I used to be that gal that was always hanging with a group of dudes — the token little sister. All through my twenties, I generally preferred hanging out with my mountain bike riding, volleyball playing, sports watching, burrito obsessed, beer drinking mates. I found women a little tricky as friends, but these guys were awesome. They were hilarious, easy-going, accepting, spontaneous, and we could give each other a hard time without worrying about hurt feelings. I never laughed so hard or felt more myself than in those easy days.
Then, I got married. God love him, my husband didn’t mind that 90% of my best friends were dudes. And he liked them, too! I thought it was a win-win. But then a funny thing happened. We all started getting married, and even worse — I mean, better — having children. Now wives were involved in the dynamic, and in addition, I had other obligations to spend enormous amounts of time with the parents of my childrens’ classmates. Don’t get me wrong, this new phase of life was great, and I made some great new friends who were going through the same things we were. But carving out time for my mates got harder and harder. And don’t even get me started about the spread to the suburbs … suffice to say, it became a rare thing to sit around on a Saturday and yuk it up with these wonderful guys.
What’s wonderful, still, is when one of us makes the time to reach out and connect, like when I call James because I just saw his favorite movie and I want to quote it to him, or if Bub texts me something hilarious he knows only I will appreciate, or when we all make the effort and meet up for a quick beer. Time falls away on these occasions, and the friendship is still right there where I want it to be. Those guys know me in a way my new suburban mom friends can’t, and I’m so grateful for them.
Staying connected to those long-term friends feels good, without a doubt, but many studies have shown that these long-term connections are critical to good health as well. Turns out, humans are designed to be socially connected creatures. Adults who stay socially engaged age better, handle grief much better, suffer from depression less, and even have stronger immune systems. (1) Bella DePaulo, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studies psychology that focuses on single people and friendships. She found in many studies that friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member. One particular study of nurses with breast cancer showed a greater survival rate associated with quality of friendships than with spouses. (2) A similar study of men in Sweden with heart health issues found that friendship had a huge effect on their recovery rates as well. (2) From all the research about the positive effects of cultivating and maintaining long-term friendships, this much is clear: happiness is greater, health is stronger, life is better with friends.
Ready to pick up the phone yet? Do yourself and that old buddy a big favor, and make contact.