THE EMPTYNEST YEARS
Your children have gone to university or maybe you have recently divorced. You have time again, but it can feel like too much time. “The major problem women have in making new friends at this stage is falling prey to the myth that it’s too late because everyone already has the friends they want,” says Irene Levine, founder of thefriendshipblog.com and a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. “Nothing is further from the truth. Friendships are dynamic; as people’s circumstances change, so do their friendships.” At this stage in life, you might find sharing confidences – a key component to friendship – is especially hard. If you are married, it may feel as though you are betraying a partner by confiding in someone new. Or you might be wary as you have gathered more vulnerabilities over the years – mistakes, redundancy, illness.
THE SOLUTION Turning to old friends is a good call, but Levine warns against unrealistic expectations. “Don’t assume you’ll be able to pick up where you left off. You might find one of you has
‘don’t get too chummy too soon. Friendships develop over time’
changed or you’ve both changed,” she says. Start with an email or phone call. If you agree to see each other, keep your initial get-together short and meet on neutral turf. Begin by talking about people or places you had in common (if you feel nervous, bring old photos), then try to find things you share now. Ask questions about your friend’s life, but don’t pry. If you no longer connect in the same way, remember there are other people in a similar situation who you’ve yet to meet. As for making new friends, Levine says: “From my experience, the willingness to share confidences and form intimate friendships is more likely to be a matter of personality than age. Many women grow more confident with age and are open to new friendships.” They might, however, need to relearn how to form them. “Smile, be friendly and be prepared to make the first move,” says Levine, “but don’t get too chummy too soon. Friendships develop over time and you don’t want to frighten someone off.” If you’re shy, join a group such as Toastmasters, which teaches people how to give talks, to improve your people skills. Finally, don’t expect any one person to meet all your needs. You might go to the theatre with one friend, have great chats with another and work out with someone else.