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The Friends We Lose and The Friends We Keep
Many people think that friends are a constant in our lives. But what if we looked at friends instead, as people who come – and go – as life evolves?
After reading the dozens of letters sent by our readers, I’m struck by the overwhelmingly common theme around so many of them: How to make new friends after the loss of one or many? Many people say that making new friends around midlife is an impossible task.
I say not so. Some of my dearest, closest friends were made after 45.
We lose friends for a myriad of reasons: disagreements, disappointments, divorce or death. Other times, it’s a misunderstanding, ghosting, illness, a physical move, or a job change that fizzles our friendships.
If that friend was valued and a big part of our lives, we mourn, feeling empty, confused, sad or angry. On the other hand, if that friend was a burden, toxic, or needy, we may celebrate, feeling relieved and somehow lighter (but sometimes guilty for letting that friendship go).
One thing is sure: Losing a friend—whether voluntarily or through our own doing— is never without emotion, and emotions can take a long time to settle (but they will).
But another thing is for sure, and that’s why I felt compelled to write this. Saying life is complicated sounds too trite. Perhaps a better way to say it is that life is fluid, filled with volumes of chapters that take us in so many directions.
Some are expected, yet more are a mystery or ultimate surprise. And with that in mind, how can we expect not to lose some friends along the way? After all, we change over time, so why shouldn’t friendships?
And yet I think many people have an idealized version of friendship, thinking that we hold onto our friends for life. Sure, that’s possible; there are many people who still have one or more friends from childhood. Many friendships are cemented by time, familiarity, and shared experiences.
As much as I’d like to have the security of enjoying lifelong friends, sadly, I don’t. That’s just not the way things turned out for me. And I would venture to say that the situation I find myself in is not at all uncommon.
Why? Because life got in the way.
One friend married the “wrong” guy, and the friendship dissolved. Another couldn’t forgive me for saying no to being one of her bridesmaids (I had no money to buy a dress but was too embarrassed to tell her).
Three others passed away in their 40s and 50s – two of breast cancer and one by suicide. And then there was a friend who said a deeply hurtful thing without even realizing it, friends who were demanding and selfish, and friendships that couldn’t weather the (physical) or (emotional) distance separating us.
I may sound like a serial friend collector, but I can assure you I’m not. My friends are carefully curated, and shaped organically over shared interests, trust and respect. My friends mean the world to me; I place their importance up there with my spouse and my own children.
But the reality of friendship is that they all do not last due to life’s complexity.
I realized this in my 40s when the rate of friendships lost accelerated. Once those friends began exiting my life, I began to realize the fragility of even the most secure friendships. After my mourning had subsided, I woke up to the fact that while no one would quite fill the shoes of the friends that were lost, it was time to go out and find some new shoes.
That required a conscious effort to put myself out there and dig deep to connect.
This newsletter is filled with advice on so many aspects of friendship. You may not be able to relate to all of them. But one thing I do think most people can relate to is the loss of friends, a wound that can hurt deeply but does eventually heal.
And with that healing, know this: It may look and seem likely that everyone already has their friends, especially as we get older. I used to think that, too – until I realized that I was surely not the only person in this position. All I had to do was look.
Some of my dearest and closest friends are the ones I’ve made in midlife.
Perhaps all those years of having friends have taught me more than knowing you can lose them. Instead, it’s taught me how to make, value and nurture them, and I hope they sustain me for as long as possible.
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