The Art of Friendship

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Friends That Make You a Better You

We're all so busy, in fact, that mutual interests -- say, in a project, class, or cause that we already make time for -- become the perfect catalysts for bringing us in contact with candidates for camaraderie. Michelle Mertes, 35, a teacher and mother of two in Wausau, Wisconsin, says a new friend she made at church came as a pleasant surprise. "In high school I chose friends based on their popularity and how being part of their circle might reflect on me. Now's it's our shared values and activities that count." Mertes says her pal, with whom she organized the church's youth programs, is nothing like her but their drive and organizational skills make them ideal friends.

Happily, as awkward as making new friends can be, self-esteem issues do not factor in -- or if they do, you can easily put them into perspective. Danzig tells of the mother of a child in her son's preschool, a tall, beautiful woman who is married to a big-deal rock musician. "I said to my husband, 'she's too cool for me,'" she jokes. "I get intimidated by people. But once I got to know her, she turned out to be pretty laid-back and friendly." In the end there was no chemistry between them, so they didn't become good pals. "I realized that we weren't each other's type, but it wasn't about hierarchy." What midlife friendship is about, it seems, is reflecting the person you've become (or are still becoming) back at yourself, thus reinforcing the progress you've made in your life.

Harlene Katzman, 41, a lawyer in New York City, notes that her oldest friends knew her back when she was less sure of herself. As much as she loves them, she believes they sometimes respond to issues in light of who she once was. On the other hand, "New friends know me as a more accomplished person," says Katzman. "They see me as confident. An old chum has the goods on you. With recently made friends, you can turn over a new leaf."

A new friend, chosen right, can also help you point your boat in the direction you want to go. Hanna Dershowitz, 39, an attorney and mother in Los Angeles, found that a new acquaintance from work was exactly what she needed in a friend. In addition to liking and respecting Julia, Dershowitz had a feeling that the fit and athletic younger woman would help her to get in shape. The two began working out together, and Dershowitz made sure to pursue the friendship actively. "She brings out my motivation and I really like that. She's strong and successful, and she helps me emphasize those things in myself." I feel the same way about one of my new friends, Ronni, a stay-at-home mom whose daughter was in my girls' preschool.

Continued on page 3:  Finding What's Missing


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