If my 30s was the decade in which I lost touch with many of my friends, then my 40s has been the period in which I’ve found lots of new ones and rekindled some old friendships.
If that seems counter-intuitive, indulge me as I take a walk down memory lane and explore how and why my friendships have evolved over time.
Late teens and 20s: gain many, lose a few
This is the period during which many of us make the most new friends, coinciding with our growing independence and mobility. Leaving school and maybe going to university. First job. Moving out of the family home, possibly to a totally new location.
So many new environments and opportunities. As we start to discover ourselves, we also identify and are drawn to ‘people like us’. We align ourselves with different friendship groups or tribes.
We also leave some people behind – or, at least, my generation did. I went off to uni and lost touch with most of my school friends. Then I moved away from home. I worked for different companies. That mobility brought new friendships – but it also meant sacrificing old ones. After a while, I started to lose touch with many of my university friends too. When you’re living hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, it happens all too easily.
Nowadays, with social media omnipresent in our lives, it’s easier to stay connected. But when I left school at 18, I almost immediately lost touch with friends I’d known for seven years. We were all too busy chasing our futures to worry about preserving our past. From 1991 until our 30-year reunion earlier this year, I didn’t see a single one of them.
30s: Drifting apart
By the time I hit my 30s, I was definitely losing more friends than I was gaining.
In part, that’s just my nature. I’m a deep introvert and painfully shy. I don’t make friends easily and I’m comfortable with a small circle of close friends.
But it’s also a product of circumstance. I stopped changing employers every two to three years and settled in my current company. We relocated twice in six years, then laid down roots in Thatcham 12 years ago.
What was true for us was also true for our friends. They settled down and started families. Careers became more demanding. Lives got busier. Where we would once regularly meet up at weddings, christenings and house-warming parties, those periodic get-togethers gradually petered out. Dinner parties and games nights are easy when it’s all couples – less so when there are babies and toddlers to deal with.
Life got in the way. And where weddings and christenings were a time to come together and party, subsequent separations, divorces and, occasionally, deaths started to split groups apart.
For every new friendship I formed – fewer and fewer with every passing year – there would be three or four which faded away. And, with a young family, increasingly any new friends weren’t mine – they were ours. When you make friends on a two-to-two rather than a one-to-one basis, the bond isn’t always as strong and more easily lost.
40s: New friends …
To some extent, the trend of my 30s followed me into my 40s. But not completely.
I turn 50 next year and will most likely start and finish my 40s working for the same company. Similarly, we’ll be living in the same house too. Through attrition, I have gradually lost touch with older friends – although social media has made it easier to stay connected, even to those I no longer see.
In fact, the online world has been responsible for facilitating a host of new friendships in my 40s. Forums, blogs and Twitter have enabled me to connect with people with similar interests. I’ve formed countless virtual friendships, several of which have become ‘real’. I even started a cycling blog with six other fans across three countries I had never met before.
It’s actually something I find much easier to do as an introvert. In real-life, I struggle to build new relationships. I’m shy; I get tongue-tied; I don’t feel I have anything interesting to contribute. But online, where I can craft my words carefully and make myself heard, I feel at home. I’m confident, articulate and comfortable.
Which is where blogging came in. I’ve written blogs for over 12 years now, covering different subjects from football to cycling and from TV to parenting. It’s in this last field in particular where I’ve made many new friendships.
… And ‘my’ friends
There are a couple of factors at play here, I think.
Firstly, parenting is a unifying experience. We empathise over sleepless nights and toddler tantrums. We have a wealth of child-related anecdotes. When you talk to a fellow parent about parenting, it’s easy to find commonality.
Secondly, parent blogging is a world dominated by mums; they typically outnumber dads by at least ten to one. Now that may make some dad bloggers uncomfortable. At big events, it’s only natural to seek safety in numbers and huddle together with your fellow Y-chromosomes. But, personally, I don’t feel that way. I’m not really a blokey bloke anyway. In general, I often form my closest friendships with women rather than men. So I’m at ease in this mum-dominated world and have made several good female friends as a result, who I connect with regularly.
Finally, my newest friends are also my oldest ones. Earlier, I mentioned my recent 30-year school reunion. While we didn’t have Facebook or WhatsApp back then to keep us connected, now we do. Bringing so many of us back together was just the spark we needed and now we’re arranging regular meet-ups in various groups to reminisce about old times and fill in the gaps of the intervening years.
Even 30 years on, the people I was friends with back then remain people I get on well with now. We still click. The conversation flows comfortably. Between my old school friends and my newer blogging mates, I’m enjoying being part of social circles which are distinctly mine rather than ours.
Friendships will always evolve; they will inevitably ebb and flow. But I think I’ve now reached that stage in my life where I’m really starting to appreciate the value of friendships – both new and old – in whatever form they may take.
For a contrasting – and distinctly more youthful! – view of friendship in your 30s, you might like to read Nyomi’s post over at her blog Nomipalony.