After a recent series of bruising setbacks and rejections, I finished one awful day with the most pleasant of events: dinner with a dear friend. Without husbands. Without children. Without anyone or anything demanding something from us. We laughed, we got teary-eyed, we showed each other photos on our phones. She drank lemonade; I ate most of the shared dessert
At the end of the evening, I had been revived. I could climb back on that horse named Life and continue at full gallop. Girlfriends do that for me, time and time again. Nothing else works as well or as steadily. They’re conscience and saving grace, cheerleaders and coach — sometimes, too, judge and jury. I’m not sure I could’ve survived all that has been thrown my way if not for the group of women I’m honored to call mates.
Though I speak to this friend and others on the phone regularly, exchange funny videos and soulful texts as well, I’ve learned that nothing replaces old-fashioned face-to-face meetings. Sure, there’s FaceTime and Skype, but sorry, tech enthusiasts, that just doesn’t cut it. A person’s face on a screen is a substitute, not the real thing.
What’s more, the opportunity to share a meal is a bonus with all kinds of salubrious effects. While The Hubby and I dine together almost every night, commenting on the day’s happenings and picking off each other’s plates, there’s something special about breaking bread with a friend. I invariably look forward to such a treat and in some magical way the mere anticipation of the event makes whatever I’m dealing with less onerous. A shared meal provides more than body fuel; it also feeds the soul.
Exactly two days after the dinner that made me laugh despite (or maybe because of) my pedestrian troubles, I read an article about yet another study proving what most of us already know. As the Bette Midler song so plainly states: you gotta have friends, you gotta have friends.
One British researcher told the reporter that friends were “a life or death matter” — and he meant it literally. One of the biggest predictors of health problems is loneliness, and he wasn’t referring simply to mental health. The evidence shows that people who are isolated have a significantly increased chance of suffering from a serious, chronic condition such as cancer or coronary heart disease. In fact, the risk factor in some cases is almost as big as smoking.
The researcher went on to cite a meta-analysis of almost 150 epidemiological studies that tried to figure out what best forecast patients’ 12-month survival rate after a heart attack. “The best two predictors, by a long way, are the number and quality of friends you have and giving up smoking,” this scientist said. “You can eat as much as you like, you can slob about, you can drink as much alcohol as you like — the effect is very modest compared with these other two factors.”
As this researcher noted, it’s not just the number of friends but also the depth of those relationships. Friendship, like marriage, needs tending. It requires touching, feeding, celebrating. It blossoms only when given time and attention.
For the past few months, six of us have been intermittently plotting a girls’ trip to some fabulous destination. Though we have known each other for most of our adult lives, endured tribulations and toasted many blessings together, we still want a safe place to be silly, to confess, to power up. None of us doubts the necessity for bonding and decompression, but we can’t find a mutually convenient date. Spring break? In the summer? On a cruise ship? During a beach weekend? In Charlotte, where one of the girls recently moved? I wish we would, as the Nike jingle aptly puts it, just do it.
In truth, I don’t think the when or the where matters, only the company. Friends make everything better. The rest is window dressing.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.