On entering the next phase.

Lately, I look around, and all I can think is:  My life and the lives of those I love are in such states of clamor and change.

Suddenly, a year’s predictable evolution, guided by the seasonal hope for the new and the better, has taken on a seemingly unsustainable pace.  Everything is blurred, overbooked, smoking with effort.

My friends and I—we don’t feel all that young anymore.  Sure, we try.  I give us credit for trying!  But, mostly, we work hard, we struggle to succeed, we fret over what we’ve missed and not accomplished and left unfinished.  We cater to the needs of our families.  We suffer a hang-over after all of two glasses of wine.  Some days, I wonder if this is when it starts to happen: the weight creeping on, the friendships fading, the wrinkles widening and deepening, the grays going white and wild.  I cling to the belief that I am still in control of all of this.  But, such a belief is naive, child’s play.  Ain’t I a grown woman already?

Hardly anyone seems capable of keeping up.

How, then, do we sustain?  Are we able?  What gives?

And it’s caused me to wonder—and worry—that my friendships are entering a new and slightly unsettling phase.

Every single one of my friends’ lives is frenetic these days, including my own.  All of us are hopelessly busy, stressed, tired, overwhelmed, constantly in motion, and maxed.  Just plain maxed out.  We miss phone calls, we cancel get togethers, we don’t remember to return e-mails or text messages.  I never thought I’d say it, but thank God for Facebook or else we might have no sense of what was happening in one another’s lives.

I wonder—and worry—is our effort slipping?  Are giving up just a little?  When we look at the daily list of priorities—job, kids, significant other, house, bills, school, extended family, exercise, errands—has friendship fallen to the wayside?  Or, worse, to the bottom?

Maybe, now that the majority of my closest friends and I are into our 30s, many married, with children, with careers, with homes in our names and addresses in suburbs scattered across the country, maybe we are no longer so focused on the once all-consuming need to be close to one another, to talk regularly, to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s laughter.

Maybe we are all trying to figure out, in this next phase of adulthood that involves kids, mortgages, multi-year marriages, and more demanding jobs, how we realistically can manage or maintain our friendship.  Maybe this is the phase where we start talking only two or three times a year, getting together annually, if we’re lucky, and emailing on the rare occasion in between.

Maybe that is all we are capable of—or all we are willing to give.

Or, maybe, we just don’t need each other as much as we once did.

I am holding myself accountable in these maybes, too.  I readily acknowledge my own overflowing plate of shifting priorities and, a top it, my tendency to withdraw into myself when I’m overwhelmed or sad or just plain wiped out by life.  I default to the mindset of “Retreat, retreat, retreat!” rather than “Engage!  Engage!  Engage!”

Honestly?  On the days when I finally log off of my computer, after 10+ hours of calls, meetings, and staring at my computer screen, the very last thing I want to do is hop on the phone with a friend and shoot the proverbial shit for an hour or more while we attempt to catch each other up on the last several weeks—or months—of our lives.  That may be terrible to admit, but it’s true.  I’m the odd, hybrid introvert/extrovert who, on my extrovert days, relishes in refueling myself with the company and conversation of loved ones, and on my introvert days, wants absolutely nothing to do with humans at large, loved ones or not, and seeks solace, comfort, and rejuvenation on my yoga mat, within the pages of a book, or by the scratch of my pen across the page.

However, I recognize, especially lately, that I don’t necessarily have any one person or any one thing forcing me to engage instead of retreat—other than myself and my friends.  I don’t have the husband.  I don’t have the baby or the mortgage.  Yes, of course, there are plenty of wonderful things I do have, but at the end of the day, I don’t have a child tugging on my pant leg asking for more goldfish or a partner pulling at my shirt sleeve asking about my day.

Honestly?  I don’t necessarily feel like I have any one person that needs me.  Other than my friends.  (And my immediate family, but do they count?)

And that need—or, rather feeling that sense of need—for my friends and from my friends has slipped further and further away.

I wonder:  do we need each other less now, in these years?

I wonder—and worry—do we have less to talk about with each other, because our lives are all evolving at different paces and with different priorities?  I can listen to stories of burping babies and breastfeeding, but I can’t relate.  And my friends can listen to stories about dating and living singly in the suburbs, but they can’t relate.  Where does that leave us?

Yes, this shift in our relationships, in our attention to one another, is glaring to me.

Some days, I ache for that intense, wonderful closeness you can only share with a best, dear friend whose love and attention you’ve spent the last several hours soaking up and storing for later.  Other days, I understand we are older now, and we have all chosen different paths, and our history is the one thing that still unites us and compels us to return to that central place we all know.

Hopefully, that place will never change.

And, hopefully, we will always come back.

2 responses to “On entering the next phase.

  1. I think our needs within friendships change significantly as we get older. We stop needing as much advice, reassurance, feedback because we’ve built a better base of experience. We no longer have the consumptive need to rehash things or discuss details as much. We start needing someone who’ll be there when something big happens. Someone who knows us well enough to know what we need in those big situations. The other stuff – its still fun and great, but it becomes the less important part of friendship as we age. I mean, yes, I still love hearing about things in my friends lives, but they need less to tell me everything – so we talk less often. But we still love each other and that does always keep us coming back together.

  2. Ain’t I a woman already?

    And with one small phrase, you hit the nail on the head of where I am with everything.

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