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Stephanie Marston is America's Foremost Life Balance Expert

Issue 1 January 2006

Sanity Saver#3: Cherish Your Friends

Authentic intimacy occurs in connection with other people in which we can see and be seen, know and be known; in which we experience enough trust that we can reveal our innermost selves to another. As you cultivate a greater level of intimacy in your relationships your life will be enriched immeasurably.

As we share the details of our lives with another person, we not only cultivate trust, but we get to know ourselves in a new way. Our women friends bring out different facets of our personalities. As writer Anais Nin observed, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” A friend who is funny may foster our playfulness. A friend who is strong-willed may bring out our more assertive parts. Another friend who’s more introspective may inspire us to be more self-reflective.

But, let’s face it we have to work at our friendships. As we’ve had to learn to have more realistic expectations of our spouses, partners and boyfriends, we must also bring this mature outlook to our friendships. As we’ve had to accept the limitations, needs, and quirks of our spouses and boyfriends, so too we must come to recognize the imperfect nature of our friendships.

Our friends, no matter how loyal, aren’t always going to meet our needs. We’re not going to agree with all of their choices, political or religious beliefs. It sometimes happens that we don’t even like or approve of their choice in mates. Still, if we value the relationship, we must make room for the differences.

We generally connect with someone because of our similarities, but it’s often through our differences that we grow. If we can allow ourselves to accept those differences, we’ll be enriched by the experience. But it takes work. We have to make room within ourselves to acknowledge our friends as they are, rather than as we would like them to be.

Even with the best of friends, we find that there are places where we simply don’t match. In fact, there are times when we wonder, “How can I have this person in my life? We’re just so different.” We may have friends who make us crazy by consistently being late; friends who drive only the most expensive cars or wear only the latest fashions. We may have friends who refuse to make an effort to recycle; friends who think Shostakovich is a cheese. We may have friends who insist on getting nipped and tucked until any evidence of aging is erased. We may have friends whose parenting style makes us cringe. Still, despite all their foibles, we find that we’re hopelessly devoted to them. In fact, if the truth be known, we’d be lost without them. Pause

Come on admit it. Many of us become overly serious in our busy lives. We work hard at our careers, raise our children, care for aging parents, and as a result, our playful, fun side often gets lost in the shuffle. Play is an essential ingredient for our health and longevity. And yet it’s something we often overlook. Our women friends often prove to be some of our best playmates.

Here are just a few examples of what women do with their friends: Rita, who is married with two teenage children, has a weekly date with other married women to go salsa dancing. Lauren took her friend to a Bruce Springsteen concert for her 40th birthday, then went to a karaoke bar and sang Bruce songs, out of tune, but with reckless abandon. Toni meets Natalie five mornings a week to walk. Sally’s friend Pam left her son with her husband and rented a red mustang convertible; they drove down the California coast with the top down. My friend Valerie and I call each other Hanz and Franz (you remember the muscle men on “Saturday Night Live”). We meet at the gym three afternoons a week to work out. It keeps us honest about showing up and makes the workout far more fun.

Our friendships can take many forms. Sometimes we mother one another. Sometimes we act as confidant and advisor. Sometimes we are the sister we always wished we’d had. And sometimes we’re the perfect playmate. Need I say more, without delay call one of your girlfriends and make a date to get together. Yes, of course, you can talk on the phone, that’s fine, but as I said, there’s nothing like meeting face-to-face and simply hanging out or doing something fun to deepen your conversation and promote a sense of well-being and renewal.