‘The beauty of making friends when you’re older is you can bring years of experiences’
03rd Feb 2024
In a world where we’ve all been mostly isolated for two years, we’ve been forced to reassess how our friends fit into the “new” versions of ourselves, and our lives. Suzie Coen feels lucky that she happened to find a new pal who already feels like an everlasting one.
I have made a new friend. It sounds ridiculous, saying that out loud as an adult, doesn’t it? It’s the sort of thing a seven-year-old declares after a party when she’s had too many fizzy cola bottles. When I talk (okay, wax lyrical) about my new friend L to everyone in my life, I’m aware they’re rolling their eyes and trying very hard not to laugh at me.
Frankly, I’m quite surprised to find myself in possession of such a high-quality new friend at this stage of my life, because I already have a lovely group of male and female pals. I wasn’t looking for something different from the sound people who’ve been there with me through the rites of passage life throws at you. But it’s quite joyous having someone new to make you think, “I must tell L that” or “L would love to see/read that or go there”; someone who hasn’t heard all your stories, whose memories are not intertwined with mine, and whose life is a delicious mystery to me.
L and I bonded in an hour-long queue to give our condolences for a particularly tragic loss at a country wake in January 2020. The intense emotion of the occasion plus the palpable urgency to live life that one feels at a funeral meant there was no room for small talk. We dived right in. Back and forth we went on topics (light and dark), sharing and oversharing, and it was both thrilling and comforting. There was no peer pressure or trying to fit in. It was just about meeting someone who you think is really great and funny and interesting and they like you back and it felt so easy.
Two months later, the pandemic arrived and it irrevocably changed all kinds of friendships and relationships. Some of them combusted under pressure, others just faded in an unremarkable way. How well you know someone doesn’t correlate with how long you’ve known them; having someone’s number for decades doesn’t automatically mean they’ll pick up. But the beautiful flip side is that it also pressed fast forward on new relationships. Friendships aren’t static – you have to put in effort to make them breathe. But at their best, it’s doesn’t feel like an effort. That’s what happened with us.
We leapfrogged from “casual” to “committed” with a speed and ease that felt inevitable – I think it would be impossible to not be delighted with L. Her resting face is a giddy grin and she answers every phone call with an excited smile (you can actually hear it). We share the same dark humour and we’ve bonded over the oddest things, often over what we hate. I think you make friends precisely because they can’t stick the same things as you, whether that’s cycling holidays or almond milk lattes. I’m pretty sure that’s what friendship is, day to day: checking in to update the list of things that offend and annoy, and confirm that you’re on the same page, together. L is also an Olympian listener, and you couldn’t shock her. I’ve lost count of the number of times during lockdown when I rang her up seething about something or someone and asked, “Can I give out? I’m raging with X!” Her default response? “Always. Tell me all.” There are no barriers with L. We both quite like wading into the sticky textural emotional sides of our lives, and there’s never any judgement. She’s become one of the people in my life whom I trust to see me whole and with holes, flawed and floored – she knows my mighty faults and loves me anyway. And the feeling is mutual.
We may not have had the normal foundation for a friendship (we’ve only had a handful of nights out), restricted as we were to meeting for intensely chatty strolls like it was the Victorian era. But we’ve built what feels like a very modern one. Forming a new friendship in later life has been surprisingly exciting. Getting to know L fills me with a lighthearted joy – it’s weirdly uplifting and unexpected. You can set the ground rules early on and avoid the pitfalls you may have encountered in previous friendships. And this is the age of WhatsApp and Instagram, so we can be in each other’s moments much more easily than in the days when friendship was more time-consuming – now it has a lighter touch. Making a fresh start with someone new at this stage of life also means there’s none of the guilt about not seeing each other enough, not being there for crucial personal moments, or perhaps mishandling things as you may have done in the past without the benefit of all this “maturing”. Sometimes I’m struck by how complicated long-term female relationships can become in comparison to the simplicity of a new friendship. Perhaps you don’t have to have known someone for years to connect so strongly, and maybe it is possible to lighten the emotional load of current friendships so they feel as easy as a new one? I think one of the biggest fibs we’re fed is that your friends are set in stone from an early age. But we evolve and grow all the time. I’m more discerning about who I let into my life now – but when I’m in, I’m in. Although you share mythologies, mistakes and memories with friends you’ve known for decades, the beauty of making friends when you’re older is you can bring years of experiences and layers or respect to the relationship. Naively, I used to think that I’d be “fully formed” by midlife; but I see now, you never are. I am not at full capacity for friends, connection, love. And how fabulous is that?
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 Issue of IMAGE Magazine.
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