(Published in Times Of India)
Seven years ago, Lopa Das, 30, was in the throes of a role reversal; she had just had a baby, quit her job as a content executive in a dot com and suddenly found herself to be a 24/7 stay-at-home mum. Her colleagues envied her new position and wished they could have had the luxury of quitting their jobs and staying home to tend to the family, bake apple muffins and ginger pies and lay out the elaborate evening tea. Of course, the chubby cute baby in the background was a bonus. The reality was far more different for Lopa, who had never been in a situation like this before and the lack of family in a new town where her husband, a banker worked late hours, wasn’t helping much.
Of course, the wailing newborn and the incessant demands of motherhood, coupled with being the lone and primary caregiver to the child was destined to take its toll on her. Her friends had been her colleagues and other than the occasional phone calls and the even more occasional Facebook chats which slowly dwindled as the months flew by, Lopa did not have anything that you would call a social life. She missed her old friends back in her hometown and found it increasingly difficult to connect with the new people thronging her life. Being a stay-at-home mum ensured she met a lot of women in similar situations in the park where she took little Chetan to play, at the neighbourhood grocery, the various functions of the society flat where she lived; but it wasn’t the same.
She says, “I think it’s just the age factor. Because when I was younger I could make friends with just about anyone and have a good time. Now, I find all the mums that I meet, talking only about their children and the meals that they have cooked. While that’s a part of the conversation, I certainly can’t stand discussing this for hours and then be attending kitty parties where the talk mainly veers around the latest clothing/accessory you’ve bought or that expensive spa treatment you’ve just had. I enjoy talking about movies, books, politics, etc., but here no one seems to want to discuss all that. That leaves me at a loss because I just can’t connect. With age, I’ve become fastidious about what my likes and dislikes are and can’t really compromise on my being the kind of person I really am.
Also these superficial friendships these days where you are there to attend every birthday party but never really spent a quiet one-to-one time and conversation with each other to understand and help out in each other’s problems doesn’t go down well with me. Yes, that makes me isolated from the crowd but there’s nothing I can do about it.” Lopa’s only close pals are now two women who she met on her son’s first day in school and the friendships have lasted all these years. She finds a lot in common with them and the children have fun together. The husbands? Well, that’s a different story altogether.
She’s not alone, it would seem. Most people, professionals or otherwise, who live away from their hometown and family and old friends are finding themselves in a quandary these days since they are all on the wrong side of thirty or even older and need to foster new friendships to fill the existing vacuum. While there is no dearth of people around them, the inability to form close ties or get along well with the people they meet on an everyday basis is causing them to be ‘lonely’ with just the basic exchange of social greetings but not friends that you can call over for a cuppa chai/coffee. And while social networking devices like Facebook are helping them combat that isolation to a little extent, it clearly cannot fill in for a human being!
Neel Mohan, 41, lawyer whose divorce from his wife of five years recently came through, has shifted his residence to Noida from the capital’s Chittaranjan Park, after he bought a flat here, says, “I wanted to do away with all the bad memories we had in the earlier house so I sold it and bought a new place here, near my office. But I can say my social life is nearly extinct. Earlier my wife and I would hang out with mutual friends. Now because of the divorce, I can’t be with them since its awkward and all of them have kids. I’ve been trying to connect with people I meet on my early morning jogs or at the gym, but it’s getting tougher. Firstly because I’m at that particular age where I can’t be friends with every person I meet. I need to be with someone who has similar leanings so that we can have a meaningful conversation but so far I haven’t found anyone; no guys, no girls. Also, my status as a divorced guy isn’t helping matters,” he says wryly.
The question is: is it really so difficult for us to make friends as we get older? Dr Rakhi Anand, Clinical Psychologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi says, “ It is indeed difficult to make friends easily in later years generally as friendships in later years are more dominated by our conditioning than other factors. Mostly, the friends we make in our childhood are due to close proximity, common activities, age, gender, play, hobbies etc., and that increases proximity and cohesiveness. Also at that point, people are more exploratory and less occupied in other responsibilities of life. There’s a lot of innocence in such relationships.
Whereas adult relationships are more discerning. As adults, all of us have gone through multiple good and bad experiences which affect our perception towards life and people and our new associations too. Any new thing needs time and exploration and there are multiple incidents, factors and experiences which help us to understand any individual wherein that continues to reduce as we grow. As adults, our personality is less flexible and adjustable and we tend to easily reject or avoid being flexible until it’s necessary or beneficial in some way. Forgiving and forgetting is more a feature in the early developmental years than later years. Once we grow up, our responsibilities also grow with us and most of the time is occupied by our primary needs leaving us with less time to explore new things /relationships and give them enough time.
With married people, it also depends upon their spouse’s choice and participation. All individuals are different and so are their personality traits, choices and their conditioning. In therapy sessions itself, so many people tell us that they had to discontinue their old friendships or can’t make new friends because their spouse has varying opinions. A person’s own insecurities are also responsible for blocking new friendships after a certain age. The fear of being judged is very high. Friendships also become more gender-specific as we grow older.”
Cari Shane Parven, a 42-year-old former television reporter, based in Potomac, Maryland essay titled ‘Finding Friends at Forty’ from the book ‘Knowing Pains,’ talks about her quest for companionship and how when she turned 40 recently, she found she had no good friends to celebrate that with. She says that the 20s had been about creating her family, having kids and the 30s were about staying home to raise those kids. But now that she had hit 40, she found that this age could be very well about herself so she wanted to celebrate– but she was alone and friendless.
Explains Dr Megha Hazuria Gore, Clinical Psychologist, Delhi, “Friendships at any age requires an investment of time, effort and yourself. As one grows older, it gets difficult to invest that time with all the responsibilities one is burdened with. And ones view of the world becomes more and more fixed. This influences our opinions, perceptions and attitudes and therefore our relationships. The openness one expresses as a child or the flexibility one has in one’s thinking as a young person becomes more rigid and therefore the exposure to new relationships becomes lesser. Most people find their comfort zone in work, family, self and social relationships by around 35 to 40 years of age and don’t see a need to venture out of this comfort zone to explore or subject ourselves to different experiences.”
In the end, it’s all about that little time you have for yourself in the middle of all your responsibilities, so forging deep bonds with new people is tougher. Says K Jain, 39, an interior decorator, “It is difficult because friendships after a certain age mean much more than just that simple friendship we had when we were younger. Now it could be about socializing with people with whom you don’t have much in common simply because they are your neighbours, parents of your children’s friends or even business associates.
There’s a lot of money/status talk thrown in and genuine friendships where you can laugh, connect, bond, talk about your common likes and dislikes get harder to find. You reconcile to that, at this age.” Anima Sen, 40, a freelance designer, mother to two, agrees, “ It’s all about Friends with Benefits (FWB) now, at this age. Your kids’ friends parents, your neighbours, your husband/wife’s boss who you need to impress, your kid’s teacher……there’s always an agenda.”
She seems to have hit the nail on the head.