At first it was tough and lonely leaving behind close friends in Australia and reaching out to make new friends in London. But here I am at the start of 2012 blessed to have, at last, a small circle of trusted women friends around me to share innermost feelings and struggles, triumphs and joy.
I adore the young adults in my life. I cherish my precious relationships with my amazing son and daughter and their circles of friends; ambitious young Aussies making their way in London.
I listen to their scintillating dreams and delight in their unbridled confidence. I relish being a parent-figure and mentor; offering wisdom drawn from my cauldron of mistakes, regrets, hard-won knowledge and the odd good choice of my own tumultuous 20s.
And I sympathise with the challenges of the elderly, their litany of complaints about ill health, their vulnerability and daily sense of helplessness in a computer age that confounds their every turn.
However at times I feel sandwiched in the middle between two generations, an antiquated old Hippy amongst vibrant, tech-savvy 20-somethings and an upbeat youngster in the company of old people, wary of being drawn into their world of woes.
Honestly, I yearn for friends my own age, for my peer group, those in the middle of their life journey, the 40 to 60 year-olds (and those rare eternally youthful 70-somethings!) that share cultural memories and common concerns.
I need people just like me who are navigating the same challenges in this tricky middle passage. I need, I admit, mutual understanding and validation. And if I’m getting ‘horizontal’ encouragement from my peers I am better equipped to offer support and guidance ‘vertically’ to generations downward and upward.
But it is not easy to make new friends at this in-between stage of life. Friendships don’t just happen. They don’t get thrust upon you, as in your frantic 30s and 40s when you suddenly found yourself bosom buddies and throwing barbecues with other parents, random colleagues or amusing couples you clicked with at social functions.
At this age, making new friends is not so accidental. It is an art form, or a science perhaps.
More so since moving countries and leaving behind old mates, my husband and I have entered uncertain terrain where people already have established friends. Like the new kids at school we hang around the fringes of the playground, scared to bust into tight-knit cliques.
But if we rise to the challenge, there is an up side. New friendships are invigorating, especially with interesting people from other countries. We can embrace new conversations while still cherishing long-term chums with shared history.
Over 50 it comes naturally to open up and build rapport because most of us who have survived our 40s have been through similar experiences; mourned over the ashes of our youthful dreams, buried loved ones, weathered traumas, stared down the barrel of divorce and been wounded or dodged the bullet.
And you can be really fussy and selective. Making new friends in midlife is more deliberate and intentional. By this seasoned, verging on grumpy stage of life, you have developed particular tastes and know exactly what you like and mostly what you don’t like in food, customer service, your partner’s personal habits and other people’s idiosyncrasies. You now get to choose friends on the grounds of compatibility.
This might sound mercenary and a tad narcissistic, but I prefer gal pals who are just like me! I no longer want to do battle with contrary friends who are diametrically opposed on every opinion. I want women friends who share my values, my range of emotions, my tastes and even my faults and issues! Yes it is empathy I am flagrantly seeking. It’s a job description where Empathisers Only need apply!
Common interests provide fertile ground for the friend-seeking mission. I love to travel and find taking trips with small groups of same-age adventurers a smart way to share fun times and make lasting alliances.
With a life-long interest in therapy, I value weekly get-togethers with trusted people who are willing to disclose their deeper issues in a confidential circle that brings healing to old wounds and shares the load.
And I have become a real joiner, discovering a dynamic club for journalists, a folk music society and a little church around the corner. I’ve even given serious thought while lying on my bed to joining a gym.
But my very favourite social activity remains doing lunch with girlfriends. (It’s okay to use this term even though we are long past giggly girlhood.) Doing lunch is an indulgence in dire need of revival.
The internet provides cyber bonding on a global scale. I love Facebook and email but I can go a whole day staring at my screen, alone in my loft, imagining I’ve made contact with people when in reality I haven’t made any real contact!
So I’ve made a resolution: instead of emailing I will pick up the phone and actually talk to someone and tear myself away from the screen and get out and do lunch and make eye contact and full-blown conversation with real friends. A novel concept in this new Cyber World, but the only way to connect with other humans in the Big City on the surprising journey of life.