I was talking to another writer this morning and we got on the subject of friendships, and how important they are.
Research shows that women with strong friendships are less stressed and more happy, and even live longer.
One thing I missed terribly when I worked at Home Depot was the fact there was no central area with tables where everyone could eat lunch. I was accustomed to sitting in breakrooms at lunch where I could visit with other women in the office and share stories and jokes. I really missed that.
Since I have essentially been working from home for about 6 months now, I have missed chatting with other women. [No offense, Mom.]
Women [most of us anyway] raise our kids, and our parents die, and then where are we? We might have a husband or partner we live with, but we need more than that, to emotionally sustain us.
My book group usually evolves into a group of women talking about our lives, not the books. That's what makes the group fun and interesting. We share things. We laugh. We sympathize.My grandmother had 6 sisters. When they all got together in the same room, it was pandemonium. Mother recalls, as a kid, listening to her mother and aunts all talking at once, and thinking how on earth do they even know what they are saying? Then later, Mamaw would talk about each sister and repeat their remarks, like they had held the floor. It amazed Mom.
When we are young, female friendships can be complicated because we may be "competing" for male attention. Or we may compare our lives to others, and we worry that we aren't perfect enough.Or we may be just plain too busy to spend time with our female friends. Life is complicated when you are juggling house, kids, work, hubby, etc.
When we get older, though, it gets easier. I don't care whose house is bigger than mine, or who makes more money, or whose kid is more successful. I truly don't care. I am OK being single, but I have plenty of married friends. I have absorbed into my bones the knowledge that material things really don't matter. (It took me a while to get there.)
Growing up without sisters, and with my best friend living in another state [she was in Augusta while I was in Knoxville from age 8 on up], I longed to know and understand my place in the world, and what my choices might be.
I have always tried to figure out how to live my life by reading about how other women lived their lives. I wanted role models. I remember reading every single female biography and autobiography in our tiny community library, and pestering my parents to take me to the bigger library downtown.
I loved the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt was considered ugly and was painfully shy, and yet she was wife of a president and an accomplished person in her own right. I loved reading about Marie Curie and her courage in inventing the x-ray machine. Clara Barton, Louisa May Alcott, my own grandmother who died before I was born - they all inspired me. I wanted to hear about them. I wanted to understand how they were strong, and what sustained them.
How do you find the courage to figure out your path, and pursue it, except by examining how other folks have done it? I don't knw the answer to that.
I didn't realize it as a child but I was living one of my favorite quotes: If you want to know about the journey, ask someone who has just come back.
Sometimes, though, it's actually more important to not follow anyone else's path. For years, this was on my fridge:
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Emerson
I thought about that message a lot when I was adopting my daughter. Of course, other single women had adopted from Russia, but I didn't know any. I needed a community, which was why I started my own support group for parents.
I've always wanted strong female role models and friends, but until recently I didn't realize just how vitally important my female friends really are.
A landmark study in 2002 found that women with strong friendships react better to stress. They are more healthy. They don't die as quickly.
It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the "tend and befriend" notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. There's no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live longer.
In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.
My mother has seen a number of her longtime friends die in the past few years, and this has been really tough on her. She leaned heavily on other female friends when my Dad died. Mom was only 61.Thank goodness she still has several friends in her age group, and is in regular contact with them. One of them got married again a few weeks ago, and she is just a couple of years younger than Mother!
Despite the fact she doesn't get out too much these days, Mother, like me, depends on her female friends for stress reduction, comraderie, and emotional support for good and bad life events.
So what is the takeaway from all this?
Stress and happiness need to be shared, examined, laughed at. Over cups of coffee, or a glass of wine, at the kitchen table or in the breakroom. We need to be there for each other. We need this to be healthy.
If you are feeling stressed, talk to your girlfriend. It might save your life. Or it might just make you feel better about it, knowing you are not alone.