Why Friendships Especially Matter at Midlife
“I have one best friend with whom I’ve been close for more than 30 years,” shares Fran Folsom. “We have laughed and cried together — a lot. We have been there for each other in the best of times — weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and vacations. And we have clung to each other in the worst of times, including the deaths of loved ones.”
“We talk on the phone every day and tell each other everything that’s going on in our lives,” Folsom continues. “She is the one person I can confide in and I know she won’t judge me.”
Folsom also has what she calls her “light” friends, with whom she’ll exercise, go out for coffee, or take in a movie. “I don’t share deep thoughts or emotions with them, but we have a lighthearted relationship.”
Folsom already knows how helpful friendships are in her life, but researchers are also extolling the benefits friendship can have on our health and well-being.
According to the Mayo Clinic, friends can encourage each other to adopt healthier lifestyles, while social ties can also reduce stress and lower the risk of depression. In a large study of women with invasive breast cancer, researchers found that those with the most social ties had significantly lower breast cancer death rates and disease recurrence than women who were socially isolated.
In fact, a 2015 analysis found that the absence of social connections carried the same health risk as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness led to worse outcomes than obesity.
Psychoanalyst Pilar Jennings, PhD, author of To Heal a Wounded Heart, explains that as “relational beings,” our need for trustworthy, abiding relationships continues throughout our lifetime. And while our family or romantic partnerships can meet some of those needs, “we need more than one person who’s invested in our well-being.”
Karen Fawcett, who recently returned to the U.S. after 35 years of living abroad, says she “works hard” on friendships, even when she is coupled. “Friendships need to be maintained and cherished,” says Fawcett, adding that, “as we age, women are increasingly important as support, for giggles, and companionship. Women can care for one another in ways men often can’t.”
“Everyone needs a network,”Jennings observes, adding that friends help us keep rediscovering ourselves. We all need solitude as well, but when “alone time” turns into isolation, that’s when we become vulnerable, especially as we get older.
If you’re short a friend or two, not to worry, counsels Jennings. “It’s always possible to forge good friendships at any stage in life.” Participate in activities where you’ll share a common interest, whether it’s a religious community, a book club, choir, or volunteer program.
Virtual relationships also serve a purpose. Jennings’ own mother, who was raised in Peru, has reconnected with her childhood friends, “and just about everyone else in Lima, I think,”Jennings laughs.
Still, says Jennings, there’s no way to replace a real-time, face-to-face experience. “Slow down and make time for your relationships,” Jennings advises. “Friendships can be incredibly illuminating.”
For friend or romantic relationships, have you ever heard of Wabi Sabi? It’s the philosophy of embracing imperfection for more happiness. Read this article to learn how to Wabi Sabi love.
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Photo by Ian Schneider