“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Yup. They’re beyond precious, my women friends. They’ve reveled in my joys, shared my adventures, and pulled me through my crises. I treasure every single one of them.
As I enter this glorious final chapter of my life, I realize how very important friends are. In fact, it’s proven to be one of the factors contributing to long life. A 2006 study of 3000 nurses with breast cancer showed that those with close relationships were four times more likely to survive their cancer than those without close friends. Amazing.
Some friends come and go while others stay with us for years, but it’s clear that one of the best places you can put your energy is into developing and maintaining strong relationships.
I remember a day long ago when a woman I’d only just met came to my door with a fresh-baked breakfast cheescake. When I invited her in, she said, “As soon as I met you, I knew I wanted to be your friend.” Annie’s been my closest friend for 37 years. If you find yourself needing a good friend, try her technique. It sure worked for us.
Are you shy? Hesitant to reach out? Give yourself a kick. Anyone can build friendships, but it takes some effort.. It’s never too late.
Revive connections with old schoolmates
If you’re active online, seek out old friends through facebook or classmates.com. Attend a reunion and make a point of renewing contact with someone you enjoy. At my 35th reunion I bonded with Deidre, a former acquaintance who had moved to Germany, and it turned out she and I had more than a high school crush in common. We’ve gotten together countless times between Germany and Turkey, and she’s broadened my life immeasurably.
I also have a childhood friend who decided to organize a reunion of neighborhood playmates. Old bonds were instantly renewed, and the six of us fell into comfortable and caring talks about families, activities, aging, and ourselves. We six gather from around the country every few years to enjoy yet another Oak Knoll retreat.
Join a book group…or START one!
Retired women have time to read, and we all enjoy re-viewing our lives through literature. My first book group lasted fifteen years, and I actually mourned its passing. We ranged in age from 30 to 70, and the cross-generational sharing created deep connections. I keep in contact with many of these women, and I’ve since joined another book group that is becoming as close as that one was. It takes time to build trust, but it’s a precious commodity worth the effort.
Pull together an activity group
If you like to hike, start a hiking group. If you like to travel, pull together people to share travel tales or even travel together. Ski? Bike? Swim? Whatever activity you enjoy can become the focus of a friendship-building group.
When I was in my 30’s with small children, my friend Susan suggested that we organize a women’s canoe trip. Susan and I were the only experienced canoeists, but our friends soldiered through learning to paddle and portage. Of course, the best part was non-stop talking for four days. After 25 years of wilderness trips with the same incredible women, our bonds are deep. Though our canoeing days are behind us, we still gather for an overnight retreat every year.
Start a writing group
Writers often operate in a void, and writer’s groups are a way to connect. Though it may feel risky to to share your writing, there’s a payoff. I’ve found it to be a stimulating and supportive environment. I always leave my writing group filled to the brim. I admire every one of those women, and we celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
If you’d like to start a writer’s group (or a book group), you might work through your local library. Attend writing conferences and suggest putting together a writers group, either in person or online.
Create a theater group
My parents were part of a play reading group when I was young, and they developed lifelong relationships with the couples who met to share a dinner and read a play every month. Another option is to find a person or group of people to attend theater events together.
Embrace a group at church
Attending church is both healthy and inspirational, and if you are an attender, take another step to involve yourself in a church group: a women’s guild, a governing board, or a discussion group.
Become a volunteer
Every community needs volunteers, and everyone has skills to share. You will surely build relationships through whatever service you take on. Think through what you care most about and offer to volunteer your time for that cause.
Take a class
If you like art, find a course through community education. If you’re interested in nature, find a biology course or project to involve yourself in. Not only will you build friendships, but you will also keep your brain alert and active.
Take Action Today
However you go about building stronger relationships, make a point of reaching out to really know the people you connect with. Ask about their lives, their families, and even their struggles. Be sure, too, to share your own stories. It’s amazing how much support we can offer each other once we open up. Women get it. (And some men do, too.)
An earlier version of this article appeared on sixtyandme.com.