As we age, we’re encouraged to weed out closets, basements and attics, and throw away all the accumulated stuff of decades that no longer fits or is relevant to our current lives. I’m noticing a similar thing going on with friendships.
Letting go of the need for social approval and feeling more freedom to be ourselves, we’re trying to adjust to our lives as our needs change. “Hold fast to friends because they will keep you socially connected and healthier, both mentally and physically,” says conventional wisdom. But many of my friendships seem more grounded in past experiences than current ones.
I have friends from childhood, high school, college, my hippie days in New Mexico, child-rearing in my 30s and 40s, my running years and various jobs I’ve held through the decades. These people were very important to me at one point in my life, but over the years, I’ve come to have less in common with many of them.
The thing that seems important here is how some of the old friendships have grown along with the years, and others remain based on what happened so long ago. Some flourish because they have changed and developed along with our lives. These are the precious ones. To be close to people who have known me through the years and to also share relevant and current interests with them speaks to me. Unfortunately, many of us are starting to lose these cherished people naturally through illness and death.
There are also new friendships. They have no history, but focus on what’s happening now, common interests, anxieties we share, books we are reading, groups we attend. These friends are more self-defining for this time in our lives. I’m loving finding other souls who deeply want and need to talk about this aging process we’re going through.
We all have dwindling energy as we age and must look at the balance between the effort it sometimes takes to maintain friendships and the joy they bring us. Which ones don’t resonate any longer? Friendships that linger on with no value other than shared memories just don’t feel as compelling to me. There are so many other, more current relationships that give me more delight.
These friendships tend to sort themselves out naturally. The holiday and birthday cards stop coming (or you stop sending). The emails get further and further between. It just happens. I wish the clutter removal and cleaning would happen as easily.
I have friends to have fun with, movie friends, more spiritual friends and, of course, old, old friends (both in age and duration) who are treasures to me. Some of these categories overlap, some not. It’s just interesting to watch where I put my energy as I strive for authenticity now.
Things change, nothing stays the same. This recognition of the impermanence of everything helps me be more in the present moment and appreciate what’s happening now.
May we all be happy and fulfilled in our friendships as we age, as the significant ones tend to become increasingly important now.
Martha McClellan has been a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written the book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at email@example.com.