Boomers Renegotiate Old Ties

Recently, I was surprised when my sister asked me to start using her formal name – something I’ve rarely done. She said the family nickname has been bugging her for fifty-six years. At first I felt kind of weird about it, even though of course I knew she had the right. Then I thought, hey, pretty cool. She’s at That Age. No more compromising on this point. She’s renegotiating her relationship with the family.

I checked with my friends at Kevorkian Estates, and this renegotiating thing seems to be going around. “I never really got along with my brother,” said my friend Joan. “For years we avoided each other because we have nothing in common and frankly, we grate on each other. But I’m older now. We’re family, and I miss that. I’m willing to make some concessions.”

It’s not just distant siblings who are renegotiating long-time relationships. Wives are throwing down the gauntlet.

“We either change or I’m out of here,” Maureen told her husband. Now that they were retired, he was getting super-clingy. She loved him, but needed more space. After some heated discussions and a bit of cold shoulder, they thawed out enough to agree that she would take a few solo weekend vacations every year, and he wouldn’t get mad or feel unloved. It wasn’t perfect, but it works for them.

Some of my buddies said they feel more whole within themselves, or more confident; they no longer need the affirmation of others, or compliance from others, to feel respected. But there was no solid agreement! For example, Kathy said, “I’m sixty-six and I’m more mellow. My friends don’t have to be 100% in tune with me. Now, I can settle for less and be cool with it.” Her friend Sandra stared at her, indignant. “I’m too old to pretend. If they can’t handle me, the hell with them.”

Sometimes an issue might be a deal-breaker, causing a long-time relationship to fade away. That happened with me, and I’ll never stop missing my dear friend, but as we matured, I got frustrated with her heroic resignation to martyrdom. She’s “happy” and it’s her life, but I can’t hang with her now. I get frustrated. I keep wanting to fix her! So now we live separate lives. I’m sad about it, but we both have the power to choose.

But in regard to my sister, her demand for authenticity sparked my own. What might I ask of her? Is there something I’ve been soft-pedaling that I might be able to come clean about and ask her to respect now? For example, I might ask her to stifle the politics, since we’re polar opposites on that score. She might agree, and then we can move forward, respecting each other’s choices.

Have you renegotiated an old relationship? How’d that go for you?


  1. says

    I’m seeing more renegotiating of relationships among individuals of all ages. I think that the changes brought upon us by social media are forcing everyone to rethink how to connect with others– and why.

    I find myself much more mellow about the people who I let into my life now; however at the same time I’ve established clear boundaries about what behaviors I’ll tolerate from others. There are limits now in my friendship circle.

    I’ve never thought of this as an age issue as much as a way of staying safe & sane in our connected world. But now that you mention it, maybe this renegotiation process is age-related. I’ll think on that.

  2. says

    Fascinating and full of hope, Lynne. Hope that some of that acceptance does come with age. I just assumed that the old saying about people coming into your life for a reason or a season was part of life — maybe with age does come wisdom!

  3. says

    Interesting post, Lynne. I’ve learned over the years how to navigate around or avoid “Energy Vampires” and the older I get, the more skillful I become. I think the deal breaker for me was when I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 50. There’s nothing like facing your mortality head-on for grasping how short life is and realizing that spending it with negative people is not worth it. The one renegotiation example that stands out is an encounter I had within the past few years with a young female doctor who criticized me in public about a patient care matter. I responded to her by asking for specific feedback. When she couldn’t provide it, I told her I expected that she never confront me again in this way-in public or without specifics I could learn from. She never bothered me again and,in fact, we went on to have a colleagial relationship. It made me feel like I wish I had been able to do that in my younger years. I would have saved myself a lot of angst and sleepless nights. I guess that’s the beauty of aging- not wasting time on people or events that bring us down. You really got me going , Lynne!

    • says

      I’m glad I did, Kathy. You said “I wish I had been able to do that in my younger years.” I get what you’re saying, in that I believe with age comes a kind of certainty, based on years of experience and learning. In that case, it is another aspect of, as you call it, the beauty of aging. Hear, hear!

  4. says

    Interesting topic, Lynne. I feel like living between continents, I am renegotiating ties all the time. Each time I leave my x-pat home to return to my passport country, I work to reestablish family and friendship ties. I stay away from the hot topics of politics and religion because my time in the USA is always limited and I don’t want to waste it arguing, especially since my views, after living in Europe thirty years, are often the opposite of my friends. Case in point- gun laws or lack of them!

  5. says

    I have not renegotiated an old relationship, but yet have learned more and more to stand up for myself over the past seven years– and finally with my family last year. It was not easy, and quite painful as I realized what was happening and I was being called to speak my truth. But once I did I felt good that I had– it was very freeing. I see this happening alot in the world, too– people creating their boundaries and living more authentically. I think this is a most beautiful thing.
    I always went by Barb though my given name is Barbara. I never felt like a Barbara– as if I didn’t live up to that– but as I started to live more authentically it was quite magical as how I now feel like a Barbara. I can understand where your sister is coming from with this.

    • says

      I love your story, Barbara. It exemplifies what I’m trying to tell people our age – there’s a kind of freedom available to us if we just recognize it. But it takes some guts, and you’re demonstrating that. Good for you! I’m glad you wrote.

  6. says

    This struck a chord. Long-time friends and I used to share the same political ideology. Over the years I changed, but never bothered to tell them. We don’t live in the same town, so I didn’t think it was necessary. I respect their right to believe as they do, and trust they feel the same. However, during the last presidential election cycle, they (2-3 friends) sent me political emails. I ignored them. This cycle, no word about politics…friendships endure. A renegotiation of sorts.

    • says

      Yeah, politics. Yuck. In my neighborhood there’s like a Battle of the Signs going on, as if we’re all daring each other’s candidate to win. I’d like to show my support for my candidate but don’t want to alienate my buds on the other “team.” You have to shake your head at those emails, though. Cripes. Glad your friends got the message.

  7. Debra says

    My big sister had a habit of trotting out stories from the past, the painful ones, from my rambling single-girls days before I found Prince Charming. She found her PC in high school and went on to lead a charmed, happy life. I don’t begrudge her that happiness but I did resent her throwing up reminders of a previous life that I was no longer living. I told her a few years ago to please stop doing that. She was a bit surprised, but I am glad I did it. I still love her and would do anything for her…but cripes she can be maddingly over-bearing!

    • says

      Debra, doesn’t it seem like people who never had it bad think that’s a reflection on their fabulousness? I want to write a novel with a smug woman as the heroine, and then her world falls apart, and she has to deal somehow. That’s what I like to read about.

  8. says

    Excellent post, Lynne. I’ve renegotiated a few relationships over the past few years, bowed out of a couple, and formed new ones. My husband is a great guy, but tends to be cynical about people, and I told him a few years ago that I didn’t want to hear it anymore because I was absorbing more of that attitude than I want or like. I really believe that we become what we think, say, and hear constantly, and since we can choose most of that, I choose to be positive. Short rant when something offends, but then do something about it or leave it behind. Thank you once again for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

    • says

      I’m with you, Sheila. I just realized a couple years ago that my whole family and upbringing are and were negative. I realize now it was a defense mech against disappointment. In fact, in my teens I wrote a poem that ended like this: “I hope for nothing; I am never denied.” So yes, it’s a choice!

  9. says

    I have made some changes and are working on others. I’ve let go of relationships, with love, that just don’t work in my life and I am renegotiating the relationship with my brother who has tried to distance himself from all of us. I think that when we get to this age, we realize that life is too short to not enjoy all of the living we have left to do.


    • says

      So profound, Laura. Life IS too short. Maybe that’s the whole thing right there. We get to this age and realize we might want to reconsider. Good for you. Hugs back.

  10. says

    Interesting topic. My sister and I have always had our challenges getting along. I was reading a book about writing memoirs and recovering old memories, and the author recommended going back and looking through old photo albums — look at the body language, facial expressions, etc. I did that and noticed my older sister hovering over me in every instance. I remembered she was always very mother-like and protective, and our difficulties emerged when I asserted my independence. I decided to start asking her for help, seeking her opinion even when I didn’t need it. What a turnaround! We’re rebuilding the trust we lost, and now I ask for her opinion because I really want it. I also discovered she remembers all the family stories I forgot, so all I have to do is ask a few questions and we’re off and rolling.

    • says

      Good for you guys. Sounds like it’s going in the right direction. I’m the older sis, and since our reconciliation (yes, us too) I’ve been hyper-aware of my behavior around her. Humbling.

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