Like a fine wine, midlife – a transitional stage that most people believe begins around age 40 – generally goes hand-in-hand with the sweeter side of being. After the ups and downs of our 20s, and a recalibration in our 30s, our 40s is a time of deep-rooted confidence that comes from truly knowing who we are.
This self-awareness has a major impact on our relationships, too. Research shows that, while the number of friends we accrue in life takes a nosedive north of 25, the quality of our friendships keeps on growing.
With more experience under our belt, we are motivated to seek out meaningful relationships as we age, with fair-weather friends replaced by the more reliable kind. But why does this evolution take place, and how can we use it to thrive?
Know yourself, know your friends
There’s something about being in your 40s that just exudes self-possession. As the late actress Helen McCrory said: “I spent my teenage years in Paris when my dad was stationed there, and I’d look at women in their forties and think, ‘That’s the age I want to be’”. Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman agrees, telling the Telegraph: “Your 40s are so much better than your 20s because you realise how strong you are.”
That’s the age I want to be
This kind of confidence isn’t flashy or contrived. It’s simply there; an ingrained force that stems from having weathered a few of life’s tougher storms, and coming through – if not unscathed – then at least in one piece (just about).
This reliance brings with it a special kind of power: it makes you more selective. You know life is too short for flaky friends, or people you don’t fully gel with. Instead, you’ll seek out like-minded souls; the kind of pals who chime with you and your values, and who’ll be there through the hard times. And given that quality of friends counts more than quantity when it comes to making us happy, that choosiness really pays off.
Focus on the good stuff
When you’re younger – at uni, or starting your first job – your friendships are more transitory in nature. You pick up friends as you go, and each bond ebbs and flows in a wider network of social ties.
By the time you hit your 40s, however, the less strong friendships peel away and you’re left with the connections that really count. It’s a natural filtering process. Other life demands – a career, travelling, family – mean that you don’t have time to waste on anything less than the real deal. And the upshot is that midlife friendships are more rewarding and grounded.
“I have the greatest travel partner any girl could ever ask for – my now best friend, Dina,” says
42-year-old Melissa Capocci, who met her soulmate on a Flash Pack adventure Down Under. “Dina and I hit it off immediately in Australia, and spent every waking moment together. We laughed together, we joked around together, and we got dressed up and went out together. She and I were instantly friends, from the first hello. We have been inseparable ever since.”
This kind of chemistry sums up why 40-something friendships are so enduring: they are full of meaning and connection.
Share the things that make you tick
According to reporter Alex Williams, writing in the New York Times, close friendships require a number of key ingredients, including “a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other”.
In your 20s, this setting may well be a downtown bar after one too many rounds of tequila. By your 40s, however, it’s likely to take shape as something more inherent, like group travel (a past-time that, after all, still sometimes comes with its fair share of tequila).
The beauty of travelling together with strangers of a similar age and life stage is that there’s no pressure on the connections you make. You’re simply together with other people like you, sharing in quite major life experiences like searching for octopi in the kelp forest off South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, or canyoning in Slovenia’s Bohinj Valley.
You’re likely to make new friends for life
The sheer sense of adventure caught up in these moments means that people are primed to open up to each other, and bond quickly. It’s like sharing that 3am bottle of whiskey together, but more fun and fulfilling – with far less call for hangovers. And it’s the reason why we see groups of Flashpackers in their 30s and 40s hit it off, time and again.
This kind of group travel format is also an excellent way of pursuing specific passions that you have in life, such as hiking. “For long, strenuous hikes with nobody on the trail, you could injure yourself or get lost; and it’s harder to seek help alone,” explains Flashpacker Claudia Tavani.
“In Argentina, I was relieved to meet some fantastic hiking enthusiasts who were just as eager as I was to explore Patagonia. Joining a Flash Pack means not only will you have company for your adventures, thus taking the edge off complete solo travel, but you’re likely to make new friends for life.”
Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured.