Whether you identify with Thelma and Louise, Ya Yas like Vivi and Teensy, or as a Magnolia ala Truvy and Ouiser, as a woman, you probably recognize the unique importance of female friendships. But are you aware of how these friendships increase in importance as you age?
While friendships at all ages play a significant role in a person’s life, the importance of having close friends becomes even more pronounced in later years. As it turns out, there are significant mental and physical health benefits to friendships as you age, and women are often better positioned to take advantage of them. That doesn’t mean they always do, though.
There’s no such thing as having too many friends, but there are different types of friends. They’re all important and play a role in happiness and well-being. As you age, the diversity in your friendships profoundly impacts your life because each type plays a specific role. The more diverse your friend group is, the more aspects of your life that will be enriched.
Whether you call them besties, BFFs, or soul sisters, the types of friends that are most beneficial tend to fall into the following categories:
This is the friend who will stand by you through thick and thin. Loyalty is a crucial quality in friendships, and having someone who’ll support you consistently, no matter the circumstance, is invaluable.
Friend with whom you can share your deepest thoughts, feelings, and concerns. These friends provide a safe space for vulnerability and emotional expression.
This friend is the one you can count on in times of need. She knows how to offer practical support and assistance when faced with challenges and can help you see the forest when you can only seem to focus on trees.
These are the try-anything-once, lets-do-it-and-see-what-happens, get-you-out-of-your-comfort-zone friends who bring joy, laughter, and a sense of adventure to your life.
Really want to know how that dress makes you look? Blunt Betty will tell you. She pulls no punches and can be painfully honest, telling us not what we want to hear but what we need to hear.
Friends who listen without judgment and offer empathy, provide emotional support and understanding during both good times and bad.
Friends with different backgrounds offer new and exciting perspectives on life. They can broaden your horizons, expose you to new ideas, enrich your understanding of the world, and challenge what you think you know.
Sharing common interests and hobbies provides a source of camaraderie and fun.
Distance doesn’t have to end a close friendship, especially with the technology available today. Faraway friends give you reasons for long conversations where you can recount your most recent life events, hear theirs, and feel like you can look through a window that shows you something more than your own backyard.
What a group, right?
Of course, it’s pretty standard for one friend to play more than one of these roles, but it would be nearly impossible for one friend to play ALL of them. And if you’re fortunate enough, you may have more than one friend in each category.
So, why are all those women and their roles important? Sure, they’re probably fun, but if you’re in your golden years and want to just mind your business and keep your own company, what’s wrong with that?
Well, it’s not so much that there’s something wrong with it but more that there’s nothing particularly right with it.
Friendships contribute significantly to mental well-being and overall life satisfaction and have the additional benefit of promoting physical health.
They do this by providing,
Women tend to want, even need, to share their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with close friends. This creates a supportive environment and provides context and perspective to life and your position in it. Think of friendship as like echolocation – the interaction with friends provides feedback that can help you understand and have a healthy perspective about your place in life. This emotional support becomes crucial as individuals navigate life changes, losses, and transitions in later years.
Social connections play a pivotal role in reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation – two things that are known contributors to feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Women live, on average, 5-7 years longer than men. So, as women age, changes such as retirement, loss of a spouse or other loved ones can leave a woman feeling like an island in her own life. Friendships fend off these feelings, keeping a woman feeling connected to others, fueling feelings of belonging, and alleviating loneliness.
They also provide a common ground to land when you’re feeling alone. Others who can sympathize with what you’re experiencing help you know you’re not alone.
Friendships provide a buffer against stress and anxiety. A reliable support system helps women (and men, too) cope with life’s challenges more effectively. The shared experiences and understanding among friends builds resilience and more ability to navigate difficulties.
These friendships also act like a release valve when it comes to pent-up frustrations and upsets. No judgement Judy and secret keeper Sue are great listeners when you need to get stuff off your chest or just talk things through.
As women age, their family and career roles shift. These transitions are times when friendships can become a source of validation and affirmation. Positive interactions with friends can reinstate or reinforce a sense of purpose and value when everything you’ve relied on for those things changes.
As we age, it’s easy to feel like it’s too late to take on new things or engage in new adventures. Friends can help us see that’s not true and give us the confidence and courage to continue growing. They can inspire us to pursue new interests, set new goals, and continue learning. Support and encouragement from friends contribute to ongoing personal development in later years.
Research shows that strong social connections, including friendships, are linked to increased longevity and overall quality of life.
They help maintain and increase:
Trying new things, learning from others, stimulating conversation, and even disagreements help keep your brain active and able to change and grow. This can help lessen age-related cognitive decline.
Sharing laughter, excitement, activities, and even challenges increase the release of endorphins, which promote feelings of happiness and clarity. Endorphins also help reduce stress levels. Too much stress and anxiety can cause unhealthy biological responses, like high blood pressure or an overload of cortisol, both of which can be damaging to our bodies.
Friends help motivate us to do things that keep us healthy, feeling more alive, and young. Those who maintain strong social connections often move more, eat healthier, and receive encouragement to care for themselves, such as getting regular screenings and needed treatments.
Friendships can also provide the motivation to embrace life and live it, rather than giving into feelings that your best years are behind you and being tempted to quit trying to engage in life.
Some of us are fortunate enough to have life-long friendships that meet many needs, but as I stated earlier, you can never have too many friends.
So, if you’re looking for ways to increase your friendships or supercharge the ones you have, consider the following tips:
Joining social groups related to hobbies, volunteering, or book clubs can provide opportunities to meet like-minded individuals. Local senior centers can be a good place to connect with people and make new friends.
Enroll in classes or attend events that interest you. Whether it’s art classes, fitness programs, workshops, or concerts, these settings can facilitate interactions with people who share similar passions.
Online platforms can be a convenient way to find and connect with old friends and meet potential new friends.
Take the initiative to host gatherings or social events. Whether it’s a small dinner party, a game night, or a casual get-together, hosting provides an opportunity to bring people together and foster connections.
Volunteering allows you to contribute to your community and allows you to meet others who share your values and commitment to making a positive impact.
All these things can be done to broaden your social circle, but they can also be done with your current friends. Strengthening current friendships through activities and efforts is good for both of you.
Women tend to be naturally more emotionally ready to be a friend and receive friendship. It’s wise as you age to capitalize on that innate inclination and put time and effort into activating your girl power. Your mind and body will be better for it, and your life will ultimately be richer, happier, and more satisfying too.
How many friends do you have? What roles do they serve in your life? What role do you serve in their lives? Where do you find new friends? How do you connect with them?