After a recent series of bad days, I was able to improve my mood with one of the most pleasant forms of therapy there is: a day spent with a friend; no husbands, no kids, no co-workers, nothing demanding our attention or rushing us along to another obligation. We laughed, we complained, we showed each other screenshots of memes on our phones. We drank coffee and talked about food.
At the end of the day, I had been revived. I could climb back on the horse, so to speak, after feeling I had been bucked off by busyness. Girlfriends do that for me, time and time again; nothing else works as well or as steadily. When you find the right ones, they’re a conscience and a devil’s advocate, a cheerleaders and a coach – sometimes, too, a judge and jury. I’m not sure I could’ve gotten to this point in my life and survived the things that have come my way, had it not been for having good friends.
Though I speak to this friend and others on-line regularly, exchange funny videos and tag each other in funny posts, I’ve learned that nothing replaces old-fashioned face-to-face meetings. Sure, there’s FaceTime and Skype, but sorry, tech enthusiasts, that just doesn’t cut it. A person’s face on a screen will do in a pinch, but it’s not the same.
Even though I don’t do it as much anymore, what’s even better than a casual coffee date is going out for a nice meal. Food is the most common topic of conversation among me and my best friends, and there is nothing – nothing! – we love more than eating, so a nice meal together at a restaurant is a thing of beauty. A shared meal with a friend is one of my favourite things (especially when it involves a dip appetizer).
Exactly two days after the day spent with my friend, I read an article about yet another study proving what most of us already know: humans physically function better with friends. The researcher involved with the study claimed that friends are “a life or death matter,” and he meant it literally. One of the biggest predictors of health problems is loneliness, and he wasn’t referring simply to mental health. The evidence shows that people who are isolated have a significantly increased chance of suffering from a serious, chronic condition such as cancer or coronary heart disease. In fact, the risk factor in some cases is almost as big as smoking.
The researcher went on to cite analysis of almost 150 epidemiological studies that tried to figure out what best forecast patients’ 12-month survival rate after a heart attack.
“The best two predictors, by a long way, are the number and quality of friends you have, and giving up smoking,” this scientist said. “You can eat as much as you like, you can slob about, you can drink as much alcohol as you like – the effect is very modest compared with these other two factors.”
As this researcher noted, it’s not just the number of friends but also the depth of those relationships. Friendship needs tending, time, and attention to keep it strong, even if that can only happen in spurts. And because we’re all adults with our own lives and families and obligations, that can be tough, and sometimes it means drifting amicably away from old friends and finding new ones to stand in, in their absence.
Probably my most enduring group of friends is my Saint Mary’s University crew, some of whom I’ve known since SPDH. We have seen each other through high school, university, marriage, kids, heartbreaks, tragedies, and everything life in your 20s and 30s throws at you. Even though we all live in different places, we stay in touch regularly and have even managed a reunion a few times despite so many schedules to coordinate. It is with these people that I can look terrible, confess the unflattering parts of life, be ridiculous, and never be the least bit self-conscious about any of it. That’s an invaluable asset.
I have different groups of friends, too. I have work friends, local, “are you going to the festival dance this weekend?” friends, baseball mom friends, and a few select girlfriends who are my confidants.
They are all important for their own reasons, and I’m glad for every single one of them.