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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Older Women, Younger Friends

By the time we hit our 70s, the pool of friends our age has begun or continues to shrink. Older friends move away to cities with a better climate, or to be closer to family, or to places where the cost of living is less or, the homes or apartments are more manageable. Sadly, some of our friends are dealing with serious health problems or have passed away.

My next-door neighbor is bright with a subtle sense of humor and a fervent interest in politics. She has three sons, the oldest of whom is fourteen and a high school freshman. Sadly, he is spending what is normally a year of adjustment and a new pool of friends at home and learning virtually. My neighbor is fifty or fifty-one, just a couple years younger than my son. Yet I consider her a friend.

The same goes for several other younger women whom I've known over the years. While it used to seem as if they were years and years my junior, the age gap seems to have narrowed. They are middle-aged now and are beginning to feel and adjust to changes in their bodies, their futures, their bucket lists.

"My arms are getting flabby," one tells me, showing a bit of a jiggle. I laugh.

"They look great. Appreciate them because it's all downhill from here."

I remember my vow to never have arms like my grandmother who, when hovering over me or wearing a sleeveless blouse in the heat of summer or whipping up any food item in the kitchen, made me think of the necks of chickens. I vowed that I'd never let the muscular arms I had cultivated from hours and hours in the gum.

Surprise! Gravity's pull plays mean tricks.

But that's the physical stuff that, in the end, doesn't count for more important things as women age. There are so many chances for us older, wiser women to mentor our younger friends and acquaintances.

"Time is flying by," one of my younger friends tells me. "One day it's Monday, and I flinch and it's Sunday afternoon."

"Yep," I say. "Time speeds up the older we get. If you think it's whizzing by now, just wait. It's a cruel irony that we can see the end of the line but don't have enough hours in the day to check off the items on our To-Do Lists."

I try not to preach when I'm hanging out with my younger friends. I try to use the tools that were first given to me during a class in Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) that I took when my son was in his twos, and I had lost control. Actively listen but don't butt in to solve others' problems. Repeat back, or mirror, what you "hear" the other person saying. Give them a chance to either correct you, clarify, or appreciate the fact that you "get it." Stay away from judging and blaming. Hmmm . . . That's a tough one for me.

Several of my younger friends have never married. Each has a different story but, in the end, they are navigating the chopping waters solo. Surprisingly, they don't talk much about being alone, and I wonder about the challenges they face that aren't mine--depending on themselves to pay the bills, never having children, handling all the required stuff that goes with maintaining an apartment or house.

But here's the thing: They have a lot to teach me about being independent, filling their time with friends and activities, facing the future with hope and wonder. And when living with my husband sometimes becomes a real challenge, I envy the fact that they don't have to deal with all the ups and downs of living with another human.

A dear friend of mine is close with several women in their early-to-mid fifties. Recently, she had purchased a ticket to some event--maybe an outside concert headlined by a singer she's known forever. When it came time to get ready to head to the concert, my friend didn't want to go. She was tired and had other things to get done. She just didn't "wanna'." That didn't sit well with her friend. "You're just old and not much fun," she said or something to that effect. My friend took it on the chin.

Well, maybe older women don't always have the energy we used to have or don't feel the pressure of always "doing" something--of going along to get along. So be it. But we don't lose our experience and wisdom or the opportunity to mentor our younger friends and acquaintances.

We are the crones, the teachers, the wise women. We are the link between the past, the present, and the future.

"Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold."


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