WHY IT’S GOOD TO HAVE FRIENDS (in case you needed reasons)
By Karen Asp
Contributor: Deborah Olson, R.N., M.A., LPC, Author
November 20, 2019
Friends serve an important purpose. “They’re the antidote to difficult times and loneliness,” says Wendy Satin Rapaport, Psy.D., L.C.S.W., a clinical psychologist who splits her time between Boca Raton, Fla., and Rockland, ME., and co-author of Friendship Matters. While friends at all stages of life are critical, they become even more important in your midlife. Why? “If you’re evaluating your life only in terms of your kids or your spouse, you’re only tuned into their points of view; you need friends to give you their perspective on life.”
Friends also help nurture you. “Women spend such a tremendous amount of energy being nurturers that they’re depleted; friends can be revitalizing,” says Bernstein.
Yet for many women over 40, friendship don’t come easily for numerous reasons. For starters, you may have decided not to have children and so you’re naturally left out of the many situations that lend themselves to making friends. Or, you might have just become an empty nester and, as a result, lost contact with your child’s friends’ parents. Moving and becoming widowed can also cause shifts in friendships, all of which is normal. “As you go through different stages of life, it’s natural that your friendship groups change,” says Deborah A. Olson, a licensed professional counselor in Houston, TX., and author of The Healing Power of Girlfriends. “Friends come into your life for a reason and a season, and even if a friendship has ended, you can still celebrate the role that friendship played in that time of your life.”
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AS AN ADULT
There are numerous ways you can find friends. Tried-and-true strategies include joining neighborhood groups like NextDoor, finding a special-interest group in which you can do things you love like run or read books, going to parties and meet-ups, and volunteering. But here’s one you may not have considered: Making a conscious connection with the people around you. “Start talking to the person next to you, and you might be surprised whom you find,” Rapaport says.
THE FRIENDSHIP FRAMEWORK: IDENTIFYING THE TYPES OF FRIENDS YOU NEED MOST
Of course, not every person is destined to be your best friend, and that’s okay. Friends, after all, fall into different categories and not all friendships are equal. To explain this, Olson created what she calls her Friendship Framework, a five-ringed circle, each layer representing a different friend, and each layer building upon the other. “It’s important to grasp these different levels of friendship so that you understand them and the expectations that go with them,” she says. It may also explain why you view a friendship at a different level than your girlfriend, which could cause problems and hurt feelings and even result in the friendship’s end.
The Framework starts with the outer ring of acquaintances, or people you know and see only in certain settings (think a woman from your yoga class or your kids’ school). Moving inward, you encounter outer circle friends with whom you share multiple connections like the neighbor who goes to your gym. While you see her in a few different settings, you don’t share much else.
From there, you move to casual friends, or those people with whom you share a common history, interests, and activities. Although you spend time casually with them, you’re not extremely close to them. Inner circle friends on the next ring are the ones you’re close to and have earned your trust and confidence. Finally, the inner ring is reserved for your best friends, who encompass all of the characteristics of the outer four circles plus an intimacy you don’t have with other people.
Among those rings, though, you’ll find that certain friendship personalities emerge. So, which are most important? Here are the four you may want to seek out:
The listener: This is that friend you can go to when something’s really bothering you, Olson says. This friend isn’t only a good listener, a skill many people don’t have, but also a dear treasure.
The validator: When you have something on your mind, this is the friend who will nod her head and truly understand what you’re saying. “She’s in the moment with you and gets what you’re going through,” Olson adds that this doesn’t mean she validates what might be otherwise bad or unhealthy actions.
The fun lover: On those days when you just need to laugh, this is the person you call. She’s your lighthearted funny friend who asks nothing else of you but to have a good time.
The sister of the heart: Olson uses this phrase to describe that woman whom you consider your sister, even though you’re not blood relatives. “There’s this unspoken conditional love between the two of you,” she says. This is the friend who, when life throws curveballs at you, helps you see that it will be okay, and that she’s rooting for you and loves you.