One of the most surprising things about hitting my late-thirties stride is looking back on how becoming a parent has changed my life. At 38, I'm a busy, working mother of a two-year-old. I make time to date my husband, read a book or two and even get in a workout when I can. But somewhere along the way, my attention shifted away from me and became laser-focused on my family. I have slowly come to the conclusion that one very fundamental change has occurred in my life: I am no longer the center of my universe.
About the time I had my son, my happiness meter shifted from being about me to being about someone else. Even when I got married, my individual happiness remained intact. We created a sort of concentric happiness together. I often read that's how therapists classify marriage: there are two individuals and then a third overlapping entity that's the marriage itself. Before my son, that's what life was like. After my son, his needs were the most important thing in my life. It's not that there wasn't room for me; it just stopped occurring to me that I had needs at all.
And of course, this is totally typical. Perhaps it's even a part of some evolutionary mystery that helps us to let go of our selfish ways so that our offspring can thrive. It's also temporary. At some point, I woke up and realized that something very basic was missing from my life: me.
To be a whole person, I needed to remember that I still existed inside the chaos of new parenthood. Also, I think there may be something to having kids after 35 that is truly identity-shifting in a way that's different from having kids at 22. But that's for another article.
My first instinct when I had this realization was to call up my girlfriends for a "girls' night out." However, it quickly became clear that all of my friends were in the exact same boat as I was. Some of them were "experienced" parents, and others were just getting started. Wherever they were in their awareness about being happy, it was clear that it didn't include a night out with drinks and a cab ride home. Not to mention that none of us relished the reality of waking up with our kids and a hangover.
Fast forward a few months and the girls' night never happened. My friends and I, while still close, communicate primarily on Facebook. We talk about the elusive chick date we're going to have "one day," but the truth is that we're all busy mommies. So, if my friends who love me dearly don't have time for me, what's a girl to do? I needed to make new friends. But the mammoth question was how.
There's no easy way, once you're over a certain age, to do this. Most of us are not members of many organized groups. Even if we go to church, 12-step meetings, work in an office, volunteer in the community or work with the local sports teams, the focus of those activities is not necessarily on "making friends." And time being short, we're often swat-teaming in and out of such activities. The time needed to nurture friendships isn't there. How does one make friends when they're over 35?
Here are five tips for creating new adult friendships:
- Like attracts like. If you want to find other people who are looking for friends, you have to be open to meeting them. Practice striking up conversations with people you know but are not close with. Talk about things you have in common, like your kids, and then move the conversation to a more personal place and talk about yourself. Ask questions to discover what you have in common and see if there's a mutual need/interest in forming a friendship. You don't want to be a reporter and only ask questions. Take the risk to reveal things about yourself; after all, real intimacy is a give and take.
- You're most likely to find friends in social settings that are interesting to you. While you may enjoy working the booth at your kid's soccer game, it's not the same as going to an event where people are discussing issues you love. Try www.meetup.com to find local ideas, and if you don't find one you like, consider creating your own. You might be surprised to find out how many people are interested in the same book you're reading or your favorite hobby.
- You get out of life what you put into it, and friendships are no different. Once you find people you are interested in, try reaching out a few times. People can be shy, distracted and may mistake your overture as simple kindness. Also, you never know when someone's having a bad day. By reaching out a second or third time, you may find they're more interested in connecting and that they appreciate your efforts to get to know them.
- Consider alternative resources like Facebook and Twitter. I know this may sound a little counterintuitive because we're talking about face-to-face friendships, but social sites are excellent places to practice. I've met several people on Twitter with whom I'd be tied at the hip if we lived in the same city. As it is, we'll settle for being virtual soul sisters. @kirasabin and @susangiurleo, you two know what I'm talking about!
- Revive friendships that may have been placed on the back burner. Scroll through your e-mail, Facebook or even your high school yearbook to find people you've lost touch with. With the invention of social media, most of us have found our long-lost sixth-grade buddies by now. Once you connect, take the extra step to invite them out for coffee/lunch. You can also host a play date and invite their kids to come along. Often kids can act as the easy topic of conversation to help you connect and explore rekindling your friendship.
No one ever said growing older would be easy; personally, I just never knew that I'd have to revisit building friendships as an adult. But, now that I have, I'm pleased to find that it's just as much fun to have a call with a girlfriend today (or chat or tweet) as it was when I was 16. And while I don't have to watch what I say so that my mom doesn't hear it, I do have to worry about my two-year-old repeating my colorful conversation to the kids at daycare. Somehow, it's all the same.