Dorothy had Blanche and Rose. Rachel and Ross had Monica and Chandler, Phoebe and Joey. Even in TV land, writers recognize the value of friendship, and the idea that one person can't fulfill every friendship need.
Unfortunately, as you grow older, the friendship thing doesn't work out quite as well as it used to. Kids, jobs and life often get in the way of forging and keeping real connections. The urgency I felt in my 20s, when every overture from a new beau required a 30-minute analysis with a friend over the phone, is gone. Or there's just not time for it. Perhaps it's that people simply grow more discerning as time becomes more scarce.
It's an interesting process, reaching such a level of self-awareness that you finally realize which friendships deserve tending -- and which are a drag. As someone who considers her friendships as life-sustaining as water, it's been difficult to take a hard look at the relationships I've cultivated through the decades and to realize, with a heavy heart, that they're not all going to last.
So what kinds of friends do I want to hang onto? After giving it some thought, I came up with the following list.
1. Friends who are up for anything.
Earlier this month, I went with five girlfriends to a Dirty Girl Mud Run in Pennsylvania. It's an event that requires you to negotiate a course of obstacles, many of which are filled or covered with mud. Those obstacles -- spread out across a 5K pathway through the woods -- included tunnels, a huge Slip 'N Slide and a fire pit you had to jump over. A lot of middle-aged women wouldn't go for this. But a few of my adventurous friends did -- and I love them for it. It was wonderful to get down and dirty, and to push myself physically, with a bunch of women wiling to try something outside their comfort zone.
2. Friends who are upbeat.
You know the opposite of this type: The Debbie Downers. They are those folks who ruminate over every little problem in their life again and again -- and yet never make one move to change their situation. People who are positive and motivated and who lift up those around them are worth hanging on to. I have one friend who never fails to smile when she sees me. Her husband lost his job and she has no idea how they will afford their kid's college expenses, but she remains upbeat, certain things will turn around. I cherish that.
3. Friends who are loyal.
Let's face it: it's so much easier to be judgmental than to remain silent when someone is spreading gossip about a friend. I'm fortunate enough to have at least a few people in my life who I believe are sincerely and openly happy for me when something nice occurs. They don't talk about me behind my back, but rather they watch and revel in my glory -- without an inkling of bitterness -- and I do the same for them. After all, loyalty is a two-way street.
4. Friends who make the effort.
It's taken me about five decades to fully realize how important friends are who make an effort. In at least a few of my friendships, I've been the one who's thought "oh, I haven't talked to so-and-so in awhile" and then I reach out. I've often wondered whether these friendships would simply go up in smoke if I stopped getting in touch. I know people are busy. I'm busy. But it only takes a minute to shoot a text or email to someone or to pick up a phone, if you are one of the rare few who still remember the fine art of conversation.
5. Friends who are honest.
This may be the hardest friend to come by. The person who will rip off your rose-colored glasses and tell you, "Stop already. This guy isn't good for you. Move on." I recently had a good friend tell me that I seriously needed to lose weight. Talk about a kick in the gut! But once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor, I realized she was a good enough friend to tell me the truth. The fact that someone had noticed my weight gain -- and then had the courage to say something about it -- made me double up my effort to get fit. If you find someone who will tell you the truth, in an honest attempt to help, hang on to them for dear life.
Have your own ideas about friendship in midlife? Let us know in comments.
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