A recent New York Times story names friendship as yet another casualty of middle age. College years, writes Alex Williams, are like one “big blind date” where you meet, explore, follow your star wherever it takes you. Middle age is an era of deadening routines and schedules which get in the way of human connection. I’ve definitely witnessed the patterns Williams is describing, but it strikes me as much more a man’s way of going through middle life than a woman’s.
My experience of lifetime friendships is exactly the opposite. In college I made a string of intense immediate friendships. I made these friendships serially, because some friend and I were both deeply interested in Susan Sontag at that moment or because we were trying to learn French or traveling to Hungary or learning to use a dark room or make dumplings or whatever. A handful of these close friendships have lasted but most faded away, because we were always doing something new or going somewhere and then after college and through our 20s, we dispersed.
Middle age is a phase of routine, but a certain kind of routine I find is pretty conducive to friendship. Now my life is a lot more like someone living in a 19th century village than it ever was. I see a lot of the same people, at the park or in school or at work or walking around the neighborhood. About some of them I feel the way Louis C.K. does (“I didn’t choose you. Our children chose each other. Based on no criteria, by the way. They’re the same size.”) But a few I look forward to seeing and then after a few years go by, they become my close friends, closer than friends I made when I had a lot of time but was also always a moving target. It’s true we do not have the big expanses of time you need for intense conversations, but I’ve learned that really deep friendships can form in other ways, by living in parallel day after day.
I still keep in touch with friends I made in my 20s, even those who live far away. But honestly they are more like cousins at this point. We share a lot of history and deep roots but not a lot of actual life together.