But it also meant less time hanging out with the friends she had made during almost two decades of shared experiences such as her daughter’s high school volleyball games.
“We’ve lost contact with the people we were seeing two or three times a week because we were in the same place. We would see those people all day on Saturday standing at tournaments,” says Fluker, of Birmingham, Alabama, who is the mother of two college-age children, a podcaster and founder of a self-care website where she talks a lot about friendship.
Friends supported her through the challenges of becoming an empty nester and losing both her parents within two years, she says. But since her children went to college, her friendships have shifted. While Fluker, 43, believes in “make new friends, but keep the old,” she’s finding new friends focused on her interests, “not the people at the volleyball game because their kids play volleyball. That’s our kids’ [thing], not our thing.”
Not everyone is as outgoing as Fluker. Finding and keeping friends isn’t easy for some parents used to relying on the connections made through their children. There’s no longer the camaraderie of cheering for school sports, working backstage or attending PTO meetings. Life gets busy with work, homes, children and aging relatives. Friends from college or childhood drift away because of new jobs, caring for elderly parents or divisions over politics. Social groups splinter due to divorce or relocation.
But research leaves little doubt about the benefits of having strong friendships. A lack of socialization can lead to depression, poor sleep quality, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity, according to a 2019 report by the American Psychological Association.
Yet society tends to value romantic relationships more than friendships, says Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends, a book that looks at the science of lasting friendship.
“We do all these things that lead to friendships being second class,” Franco says. “We invest less time, right? We reach out less. We don’t show as much love and adoration compared to a romantic relationship. And that’s what leads to our friendships being less powerful.”
Science teaches that we must nurture friendships just as we nurture romantic connections, Franco says. “What makes [a platonic] relationship succeed is going to make your romantic relationship succeed and vice versa,” she says.
What can you do to better support friendships or make new friends, even if you feel you don’t have the time, energy or built-in ways to meet people? Making friends may require that you build some scaffolding, such as taking a class or hanging out at the dog park. But there are even more important attitudinal changes that will help you, experts and friend-rich people say. Here are suggestions from Franco, Fluker and others: