The Joys of New Friends

5 ways to keep expanding your social network

by Linda Bernstein • Next Avenue
three women laughing image

I used to think that by the time your kids flew the nest, major opportunities for meeting new people you really like winged their way out the window as well. I expected that by the time I hit 50, I’d be singing about old acquaintances all the time, not just humming a nostalgic auld lang syne chorus on New Year’s Eve.

Sure colleges had "parent" committees, but rarely were there face-to-face meetings, given that those parents were flung all over the country. And the only "new" people in the professional arena tended to be, well, more my kids' age than my own. 
Experts seem to propound this worldview. In the recent New York Times article “Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?” Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, argued that as people move toward midlife, they interact with fewer people. Hence, they make fewer friends.
Friends Keep Popping Up All Over
Well, Dr. Carstensen, here I am, old enough that people offer me their seat on the bus — and I’m meeting people I like all over the place. My social life is jacked up. Really. The other day my friend Yona came over for lunch. I know Yona through Diane, another recent friend I met through my friend Susan, who was once my boss. This morning Diane told me a silly joke that gave me a laugh exactly when I needed one. Yona recently offered needed emotional support when I made a "career" decision that some would have dubbed "unwise" but I felt relieved me of an unwanted burden. As the song says, “That’s what friends are for” — they make you laugh, and they have your back.
Then there’s my relatively new friend Amy. I sat next to her at a conference a year and a half ago, and she immediately started introducing me to everyone she knew there (a lot more people than I did), included me in her lunch plans, and has become a generous colleague and one of the people I love spending time with. The thing about Amy is that she’s not quite young enough to be my daughter, but almost. (If, like Loretta Lynn, I had been married off as a teen, she would be.)
Sure, there’s a bit of a generation gap between us: She has school-age kids, and mine are solidly in their 20s. But my “grandma” and “mom” poles seem to be demagnetized when she tells stories about her boys. I am amused or bemused — a friend response. When I worry out loud about my young adult offspring, she doesn’t overempathize with them; it’s me she relates to and cares about.

This is another surprise: New friends can be quite younger — and older — than I am. When you're 30, a 10-year age difference seems a chasm. It is, after all, one-third of your life. Now that I'm over 50, 40 seems not so far back; 65 not so far ahead. Ann, whom I met running around the reservoir in New York's Central Park, has grandchildren not so much younger than my kids, but she can run at my pace and keep up a conversation, largely recounting the previous night's comedic monologues. (Which means I have developed the capacity to laugh and run at the same time.)  
These new friends aren’t only of the female persuasion — though I believe that if you’re married and a new male friend isn’t part of a “friendship couple,” it may be harder for the two of you to hang out. Yet I can spend hours on Skype with Maxwell, who lives on the West Coast, without making my husband jealous because (a) Maxwell is all of 40, married to a dynamite woman and clearly not interested in me in “that way,” and (b) we talk about things like html code and subjects way too tech-geeky to enthrall the philosophy professor I married.
When Maxwell was in town recently and we met for a drink, my husband begged off, knowing he would be bored, bored, bored and confident that nothing would happen IRL. 

(MORE: Why Girlfriends Are Good for a Woman’s Health)
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Photo courtesy of Kurhan /

First Published Fri, 2012-10-12 16:03

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