“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 breast 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 spend your energy is 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 cheesecake.

When I invited her in, she said, “As soon as I met you, I knew I wanted to be your friend.” She has been my dearest friend for 36 years. If you find yourself needing a good friend, try Annie’s technique. It works.

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 a former acquaintance who had moved to Germany, and Deidre and I had more than a high school crush in common. We’ve gotten together countless times, and she’s broadened my life experience.

I also have a childhood friend who organized a neighborhood reunion. Old bonds were instantly renewed, and we fell into comfortable and caring talks about families, activities, aging and ourselves. We six women gather from around the country every few years to enjoy another neighborhood retreat.

Join a Book Group

Retired women have time to read, and we enjoy discussing our lives in relationship to literature. My first book group lasted 15 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.

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 30s 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. They even flew over for a week when I was teaching in Istanbul.

Start a Writing Group

Writers often operate in a void, and writers’ groups are a way to connect. Though it may feel risky 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 savor one another’s accomplishments.

If you’d like to start a writers’ group (or a book group), you could 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 started 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 to 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 get to 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.)

How are you making women friends in your 60s? Do you have any suggestions for how to reach out and make new friends? Please share your friendship stories in the comments below.

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