Women, hang onto your friends, for your own good

September 18, 2005|By Susan Reimer

Today is sixth annual National Women's Friendship Day, and if you are like me, you failed to celebrate the previous five because you were too busy with family and work to find time for your girlfriends.

Women friends are the first thing to go when life gets hectic.

If you don't see them on the sidelines of the soccer field or on a field trip or passing you in the grocery store, you might not see them for months on end.

Author Sandy Sheehy, in her book about women's friendships titled Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship (William Morrow / Harper Collins, 2000), writes that she grew up in the 1950s believing that "romance and family were the sustenance of life; female friendships were the garnishes -- the parsley sprig and the orange slice, not the steak and potatoes."

But she and other women have learned that female friendships are not frivolous. They are sustaining in real terms.

Our female friends do more than fill in those emotional empty spaces in our marriages.

They do more than soothe our fears and doubts as mothers.

Medical studies have determined that strong friendships help women get through serious ordeals without experiencing the serious physical side effects that crisis or loss regularly leave in their wake.

These kinds of social ties also reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol, other studies have shown, so our friends actually help us live longer.

And they help our husbands live longer, too.

Still other studies have demonstrated that women make the connections (with other women) that create the social networks that keep men healthy.

It is something men don't do themselves, and the poor health of single men and widowers, when compared with married men, prove the point.

The famous Nurses' Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged.

It was found that not having close friends can be as detrimental to a woman's health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

And -- this is perhaps the most telling point -- women who had friends were more likely to describe their lives as joyful.

Women's friendships can have their downsides, however.

Friendships in the workplace can be tricky, especially if there is competition for advancement. But women friends can provide each other solace in a stressful work environment.

Women's friendships can be draining, too, especially if there is lots of drama and histrionics. The strain of trying to comfort a friend or solve all her problems can be tough on a woman.

In addition, women tend to believe that, while romantic love may be fleeting, friendships should last forever.

When they don't, the grief can be devastating, like a "little death."

Considering all the evidence, doesn't it make sense to put a little more time and effort into our friendships with other women?

The kids and the cobwebs can wait. Call a friend today and go out for coffee, a glass of wine or a long walk. Or simply make a phone call and begin to reconstitute an old friendship.

Let your husband and children wonder why you are smiling.

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