What we need from our friendships changes as we grow older, and EMER McLYSAGHT says this is a good thing. Just imagine the possibilities...
"I need new friends," I quietly decided to myself a while back. "I definitely need new friends." If there were the opening lines of a teen rom com, you would- probably correctly- assume that the protagonist had recently been horribly and dramatically wronged by all of her closest allies; stabbed in the back, betrayed by her most trusted confidante, left to eat lunch alone in a bathroom cubicle.
Alas, I am not a teen. Far, far from it, in fact. And my friends remain perfectly lovely and would never let me eat my chicken fillet roll in a pissy toilet. But I needed new ones.
You see, at some point in the transition into true adulthood (which I maintain is now somewhere in your mid-thirties, given that our generation is doing everything later than the generations that came before) your relationships change. Marriages, partnerships and families mature and bed in. People become more time-poor and their priorities alter. Your interests and social structures diverge and mutate. Maybe you’re single and most people close to you have settled down. Maybe you’re a new mam and you need other mams to tell you you’re not the only one who cried in the middle of Tesco last Tuesday. Maybe the binge drinking of your twenties isn’t quite what you have in mind five nights a week anymore. Maybe you’re lucky and your friend group has matured and evolved right along with you and you don’t think you have space for anyone new in your life. But isn’t it a wonderful possibility all the same?
Making new friends later in life can be a skill, a challenge, a delightful accident or a necessity. For some, it might be as simple as looking for new people to hang out with now that everyone else is shacked up with their Seamuses or their Padraigs or their Siobháns. For others, it can be a continuing slog of trying to combat years of isolation or loneliness. For me, it’s a combination of factors. My recently acquired therapist (I’ve tried to make her my new best friend, but she tells me it’s inappropriate) has recommended that I need to be more present, to live more in the moment, to do things that I truly enjoy. I’m working on identifying those things and diligently trying to recruit my current friends to do them with me, but I’m also now on the lookout for new pals to forge forward in life with. I’ve taken up sea swimming with a friend of a friend. I’ve reached out to people whose company I’ve enjoyed in the past but were always just acquaintances. I’ve cultivated online friendships and solidi ed them in real life. I feel excited and rewarded and energised.
Of course, it’s not all as easy as that. I feel a little guilty sometimes. Am I actively abandoning some old and loyal friends?
No, not really, I tell myself. Reconnecting is as easy as a text or a call. I know where they are, and they know where I am. The
Girls From Home and our 25 years of memories will always be there. The Dublin gang might be spreading out and hunkering down, but I know where they are. The pals I met working in radio a decade ago continue to bring me joy with our gossipy WhatsApps and biannual boozy dinners. So, I bat away the guilt and focus more on the positives and the possibilities
Of course, it’s not always easy. As people mature, loneliness and isolation can deepen and become more di cult to escape. A recent study in the UK showed that nine million adults there are often or always lonely. In Ireland, it a affects one in ten people. The lines of communication are so open digitally that face-to-face meetings and gatherings have become more and more obsolete. “How can I make friends?”, people type into Google, already tensing up at the idea of having to interact with strangers or stepping out of their comfort zones. To those people, I would pass on my therapist’s advice: make a list of the things you truly enjoy and go and do those things. Maybe you’ll have to challenge yourself and do them alone for a while, but chances are you’ll meet some like-minded folks. Join an app like Bumble, which isn’t just for dating, but for friendship too. Follow people you like on Instagram and message them. If they don’t reply, it’s their loss. If they do, it’s a potential new friend.
One of my biggest inspirations when it comes to new friends is my mam. Widowed in her early sixties and facing the third act of her life without her best pal by her side, she’s made a decent fist of it. She’s been nonchalantly dropping new names for years now; “Joan” this and “Maura” that. She’s joined classes and gone on trips and most importantly, she’s said “yes” to new opportunities. Another inspiration is my friend Louise, who had a baby and realised what a lot of new mothers realise: she needed people on her wavelength. She needed the Tesco criers and the night feeders and the women who wouldn't judge her no matter what.
As for me, I'm getting into hiking and swimming and the occasional jaunt to the local bingo hall. Any takers?
Emer McLysaght is co-author of the bestselling The Importance of Being Aisling: Country Roads, Take Her Home with Sarah Breen (Gill Books, €14.99)