In the past few years, I’ve flown past quite a few milestones, ages by which such-and-such and so-and-so would supposedly happen. I can handle the thinning eyebrows, the slower metabolism, the death of my fertility. But did I hit my sexual peak at 35 and start an inevitable decline? Umm, no. Definitely not, is all I’ll say here. And the old trope that it’s impossible to make “true” friends after 40? To that I say “bullshit.”
I would need another hand or three in order to count out the truly deep and meaningful friend connections I’ve made in the past five years. And that’s not because I think I have some kind of black belt in awesome-friendness. But it’s because, for me, friendships changed from being situational to being intentional. I wasn’t spending my friend capital on people who just happened to be around me — say, parents of my son’s friends — but was instead seeking out and bonding with women who connected to something vital in me.
Knowing myself better — which of course comes with age — has helped me know what I value most from friends better. I like ambition, creativity, compassion, a love of words and someone who has lived through some pain in her life. This is where I feel a match, that same undeniable “click” as when you are on a first date with a romantic partner. And I take a much shorter time to discover whether people match me. I connect faster. I edit out where there isn’t a connection. One of the greatest gifts of being older is certainty: that my time is precious, and I want to spend it only on high-reward relationships.
And lucky for me, the internet came along to create the path to my collection of amazing post-40 friends. As a single mom for more than a decade, I already used the internet to get groceries, clothes, household supplies and boyfriends. But then the internet also supplied a gorgeous portal to walk through — the doorway to the world of blogging, which later begat social media — which is where I found the land of women who wanted to be my friends.
Small talk looks different on the internet: Instead of chit-chatting about a woman’s clothes and hair, or asking her about her children, she shows up as a collection of words that she assembled and launched on a paper airplane, whether on her blog or on Twitter. Certain paper airplanes catch my attention and come to a definite stop on my desktop. Unfold it, and a deep and wide glimpse of personality comes through — something far richer than the small talk that takes up the first 40 minutes of meeting someone in person.
I can then launch a paper airplane back, and from there, more often than not, a connection is born. A connection that leads first to more Tweets, then emails, then phone calls or meeting in person — though that real-life connection isn’t as important as you think. In this time-starved stage of life, being able to bond with my sisters in the few minutes I have here and there, tapping away at my keyboard, drifting from the work at hand, sustains me just as much as a three-hour dinner with a girlfriend in the city. These friends have carried me through an incredibly painful breakup, the deaths of both my parents, a long-unfolding crisis with my son, unemployment, uncertainty.
Yes, my college friends were there for me in that time, too, reaching out on the phone when they could. But it was the friends in my computer, whom I knew were watching me walk through my seven circles of hell on my blog and on Facebook, that were my true support. Their presence was palpable. They carried me daily.
Marinka. Karen. Margit (yes, that Margit). Lindsey. Jill. Jill. Rita. Rita. Debra. Heather. And one real-life friend, Gabrielle. These are the women who helped me make it through and who define my daily experience of friendship today.
When I left magazine publishing and started working full-time in the blogging world, one of my dearest (pre-40) friends said to me, “You’ve found your tribe.” Yes, yes I did find my tribe. An ever-evolving, constantly refreshing stream of women who are ambitious, creative, compassionate, who love words and who take risks, and who are unafraid to share the ups and downs of their lives’ journeys on the internet, with the amazing, honorable, worthy goal of being seen. And they see me.
It’s often said that women become less visible as we age — as our eyebrows thin and our fertility wanes, as our primary patriarchal role of arm candy and mother move to the background — but I’m so grateful to know that in my 40s, in my inevitable “decline,” that I have found a wellspring of female friendship that will keep me young, true and loved, through whatever life throws my way.