women at midlife have many long-term friendships, spanning decades.  These established friendships need maintenance. Why would they take the time and effort to form new friendships when most women feel spread too thin already? And I moved during the summer when many midlife women are traveling to visit their adult children and grandchildren.

Maybe making friends was challenging when I was a teen, a young adult, and a new parent?  Am I overstating the life stage constraints?

I moved to Indiana seven weeks ago. In that time, I’ve been reaching out to women in the neighborhood, to women at the university where my husband works and to women who attend my church.  I’m very outgoing and willing to take risks by starting conversations with people. I’m also open to being friends with people of all ages and interests. In Kansas, I had friends ranging from 4 to 104.  Granted, I had eight years to develop those friendships.

I’m probably trying to create an instant community: add water and mix. Voila! It’s not that easy.  I should remember this.  Over my 54 years of life, I’ve moved on average every six years.  These things take time. But if the pattern hold true, I only have six years to enjoy these friendships, so I can’t sit at home and sulk about the challenge.

So far, my suggestions about getting together with people to socialize are falling flat.  That all-purpose “I’m busy” is damning my efforts.  We all know that “I’m busy” when offered as a retort to any commitment really means “I have other priorities.”  I use “I’m busy” as “I have other priorities” myself.

I have been focusing on reaching out to women who moved to town this summer, too.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Being “new together” might not be a good enough foundation.  I keep making dramatic statements in my head: “That’s it. I’m done.  I’m retreating. I’m detaching socially!” But my gregarious nature keeps pushing me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and extend myself to others—even if the percentage of successful connection is in the single digits.

I probably just need to be patient and let relationships form over time.  In the meantime, this gives me an opportunity to think extensively about friendships.

How have your most meaningful friendships formed? Common interests? Similar ages? Kids the same ages? Husbands in the same vocation? Working together in paid work or volunteer work? Living near each other?  Mutual friendships?  Serendipity? And how long has this taken? Weeks, months…years?

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

5 thoughts on “Do You Want to Build a Friendship?”

  1. I hear ya, sister! I feel the challenge and I've lived in the same house for the past 15 years. As my children get older, I no longer see the parents I once hung out with (with my oldest two daughters leaving home, I lost all of those other moms I'd been social with for 15 years. Our main connection was our children/common activities). I've been working on building up friendships with the moms of my younger kids' friends, but know there's an expiration date on those associations. I have to make connections and arrange lunch dates with the past, make the effort to go to book club to see old friends. And I reach back to family, the constant presence. Thank goodness for the visiting teaching program! Assigned friendships that actually do turn into real ones sometimes. Good luck, wish I were closer and I'd get to know you 🙂

  2. I have the same problem. My husband was in the Marines for the first part of our marriage while we were having children. It was quite easy to make friends then as we had common interests and needs. Then we moved to Provo are hubby to attend BYU for a career change. We landed in a fabulous ward and I had good friends there. Since moving to Iowa, though, to a tiny, dyfunctional branch, I've not been able to make any new friends. I have lots of acquaintances, but no kindred spirit friendships. I've tried associating with women in town, but they already have their friendships and extended families. The women at church seem to me to be lazy about friendships, preferring to text or facebook message someone instead of visiting in homes and doing things together. I don't know what the answer is. I've rarely lived near family so I've always relied on the sisters in RS to be my family. But here in our tiny branch that is just not the case. I've been verbally attacked and ostracized (especially during the time I served as RS President!), and excluded from any friendship circles. Perhaps it is getting more difficult as Satan infiltrates our very church associations through powerful media influences that divide us and set us up to envy each other. I guess the best thing to do is to stay faithful, and pray for opportunities to befriend someone who needs me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective. It's so nice to know that I'm not the only one who struggles. (Btw I'm 58, and virtually an empty nester.)

  3. Making friends has never been easy for me. I'm fairly reserved, and I also am somewhat insecure, worrying that I'd be intruding by pushing myself into someone's life. I think most people would not guess this about me; in public I come across as self-confident. I've rarely had close friends. Most of the time I try to not focus on this and just live my life and worry about my family and church callings. But at times I do feel very lonely and wish that just once, I'd get invited to a girls' night out.

    Because of years of infertility, I'm a good 10 years older than many people who have children the age of my kids, so there's that as well. And I homeschool, which means that I'm not available during the day when many stay-at-home-moms want to do lunch or have playdates. When I have been able to form close friendships, it has been through shared experiences (such as bonding over infertility) or through serving together in church callings, particularly presidencies.

    Two years ago, we moved to a small, spread-out branch. Because there were so few members in our area, those of us who lived close to one another drew together. I became friends with a woman I'd probably never have connected with in another situation, simply because our children were similar ages, we were church members, and we didn't live 40 minutes away from each other. I was less picky and more willing to get to know *anyone*, whether we had similar interests or not. That was a new experience. Unfortunately she moved not too long after.

  4. I'm grateful you shared your post, Karen! I'm truly sorry you're struggling because I understand where you're coming from.

    I've had challenges with friends throughout my 18+ years of marriage simply because we've moved so many times—11 moves in 16 years. (Thankfully, we're settled now!) It seemed just when I'd finally established good friendships, it was time to move again. For years, I tried my very best to stay in contact with those precious souls I made a good connection with, but after several moves, most of my friends were simply "over it." (I'm guessing that's because they're busy living their own lives; they have friends they can turn to and spend time with, vs. someone living in another state.)

    It seemed everywhere I moved, I struggled to insert myself into women's friendship circles because they were already SO bonded with each other that they couldn't even see a need for a new friend—or they "just weren't that into me." Ha ha. So I'd either stay on the outside edge of their circle, or remove myself from the friendship-seeking situation altogether.

    Don't get me wrong, for I've enjoyed the challenge of making new friends—especially when I finally connected in a true-friendship way! 🙂 It's just hard realizing how many ladies are set in their ways—they simply don't have time for a new friendship. I also agree with a previous commenter that social media has changed/hindered women's friendships.

    What's surprised me most is what happened when my family and I moved back to a city in which we had previously lived. I fully expected to immediately resume my spot in all of my friendship circles. Sadly, that hasn't been the case. The majority of my friends filled-in my spot and didn't think a thing about it. And why would they? For I moved to another state, and they never expected me to come back! 🙂 I'm fine because I've accepted my new reality and have a really great life(!), but it's been a shock to my outgoing/social personality.

    Normally, I would say that it takes a solid year, if not longer, to establish good friendships, but with my most recent experience, I just don't know anymore…

    I wish you the very best in making new, lifelong friends! 🙂

  5. Sorry for the delay in commenting. Technical issues blocked me from doing so for a few days. But enough about that! All systems go, now.

    Anita: I had no idea until I had kids how proximity can be such a catalyst. I have actually let a lot of things slide because I can't afford tension with people who have kids my kids' ages. But this actually helped me for friendships with a broader array of people. My kids are 15 and 18, so I can't depend on the parenting proximity for much longer. Thanks for the heads up. I haven't thought that change through. It's looming! All my best to you for finding avenues for friendships.

    Rozy: I'm sorry that being in a less populated area has diminished opportunities. I'm particularly sorry that the ward has presented challenges. I think that most women have a hard time understanding how challenging it is being RSP. Rich blessings to you in whatever form will sustain you. Your situation sounds like a "think outside the box" challenge, one for creative problem solving. Hugs, heavenly help and a heap of hope on your horizon.

    ELJEE: Wow, I'm sorry that your one proximate friend moved. That's a bummer. I hope that someone else will be open to friendships. I told myself that email, blogging, facebook and phone calls should bolster me, but there is richness in face-to-face friendships that technology can't quite match. I hope you can make a connection with someone within "a country mile" soon.

    Adrie: I have returned to a city before, but it was a college town, so the population shifted enough that I had to start over. That would be an odd experience–returning and then finding how much the ground has shifted since you've been gone. All my best to you for forming new friendships and/or finding a way to feel some support through unconventional needs.

    All: This may sound weird, but I have actually started visualizing a fairy godmother sort of inner voice, a wise woman, to help talk me through issues. She's a cross between my wisest friends and the most grounded version of myself. God willing, I can grow to be more like my tiny internal wise woman–the best version of myself I see when I read my Patriarchal Blessing. Onward and upward, Sisters!


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