By Kaye Olsson I Start Wondering Columnist
I once told my then-teenage niece, “The men in our lives may come and go, but our girlfriends will always be there.” I don’t remember the exact circumstances of our conversation but, many years later, those words still ring true. In fact, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized just how important relationships with girlfriends can be.
Life often throws us unexpected punches such as death, divorce, illness, and unemployment. Women in my age group face hardships we couldn’t imagine as our younger selves, making the support of female friends even more valuable. They become our chosen family. Our girlfriends can’t save us, but they can certainly make tragedies more bearable.
For example, the day my husband died I had four separate friends arrive at my doorstep within minutes to offer me hugs and stay with me as the mortuary staff took away his body. Another friend who lives many states away called me every single day for the first month he was gone. Others stepped in to help with the process of selling or donating his belongings. They listened without judgment and allowed me to openly grieve. These women truly saved my life.
The Importance of Friendships
Friendships are important for everyone and seem to be even more beneficial for women. A 2012 study from the University College London found that family bonds are more essential for men, while friendships are especially important for women. The scientists determined that marriage benefited men’s mental health since it reinforced their family ties. But the opposite was true for women, who often lost friends after marriage due to lack of time.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of our lives and focus all our energy on work, children, and partners. But don’t ever lose touch with your friends because the older we get, the more we need them. Friends are good for our health—leading to reduced stress, stronger coping mechanisms, and even increased longevity. Other benefits include feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness. Studies, such as one at Brigham Young University, have shown that people with solid social ties have a 50% increased chance of survival. Likewise, lack of a social network is a higher death risk than other factors such as obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.
Providing Advice, Support, and Love
Our brains are wired to feel joy or sadness in others; sharing these experiences can lead to greater empathy. Girlfriends often make good sounding boards and allow us to vent, rejoice, or ask advice. Being with a group of women who love and support each other creates positive energy and inspires a sense of playful freedom to be ourselves. Other women just “get it” and don’t require as much explaining as their male counterparts. We can also count on good friends, to be honest with us and share their perspectives.
This becomes especially important as we age, and our bodies begin to go through a number of changes. Who to better understands this than other women? Having intimate conversations and comparing notes with others who’ve had similar experiences has been incredibly helpful. I’ve been able to learn a lot—particularly from my older friends.
I count myself lucky to have such wonderful women in my life. But I often remind myself that to have great friends, it’s important to BE a great friend. Take time to invest in those relationships, find things you have in common, and enjoy them together. Be vulnerable enough to share what’s going on in your life and be willing to listen to what’s happening in theirs. Let’s all celebrate National Girlfriends Day on July 24th and be thankful for the power of girlfriends!