If you feel bereft of friends, you're not alone.
Women are often stressed to the limit while they're simultaneously juggling careers and caring for children and/or aging parents. During those busy years, spending time with friends may feel like a self-indulgent luxury. Yet later, when we reach our 50s and finally get a reprieve from some of these responsibilities, we may suddenly discover that our list of close friends has dwindled to only a few or is virtually nonexistent.
It's true that many friendships shift with the seasons of our lives. Friendships we thought would last forever are left behind after we graduate high school and college. Young mothers form fast but sometimes fleeting friendships with the parents of their children's friends. And it's common for women who work outside the home to develop close bonds with their workplace colleagues, with whom they spend so many hours.
But after their kids leave the nest or they stop working, women may find themselves drifting apart from friendships that turn out to have been situational -- linked more closely to being at the same place at the same time than to feeling like kindred spirits. When we lose common ground, relationships don't always mesh the way they once did.
Others may find that the friendships they've maintained have begun to feel too stifling, complicated or unsatisfying. A feeling of loneliness creeps in and they wish they had at least one friendship that was comfortable and easy, someone to call at the last minute to go for a walk or catch a chick flick -- a friendship that's spontaneous rather than one that needs to be scheduled weeks or months in advance.
But it's definitely not too late. In face, the timing may be perfect. Here are a few suggestions about how and where to find that special kind of friend:
1. Pursue your interests.
Making friends is more a function of circumstances rather than age, per se. No one is more attractive to others than someone who is engaged in life. Whether you join a gym, take an art course, sign up for dancing lessons or volunteer at a nonprofit, find something that stirs your passions and places you in regular contact with the same people week after week. Friendships will follow.
2. Initially, look for acquaintances rather than close friends.
Every best friendship starts off with the exchange of a smile, question or comment. Best friends don't grow on trees and real relationships take time to nurture. As two people get to know each other, the layers peel away until they fall into a comfortable groove. Don't fall prey to expecting too much too soon or act too needy; give deep friendships a chance to blossom by being open and honest.
3. Join a group or several groups.
Become active in your community: There is life after the PTA and scouting. Can you become a friend of the library? Participate in local government by serving on a committee of one sort or the other? Join an existing book group or cooking club, or start one of your own. Go to www.meetup.com to find out about various interest groups; they are catalogued there by zip code.
4. Turn your virtual friendships into real ones.
Perhaps you are spending too much time behind your computer screen. Find out if any of your online friendships have the potential to be face-to-face ones. Do some of your Twitter or Facebook friends live nearby? As an added bonus, reducing the amount of time you spend online will give you more time and motivation for forming real friendships.
5. Reframe your thinking.
Perhaps you have been limited by looking for people who look just like you. You can expand your pool and might be better off seeking out people who are little bit different, in terms of age or lifestyle. Is there an elderly neighbor on your block who might welcome your company, or a young mother who would love to have some adult companionship once in a while? Intergenerational friendships yield valuable payoffs on both sides.
Many women are lulled into thinking that midlife is too late to make friends and that everyone else is paired up already, just like the twosomes on the Ark. But if you look around, you'll find that there are other women as hungry for friendship as you are. Now is just the right time to make friends for the rest of your life.
Dr. Levine is the author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. She is also the creator/producer of an online advice blog for women. Have a friendship problem or dilemma? Check out the forums on The Friendship Blog.