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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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Paula

I think we as a society have lost the skill of honest, open, real communication. We dont understand that you can be truthful and tactful at the same time.

There is so much chatter and emphasis on Kindness these days. To me, kindness is truthfulness in a calm, loving way. Ignoring someone with no explanation is not being kind. Not being truthful is not kind. Being kind sometimes takes courage. Yes, feelings may get hurt with being truthful. But, feelings are more hurt dealing with the unknown. It’s harder to move on when you are left in the dark with no explanation. Truthfulness just may lead someone to make changes to improve their life. Honesty and courage go hand in hand.

jennifer

I have not kept in touch with most of the women I studied with at university. However, when I separated from my husband in 2019, it was a longtime acquaintance who helped me make the transition and suggested valuable resources. Yes, I am truly thankful for such women.

Joyce Penny

I have had few friendships. most of which never lasted more than a few years and were not deep or meaningful due to my emigration, being different in my new country, then early parenthood, career path and working in foreign countries. There has also been the issue of trust; some women don’t deserve your friendship as they can betray you in large and small ways. I enjoy my own company and am free to make interesting contact with strangers – that’s enough for me – oh, and books – they take me to all sorts of places and authors share fascinating thoughts and experiences.

Charlotte

I lost a friend of some 40 years standing. It was 3 years ago now, but still resonates with me. Like one of the previous comments, we had nothing in common whatsoever, born in different countries, and completely different backgrounds. I am a Londoner, living in Florida now, and she was from the Bronx. That made the friendship stronger in my mind, our lives intersected as she married a friend of my husbands, she then divorced this man, and I stood by her in all, always available as shoulder to cry on etc. We confided in each other, and she was ‘there’ to listen to what was happening in my daily life, and I was always there for her too. We actually broke up due to political differences. This person had never been politically inclined, but after her 3rd marriage, she became a starry-eyed follower almost overnight. I insisted many times, that after 40 years we could ‘agree to disagree’ but she obviously didn’t want to, which is retrospect was for the very best, it had become untenable. It has happened to so many of our generation, close friends just disappear. It’s worth discussing without a doubt.

Anne

As a mom of an adult child with special needs I have found it difficult to always cultivate and maintain friendships, especially living in a rural area. I feel blessed to have found another mom who has a son with special needs. We’ve been friends for over 10 years now. She’s in her forties and I’m in my late fifties. I hope our friendship weathers the changes of time.
For now, I enjoy and value her friendship. I’ve had other long term friendships over the years but they faded away as my son’s needs increased and I wasn’t able to give the friendship my full attention and energy. I do believe God places people in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I think we all hope for a lifetime.

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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