middle-aged women who are friends sitting on a beach

The Secret to Midlife Happiness May Surprise You

By Andrea Atkins
December 11, 2023

Our shoes kicked off, we sprawled on the living room couch and surrounding chairs like teenagers. We’d eaten dinner, sipped some wine, and were simply hanging out. And we couldn’t stop talking. Or laughing. We talked about sex (how much we were or were not having.) We talked about our kids (how was each doing?) We caught up on work (should we keep doing it or will we finally stop?) We talked about our parents—whose mom was doing well, whose was not. No one wanted to go home. In fact, we lingered longer than any of us meant to.

But there was no rush. Because we were six middle-aged women whose time is our own. Let’s face it, one of the great ironies of life is that when you’re young and single, all you want is to find a partner and settle down. Then, once you settle into married life, all you want is time to be with your girlfriends.

Suddenly, though, you reach middle age, and a great opportunity for balance emerges. Likely, your kids are adults, your career is established, your relationship is (hopefully) stable. Most of your mistakes are behind you and there’s still a lot of life ahead of you. You can dig into what really interests you. For me, that means playing a lot of tennis (is four times a week too much?), traveling with my husband, solving crosswords, and enjoying time with my adult daughters who no longer live near us.

But a singular pleasure has been having time to spend with girlfriends. Like most women, I have friends I meet for lunch, friends I talk to by phone, friends I take walks with. I have friends from whom I can borrow a cup of sugar, friends who will give me an honest opinion about whether the dress I just bought looks good, and friends who are writers like me. However, even though I have people to call on, I always longed for the type of connections I’d made in college, high school, and summer camp, when my gal pals and I had endless hours to ponder weighty questions, to dream, or just to laugh.

When you’re raising kids, managing a career, tending to your marriage, and trying to make ends meet, you don’t have time for the deep connections that fueled the friendships of your younger years. You’re just trying to get through the day, supervise homework, mediate sibling squabbles, plan the sports schedule, manage summer activities, and run the household, all while trying to get a nutritious meal on the table and excel at your professional life. You are busy. Something’s gotta give, and it’s often you—and, especially, your friendships.

So, you make the best of it, grabbing a drink or two on a weeknight. You take those long walks around the neighborhood when you can. And you text back and forth. But I didn’t realize how much I needed and missed extended time with my girlfriends until I took a trip with seven of them to celebrate my 60th birthday.

We went to a Caribbean island for just three nights (decadent, I know!), and the women were from different parts of my life, so they didn’t all know one another. But it took just a few hours before all of us “cracked open” in a most surprising way. We sat on the beach trading stories, laughing, and sharing wisdom. We had long dinners and long breakfasts. Before I knew it, intimate details of our lives spilled out, and everyone felt stunned by how quickly it happened. We luxuriated in the sun, but really, the most luxurious thing of all was being in the warmth of each other’s company. It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

I felt especially grateful one recent night, when I got together with five women I met when we were 10 years old and attended summer camp together. We’ve known one another, I like to say, from menstruation through menopause. There were many years where we weren’t in touch, too busy with our families to get together regularly. Over the last few years, we’ve met in Manhattan for dinner a few times a year and Zoomed regularly during the pandemic.

Once we were all vaccinated, we gathered at the new apartment of one of our friends, who’s newly separated from her partner, and that same feeling I’d had in the Caribbean came over me. My friends and I shared advice, supported one another, and laughed till we cried. It felt like camp all over again, and I knew then that this could only happen because we are older, wiser, and full of love for each other and the friendship we’ve maintained for a lifetime.

I have vowed to tend to and water all of my friendships—to take advantage of nights with no need to rush home, afternoons that can stretch into evening, and weekends that center on them. Because there is nothing like friends. And there is nothing better than being old enough to have time for them.