The loneliness of middle age

I remember when I was in my teens and twenties, it was easy to make new friends. People you worked with wanted to hang out, though it usually involved drinking.

Then as a mom of little kids, it was easy to make situational friends with the other moms of my kids’ friends. (With some exceptions, that is: Chandler’s mom was super weird and uptight and seemed 50 years older than me.)

But now, in my mid-40s, it’s hard to make new friends. My kids have their own lives with their own friends. I’m not a member of any church. I work at home. I’m not even a member of any fandoms, which makes it hard to meet people online like I used to.

When I last worked in offices, the easy friendships were still there–among the childless people in their 20s and early 30s, and they still bonded over drinking. I was not included and didn’t have the interest in binge drinking with them anyway.

It’s far from uncommon to have trouble making friends after 40. Most people are busy with their families, set in their ways, broke, and/or just plain have fewer opportunities to meet people. That article says that most people’s social circles are pretty much set in their 30s. So it will be an uphill climb from here for me.

This is such a common issue that it’s been covered in The Atlantic and The New York Times. I am far from alone in feeling alone, but that doesn’t make things feel better. I’m at an age where my spouse can fill most needs for companionship and does–but that’s also a lot to expect of one person.

Last night, I was supposed to meet up with one of my oldest, most reliable friends (incidentally, whom I met at a job in my 20s.) She moved out of state last summer and was in town for a couple days and made plans to meet up with me.

At the very last minute, she had to cancel and I was far more devastated than I should have been. One of my rare opportunities to see a friend–and get out of my house for a while–slipped through my hands. I sat on the bathroom floor and cried for an embarrassingly long time.

Now, I know better than anyone what it’s like to visit family in another state for a couple days, since that was my experience with every trip back home in my 20s. It was never relaxing at all. In fact, it was very stressful and there was always so much pressure on me to see so many people. Inevitably, there were always a couple people I couldn’t get to, which meant lots of hurt feelings.

So I know what it’s like to be on the other end. And I know it’s not personal, and my reaction was likely due to a whole bunch of other completely unrelated factors.

But at the same time, it also highlighted how much of a toll isolation is taking on me. I was watching “The Golden Girls” recently and I know they were roommates, strangers before they became friends. Still, I couldn’t help but realize that I have no similar squad.

I don’t even have that with extended family. I repaired my relationship with my own mom but don’t talk with her often (and when I do, it’s almost always initiated by me.) My sister and I don’t really get along and never have. And sometime last year, my mother-in-law completely ceased all contact with me without explanation, which hurt me a lot and still does.

I don’t really know what to do about the isolation. I don’t want to go running back to hurtful friendships that were bad for me just because I get lonely. I can’t really work full time anymore due to my health. And even if I could, I’m in the untouchable “married with family” coworker segment rather than the “single and partying” contingent. I don’t know how to do online-only friendships anymore and generally find them unsatisfying anyway.

As an introvert, I’m pretty comfortable being alone most of the time. But sometimes being alone goes too far and I think that’s where I’ve landed.


  1. I can relate. I’m sure many others do as well. I’m mid-50s, divorced four years, have lots of acquaintances but no what I would call true friends. If I want to do something with someone it’s up to me to reach out.
    People are so busy being wrapped up in their own busy-ness they don’t have time for others. They’ll like cousin Ruth’s post on Facebook but won’t actually talk to cousin Ruth. I’m often astounded by how many people identify as lonely (me included) when there are so many billions of people in this world. So many just looking for that one connection but have no idea where to find it.


    1. Holly says:

      I’m sorry to hear that you also relate, but I know that many many people do. It seems that as we have more possible ways to be connected to people, the shallower those connections really are. When you stop and think of how few people are there for you in a crisis — or just the everyday — it really seems like we’ve lost something important.


  2. I meant to reply to this earlier. But busy-ness, you know. It’s been my belief for quite some time that “social” media has been rather unsocial and likely a cause for much of the anxiety people are under. I have been mostly a Twitter user for news and information, but I realized a few weeks ago that digesting so much crap — people hating black people, brown people, immigrants, Muslims, the environment, the climate, and any number of other things that people without empathy are raging about — was really affecting me. So I’ve mostly limited my use there to baseball. I feel better. I don’t think I’ve logged on to Facebook this year. I was on five times last year for a total of about eight minutes. It is just noise I don’t need in my life. Sadly people would rather live virtually and not engage with others personally. Having more stuff to make us closer has driven us apart. Maybe it can change someday. We can only hope.


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