Colette Sexton on why you should treasure your closest friendships.
I was queuing up in Penney’s in Dundrum Town Centre a few weeks ago, and two young teenage girls were in front of me. One of them turned to the other and said “You’re my best friend. I know Shauna is yours but you are mine. I think Shauna has been weird with me ever since your sleepover.”
Wow. It took me screaming back to school. If those girls think they have it tough, they should try arranging their friends into a Bebo Top 16, ranked in order of favourite. I realised that I haven’t thought about a “best friend” in such a long time. Instead, as I have got older (not yet classing myself as old, just older) I realised that different people in my life come with different friendships, and all of them are valuable. Some I see more than often — much of that I blame on being the recession generation so we have ended up scattered at different ends of the world. But I often marvel at how modern technology allows us to have a chat in real-time from different continents. And I know that several of them will share this article on WhatsApp and slag me off for writing about how great they are.
"Bitchy" female friendships
There is much written about the “bitchiness” of female friendships. Women are often portrayed as in constant competition with each other in TV and movies — who is the most successful? Who is the best looking? Who gets the guy?
Growing up (not to mention the demise of Bebo) means that ranking friends is not an issue anymore, but having strong friendships is still incredibly important. Women act as emotional support for each other. We talk about relationships, work, and life, down to our deepest secrets.
Having people to depend on, as a shoulder to cry on and an ear to rant in, outside of romantic relationships, is so deeply important. Research from the journal Sex Roles found that women who have friendships in work say that their work buddies give them social and emotional support in times of stress. A lack of social connections carries the same health risk as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, according to a 2015 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science that used data on more than 3.4 million people.
Great friendships can even be lifesaving. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that women with early-stage breast cancer were four times more likely to die from cancer if they didn't have very many friends. Those with a larger group of friends with early-stage breast cancer had a much better survival rate.
Not everyone is lucky to be surrounded by a great group of friends. A study of people in the US found that people had an average of about three friends they felt they could discuss important things with in 1984 but by the end of the research in 2006, nearly a quarter of respondents said they didn’t have anyone they could truly trust. If you are fortunate enough to have your own group of girlfriends, take a look around your workplace or your college and see if there is anyone left alone. If there is, try inviting them for a coffee or a chat. There is much to be gained from building a friendship, and you’re never too old to add a new friend.
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