Your friendship circles will typically get smaller with age, and for good reason. For starters, you know yourself better. As writer Jonathan Thompson points out, mid-life friendships “have the potential to be stronger, deeper and more rewarding than those that went before […] You’re now (hopefully) a fully formed adult and know your likes, dislikes, quirks, tolerances and interests, far better than the gangly prototype version of yourself ever did”.
Then there’s the issue of competing priorities. Once upon a time it was easy – if ill-advised – to spend an entire afternoon in a bar with your pals, knocking back Baby Guinnesses and putting the world to rights. But aged 30 and beyond, life has a way of grinding down that capacity for freestyle bonding.
Babies get born. Mortgages need paying. Job titles get fancier, demanding more energy and providing less scope for impromptu three-day weekends. The problem is, we all still need the vital life-source that is friendship. And because it’s an invisible quality – less obviously urgent than caring for parents, or filing that tax return – it often gets kicked to the curb. You end up feeling disconnected and a bit “meh” without fully understanding why.
It’s exactly this corrosion that Flash Pack co-founder Lee Thompson (above) experienced a few years ago, after spending much of his 30s ensconced in family life and the challenges of running a fast-paced travel business. “The emptiness I felt was subtle but striking,” he says. “Suddenly, I had this real urge to find ‘my’ people; friends outside of my family and professional life with whom I could belly laugh, be silly with and also confide in […] Friendships don’t just happen. They take time and effort, which is why so many fall by the wayside in the grand old business of living.”
Friendships don’t just happen. They take time and effort
So, how can you resist that pattern and instead get proactive with midlife friendships? There are many ways to do so. One very simple habit, however, was noted by Hollywood actor Kate Winslet recently, when describing her decades-long friendship with Titanic co-star Leo DiCaprio.
Appearing on the new ET featurette Titanic: Stories from the Heart, Winslet says she and DiCaprio “clicked immediately, right away” on the set of the blockbuster movie. “He was just very free with himself, and he had this effervescent energy that was really magnetic,” she recalls. “And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is gonna be fun. We’re definitely gonna get along.’ And we just really did.”
View this post on Instagram
Winslet went on to point out that one of the reasons why the pair have kept that bond in place – over 20 years after they first worked together – is that they always answer one another’s phone calls. “We’ll always just make that call right away. There’s no like, ‘Hang on, I’ll call you tomorrow.’ It’s instant. And that’s actually really something,” she says.
Now, at first glance, simply picking up the phone seems the most glaringly obvious step you could take in maintaining a friendship – especially if you don’t live nearby, or see one another in day-to-day life. But at the same time, as Winslet alludes, it’s also a habit that’s hard to keep up between the ebb and flow of daily life.
We’ll always just make that call right away
In a digital age, many of us don’t relish the idea of an unscheduled call. Millennials are notoriously phone-shy – and Gen Z too – to the point that we’re conditioned to message rather than respond by talking live. Then there’s the increased risk of burnout caused in part by “always-on” communication.
In a world where anyone can contact you at almost any time, and via a huge range of channels, the idea of sitting down for a phone call at the end of the day might seem overwhelming. Even with friends you know and love, it can feel like an ask too far. The temptation to delay, or find an excuse, while you nestle down with Netflix is never far from the surface.
And yet. There’s a logic behind why loneliness is surging, even as our phones become ever more demanding and addictive. Somehow, these sneaky little devices have reneged on their side of the bargain. We no longer use them as much for long, rambling, spontaneous calls with friends. Instead, they’ve become yet another to-do; a means of fielding requests or feeling guilty for radio silence on chats. The struggle is real, even with people you cherish.
Perhaps the answer lies in Winslet’s tactic, and a return to the 90s phone call. You too can connect more deeply with your oldest friends. And a good old-fashioned ring – not diary-ed in, but just whenever you feel like it (even at 4am) – offers one of the best routes in.
Even more important, however, is not to ignore that call from your friend when it arrives. Even if you just chat for five minutes, doing so gives space to know one another and connect, freestyle; like you did when you were both 15 years old. It’s the closest you’ll get to staying on track, outside of actually meeting up. And because of that, reviving this lost art could well be worth the whirl.
Flash Pack is a group travel company that specializes in small group adventures for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s. Find out more about how we work, and our mission to build a global community of friendships.
Images: Unsplash and Flash Pack