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How To Deepen Friendships In Midlife

How To Deepen Friendships In Midlife

Navigating Midlife: Karen Viesta

In a recent interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Jane Fonda discussed the cultivation of her friendships with her fellow actors (and close friends), Lily Tomlin and Sally Field.

“My favorite ex-husband, Ted Turner, said to me, ‘You don’t make new friends after 60.’ But I think that he’s really, really wrong,” Fonda said.

In her interview, she talked about the importance of “quality friendships” later in life. She said: “Women sit facing each other, eye-to-eye, and they say, ‘I’m in trouble, I need you, can you help me?’ We’re not afraid of being vulnerable.” What she said is consistent with what research shows: Quality friendships boost your sense of belonging and happiness, improve your self-confidence, and help you cope with stress (among many other benefits!).

“The nature of our friendships change, which can be both disappointing and, at times, disorienting.”

Her advice for anyone who’s struggling to meaningfully connect with others… “You have to be intentional.” 

Furthermore, she explains that  her friendships—particularly those with women—are a central part of her identity.

However, changing friendship circles is a common challenge for women in midlife. The nature of our friendships change, which can be both disappointing and, at times, disorienting. 

Challenges Regarding Friendship in Midlife:

For one thing, our priorities change, which means that what we value and seek for in our friendships also changes. 

In addition to becoming more intuitive and selective in our friendships, it is common for women to avoid deep connections with people; a deep connection can seem scarily vulnerable. Some of these rationales might include the difficulty in finding time, thinking that you are too different to find like minded friends, the inability to trust others (which often makes us withdraw and hold back from friends), and thinking that you are too shy or uninteresting to make an effort.

At one time, we may have avoided friendship because the business of our lives — work, kids, etc. — was too demanding. However, once life shows down a bit (perhaps once kids move out of the house), we feel the absence of female friendships. This is a void that cannot be filled by a partner, family members, children, or colleagues. 

There is something so unique and special about female friendship. I believe that women in midlife need that connection in order to thrive in the second half of life. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity in terms of emotional wellbeing.

“In other words, Intentionally choose who you want to surround yourself with.”

The Inner Work Involved in Cultivating Deep, Meaningful Friendships:

One thing that’s important to understand is that our friends mirror back to us who we are. This is why friendships change and evolve (and sometimes end, that’s okay too!). As we grow and change, our circle tends to change.

So the best approach to cultivating deep connections is to be very deliberate and intentional about your friendships. In other words, intentionally choose who you want to surround yourself with. As I like to say, “It’s easier to grow when you’re in a fertile pot.” Don’t keep people in your life out of need or fear of loneliness or out of insecurity. 

Furthermore, think about who you want to be in your friendships. Think about your future: goals, values, interests, etc. Surround yourself with people who will elevate you, who reflect back to you all of the best qualities in you.

I’ve seen this so often in my own life. When I surrounded myself with people who are negative, that was how I thought and behaved as well. When I spent a lot of time with gossipers, I became insecure (because if they’re talking about everyone else behind their backs, chances are, they’re talking about you too!)

On the other hand, when I surrounded myself with people who had similar interests and goals, I felt happier and more inspired. Being able to talk about health and wellness, yoga, and travel, made me feel more engaged in conversation; and talking about our goals and dreams felt motivating. They inspire me and I inspire them. 

Levels Of Closeness:

I had to learn that not everyone needs to be in the inner circle. This changes expectations regarding friends, and provides different levels of closeness and intimacy.

  • Acquaintances: It may be nice to see them, but there is not a lot of depth in these relationships. Conversations are pleasant and light.
  • Casual friends: These are friends that you may not see often, but you enjoy their company and you have a connection with them.
  • Inner circle: These are people who you know you can rely on if/when you really need something. They will drop everything to be there for you and they value you and your friendship so much they would never dream of speaking badly about you. They only want to celebrate you and build you up. (These people are a rare treasure, which is why this circle tends to be small but mighty.)

“I had to learn that not everyone needs to be in the inner circle.”

Let me be clear, we all need all those kinds of friends (acquaintances, casual friends, and an inner circle). I’m not suggesting that, if someone isn’t a close confidant that they don’t have a place in your life. But I am suggesting that you become aware of the place that you want different people to have in your life and that you create your expectations and your boundaries accordingly.

5 Steps To Deepen Friendships In Midlife:

1. Consider What You Want In A Friend:

Who is your perfect friend? What qualities does she have? What are her values and interests?

Likely, you will not find that all in one person (which is why it’s beneficial to have those different levels of friendship). For example, you will likely have friends at work, friends in your neighborhood, friends in activities (for example – if you  play a social sport like golf or pickleball). But always be clear on the kind of person that you wish to connect with. 

2. Be Willing To Put Yourself Out There In Order To Find New Friends:

This may seem difficult, but there are definitely things you can do to make new friends (or deepen existing friendships) in midlife. Here are a few ideas:

  • Get out into the world and expose yourself to new people. This may look like signing up for a local event to find like-minded people.
  • Show up with the energy that will match and attract the people you want to connect with.Think of the kind of friend you want to attract (think values, honesty, dependability, etc.) then make sure you’re showing up as that in your interactions with others.
  • Be a friend to yourself! This may be the most important factor. Don’t look to others to validate you or make you happy. That is not a great recipe for deepening friendships in midlife. That’s not their job and if you make it their job, you’re almost sure to be disappointed. Do that for yourself and it will make your friendships a lot easier and more satisfying.
3. Value Yourself:

Know your own value and the value of your time/energy. Have standards about who you’ll invest time and energy in.

4. Filter Your Friends The Way You’d Filter A Person On A Date:

Like on a date, you may meet lots of people who you may not necessarily click with. When an interaction doesn’t result in a friendship, for whatever reason, don’t feel rejected. Not everyone is for you and you are not for everyone. And that’s okay!

When connecting with someone, ask yourself:

  • How do you feel when you’re with them? Do you like their energy/attitude?
  • Do they value the same things?
  • Will this person grow me/challenge/interest me?
  • Intuition tells you?i think we have an amazing internal guidance system that tells us whether people are a fit or not

“Not everyone is for you and you are not for everyone. And that’s okay!”

5. Think About Your “Friendship Standards,” And Expect That In Return!

For example, my friends never have to worry about me…

  • Being snarky or disrespectful (I always speak and act with respect for them)
  • Breaking a confidence
  • Stabbing them in the back
  • Dismissing them if they need me
  • Being unresponsive (by phone or by text)
  • Being resentful/jealous of their success – I celebrate my friends and their achievements (I am so proud to know such amazing and accomplished women and I am their hype girl, always!)
  • Being passive aggressive/silent treatment; I just don’t operate that way; I’m emotionally mature enough to have conversations, even when those conversations might be difficult.

And here’s the thing about these standards…I expect the same treatment in return. When they meet those standards, I value those relationships and treat them as something really special in my life. And I’m willing to walk away from those who don’t meet my standards. Period.

Be A Great Friend To Yourself:

I’ll end by saying, first and foremost…Be a great friend to yourself.

Always have your own back; value yourself, your time, your energy, and your intuition. When you do, it allows you to show up with confidence, generosity, and authenticity. And that’s a great start to deepening friendships in midlife.

Additional resources can be found in Karen’s bio below.

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Karen Viesta Color Headshot

About The Author:

Karen Viesta is a Certified Health and Lifestyle Coach who works with women in over 40 who want to transform their bodies and their lives. She is the founder of Wellegant Woman Coaching and host of the podcast, Wellegant Woman: Redefining Midlife. After going through her own midlife reinvention, Karen is passionate about helping women in midlife to age powerfully, create extraordinary health and vitality, and make each new decade even better than the last.

To dive deeper into these 10 steps and to receive additional guidance and resources, head over to Viesta’s site and download the free “Midlife Glow Up Guide: 7 Days to Your Healthiest and Most Radiant Self.” This guide is packed with practical tips, exercises and inspiration to support you on the beautiful journey toward creating a body and life you love. And if you want an incredible community of women in midlife, I encourage you to join the Wellgant Woman community HERE.