• Keeping Friends

First-Person: Friendship lessons after 50

Published: November 18, 2013 | By | 26 Replies Continue Reading
Cathy Chester

Cathy Chester

Blogger, advocate, author and activist Cathy Chester graciously agreed to share some of the friendship lessons she learned after the age of 50.

Are there people you know who ignore you, but who don’t ignore those around you?

Are you making new friends at a time you never thought was possible?

Do you know the difference between having a friend and having an acquaintance?

Do you feel your emotional patterns from childhood, of being disappointed in someone’s behavior, have never quite left you?

Lately, all of these questions are on my mind.

Friendships have always been an important part of my life. I tend to them like a cat to her kittens, nurturing each one as best as I can.

When I was a child I was told I placed too much importance on friends, and when my parents gave me a Princess telephone on my 16th birthday, I bet Bell Telephone never saw a phone line light up as much as mine.

Over the years I’ve tried to learn the difference between friends and acquaintances. I’ve been bruised a few times because I’m sensitive and sentimental, and always try to see the best in people.

During adolescence everyone experiences disappointment of one kind or another. When you are an adult, does this continue to happen?

The difference between friends and acquaintances is this: Friends stand by you through good times and bad. Acquaintances keep you at an arms length, remaining casually friendly at a safe distance.

In my fifties, I am trying to better understand human nature, to learn more about people and why they act and behave the way they do. Why do some people refuse to be caring and supportive? Why do they like or dislike you? And why, through no known fault of your own, do they become distant despite all of your efforts to get to know them?

We all think friendships get easier during midlife, and in some ways they do. We are more self-assured, and less likely to tolerate bad behavior. Yet in other ways we are striving to find ourselves, to start a new chapter, to carve out a niche to follow our passions. We are busier now, and friendships often become a casualty of our busy lives.

I remember my favorite class in high school was, not surprisingly, English Literature. We were reading either, “Waiting for Godot” or ”The Fixer” – I can’t remember which.  Our teacher was illustrating some point, and he used the analogy of Cezanne painting his objects as if he were floating high above them. This perspective gave him a new and different vantage point to consider his surroundings.

Cezanne’s technique of painting can be applied to everyday life. Taking a cue from him, I try to view my surroundings by thinking “outside of myself” from high above to reflect on life, love and friendships.

I let my mind float high above me while trying to simultaneously remain in the moment. I’m trying to seek the truth of what’s really happening in front of me. In that particular moment, a miraculous clarity happens, and I am able to listen to my instincts telling me whether to hold on or let go.

I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it works for me.

There may be people you meet and there’s an instant connection. You form a close bond, and if you’re lucky it lasts a lifetime. Hold on tight; this is worth nurturing.

Tend to them. It’s worth the effort.

There are those you meet for a time and, when life moves on, so do they. Priorities change, you evolve in different ways, and somehow the closeness you once had is no longer there.

It’s time to let go and move on.

There are those you meet, and for some unknown reason they never feel a connection to you. Despite all of your best efforts to be nice and kind, they never respond. It is a waste of time to worry about this. The situation will never change.

Move on. It was never meant to be.

I am no authority on friendship. I am not a relationship expert, nor am I perfect in any way. But I know what I know from years of trying to be all things to all people as a child. As an adult, and after many disappointments, I’ve become more protective of my heart. And I’ve become truer to myself.

I love my friends, I’ve let go of past ones, and I thoroughly enjoy my new ones.

Before I leave, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned so far about friendships. I hope you can take at least one little nugget along with you. I wish for you a life filled with meaningful and close-knit friendships that surround you in warmth for all of your days:

  • If you are hurt or disappointed, snubbed or ignored, the sting from it won’t stay for long. The relationship was never meant to be, and you deserve to be treated better.
  • People are people, and the human condition will never change.
  • Life is short and should be lived now, surrounded by people that make you happy.
  • Value dear friends and give thanks to them for bringing so much joy and laughter into your life.

Cathy Chester is a writer, health advocate, and author of An Empowered Spirit, a blog to empower people to live a healthy and vibrant life during midlife and also for anyone living with a disability. Cathy has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for over 25 years, and wants to change the face of disability into the face of ability.

She is a blogger for The Huffington Post, Healthline and MultipleSclerosis.net as well as a peer advocate for Teva Neuroscience/Shared Solutions, helping others navigate the difficulties of living with a chronic illness. She is also a speaker for The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, college-aged son (when he’s home!) and three adorable cats.

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Comments (26)

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  1. Laura says:

    Great post with lots of wisdom, Cathy! Maturity definitely adds perspective to how I view friendships, being over 50.

  2. Lauren says:

    I also read that book “The Four Agreements”, but I still don’t understand how not to take things personally. When a friend does and / or says something specifically personal (or many things) which are mean spirited and unacceptable, how is it possible NOT to take it personally?

    If it is meant personally, then I speak to the person about it, and then decide what to do about the friendship, especially if the mean spirited remarks , behavior continue…(downgrade it to 2nd or third – tier friend, take a breather, or drift away etc)

    If someone makes mean spirited [personal remarks, then I take it personally as it was meant. Otherwise there would be some sort of inner conflict and I would not want to make myself a doormat.
    How can it not be taken personally? Any thoughts on this one?

  3. Roxana G says:

    I just saw your post Cathy and It stirred me deeply probably because I had gone recently through unpleasant health issues (including surgery) and I learned the hard way who my friends were. You make a very simple and elegant distinction between friends and acquaintances (“Friends stand by you through good times and bad. Acquaintances keep you at an arms length, remaining casually friendly at a safe distance”). Your advice is move on… It is a necessary step, but never easy! No matter how old we get, false friends can scar deeply our hearts and dent our confidence, especially when you truly believed that they were your close friends to begin with.

    Your post and Ellen’s comments (@Ellen Dolgen) give great advices about renouncing to any expectations. I think the truth is someway in the middle; people show their feelings throughout a friendship in different ways … and it is more than OK, because we express ourselves so diversely but they ultimately need to show something in relationship to you! Some way to make you fell more than “an option” at best or ‘a spare’.
    So when you feel as I stated above, what should one do? Have “the talk” or dilute the relationship hoping for re-balancing itself? Personally I tried the second approach – three times, until I got at “the back of the line” or the borderline between friend and friendly acquaintance. I apologized a lot, because I valued the relationship more than my ego and … no re-balancing. Maybe I should have taken the first approach…
    With some people it is possible to have “the talk” but with others who have very defensive personalities or are a tad self-centered, trying to talk to them about their failings is an exercise in futility. If the friendship was unbalanced to begin with (one side friendship), a talk will not lead to any results because “your friend” will not empathize. I’m speaking from personal experience when I say what will likely happen is they will deny and act like they have no idea what you are talking about or they will say that you are too sensitive and make the problem be about you and not them. Even if you are the best, most diplomatic communicator in the world some people simply have a hard time hearing even mildly negative comments so they deflect and deny and maybe even resent you later on. Then you are left with the initial hurt and the subsequent hurt of being made out to be the bad guy. If your friend really cared about you … case solved, because he/she would not have let you drift or would have tried to be more present into the friendship. So to cut it short, I feel for now “the talk” is very important as long as you feel that you address your friend and not your friendly acquaintance. The first one will answer back, fight, make effort to change and challenge you as well in the process, while the second …. silently ignore you and make you feel silly that you even tried.

  4. Liz says:

    Cathy the best to you, and I agree with the realizing the difference between acquaintance and friend point especially. That difference has become so very clear to me as I approach 50. I think that it is just the experience of so many times hoping for friendship while the person only remains an acquaintance. In reflection you can see that there are signs, especially when in a time of need that person remains distant and doesn’t want to get involved. I’m not willing to chase them anymore and so accept that it won’t be anything more. Maybe the realization that time and energy are precious is what helps to also remain distant and not be hurt over it. Also, when people ignore me while fawning over someone right next to me I usually think that they are either a stranger to me (which is ok and I’m not emotionally involved) or that they are putting on a little show so as to make it known that I’m being ignored. That also is not emotionally charged for me as I can see it for what it is. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post and am on the same path.

    • Lauren says:

      HI Liz,

      I love your comments, especially the one about when someone is sitting next to you, fawning over someone else, and ignoring you. Yes, I have been there also. I agree that when they are not a stranger, then that person is putting on a show to make it known that I am being ignored. I love the way that you interpret this behavior; and how you handle it.

      I believe that friendships are fluid, and flow like a river or a brook. I am viewing things that way now , and not holding on to any hurts, but instead trying to look at the greater good that the former friend brought to me, instead of focusing on the mean things that were said or done.

      Not all friendships last forever, and that’s OK also.

      Best wishes to Cathy Chester, Liz and everyone here.

  5. What a terrific topic, Cathy. I do have more good friends these days than I’ve had – because in a way I have more time for friends now after 50. But then again, I have less time. Life got so busy with pursuits and hobbies these days with the kids grown up… It’s complicated! :). Haha. Actually, what I’m saying is I have more self-confidence these days to pick and choose friends who are good for me and who I can be good for them… Does that make sense? I’m nice to everyone (I try to be!), and many are good acquaintances — with only some being good friends. Great article and food for thought!

  6. Cathy, you are the definition of a true friend and I’m grateful you are mine. xo

  7. Super post, Cathy. You are a kind, loyal and true friend.

    One thing I’ve found true about friends as I age is some are great friends at the time you need them or they need you, then the need ceases and both move on, with no hard feelings, just a sense of loss. That, I hate.

    But then there are those who become fast friends far faster than was the case 10 or 20 year earlier in my life. That, I love.

  8. Lauren says:

    Hi Cathy,
    What a wonderful, inspiring, timeless post. Your friends are very fortunate to have a friend like you.

  9. Emily says:

    Wonderful post that reflects your sensitive, caring nature. We’ve talked about friendships and loyalty and I know we are very similar in how we view relationships, both of us learning from recent hurts as well as beautiful, caring gestures…

  10. I have found some relationships are more fluid and situational where others are the real deal. The one thing I am learning is that the situational ones aren’t necessarily less than, just not meant to go the distance. As always I love your reading your thoughts!! Thanks!

  11. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Cathy, among your many strengths is the capacity for reflection. This post is so philosophical and thought-provoking, I’ve only begun to plumb its depths. It can take a lifetime to understand what true friendship is, and how rare it is to find it. I am among your many fans (and friends) who is so grateful to have gotten to know you. You are the quintessential true blue friend, lucky for me. Like Jennifer said, it only took a few minutes for me to realize that we were meant to be good friends. <3

  12. Thank you for exploring this topic so eloquently. I can relate to everything you’ve written here. In fact, I was just discussing this issue with my husband the other day. It is vexing to me that at this stage of my life, when I thought it would be easier to maintain existing friendships and make good quality new friends, I find that it is as hard now as it was in High School. I really thought it would be easier at this time of my life, but it is challenging for many reasons.

  13. Amy says:

    Great article.
    I’d add:
    Friendships can wax and wane. Sometimes due to circumstances in one or both of your lives make being close impossible. You can lose touch with a friend and rekindle that relationship years down the road.
    You can revisit old relationships that faded away and sometimes they come back in ways you’d never expect.
    Sometimes you can look back on failed relationships with a better, less sensitive perspective and realize it wasn’t the other person’s fault.
    You can learn from all failed relationships by being honest with yourself and not blaming the other person (did I chose the wrong person to befriend, despite the warning signs? Did I enable unhealthy behavior by not communicating well enough or assuming the person should know how I feel? Did I let my frustrations built up until it was too late to salvage the relationship). Blaming the other person is easy, but not helpful in growing.

    • “Wax and wane.” How true! And it can be for a dozen reasons. For example, I recently got together with a couple of women I had worked with in my late twenties. Fast forward thirty years, we have this lunch, and one of them took pleasure in ceaselessly reminding me of my childish foibles. As youth, we had that relationship: she made fun of me and I accepted it. As an adult, though, I’ve changed how I relate to other humans. Her remaining in that old mode made it necessary for me to avoid future contact.

  14. Ellen Dolgen says:

    Cathy, this was a great blog for me to read today! Since I fell 18 days ago, I have learned many things. First and foremost, I need to slow down, be more patient, value my health and have no expectations from people. People whom I have literally taken care of during tough times, surgeries emotional upsets etc…. may not be equipped to show up for me during the tough times. I have to ask myself…do I show up for people with an expectation that they will be there for me? I don’t want to change myself because of other people’s limitations. People show their love in different ways. Some can throw you a birthday and bring in the New Year with you, and some can show up at your door with dinner when you have fallen. Like you, I am work in progress……I don’t have all the answers but I continue to try to be open to life’s lessons and to try to learn how to grab the joy in each day.

    • You are one smart cookie, Ellen. I aspire to be more like you because I love your thought process.

      It’s so hard for me to take these things lightly. I am trying to realize, as it says in “The Four Agreements”, not to take things personally.

      Over the years I’ve learned a lot about friends due to illness. Some were fabulous, others stayed away. How we handle it is up to us.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      • Lauren says:

        I also read that book “The Four Agreements”, but I still don’t understand how not to take things personally. When a friend does and / or says something specifically personal (or many things) which are mean spirited and unacceptable, how is it possible NOT to take it personally?

        If it is meant personally, then I speak to the person about it, and then decide what to do about the friendship, especially if the mean spirited remarks , behavior continue…(downgrade it to 2nd or third – tier friend, take a breather, or drift away etc)

        If someone makes mean spirited [personal remarks, then I take it personally as it was meant. Otherwise there would be some sort of inner conflict and I would not want to make myself a doormat.
        How can it not be taken personally? Any thoughts on this one?

  15. Sheryl says:

    Great piece, Cathy. You offer a lot of great insights. I know you give your heart to your friendships – and that’s probably why it can also get broken.
    I’ve stopped trying to figure some people out. Sometimes their behavior is just beyond me…and then I feel I don’t want to waste my emotions or time on something I’ll never understand. So, I move on. But I have been pleasantly surprised at finding new and wonderful friendships evolve at a time I thought would be tough to secure new ones.

    • I agree with you 100%, Sheryl. I am trying hard to separate those friendships that seem toxic and hurtful from my day-to-day mindset. It’s hard but necessary.

      I am also happy about my new friendships, like you!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

  16. Jennifer Wagner says:

    Great article. I can’t understand how anyone would not want to be friends with you. I still remember walking home with you after that dinner last winter and after just about 15 minutes of talking to you I already felt like we were good friends.

  17. Sienna says:

    In other words, you haven’t figured out a thing. Just like the rest of us.

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