The Fragility of Friendships

I first posted this several years ago.  I am now 82.  I came across it while surfing through my old posts, looking for fodder for a new poetry project.  I thought it is worth reposting — with some editing.

Making friends is easier when you are young.  The potentials are all around you — at school, in the neighborhood, your church, your teams.  If you are lucky, some of those friends stay with you throughout your life.  

Such is not necessarily the case as you get older, move, find a new job, get married. If you are lucky, you find new friends wherever you are.  I was lucky for decades after I settled into a job and a community and joined organizations with like minded folks.  For forty plus years, although I lived alone, I was rarely lonely.  I had a group of women friends who gave my life the kinds of rich interactions described by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in this video.  Watching the video stirred up in me profound feelings of loss; I left  all of my friends behind when I moved to a new state to live with my family.  I call it my “assisted living”, and there are great advantages for an 80 year old to live alongside  kind and nurturing offspring.

But as wonderful as family can be, they are not my close friends — the five women (originally six) in the photo strip.  For. 40 years, we shared events, feelings, frustrations, vacations; We all were without partners at the time (although some came and went, pretty much operating on the periphery of our female friendship).

The first photo shows us in our glory days. I was the oldest– in my mid-forties.  The youngest was 10 years my junior.  While our personal histories were different, we shared the common grounds of politics, agnosticism, irreverence toward authority, an appreciation of belly-laughs, and a need to have fun.  We met when I ran a discussion group for single women.

Over the decades, the dynamics of our group changed, as one distanced herself, one (who often chose playing golf to hanging around with us) also fell off our radar.

Eventually there were only three of us to continue the friendship.  And then I moved away.  I still keep in touch with the two I left behind, but it’s not the same.  No longer face-to-face, it’s more difficult to hold onto that feeling of intimate connection.  Now one of the two is battling breast cancer.  I recognize that change is a part of life, but there are some things I wish hadn’t changed.

I left my old life 20 years ago to become my mother’s caregiver.  Ten years ago, I moved to live with family.  Since I moved, I’ve made several efforts to find friends.  I have made one close friend.  Am I spoiled by the intimate and supportive close friendships I had in the past and so I am not as open as I once was?  

Part of the truth is — while I want to have friends and to have some fun — I am tired of the effort it takes to find kindred spirits at this point in my life.  At age 80, I am also physically tired, with aching knees and a non-fixable torn rotator cuff.   I am resorting to trying the Rummikub player group at a local senior center.  It was a game my former group of friends used to get together and play, armed with several bottles of wine.  Lots of fun and laughter.

Is this what it’s like for many single women over 75 who find themselves severed from their former lives?  I would like to start an older women’s discussion group (I was really into the consciousness raising groups of the 1970s).  The challenge is to find some women with the same need. And senior centers around here don’t seem to be a place to find them.

There are so many things we don’t appreciate until we don’t have them any more.  Close friends fall into that category.

Go and watch Tomlin and Fonda.



6 thoughts on “The Fragility of Friendships

  1. Although just over 30 years younger, I find myself in the same situation. Where I once was able to host events and a dozen friends show up I am now down really to 1. There is a significant difference between virtual friends and friends that actually take the time to call or even show up to check in. I was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure almost 2 years ago. Although dialysis does make me feel better, friends have rapidly disappeared into the background. (Like that gif of Homer Simpson disappearing into a bush lol) One of my closest friends told me she no longer wanted to be friends because of the “negativity in my life as she was trying to surround herself with positivity.” Which was code for kidney disease.
    What I’ve learned is that our physical limitations impact most people’s willingness to connect. If friendship doesn’t come easily with no additional effort required, most won’t sustain contact beyond public virtue signalling on platforms like Facebook.
    I miss the days of getting together with the gang and laughing.
    Post transplant, whenever that call comes, I plan to throw myself back into the social scene. Though it will be with a different perspective.

    • That friend who says you are too negative, is not worth having as a friend. True friends stand with you as you go through the bad stuff that sends the dark clouds to follow you. I am not struggling with the same kind of major health issue that you are. But my aches and pains — and my crazy sleep schedule — make it pretty impossible to get out and socialize. I do a Zoom with two of my local friends who are just as friend-starved as I am. I wonder if you would like to join us. We do it Sundays at 6:30 pm ET, but we are flexible. Are we are always looking for other kindred spirits who would like to join us. It’s just one way to feel some connections when the usual ways are not available. Think about it.

  2. This rings so true. In the last yes’s 3 of my best friends died. And even tho I have lived down south for 27 years, I haven’t found a way to replace the depth of friendships I one had. Maybe it’s chronic illness. Maybe I’m walking myself off more as I seem to like and tolerate people less. It makes me sad. A kind of sad I know can’t be undone because those friends aren’t coming back. I feel you, blog sister. Sending love

  3. What you describe is so true about the challenges in forming friendships in our older years. Many have observed the same on my blog when the subject has come up. Senior center where I live has proven to be a disappointment in that regard, too, I found. Additionally, my longtime friends here have either moved away, died or both — the price of living longer than them, I guess. Even distant friends made in various places I’ve lived around the country have dwindled for the same reason plus most of my family. I often am reminded of words a long deceased friend wrote me once from the east coast, “There are no friends like old friends.”

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