On making new friends (after the age of 30)

Merry Christmas! I hope you’re all having a happy, warm, and healthy Christmas – or if you’re not, I hope it gets better soon. I know Christmas, with its expectation of seasonal joy, can feel particularly isolating if things are not going well.

I saw someone yesterday, eaten up with loneliness. Coming from my warm and vibrant home, I felt the sadness emanating from his house; that empty, post-loss pain that can drag through old age. Real life suffering isn’t like in the films: we can’t guarantee a happy ending or step away unscathed from a sad one. It hurts, it’s not what we dreamed of – and nor is it what our parents hoped for us. There are times when misery can, on top of everything else, feel like failure.

In tough times, one of the most helpful things anyone said to me was, “Sometimes things get better quicker than you expect.” The other thing is simple warmth. One person who helped me through a painful period didn’t say much, didn’t gush, take charge or inflate the drama, just shared a private moment of sympathy that sustained me and earned them my loyalty.

All we can do is try to be the people whose presence helps others through. I have a handful of people whose presence helps me — incredible, ordinary people who just help by existing (or having existed). Family members. The memory of a stranger who once gave me money for a phone call. A new friend whom I’m yet to know well but whose presence makes me feel that there are decent people in the world. I don’t lean on them — I draw my energy from the earth and the sea, or staring at the sky, but their existence makes me feel better.

It’s not said often enough: some people are good. 

Some people look out at the world with their eyes open, and try to do the right thing. I don’t mean the ones who cling to a worthy job title and tell of how “worthwhile” their efforts feel. (Pass the smug bucket.) I’m talking about the ones who stand with quiet dignity, look you in the eye and offer a cup of tea. The ones who are never “out there” with their desire to please because they don’t desire to “please”, or impress. I mean the ones putting themselves quietly on the line. The real-life, perfectly flawed Skelligs or Nanny McPhees that we need so desperately but struggle to believe in as adults. They’re the guardians of something noble and human and special, the best part of my 2017 and, I hope, 2018.

They give us hope that there may still be heroes out there.

Recently I read a 2012 NYT article by Alex Williams, which states that we find it hard to make really good friends later in life (defined as after 30); that our best friends are made in our twenties:

“…the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.”

I beg to differ.

I still have an open mind and heart, and I’m happy to make new friends. Yes, as we age we focus on our families, our work, and no, we don’t have much spare time. Coffee? Um, week next Tuesday…? But if I’m brutally honest, some of the “situational” or other friends I made as a younger woman — the ones who shared my college years or baby classes — have grown into people with whom I share an enormous history but whom I don’t actually like that much. I’ve listened to them talk about their money, houses, inheritance prospects, and so on, and have realised that we have little or nothing in common any more. 

I’d love to live another 40 years or more. If I do, new friends will soon be old friends – but only if I say yes to them now. 

On the other hand, I’ve met new people who inspire me with kindness, fairness and vision. People I’d have wanted as best friends if I’d met them as a young woman and whom I’d love to call friends now. Sure, in these busy times, to add new people to my friendship group now — even assuming they want me to — means readjusting my diary and priorities. But when did we become so weak that we weren’t prepared to take a chance on people? I didn’t. That never happened.

There are people out there waiting to be loved and valued, just for being really cool and funny and great. People who still have a bit of adventure in them. I want to sit with them, ask how they’re doing, and talk about legacy instead of inheritance, or dreams instead of job titles. Music instead of mortgages. Or maybe we could just go running, and laugh about nothing.

Maybe one day, as old friends, I could thank them for being there — literally just being — when I needed them most. Although by then, with any luck, they’ll already know.

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