3/15/2023 | By Donna Brody

Seniors Guide writer Donna Brody knows firsthand the importance of maintaining friendships. She shares research on the topic as well as her own experience of keeping these relationships strong with regular get-togethers.

We seem to know instinctively when it’s time for a girls’ get-together. It starts when one friend sends out a group email about some topic, and in reply, another woman in the group will casually suggest getting together for an evening, a weekend, or even a longer trip. “It’s been too long,” someone will invariably say. So, that’s why, after some research and planning, we are off to Nashville this May for a five-night stay in a downtown townhouse.

The “girls” I am referring to are a group of 12 women I have known for more than 50 years. We met at an all-girls high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s and coalesced into our final circle by senior year. In the half century we have known each other, we have shared so much: celebrations of 11 marriages and one partnership; the births of 38 children; the deaths of two spouses, two infants, and one grown son; the loss of parents and siblings; and the welcoming of too many grandchildren to count. There have been career successes and job losses, cross-country moves, and exciting travel experiences. Remarkably, no one in our group has gotten divorced.

Our first trip together was to Las Vegas to celebrate our 40th birthday year. We followed that trip with other trips over the years, traveling to Florida, North Carolina, Galina, Illinois, New Buffalo, Michigan, and Cedar Lake, Indiana.

Our bond is not unique. I have other friends and acquaintances who describe similar longstanding friendships with women they met in high school, college, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Some have developed friend groups out of people who share common interests like running or playing musical instruments. Others say their closest friends came from childbirth or new mom support groups they attended many years ago, or moms they met through sports teams or scout troops when their children were growing up.

As we age, it is even more important to hang onto these life-long pals.

The importance of maintaining friendships

two older men on a golf course talking. Image by Liderina. Seniors Guide looks at the importance of maintaining friendships and keeping these relationships strong with regular get-togethers.

“No matter your age, maintaining personal connections is essential to happiness and well-being. Strong personal relationships are good for your health and reduce the risk of high blood pressure as well as unhealthy body mass indexes (BMI),” say the writers of Confident Living. “Additionally, according to the American Journal of Public Health, older adults with a robust social network experience better memory and improved health. Seniors with larger social circles often live longer than their peers as well.”

This emphasis on the importance of women’s friendships, especially among older women, has been celebrated in theaters, television, and literature over the years. Movies and books like the newly-released “80 for Brady” and classics like “Steel Magnolias,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “A League of Their Own,” “Book Club,” and even musicals like “Sister Act” and “Mamma Mia!” spotlight the strength of women’s connections. TV programs like “The Golden Girls” and “Designing Women” that showcase strong female friendships are still popular today.

Through the years, my friends and I have shared everything from parenting techniques to recipes to coping with aging parents to financial and medical decisions. We send each other flowers and cards during illnesses, call or text just to say hello, and attend the wakes and funerals of loved ones. More than anything else, we have shared many years of laughter.

Related: The benefits of friendships in senior living communities

These friend relationships are important in a different way than the relationship I have with my spouse. Although he and I enjoy doing most things together and are good company for each other, there are times we need some separation. That’s where our same-sex friends come in – after all, women are not the only ones who benefit from long-standing friendships. Men benefit from maintaining friendships, too. My husband, for example, goes on a week-long golf trip every October with men he has known for more than 50 years as well. One difference, though, is these men’s trips usually focus on a shared affinity for an activity like golf, basketball, or fishing. When my women friends get together, it doesn’t matter where or when, we focus on each other as friends. Our conversations can pick up where we left off yesterday or five years ago.

Both “males and females similarly value time spent in the company of friends and desire to be included by friends in shared activities,” says Jeffrey A. Hall of the University of Kansas. “Spending time together is a critical component of friendship formation and friendship maintenance. Although males and females may differ in what activities they share or the way they interact when in the company of same-sex friends, these surface characteristics are expressions of the similar value placed on time with friends.”

For those who may have lost touch with friends from the past, it may not be too late to reconnect. Thanks to the internet and social media, it is easier than ever to find former schoolmates, coworkers, or neighbors. The worst that can happen is they will ignore your request to be friends. But, you might find yourself picking up right where you left off years ago.

“Creating and maintaining friendships takes some time and initiative,” say the writers of Confident Living, “and you might have to step out of your comfort zone to do it. But the results can be very rewarding and can really enhance your quality of life.”

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.

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