Science is beginning to recognize what most older women inherently know: there is a strong correlation between longevity and close friendships.
In other words, loneliness can hasten the grim reaper’s arrival. Maybe this is why so many widowed men turn into cranky old fogies unless they remarry quickly.
As a young girl I observed my mother’s transformation on those days when she hosted her bridge club. I’d arrive home from school to a carefree mother tending to a living room of talkative, laughing women smoking up a storm and sipping martinis.
It was the 1950’s when my mother and her friends were slaves to the role of the homemaker, following recipes and housekeeping advice from popular magazines like The Ladies Home Journal. For a few precious hours on bridge club afternoons the prescribed roles went out the window.
I came to understand that my mother’s girlfriends filled a void in her life. With her bridge club my mother had permission to unburden herself of her domestic pressures, to gossip good naturedly, and to receive affirmation for my father’s preoccupation with work, or for her demanding mother-in-law. When the bridge club meeting was over my mother retreated into her customary suffering in silence mode.
As I grew up I discovered for myself the rewards of female friendships. I’m still in touch with several friends from college. Although we write or see one another infrequently, I take great comfort in knowing that old friends have similar issues with adult children, bodies that are wearing down and anxieties about how to live when we lose our autonomy. We frame our complaints good humorously, revisiting the laughter we shared as coeds.
I’ve suffered from close friendships that unraveled, casting me into a depression that was every bit as devastating as when a love relationship ended.
I haven’t just been on the receiving end of being rejected by a beloved friend, but I’ve also had to make the uncomfortable choice to end a friendship when it became toxic. A wracking guilt accompanied these decisions even when the facts bore out the rightness of my choice.
Close female connections have saved my life. I don’t know how I would survived without supportive women friends when I divorced; when I struggled as a single parent of adolescent sons; when I got fired from my job at the Syracuse Newspapers; and when my mother was dying.
Dear friends were also beside me when good things happened that called for a celebration: when my Syracuse radio program, “Women’s Voices” won a national award, when I moved to Key West, and later when my first grandchild was born.
Now that I’m in my seventh decade and living alone, close women friends have become my lifeline. I have a few friends with whom I’ve pledged to be by their side when they’re dying. If I’m hit first with a deadly illness, they’ve promised to be my guardian angel.
Just as important as one-on-one friendships has been the richness I’ve experienced in the community of women or in larger friendship circles. During the ‘90’s I was in several women’s spirituality circles where we developed sacred rites for healing one another. More recently I was part of a women’s spiritual retreat center, which I discovered when a long time love relationship was on the skids. Being nurtured by a circle of wise women felt nothing short of a miracle.