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Friends

"I'll be there for you, if you'll be there for me too…”  The Rembrandts

Go on - admit it: you started singing the theme tune to Friends, the sitcom, when you read the title of this blog post! Or maybe it was just me...?  One of the great things about long standing, like-minded friends is that you don't have to explain your cultural references.

Following on from my previous blog post where we talked about the need to be heard, a member of The Midlife Movement free Facebook Group, Annette, commented:

“‘Girls night”’, and so forth, is not just about getting out with friends. It’s about being heard. My bestie lives 900 miles away and we talk daily. Don’t know how I’d function without our conversations."

The need for female friends is real whether or not we are in happy relationships or sociable workplaces. There is something about female camaraderie that both soothes the soul and bolsters our resolve. Good female friends lift us up, cheer us on, celebrate and commiserate with us.

“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.”  Gloria Steinem

Think back to when you were small and how important it felt to have a “best friend”. Fall outs and playground politics were the cause of much angst to so many girls. I always found it difficult to make friends.

I was brought up by my grandmother until I started school and I don’t recall ever playing with other children my own age. So when the time came for me to start school, I wasn’t equipped with the social skills to ease into the friendship groups.

My dad had similar problems, I think. Whenever I came back from school in tears because I perceived a friend had snubbed me or I’d had to play alone at break time, he would sigh and say: “Haven’t I always told you not to have friends? They can’t be trusted.”

That, of course, was his belief, but I wasn’t able to differentiate between that and my own until I was an adult. He also used to bastardise the old adage “a stranger is just a friend you don’t yet know,” by saying “a friend is only an enemy you don’t yet know." Poor Dad! No wonder I found childhood friendships a mystery!

As I grew older, I realised there was a pattern in my friendships. I learned how to make friends, but those relationships would often end suddenly, without warning, leaving me baffled. Looking back, I suspect that my unconscious expectation that they wouldn’t last became a self fulfilling prophecy.

That and my lamentable lack of self esteem. It wasn’t until my late forties that I could walk into a room full of strangers and assume that I would be welcome.

Those who know me now will probably not recognise me in that description. I don’t recognise me! Once I identified the unconscious thought patterns I had around friendship, my belief shifted and I now live by the old Biblical saying, which comes from Proverbs, I believe, that to have friends one must be one.

Thick or thin, (the times that is, not the friends!) there have been women there for me over the past decade who have variously:

planned

shared

laughed

cared

cried

grieved

comforted

believed

 chivvied

commiserated

applauded

celebrated

supported

shoved

helped

loved

“They” say that some people are in your life for a season, some for a reason, some for life. I have learned over the years that that’s ok – friends can come and go, our relationships are no less valuable. Others become family.

Studies have concluded that there is a strong correlation between loneliness and depression in older people.

“Female friendships can be the key to happiness in older women, but they’re not often treated as such.” Psychology Today

Yet it isn’t always easy to make new friends past 50. Dale Pollekoff , who is in her early 70s, found it difficult to meet new people when she relocated to Los Angeles after her retirement. Her solution was to create a group on Meetup. Finding Female Friends Past Fifty quickly grew to 800 members. Many of them meet in person to attend art exhibitions, eat out and simply hang out together.

“At this age, you are who you are…You’re not looking over the horizon for the next best thing. So there’s no jealousy or competition.” Dale Pollekoff

For those of us growing up in the 50s, 60s and 70s, competition between girls and women was a cultural given in many quarters. I have had several women in The Midlife Movement Facebook Group and on the Facebook page who have confessed that they have never felt comfortable around other women. They variously cite bitchiness, lack of trust, feeling as if they have to conform in the way they dress or act as reasons, but mainly it is a vague sense of wariness.

What a shame that is. When women genuinely open up to other women, make themselves vulnerable and share their challenges and triumphs, female friendships can be among the most satisfying and enduring relationships of a woman’s life.

“I met my best friend on the first day of secondary school. We’ve been friends ever since, through marriages, children, a divorce, parents dying. Even now when we live 100 miles apart, we talk to each other every day.” Alison

Personally, I don’t have any friends that have endured from my younger years. But I truly believe that the friendships I have now will endure, because I have learned to open my heart without putting unrealistic expectations upon them.

My friends range in age from 20s to 70s. I am particularly grateful for those older women who show me how much life and vitality there is still to come. Some I see regularly, some have months or years between visits, yet we pick up as if we’d seen each other yesterday. Social media helps us to keep in touch, even if only superficially.

The Midlife Movement itself is based on the fellowship of women. When we support each other with generosity, of both time and spirit, when we put judgement aside and support each other without expectation, magic happens.

You've got a friend in me

You've got a friend in me

You got troubles, I've got 'em too

There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you

We stick together and see it through

Cause you've got a friend in me 

 

Randy Newman for Disney Pixar (Toy Story)

 

© Jo Blackwell - The Midlife Movement 2019

Image: Jo Blackwell Photography

 

Sources: 

Finding female friends over 50 can be hard. These women figured it out Seattle Times https://bit.ly/2TSr6JW

 

 

 

 

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