Building Friendships and Staying Close
SW: How can you build a new friendship into a deeper, longer-lasting friendship?
MP: I think not expecting too much, too fast is important -- you don't want to scare a person. Paying attention -- if you know that something is happening in her life, follow up, whether her father is in the hospital or her birthday is coming up. Do something personal and above the norm. I had a new neighbor who, when she moved in, asked when my birthday was. Then on my birthday she brought over a little cupcake and a birthday card and I thought, "Wow, this is a really thoughtful woman." I felt very warmly toward her and that started us off on a nice relationship.
SW: Do you think the dynamics of friendships change for older women versus younger women?
MP: I don't think the rules of being a good friend change. But the issues change. When you get into your 40s and 50s, more women are divorced or even widowed, and those women are often shunned socially. It's a challenge for the married women to retain friendships with newly single friends. And it's a challenge for a woman to make her married friends comfortable with her as a newly single woman. Also, there's a retirement angle -- people lose friends as they pack up and move someplace warm for half of the year. I think older women particularly need to keep adding to their friendship pool because as people retire, move away, or become ill, that's something they're going to have to deal with.
SW: What is the difference between long-distance friends and geographically close friends? Do you think one set is more important than the other?
MP: I think you definitely need face-to-face friends who you can meet for lunch, who can give you a hug, or bring you dinner if you've had surgery. But if you have a good friend who's moved away, she's not less of a friend. The one thing I do for my long-distance friends is to be there for important events for them and their families. It helps to physically see each other once in a while.
SW: What makes a good friend?
MP: I think somebody who is really present, who really pays attention. Somebody who is a good listener, who doesn't try to give advice. Someone who's willing to be supportive and not tell you what to do, and or how you should feel. I think that's extremely valuable. And be willing to offer physical support too -- I had surgery, and a friend of mine took the time to drop off my favorite biscotti and offered to drop off dinner. Those are the people you become very close to -- the people that are really there for you.
Marla Paul is a writer living in Chicago with her husband of more than 20 years and their teenage daughter.