aging · fitness · sex

Girlfriend Therapy

My last post was about my online dating travails; it tells the story of me learning to cope with the badness of online dating, while finding the goodness in online dating (including the freedom to be many versions of my sexual self – exciting and healthy, though also quite daunting at times).

This post is going to be about something related but very different: finding the time and the space to make new female friends in middle age.

Friends in middle age: Sam, me, and Susan – with a couple of terrific guys on the Three Ports Tour 2016.

Now, before we go any further, I want to be clear: for me, this issue is intimately related (just like the online dating issue) to my health and wellness, as well as to my fitness. When I think about how I might be fit for purpose in this world – able to carry on in my job, to carry on caring for my parents and my dog, to carry on managing the expectations placed on me by all the stakeholders in my world, and ALSO, FIRST, to carry on taking good care of ME – I think about a lot more than riding my bike or rowing or yoga. All those things matter. But so much more matters, too.

This past weekend was the Women’s March all over the world, and especially in Washington. My colleague (and sometime-contributor here) Alison went to Washington; she filled me in and I was filled with envy. Catherine blogged on the weekend about not going; like her, I made an alternative choice. It wasn’t without conflict, but it was absolutely for me about self-care. I realised I couldn’t march, because I wasn’t in a place to give that much at that moment. So instead I made a joyously selfish and entirely feminist choice: to take care of myself, by reaching out to another, wonderful woman in my life.

I was incredibly moved by Susan’s last post here on the blog, about her daughter and their recent experience shopping for clothes. I decided, after reading it, to send Susan an email thanking her for it and describing how I’d connected to it. Susan and I have been riding a few times before, thanks to Sam, but we’ve not hung out. A few times I have wished we could: Susan’s canoe trips sound TDF, and her dog Shelby is a sweetheart. So this time I was bold: I told Susan what her post had meant to me, and I asked if we could maybe hang out some time.

Susan wrote the kindest email back. In it, she said (and I’m going to take a chance here and say she would not mind me quoting this to you!):

This is just the loveliest thing. I mean, how often do middle age women get emails from other women saying “I want to be your friend?” Possibly never until right now.

And you know, she’s right. We hit a certain age (for me it was my early 20s) and realise that we’re growing apart from the community of young women we’ve (if we are lucky – and I know not all of us are) become attached to and reliant on. Some of us get long-term boyfriends or girlfriends, and our dynamics shift. Then we go to college or uni, sometimes far from one another. Babies come. Or careers blossom. We move around, away. We connect online a bit, see each other sometimes. In the process, of course, we make other friends, but if we are in long-term relationships or have families at home to care for, it becomes harder and less of a priority to connect with those close friends from our past, or even those new friends around the corner. Nuclear family-think sets in – another word for (hetero)normativity.

When I left Canada for a new job in England in 2012, I left a clutch of wonderful female friends behind. I missed them like hell! And when I came back, in late 2014, I left an equally fabulous posse of wonderful women once more. I ache with the loss of them in my daily life. We connect on Skype, but it’s not the same. Even with my best girls just up the highway in Toronto now, it’s hard to stay connected. There are loads of demands on our time, many children now among us, and a two hour drive is a two hour drive…

Last Sunday, I made that drive – to meet up with Susan and walk our dogs along the glorious trails near her house on the Niagara escarpment. We shared a bit about our pasts – partners, experiences, losses – that we didn’t know about one another before. We talked about work and kids. We talked about mental health struggles. We talked about the fog, the sumac, the gorgeous spaces all around us. We shared the pleasures of ambulatory, sensory therapy. We kept on top of the dogs! We got home and Susan gave me a cup of green tea in the most hilarious mug I have ever seen. Then Shelby did some genuinely wicked canine tricks for me.

We agreed we needed to do it again.

This is not the mug Susan offered me. Hers is substantially funnier.

I’ve realised recently that I’ve been in the process, for 18 months or so now, of remaking my life. Returning from abroad to an old job and a much-loved house but a very new living and working situation has been at turns familiar and shattering. I’ve not got my bearings yet. I’m still figuring stuff out: who I want to be in the second half of my life; who I’d like to have around me as I grow old; what I want to give my body now, and what I want it to give me in return; who I’d like to have sex with, and who I’d like to spend my nights with; where I want to live – REALLY live. At a distance from some of the people and places that have deeply mattered to me thus far in my life, I’ve at times felt helpless and bereft in the face of these questions.

But I don’t need to be. Because there are so many amazing, strong, compassionate, loving – and did I mention STRONG? – women around me. Like Susan.

Thank god for us all!


13 thoughts on “Girlfriend Therapy

  1. Great post Kim. I also have a Susan story. We went away on a canoe weekend, Susan invited me, and we’d only really meet on the internet. I hate it when people criticize internet friendships as not real friendships. In my experience it’s been a great way to make friends.

      1. It’s made me more brave about meeting in person people I only know online. They’ve pretty much all been positive experiences and people are like the person they seem to be online. I’ve never online dated but I’m curious about the differences between making friends on the internet and making more than friends on the internet.

  2. I’ve had similar thoughts. I’m in my mid-fifties and my 18-year-old son will be moving out next month, so I will become a cliche of sorts–a middle-aged woman with four cats. It’s also occurred to me, now that the child-raising portion of my life is over, that I can create a life of my choosing. As a single parent and working mother, the last 18 years have largely been a struggle just to survive, keep food on the table, and find enough money to maintain the house and keep it from falling down around our ears. Life is better now. I started a new job in December, and I’m carefully choosing the activities I want to participate in and how (and with whom) I want to spend my free time. Studies show that a strong network of friends and family enhances longevity, and this is something I’m working toward–not an easy thing to do for someone who is by nature a recluse. I see this as a rare opportunity and I’m having more fun now that I’ve had in a long time!

    1. What wonderful news for you, Nicholle! I genuinely wish you well in this new endeavour. It’s so hard when the default is to fold in on yourself – I fight that too. I’ve realised spending time with women friends is a wonderful way to get back to healthy habits, including doing more varieties of social things.

  3. “Self-care” is another one of those ideas that’s been bastardized. It started off as an Audre Lorde philosophy that addressed the struggles of activist women of color and now it’s applied to, I don’t know, getting a blowout. – Jessa Crispin

  4. HI Kim– I read your post with great pleasure a while back; just getting around to responding. Yes, there’s nothing like making new friends and also new communities of friends in your 40s or 50s. At 54, I am feeling so nicely connected through my intertwining groups of friends: work, cycling, book club, old friends, and new professional friends (and of course online friends!) Your post made me reflect with gratitude on my good fortune. Thank you.

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