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Here's The Kind Of Friend You Need In Middle Age

It's hard, but you can find a self-care squad after 40.

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Eugenia Mello
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Remember in your 20s when self-care meant you’d sleep until 2 p.m. on Sunday, and then head to brunch with your best girlfriends to drink and eat your way through a buffet table? Suddenly all was right with the world.

Then a decade later, self-care meant running away from your toddlers and small kids (and all your job-and-home stressors) to hit happy hour with your fellow exhausted mom-friends, just to slam margaritas and swap PTA horror stories. Suddenly all was right with the world.

But then your 40s happened, and the women you surrounded yourself needed to be and do much more than just pick up your bar tab or give you an hour of their time to chat about nothing of substance while having side-by-side manis/pedis with you.

Self-care at middle age — and I mean real self-care, the kind that actually keeps you out of happy hours and away from gossip-filled and overpriced girls’ weekend getaways — becomes an absolute necessity as you roll into your 50s and beyond. Why? Because if you haven’t already noticed it, your 40s and 50s bring with them a whole host of new and serious life issues.

And as your kids, teens and newfound marital, career and health dramas all grow bigger by the year, having a solid group of girlfriends around to help you manage your changing life and ensure you prioritize self-care above all else is crucial if you plan on getting out of midlife not only still alive, but also thriving.

But the surface-only, quasi-cordial, “Well, we know each other from PTA years ago” kinds of friends — and even semi-close friendships — aren’t gonna cut it anymore. You’re going to need to seek out and cultivate a self-care squad that not only is just present and “there for you” (to use a very overused phrase), but also will act as tireless cheerleaders and provide a solid groundwork of constant encouragement for and to you. They should share your passion about the things that inspire you.

A self-care squad will be those authentic friends who meet you where you’re at, are discreet and withhold judgment, and are ready and willing to have the tough conversations when you really need a kick in the pants. These self-care friends are unflagging motivators who embolden you no matter the adversity you’re facing, and when and if middle age gets messy (and it will, trust me) and other friends run for the hills, they’re not afraid to dive in with a life raft, leaning in with you, not out, when the going gets tough.

Natalie Hanson, 51, knows all too well the benefits of a having a self-care squad. As a mother of four sons, she relies deeply on her squad for supporting her through big midlife changes — like dealing with her growing children and her nest emptying, as well as her new drive to change up her work passion and become a yoga instructor.

She says, “My self-care squad knows me because I can show up as my true self in all its iterations, and know I am emotionally safe to be my whatever self. They also hold me accountable and are willing to have the hard conversations when needed because you care more about my growth and support than being popular or approval-seeking. They are vulnerable with me, and share their experiences, not merely opinions. We are emotionally and spiritually intimate. There is only love there.”

Friendships like that seem almost too good to be true, and women are quick to think that their best friendship-finding days are over by their 40s. They think they already would have met “their people” by now, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Finding a self-care squad at our age is not a lost cause, and there is no need to settle for friends who aren’t filling you up just because you think you’re too old to find new ones. I know this because Natalie is one of the women in my own self-care squad, and I met her for the first time when I was 45 … and, we happen to live 3,000 miles apart.

But distance is merely an excuse to send each other the random “Today my weather is worse than your weather” texts that are peppered in between all the life-affirming, life-giving, steadfast and emotive exchanges that we freely have — and which, quite frankly, on some days keep us simply standing upright. She and the other handful of women in my self-care squad are making driving the middle-age bus not so terrible right about now, and even on the days I want to steer that sucker right into oncoming traffic, I know they’re the passengers who will get and keep me on the right road to not only healthy mental wellness, but physical wellness, too.

Girls’ nights out and drunken weekends away? We’ll leave that kind of self-care to the 20- and 30-somethings. Real self-care and the women who nourish it are thankfully to be found in midlife, and we couldn’t be more ready for all to be right with the world again.