Straight through college, you likely relied largely on one pool from which to fish for your closest friends: School. Everyone was about the same age and more or less at the same life stage: Unmarried, maybe uncoupled, and few if any kids. You easily found people who liked what you liked, saw the world through a similar prism, and shared your interests. Then you hit the brick wall known as graduation and your circle of friends scattered to the four corners.
We're not going to lie. Friendship often gets trickier as you get older. Here are six things you should know.
1. Marriage changes a lot, but kids change everything.
Just because you're married doesn't mean you stop watching games with the guys or going out for drinks after work with the girls. Time apart from your mate is actually a healthy thing for both you and the marriage. But when you have kids, that freedom is quickly curtailed.
Kids, especially when they are young, are 24/7 maintenance deals. And who hasn't been in this situation: You invite a single friend over for dinner and she shows up with a bottle of wine and wanting to give you the blow-by-blow of her latest breakup -- only you haven't even showered yet. You haven't even begun the dinner you promised to cook because the kids are bouncing off the walls, demanding attention.
What often happens is that moms wind up befriending other moms. And that's who you wind up spending more time with, even if it's at the playground. Single friends no longer understand your life. The good news is that many stick around even though you are on divergent paths. But other moms are the adults you see the most.
2. Work place friends are colleagues, and not always lasting friends.
While you are working as part of a team and spending long hours together, it's easy to become close to your co-workers. In some cases, the friendship spills over to outside the office. But once you leave the job, those relationships tend to drift apart. For one, your new job may take you to a new city. For another, you replace the old coworkers in your life with a new set. News of the old office is fun and titillating to hear for a while, but eventually you stop caring.
3. Retirement truly alters friendships.
Ask any new retiree what happened to the people from work that he or she ate lunch with five times a week and they'll scratch their head. When retirees revisit the old work place after being gone for awhile, initially there are lots of warm greetings and hugs and then you know what happens? The people working actually have to get back to work. If they make a repeat visit in five years they are likely to see many unfamiliar faces.
The happiest retirees are the ones who have figured out how to fill their days with something meaningful. That can include spending time with others who have time to spend with you -- other retirees. Friendships post-retirement tend to be based around common interests and projects. It's also why many people choose to live in a retirement community where there are lots of activities to join.
4. Making friends as a couple trumps making friends on your own.
Having couples to do things with can add a lot to a relationship. And there are studies to prove it. Researchers recently found that couple friendships make a marriage more fulfilling and for many reasons, such as allowing partners to observe ways that other couples interact and negotiate differences. And yet it can be tricky business. Just because you get along with someone doesn't mean the dynamic between your partners is going to work.
In short, this "matchmaking for two" means you are not only concerned about whether, say, the other woman likes you, but you're also concerned about whether the husband likes your husband -- and also that you like the other husband and that your husband likes the other wife. Complicated? Yes. Worth it? Most definitely.
The only downside: Couple friendships mean you may have to take sides if the other pair gets divorced.
5. Many friends are a lot older -- or a lot younger.
When you're in your early 20s, having a friend who is 35 can seem, well, a bit weird. But once you hit middle age it's not unusual to form bonds with people who are decades older or decades younger. Both can be equally rewarding. Not only can you learn from someone who's gone through a lot more triumphs and tragedies than you, but you also can learn things -- even if it's just who's trending that day on Twitter -- from someone who could biologically be your child.
Having friends of all different ages can give you a richer life perspective. If someone's kind and interesting, who cares how old they are?
6. Virtual friends you've never met sometimes turn out to be real friends.
What makes a true friendship? As we grow older, our answer to this question may change. When we were in our early 20s, a true friend was someone you stayed up all night with, drowning your sorrows while downing one or two bottles of wine. Now that we're older, we realize you can have an inexplicable connection with someone you've never met. We have work associates, for example, who live across the country. We've only spoken to them over the phone or on Gchat. Yet we've shared a lot about ourselves with these people and have come to rely on them for moral support.
You can talk to online friends every day. They keep you company when you're faced with a boring afternoon at work. At times you may actually feel even closer to virtual friends than you do the friends you have dinner with once a week as it can be easier to share personal information with someone who's never met your spouse and kids.