8 bad habits thwart GOOD FRIEND­SHIPS

Friend­ship is im­por­tant. You learned it in kin­der­garten and now there’s ev­i­dence to sug­gest it’s a key fac­tor in lead­ing a healthy life. Yet, many women find their so­cial cir­cle sparsely pop­u­lated. Make sure you avoid these mis­steps that stave o your soul

Best Health - - YOU - | by ANNE BOKMA

WOMEN ARE HARD­WIRED FOR FRIEND­SHIP. We need oth­ers to laugh and lament with and we crave the en­er­giz­ing con­nec­tions that al­low us to share our in­ner lives, fill the emo­tional gaps in our mar­riages and feel less alone when life gets tough. Our very sur­vival de­pends on deep friend­ships with other women: Study after study shows that women with a close cir­cle of friends live longer, hap­pier and health­ier lives.

But we of­ten don’t have as many friends as we’d like – and we’re not all that happy with the ones we have. Seventy-five per­cent of women are dis­sat­is­fied with their friend­ships, ac­cord­ing to friend­ship ex­pert Shasta Nel­son, founder of the women’s friend­ship match­ing site

Gir­lFriendCir­cles.com and au­thor of Fri­en­ti­macy: How to Deepen Friend­ships for Life­long Health and Hap­pi­ness.

Her view that a lack of friend­ship has cre­ated an “un­ac­knowl­edged epi­demic of lone­li­ness in our world” is borne out by the num­bers: Al­most half of Cana­di­ans say they have three or four close friends, ac­cord­ing to the Gen­eral So­cial Sur­vey on So­cial Iden­tity and 25 per­cent de­scribe them­selves as lonely. That fig­ure rises to 40 per­cent in the United States, where data from the Gen­eral So­cial Sur­vey re­veals that 25 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say they have no one to dis­cuss per­sonal trou­bles with, more than dou­ble the num­ber in 1985. Over­all, the num­ber of peo­ple Amer­i­cans have in their clos­est cir­cle of friends has dropped from ap­prox­i­mately three to two. Our Face­book friends are mul­ti­ply­ing, but our “real life” friends are dwin­dling.

We’re lonely “not be­cause we don’t know enough peo­ple but be­cause we don’t feel close enough to the ones we al­ready know,” says Nel­son. “We are more net­worked than ever, yet we of­ten feel like we have no net of friends be­neath us.”

What can you do to cre­ate more mean­ing­ful friend­ships? Start by con­sid­er­ing what might be stand­ing in the way of creat­ing a stronger sol­i­dar­ity of sis­ter­hood. Could you be mak­ing one of these eight mis­takes?

1 NOT PRIORITIZING PALS

Close friend­ships need to be nur­tured and tended on a reg­u­lar ba­sis or they risk wilt­ing from lack of at­ten­tion. But when life gets hec­tic with work and fam­ily, we of­ten let our friend­ships slide and lose out on the very con­nec­tions that can help bring more joy and calm to our lives. Not sched­ul­ing time with friends is the sin­gle big­gest mis­take that women make, says Nel­son. She notes that when women go on a great date, they ex­pect to make plans again soon after, yet they’ll al­low months to lapse after see­ing a good friend. “We have ex­pec­ta­tions in ro­mance that we don’t ex­tend to our friend­ships,” she says. “We don’t reap the ben­e­fits from our friend­ships un­til we have more mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships, and a huge part of that is log­ging the hours.”

Pat Brown, a 68-year-old woman from Hamil­ton, ON, is part of a tight-knit cir­cle of women who call them­selves the “Bal­lard Babes” after the el­e­men­tary school they at­tended to­gether 60 years ago. Their long friend­ship is fu­elled by fre­quent con­tact: They meet at a cof­fee house every Sun­day morn­ing (“It’s our form of church”), have movie nights at one an­other’s homes twice a month (they ar­rive in their PJs and of­ten sleep over), take an­nual week­end trips to­gether to the Strat­ford Fes­ti­val and see one an­other through all the mile­stones of life.

“We’ve been to one an­other’s wed­ding show­ers and baby show­ers and now we’re pitch­ing in to help one an­other take care of our ag­ing par­ents,” says Brown. The Bal­lard Babes have plans to cel­e­brate their up­com­ing 70th birth­days to­gether by tak­ing a cruise and even talk about get­ting a house to­gether in their old age. “There’s al­ways some­thing to look for­ward to,” says Brown. “We make it a pri­or­ity to find time to en­joy each other.”

2 NOT CUT­TING TIES

Some­times we need to let go of friend­ships that no longer sus­tain us. You may share a sense of his­tory but not much else with your high school chum from 20 years ago. If you usu­ally feel drained in­stead of up­lifted after spend­ing time with a par­tic­u­lar friend or if it seems like you’re do­ing all the work and the friend­ship isn’t mu­tual, these are sure signs you need to move on.

One Dutch study found that we shed half our close so­cial net­work every seven years. Beth Turner,* a re­cently re­tired 55-year-old hu­man re­sources man­ager from Sher­brooke, QC, re­cently dropped out of a book club she’d been part of for more than a decade. The women had be­come friends when their chil­dren were young, but now that her kids were grown, Turner found that she didn’t have much in com­mon with them any­more.

“I’ve changed so much and be­come in­volved in things like cy­cling, golf­ing and ski­ing,” she says. “They aren’t ac­tive. They put­ter in their gar­dens, go to Florida in the win­ter and talk about their grand­chil­dren a lot. I told them that my sched­ule is busy and I can’t make the meet­ings. I think they un­der­stood that there was a big gap there.”

3 NOT NET­WORK­ING ENOUGH

“Ini­ti­ate the con­nec­tions you’re crav­ing,” says Nel­son. “If you want more mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships, it’s in your hands.”

Suzanne Fore­man, a 55-year-old mas­sage ther­a­pist, fol­lowed that ad­vice when she moved with her part­ner to Win­nipeg – a city where she didn’t know any­one – seven years ago. That soon changed when she got ac­quainted with her neigh­bours while shov­el­ling snow in the win­ter and even clear­ing the walk for oth­ers on her street. Soon, small gifts like tins of cook­ies be­gan ap­pear­ing at her door and friend­ships were formed. She also vol­un­teered for an AIDS preven­tion non-profit and met a woman she be­came close with.

“Do­ing some­thing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, like vol­un­teer­ing, gives you lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties to ob­serve each other be­fore you de­cide if you might have a friend­ship,” says Fore­man. “And if you’re do­ing some­thing you en­joy, you in­crease the chances of meet­ing oth­ers with sim­i­lar in­ter­ests.” Whether it’s join­ing a hik­ing group, tak­ing a tap danc­ing class, at­tend­ing a po­etry read­ing or us­ing an on­line so­cial net­work­ing site, such as girl­friend­so­cial.com or yesnewfriends. com, there are plenty of ways to meet po­ten­tial friends.

Rachel Bertsche em­barked on a year­long mis­sion to go on 52 weekly friend dates after mov­ing to Chicago when her hus­band got a new job. In her 2011 book, MWF Seek­ing BFF: My Year­long Search for a New Best Friend, the 34-year-old de­tails how she searched for new friends by sign­ing up for cook­ing and im­prov classes, used the web­site Ren­tAFriend.com (pay­ing a woman $60 to visit a mu­seum and have lunch with her) and even left a note for a waitress she hit it off with.

“I wrote that I was new in town and that she seemed cool and asked if she would like to grab a drink some­time,” says Bertsche, who still keeps in touch with at least 10 of the women she met dur­ing the ex­per­i­ment. “I heard from her the next day. I thought I was crazy and alone, but peo­ple were much more open to the idea of meet­ing and mak­ing new friends than I ex­pected.”

4 NOT AT­TEND­ING TO AL­LIANCES

Some­times we ne­glect our fe­male friend­ships and give our all to ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships, as writer Dorothy Parker fa­mously quipped about putting all of her “eggs in one bas­tard.” Ex­pand­ing and tend­ing to our friend­ship cir­cles can ac­tu­ally take a lot of pres­sure off our mar­riages since we’re less likely to ex­pect our part­ner to ful­fill all our needs. Ac­cord­ing to a study in De­vel­op­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy, re­sults showed that hav­ing solid friend­ships had a more pow­er­ful ef­fect on well-be­ing and stress lev­els than be­ing mar­ried.

“Hav­ing great friends can make your re­la­tion­ship with your hus­band more ful­fill­ing,” agrees Brown of the Bal­lard Babes, who has been mar­ried for al­most 50 years. “As one of the women in our group says, ‘We are each other’s safety net and soul­mates.’” Their strong bonds have seen the group of seven women through three di­vorces and the deaths of two hus­bands. “We’ve saved a lot on ther­apy by hav­ing each other as friends,” she laughs.

5 NOT SPREAD­ING THE LOVE

Some­times peo­ple cling to the no­tion that they must have a one-and-only bestie. This can be just as lim­it­ing as ex­pect­ing your part­ner to ful­fill all your emo­tional needs. The re­search of Dr. Robin Dun­bar, an evo­lu­tion­ary psy­chol­o­gist at Ox­ford Univer­sity who stud­ies friend­ship, has shown we need three to five close friends for op­ti­mal well-be­ing.

When Bertsche set out to write her book, she thought she was look­ing for the kind of best friend she had in grade school – the one she hung out with every day after school and traded friend­ship bracelets with. “That’s a lot of pres­sure to put on one per­son,” she says. “I re­al­ized that dif­fer­ent friends could have dif­fer­ent roles – there was the one I did yoga with, the one I could talk to about work dra­mas and the friend I could call on a Fri­day night to drink wine and watch Scan­dal,” she says. “I went into this want­ing one best friend and I came out of it with a bou­quet of best friends. There really is strength in num­bers.”

6 NOT BAL­ANC­ING THE BOND

The three key in­gre­di­ents for deep friend­ship bonds are pos­i­tiv­ity, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and con­sis­tency, ac­cord­ing to Nel­son. The more shared his­tory and safety we feel with some­one, the more likely we are to open up and share our hopes, dreams, in­se­cu­ri­ties and se­crets.

Of these three, pos­i­tiv­ity takes prece­dence. That doesn’t mean you can’t com­plain to a friend, but Nel­son’s guide­line is that there should be five pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tions for every one neg­a­tive in­ter­ac­tion to main­tain a happy pair­ing.

“No­body wants more whiny, com­plain­ing peo­ple in their life,” she says. In­grid Mar­tin*, a 56-year-old PR ad­viser from Toronto, says she has lost three friends over the years be­cause these in­gre­di­ents were miss­ing. One close friend moved to an­other coun­try (lack of con­sis­tency), a work­out friend be­gan drink­ing heav­ily be­cause she was hav­ing chal­lenges in her mar­riage yet wouldn’t dis­cuss with her (lack of vul­ner­a­bil­ity), and a mom friend from the neigh­bour­hood be­came un­re­lent­ingly bit­ter after her di­vorce (lack of pos­i­tiv­ity).

“I had to really re-eval­u­ate that last friend­ship be­cause it just wasn’t work­ing,” she says. “On pa­per, we could have been the best of friends be­cause we have the same in­ter­ests, but her in­tense need­i­ness and the drama sucked the life out of me.”

7 NOT THINKING OUT­SIDE THE BOX

It's never too late to meet a friend for life. When 54-yearold IT pro­fes­sional Yveta Ne­mec broke her leg last year after mov­ing into a new condo in Hamil­ton, ON, her neigh­bour Claire checked in on her daily, made din­ners and even got her gro­ceries. “She treated me like a sis­ter,” says Ne­mec, who adds that they’ve be­come so close, they’re now plan­ning a trip to Mexico to­gether.

Seven years ago, 51-year-old Denise Gor­don, a small­busi­ness owner in Dun­das, ON, be­friended four new friends through a com­mu­nity singing group called Sweet Re­frain. Now, they cel­e­brate one an­other’s birth­days, rent a sum­mer cot­tage to­gether and share a potluck New Year’s Eve din­ner every year. Even their spouses have be­come friends. “These friend­ships came about be­cause of a love of singing,” says Gor­don. “It was a very happy sur­prise. When you reach out to other women, the re­wards can be won­der­ful.”

8 NOT AP­PRE­CI­AT­ING THE BEN­E­FITS

A 2010 review of 148 stud­ies showed that hav­ing close friends in­creases our like­li­hood of sur­vival by 50 per­cent. Friend­ship has a pro­found im­pact on our psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing, pro­tects our health as much as quit­ting smok­ing does, chases away de­pres­sion and lit­er­ally adds years to our lives. There’s even ev­i­dence that hav­ing lots of friends can re­duce our chances of catch­ing a cold.

When it comes to find­ing – and keep­ing – great girl­friends, actress Amy Poehler, who counts fel­low comic Tina Fey among her BFFs, said it best: “Find a group of peo­ple who chal­lenge and in­spire you and spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.”

* names have been changed

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