All the way through school, we live in constant proximity to our age peers and l- I make friends almost without effort. Later on, especially after marriage, many adults grow apart from their friends and fail to renew or replace them.
Friends can cheer us up, provide a sense of community and continuity, share memories, offer tips for living better in a thousand ways, rejoice in our triumphs and commiserate in our sorrows. Having friends can even fortify our health. Here's how…
HAVING FRIENDS BOOSTS YOUR HEALTH
Considering the good feelings and stress relief that friendship brings, it's not surprising that having friends can improve your health.
In a 10-year Australian study of nearly 1,500 people age 70 and older, those with the strongest networks of friends and confidants (as measured by the degree of closeness and the number of friends, even if far away) lived longest. Contact with relatives, including children, barely affected survival rates.
A Harvard School of Public Health study of more than 3,200 people (average age 62) examined health-related effects of friendship by assessing levels in the blood of a marker for inflammation that's linked to cardiovascular disease. This was part of the ongoing, more than-50-year-old Framingham (Massachusetts) Heart Study, supported in part by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Results: Marker levels were lowest in the most socially active men...highest in the least socially active men. No such connection was found in women.
Another Harvard School of Public Health study, done in conjunction with the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, found that socially active men ages 70 to 79 produced more fibrinogen, a desirable protein that aids blood clotting, than less social men (not in women).
Still, friendships may reduce heart disease in women. In a federally supported study, 503 women with risk factors for heart disease were assessed for the extent of their social relationships, tested for coronary artery disease and followed for several years to track who had died and why. Those with larger social circles had less severe disease than those with fewer friends—and were less than half as likely to die within a few years.
Conclusion: Having friends may help you to live better.. .and longer.
FRIENDS FOR REASONS AND SEASONS
It's unrealistic to believe that one friend can meet all our needs. Each friend meets some...or iust one.
Examples: To commiserate with...see movies with...shop or dine out (or in) with... discuss troublesome issues with...and especially to laugh with.
It's fortunate that there's no limit on the number of friends we can have.
A few treasured friends—some, if we're lucky, are relatives, too—may be life-long, adding texture and richness to our lives, bolstered by decades of shared memories. Other friends enter our lives for a reason and then are gone. But even brief friendships can have purpose and value.
"DIVORCING" A FRIEND
As vital as good friends are, less-than-good friends can suffocate you and may need to be jettisoned. How to tell the difference…
- Friendship should reduce your stress, not add to it. A friendship that's hard work or feels bad is not a true friendship.
- Real friends support you...and help without being asked. They never judge you, belittle you or act superior to you.
- Friends listen. I dropped one so-called friend because her eyes always glazed over while I was talking as she waited for her next chance to speak.
- Friends needn't agree about politics or religion, but they must share the same values—what's important in life—or at least respect each other's.
Example: One friend who lived 20 minutes away phoned me countless times with minor problems, demanding my instant presence. I was forced to break with her. Later she insisted that she had reformed. I gave her another chance—and had to "break up" again.
Reevaluate your friendships periodically. You may have outgrown some. If any have become toxic, fix them or end them.
To fix a broken friendship: Identify what's wrong. Maybe your needs have changed. Then articulate your concerns (not easy!). If that doesn't work, give up and move on.
TRACKING DOWN LONG-LOST FRIENDS
There are no friends like old friends who knew you "when"...met your parents...matured into adulthood with you. If you miss chums from the old neighborhood, why not look them up? Here's how...
- Ask mutual friends for contact information...call their college, high school or summer camp alumni organization or visit its Web site...look on the Internet through Google or another search engine.
- On-line phone books can help—visit Whitepages.com...Switchboard.com...Anywho. com...Addresses.com...Reunion. com...Classmates.com...SchoolNews.com.
International: Visit Infobel.com.
- Go to reunions. Last year, I attended my 50th high school reunion, accompanied by my brand-new second husband. We had a blast—and I reconnected with a few old buddies. We've stayed in touch.
KEEPING FRIENDSHIPS AFTER WIDOWHOOD OR DIVORCE
When my first husband and I divorced after 23 years of marriage, I wondered which of our mutual friends would stick by me. After initial awkwardness, and to their credit, all remained loyal to both of us. To my credit, I worked at it. Lessons I learned…
- Widows and divorces pose a perceived threat to married women friends. The suddenly single woman must put those wives at ease.
No longer appropriate: Hello and goodbye hugs and kisses with other women's husbands...playful banter...sexy clothing...double entendres. Over time, you may, selectively and judiciously, resume your playful behavior.
Common mistake: Asking girlfriends' husbands for help with home repairs or chores. Hire a handyman.
- Relationships with couples change when you're no longer half of a couple yourself. After divorce or widowhood, many men's social activities consist of golf or poker games. Women's get-togethers may be restricted to matinees, lunch and shopping.
Tip: If you miss your friends' spouses, invite couples for dinner occasionally.
- When your life changes, your social circle dters, too. In the latter decades, many people are single. Seek out unattached comrades to complement your stable of friends. You can't have too many good friends...but unless you work at it, you can easily have too few.
IDENTIFYING TRUE FRIENDSHIP
Potential friends are attracted much as lovers are—through chemistry and body language... the recognition of similar temperaments, intelligence, sense of humor, experiences, tastes and interests. The more rvro people have in common, the deeper their relationship promises to be. How you'll know a true friend....
- Friends are people you genuinely look forward to sharing time with and miss when you're apafi for too long.
- Friends reveal their weaknesses. At our age, we (finally) know we're not perfect. Recognizing the same faults in ourselves strengthens the bond.
- Friends accept each other's quirks and value their strengths.
Example: My friends know that as a writer, I have an inordinate personal and professional craving for solitude. An old pal confided, "It's a good thing I understand your needs. Otherwise, this relationship wouldn't have lasted so long."
- Friends reveal truths that you may not want to hear. In tum, you can say what's on your mind without being hurtful or insulting. A solid friendship withstands well-intended criticism.
Bonus: Those who know us best may offer better personal advice than anyone else could.
- Friends are generous and flexible.
Example: Two old pals and I choose activities to share on our own birthdays. They love museums, plays and visits to the big city...I prefer craft shows, antiquing and being pampered at a spa. Obliging each other is part of the fun—and opens us to new experiences.