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Can Long-Term Friendships Endure in Later Life?

By Alexandra Kathryn Mosca February 10, 2024 Lifestyle

Our girlfriends see us through the best and worst of life. In times of heartbreak, failure, and success, they are there for us. We share each other’s innermost secrets and celebrate special times together. These friendships, which can be so essential to our well-being and sometimes span decades, are ones we are sure will endure.

So, why is it that just when these friendships seem to have stood the test of time, they end – sometimes abruptly, and without explanation?

And when relationships break up for what seem to be trivial reasons, it leaves us to wonder whether we ever had a real friendship at all. Surely, it seems counterintuitive to let a friendship we’ve invested so much of our lives into fall by the wayside.

It Happened to Me

Several years ago, a longtime friendship of mine ended for what seemed to be the most inexplicable of reasons.

I turned down a girlfriend’s invitation to attend the high-school graduation party, organized in her backyard, for her granddaughter (a teen I barely knew). After that day, she did not return my calls. I was bewildered.

We had been introduced by a mutual friend 40 years before, and it was obvious from the beginning that we had little in common. She was the stay-at-home mom of two little girls she had recently adopted, and I was a busy career woman. But despite our very different lives, a friendship ensued.

Over the years, I was invited to attend her daughters’ milestone celebrations, and, as a dutiful friend, I tried my best to be there. Through her many trials and tribulations, I stood by her as her family life became more and more troubled.

I saw her through the deaths of her husband and mother, handling both their funerals in my capacity as a funeral director. I was also a sounding board through the poor life choices of her children. And it was me she turned to for comfort when the object of her affection married another woman.

Shouldn’t all that count for something? And given these familiarities, why wouldn’t she have felt comfortable talking things out with me?

She, on the other hand, never expressed any interest in my career as a writer or came to any of my book events or speaking engagements. But I was fine with that. I confided in her, and as the years passed and friendships came and went, hers became a comfortable mainstay.

Truth be told, as time went on, it became increasingly clear that what most kept us connected were shared memories of mutual friends, some of whom were long gone. Still, I went out of my way to keep the friendship going and thought it would last until the end of our lives. But I was wrong.

Two Sisters Shared a Friend

I know I am not alone in experiencing a friend “breakup.” Sisters Barbara Baylor and Elizabeth Mann (surnames have been changed), shared a longtime friendship with a college friend of Baylor’s.

The women traveled together, and the friend often spent holidays with the sisters and their family. Baylor noticed that her old college friend, the only child of doting parents, had changed over the years. “She was not the person that I used to know.”

Still, the friendship continued until the wedding of Mann’s step-daughter. At the reception, the friend seemed out of sorts, responding sharply to casual questions. After that day, Baylor said she never heard from her friend again, although she tried reaching out to her.

“I was perplexed, ” she said.

The sisters are at a loss for an explanation as to why their friend dropped out of their lives, speculating on possible reasons:

Was the friend harboring resentment over a dinner party invitation Baylor couldn’t make a few years before? Was Mann merely collateral damage? Or, was it the introduction of a new friend into their family? Perhaps it was a series of perceived slights?

Whatever led to the end of the friendship, the sisters will never truly know, but both agree that their friend had changed. Mann, for her part, has come away feeling that “as you get older you find some friends are toxic, or just too much work.”

Friendships Can Be Salvaged

Experts say there is no one reason a friendship breaks up. Some are trivial; some are more serious. But the good news is, the experts believe that the friendships worth keeping can be saved through better communication.

In Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife, author Cheryl Richardson states that “So much is written about the ending of romantic relationships and very little, if any, about the growing apart of friends.”

Writing about the ending of one of her own longstanding friendships, Richardson says, “As I look back over the pain and suffering that accompanied the end of our friendship, I see Suzanne as a spiritual actor in the divine play of this lifetime.”

Friendships can break up for a variety of reasons. Richardson cited shifting values and changing priorities as leading to the end of her friendship. Other reasons include betrayal (real or perceived), disparate career paths, marital status, unequal social status, peer envy, and growing in different directions.

However, if the parties believe their friendship is worth saving, and are willing to make time for one another and talk it out, friendships can endure turbulence and change.

Communication is key, according to a paper co-written by Dr. Andrew M. Ledbetter, a professor of communications at Texas Christian University.

He posits that “Friendship strength seems related to friends’ ability to communicate efficiently. Consequently, those friends who wish to remain close may wish to invest time discussing how each makes sense of the world. Such communication skill and mutual understanding may help friends successfully transition through life changes that threaten friendship stability.”

It’s been said that losing a friend is sometimes like losing a part of oneself. With that in mind, perhaps the wisest course is to weather the natural ebb and flow of friendship, rather than act in anger and haste.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What do you think about long-term friendships? Has a longtime friendship unraveled in later life for you? Did you know what went amiss? Please share your stories with our community.

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suzi

A long time friend just stopped our friendship after my husband passed. Not sure why..but I’ve always reached out to her and finally just gave up.

Last edited 16 days ago by suzi
Martina

I’m so sorry.

Doris

I think friendships are like flowers …. some are annual and some are perennial. Some last a relatively short time for a specific purpose in life. Others may last for a lifetime. But just like perennial flowers, some lifetime friendships may run their course. Two things I always try to remember. First, always be thankful for the beautiful flowers/friendships that you have had no matter how long they last. Second, no matter how old you are, always be open to new friendships/flowers entering your life.

Jane

What a beautiful comment, Doris. I’ve cut and pasted it into an email to myself to remember your sage advice.

Dee

Through the years I’ve had several friendships that I’ve had to leave behind after dozens and dozens of years and some only after a few years and some only after about a year. Uneven social status may have been a reason in some of those, supposed lack of support on my part resulted in my being cut off from others, too much energy or maybe lack of interest in someone else’s interests, and a dozen other reasons. I can only be true to myself as they say. Sometimes that may hurt someone else’s feelings, but for me if someone is too high maintenance and I have to carry the ball for them constantly and be the emotional and mental support without that person trying to fix their issues, I cannot be the all for someone else. They either have to take me or leave me. It’s not my place to be responsible for someone else’s happiness. And I don’t expect anybody to do that for me. I will say that when I am fully supported by friends or family I truly appreciate it and I express that appreciation. But that doesn’t mean that now we’re connected for life. I just don’t know what people want, and if they cannot accept me as I am then I don’t know what the answer is for them.

Linda

We met as freshmen in high school 58 years ago. We lost touch for a time, but we’re now closer than ever. I have several other close friends, but there’s nothing like a friend who has experienced the many changes in the world. We understood living through the Vietnam war, assassinations of MLK and the Kennedy brothers, the rise of women’s liberation and Civil Rights. Roe vs Wade, etc. I am eternally grateful to have this wonderful friend.

Lee Ann Phinney

I have a very similar story. We’ve known each other since the first day of 7th grade, and were close all through high school, graduating in 1975. Our lives took very different paths. She married earlier, and became a stay at home mom of 4. I had a career, and only one child. I divorced, was widowed, and am now married for the 3rd time. She and her husband live only 20 minutes from us, and we’re planning a cruise together in a few months to celebrate the guys 70th birthdays this year. We’re still quite different, but both recognize it, and just agree to disagree. Now in retirement, we see each other often for lunch and shopping.

jodee

I have lost several very close long term friends. One was always toxic I was just willing to put up w it for 40 years, the others basically could not be bothered staying in touch when I moved (very hurtful) despite my best efforts to keep in touch w them. I find myself (after my 2 very close friends passed away in the past 3 years, both untimely and younger then me) very much alone, and lonely. Starting over at 65 trying to make close friends does not seem realistic.

Doris

I too lost my dearest friend since college years to cancer 2 years ago. I still grieve for her. I often find myself thinking “I need to call Marcy about that” and then remember that I’m not able to. Since then I have made a concerted effort to identify new friends. I have found 65 to be a good time to initiate new friendships and to revive old ones. I especially watch for acquaintances who are just retiring! That is often a time when women are looking for new ways to fill their days … I invite them to lunch, for a walk or to volunteer with me. Several have become good friends with whom I schedule regular activities and text with frequently. But, of course, no one will replace sweet Marcy!

Elaine

I, too have lost several close friends to death. It is devastating @ 75 plus. I have forced myself to get out there in the world alone. I have 1 close friend who moved 35 miles away so she her briefly a couple of times a mo. & 1 friend who I attend church with, but that is all. Family is scattered, so I spend a lot of time alone. Widowed 10 years after a long- term marriage. I started going out for bkf. alone several mornings a week & over time I have made several casual friends & even met a couple of nice men, who I talk with once in a while. Make yourself get out there. Even talking to someone breaks up your day. Seniors usually get out about 9 or 9:30. You’ll be surprised how many people you see alone. I did it!! So can you!!

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The Author

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca has worked as a funeral director in New York for more than 35 years. She is the author of three books: Grave Undertakings, Green-Wood Cemetery and Gardens of Stone and has contributed articles to Newsday, New York Daily News, The Saturday Evening Post and funeral industry publications. Visit her website here http://www.alexandramosca.com

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