In middle age, I rediscovered the power of friendship. Perhaps others have had the same experience, but throughout my 30s and early 40s, focused on my kids, my husband, my work and a doctoral program, friendships often were placed on the back–burner of my life. In days already packed with family and work commitments, friendships felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford; the time required to nurture them was time I simply didn’t have. Or so I thought.
It turns out that beyond the relationships we have with our life partners or our children, we need friendships as well. A strong and healthy marriage takes place within a network of relationships that support and nurture it. No one person can meet all our needs and relationships become unhealthy, if not abusive, when one person looks to his or her partner to meet every emotional, spiritual and psychological need. Healthy life partnerships need to be fed both internally and externally — and friendships, those nurtured as a couple and those each individual has, are a critical part of the equation. It is a good thing for your life partner to be your best friend — as long as he or she is not your only friend.
We’ve all heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child — and some of the most important villagers are friends. Friends who are also experiencing the joys and frustrations, the confusion and terror, the pride and the overwhelming love that comes with being a parent are often a lifeline that keeps us sane. The friends who share our values and beliefs become those we trust to mentor and guide ourchildren. And our children’s lives become richer knowing that other adults care for them in important ways.
Sometimes life sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking and the friendships I’ve discovered have without a doubt made me a better parent and probably a better life partner. While they are different from the intense (and often way too dramatic) friendships of college and early adulthood, the friendships of middle age are as deep and rich as those made earlier in life. My friends and I commiserate over the wayward child, share funny birthday cards, make meals when one of us falls ill, and go to one another’s parent’s funerals. Henri Nouwen wrote that “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” Friends are those who may not have any answers but will sit with us in the questions. Friends will do what they can then stay with us when there is nothing else to be done. While I know that I am not as good a friend as my friends are to me, still too easily consumed by other aspects of my life, I hope that I’m learning. Luckily, my friends continue to teach me what love looks like as we travel our different roads together.