The Friendship Curve: Friends at Forty

Today is week three in a 40-something woman’s six-week journal of her “time out”. After quitting her job and spending time with her parents, she is continuing to capture what she is experiencing now and how it’s different from her 20s. Today she is writing about friendships at 40 vs. 20. Friends are another thing that get better with age.


In addition to spending time with my parents, my mini-retirement is affording me more time to visit friends – some from high school I haven’t seen in 20 years and others from undergrad with whom I’ve stayed in close touch over the years. In both cases, I’m experiencing something I consider a great benefit of getting older, and that’s the fact that friendships are so much richer, and more rewarding in different ways from your 20s.

As with any relationship, the longer you know somebody, the easier it is to relate and a large part of some friendships might be based on shared history and experiences – that part, while a nice byproduct of the ever-increasing number of birthday candles, is not what I’m talking about. What I’m trying to describe, what I didn’t ever suspect when I was in my 20s is that because people become more comfortable in their own skin as they get older, they also become more capable of being better friends – we become more honest, more direct, more empathetic – and more sympathetic when there’s cause – and better listeners than any 20 year old.

Why? There’s the comfort in your skin element, so the posturing and bullshit of trying to impress anyone with what you’ve accomplished falls away.  You recognize your life isn’t perfect, and nobody else’s life is perfect; it is wonderfully refreshing to be able to laugh about what’s working (and what isn’t working) with complete candor.  You see this in high school and college reunions:  the 5 and 10 years can be awful because people are trying to prove themselves and by the 15 and 20 reunions, people have largely shed the need to impress and instead engage in real, meaningful conversations with old friends.


Friendships also improve from the need for efficiency:  in your 40s you become acutely aware that life is way too short and way too busy and you seek out and invest in friendships that matter. With work, marriage and children, there’s less time and when you have the extra hour or the one weekend to get away in, you want to spend it with pals who truly care about you and vice-versa.  You’ll find that you seek out those friends who are honest with themselves and, in turn, can be honest with you, and you’ll find yourself ever thankful for the friends who can listen without judging – which is the gold star, mack-daddy payoff of growing up and into better friendship.


My advice to 20-somethings is to pay attention to your friendships sooner, and every once in a while, do nothing but listen — make it a priority to stop talking about yourself and simply listen. Because the more you know about your friends now, the more you’re going to appreciate who they are 20 year from now.


Thank you!  I love that last point. You and your friends are both likely to grow and change in 20 years and there is nothing like having someone there who let you grow and knows what you have been through to get there!


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