When I was fourteen, I realized that I wasn’t popular, but I wanted to be. I am an only child, and I was more comfortable talking with adults. I was extremely tentative if I was left in a room to play with other kids. I wasn’t so much a geek as a bookworm.
One cloudless afternoon I pondered my loneliness sitting alone in my backyard, and I noticed a swallowtail butterfly drifting from one flower to another. I wanted to be that butterfly, able to shift and sip from flower to flower without any hesitancy. The butterfly gave me a plan.
The next day I went to the most popular girl in my class and told her I knew I wasn't popular, but I'd like to be. I asked her if she’d help me make friends. She told me I probably wouldn’t like what she had to say, but I told her I didn’t care. Thankfully she agreed to help me out, to become the sister I didn’t have. As I got to know her better, I learned her good heart was a major part of her popularity.
Soon I knew about music, what was important to girls my age (boys, music, clothes) and how to trade secrets. I learned that intimacy is the main currency between women. That bonds of friendship are woven through traded hopes, fears, triumphs, and missteps.
I learned what it meant to have a confidante and be one.
Sadly this story didn’t have a happy ending. We went away to college and roomed together, but we grew apart that first quarter. Tragedy struck. The boy she’d dated all through high school left her for another girl in the dorm right across from ours. She would sit in our dorm room and cry and cry when she'd see him come pick up his new girlfriend.
I tried to comfort her as best I could and stay home with her, but her grief was too great for me to stay locked in with her weekend after weekend. I tried setting up blind dates for her so we could move on together, but she wasn’t ready. I tried planning outings with other girls, but she wasn’t interested. I went to sleep every night to Johnny Mathis’ voice singing “Unchained Melody” accompanied by her sobs. I tried to get her to see a counselor, but she wouldn’t go.
When we went home for Christmas break, she announced that she wouldn’t be going back to school with me. I was devastated. We tried to remain friends for a while, but we drifted apart. I was too big a reminder of the events that broke her heart.
When I think of the incredible joy and incredible pain we both felt, it’s easy to see why science is now telling us that if we want to live longer, we need to have friends.
Last year the Staff of the Mayo Clinic newsletter gave 5 reasons why good friends are good for your health:
- Friends increase your sense of belonging and purpose.
- Friends boost your happiness and reduce your stress.
- Friends improve your self-confidence and self-worth.
- Friends help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one.
- Friends encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise.
The Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders University in Australia conducted a study that followed nearly 1,500 older people for 15 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22%.
At Harvard, 133 women with breast cancer were studied to find the most important factors in helping them fight the disease. Here is a key finding from the abstract of that study, “ the woman's social context, particularly contexts of friendship and work outside the home, are statistically important for survival.”
Dr. David Spiegel, a Stanford University professor, published a paper in the Lancet in 1989 about the success rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Those who had a support network of friends lived twice as long as those who didn’t.
The quality of the friendship is more important than the quantity of friends you have. The friend you're thinking of as you read this is probably your best friend.
We need a best friend, a “bestest buddy,” who will be loyal, tell us the truth we need to hear, laugh with us, share our triumphs, failures, embarrassing moments, and dream with us.
We wrote a video card for you to send to your best friend to tell her how you feel about her. It’s called “Remember When,” and you can click on the link to play it. Send it in an email today along with a heartfelt note so she knows you think about her all the time---not just on holidays.
Plan something special to do with her that matches this quote from friendship expert, Winnie the Pooh, “As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.”
Even if you aren’t in the same town, Winnie has this advice:
“If ever there is a tomorrow that we are not together, there is one thing you should always remember. You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I will always be with you in the heart.”
If you are wondering if I ever saw my friend again, I did at our fifteenth high school reunion. She is happily married with two daughters, and we enjoyed catching up with one another. We are no longer best friends, but we are happy that we once were.
I wish you a best friend for every stage of your life. Enjoy the journey.