One of my favorite types of novels are those which involve a group of friends usually coming together to help one another through a tough time. Sometimes it involves a long standing coterie of friends (like the Friday Night Knitting Club series), other times it's people who come together in some shared activity and end up as friends (The School of Essential Ingredients was a favorite in that genre). I love seeing friendship in action in these kinds of stories. Also, if I'm honest, perhaps I'm looking for tips on how to make friends, or be a better friend to those I have. Apparently, friendship really is good for your health. Recently, The Harvard Nurses' Health Study documented that the more friends we have, the less likely we are to become ill as we age. Because I'm an only child, my friends have always been super important to me ~ they replace the siblings I never had. Over the past 15 years, I've developed a cadre of what I consider the closest friends I've ever had. We've bonded over our shared love of music and young people and travel and books and dogs. These are the women whom I respect most, whose advice I ask, who can make me laugh out loud even on my worst days.
With one exception, all my closest friends are about 15 years older than I am.
You know what that means, of course. That most likely, I will outlive them all.
What happens when you outlive your friends? I've seen firsthand evidence of that with my mother, who, at 83, has lost all but one of the friends she became close to when she moved into her current neighborhood almost 40 years ago. When my great aunt died last year, my mom lost the closest living relative she had left, and the nearest thing to a sister she'd ever known. Even though I see her or talk to her every day, she's lonely for someone her own age, someone who "remembers when," someone she can confide in without burdening me.
Of course friendships are volatile for reasons other than death. I can group my friendships into several clusters over my lifetime - the childhood friends that hung on into young adulthood and then faded away; the parenting friends, the ones made during children's school days, bonding over bake sales and field trips, which disappeared when the children grew up. The friendships I have now feel the strongest, and have lasted the longest, perhaps because they developed over shared interests and in the pursuit of shared goals. We've traveled together, performed together, sat in hospital waiting rooms together, rejoiced over births, cried over deaths. They feel are (as Meredith Gray put in on an episode of Gray's Anatomy) my "people."
So I'm not at all surprised that friends keep you healthier. Having a social network - and I mean a real live social network - provides the emotional and practical support we all need to get through life. Friends provide the perfect blend of kindness and tough love, of inspiration and exasperation, of laughter and tears.
How could we live without them?
How about you? Is your social network important to you? How have your friends enriched your life?