Friendships with other women aren’t just important to Jackie, as she journeys through midlife; they pretty much mean everything to her. “I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned about midlife is that the more you talk to other women, the better you feel,” the 50-year-old writer and speaker explains. “And, sure, you might spend a lot of time complaining to one another about some of the more negative aspects of midlife. Misery loves company, and all that. But there’s something to be said for how good it feels to know that you’re not alone, whatever it is you might be dealing with. It’s so important to not just suffer in silence. You need some kind of support. You shouldn’t feel like you have to go through this alone.”
And here’s something else that’s worth noting: it isn’t healthy to travel through life alone—not at midlife and not at any other life stage. There’s a solid body of research to demonstrate that loneliness can increase your risk of illness and even premature death. In fact, it’s as bad for your health as smoking!
And if you’re counting on a partner to be your buffer against late-in-life loneliness, you might want to hedge your bets a little by investing in friendships as well. According to a 2019 study published in Psychology and Aging, the current generation of older adults is less likely than previous generations of older adults to rely on a romantic partner for social support and more likely to rely on friends.
Of course, you don’t have to wait until the future to start reaping the benefits of these all-important friendships. You can start reaping the rewards in the here and now. Lola, a 44-year-old writer and single mother, really values the frank and honest conversations she is able to have with a trusted group of friends, conversations that celebrate the joys and acknowledge the struggles of this particular life stage. “Increasingly it’s this core group of friends that get me through this. These women know everything. They’re the women I talk to about the fact that I’ve been constipated since child number two was born—the fact that nothing’s ever working properly downstairs.” These conversations help to counter the too-perfect images of midlife that she keeps bumping up against in other areas of her life, whether she’s flipping through the pages of a magazine or scrolling through social media. “There’s a glossy veneer over everything, but that’s not how life actually is. Real life is messy and weird. And maybe if we were able to admit that a little more often, we’d feel better about our lives.” That’s what these friendships do for her: remind her that she’s not the only person finding midlife messy or hard.
Sandra also considers these kinds of soul-nourishing friendships to be the emotional equivalent of a life raft at midlife. “Friends are so essential,” the 50-year-old freelance communications consultant and mother explains. “I am so blessed with friends who have supported me, laughed with me and cried with me. I am so happy to have friends from high school still in my life, and the amazing gift of new friendships with strong, supportive, creative, amazing women. Friendships are golden, and women at midlife need them more than ever.”
Paige, 52, has been able to tap into that support on a daily basis, while weathering a series of painful personal storms this past year: the loss of her job, her spouse’s mental health crisis, and, more recently, her decision to end her marriage. Lately, she’s been thinking a lot about the far-reaching impact of that support and what it means to both give and receive love as a friend. “I hoped that one thing that midlife would bring is strength in relationships, and it has,” she explains. “I have an incredible community of women: friends as well as my sister. I’m surrounded by women and connected with women who hold me up when I don’t think I can keep going. There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by since this crisis began that I haven’t received a phone call, a text message, an email, a card in the mail, a basket of care products—just so much beauty. It’s the first time I’ve really been on the receiving end of that much love. I think that’s the gift of midlife for women: if you have cultivated and nurtured your relationships with other women, you are never alone.”
And chances are, your own personal learning and growth over the years have given you the capacity to be a better friend. “I do a lot more listening than I do talking at this point in my life,” says Shauna, 53. “I listen to other women, and I support them. I no longer feel like we’re in competition with one another. And I’m also just a lot more authentic. I feel like the filters have really come off.”
Claire, forty, agrees. “I love and give with fewer strings attached, not because I want something in return but because I’m grateful for what I have.”
Excerpt from Navigating the Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women, by Ann Douglas©. Published 2022, by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
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