When was the last time you made a new friend? Or grabbed an early morning cup of coffee with an old friend? A recent study found that when women have children, they drastically reduce the amount of time they spend with their friends -- barely five hours each week, down from 14 hours a week before having a child. And yet friendships are vital to our health and our happiness.
We spent some time discussing the changing dynamics of women's friendships with journalist Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You're Not a Kid Anymore (Rodale).
Stephanie Wagle: Marla, why did you decide to write this book?
Marla Paul: I've gotten a huge response to columns I've written for the Chicago Tribune and Ladies' Home Journal magazine, so I knew friendship issues were touching women's lives around the country. We don't talk about friendship troubles. We're embarrassed about it, even ashamed of it. We blame ourselves, and then we start to question our likability, and we wonder why we don't have that fantasy group of friends that everybody else in the world must have. What women have to realize is that having a lot of close friends is, in fact, a fantasy for most people.
We have so many shifts in our modern lives that separate us from our friends. That's why I wanted to write this book, to encourage people to reach out and let them know that they're not alone. The book has a lot of good strategies about how to make and keep friends. It's very weird to try to make friends as an adult. You feel like you're being pushy or too needy. So you might make a small effort and if somebody doesn't respond with open arms, you pull back and stick your head back in the sand. Women need to learn not to take things so personally and understand that you have to be extremely patient.
SW: Why do you think friendships are so important to women? What makes it different for us than it is for men?
MP: I think we all instinctively know we feel better after spending time with a special friend. We feel energized and happier. If we share a problem with a friend, we feel less hurt. But there's also this whole new body of research showing how profoundly friendships impact our emotional and physical health. Friendships protect us from depression and anxiety. They boost our immune system, and we have a healthier cardiovascular system when we spend time with friends. Our memory is enhanced and we sleep more deeply. The list goes on about how spending time with friends and having close confidantes supports our health.
Men need friendships, too. But the research shows that women are much more soothing and comforting than men. One study placed women and men in stressful situations and it found that people who were placed with a woman had lower stress level than people who were with a man. I think women tend to be better listeners; they don't try to fix things the way men do. And for many men, their best friends tend to be their wives. Men don't seem to be as comfortable sharing emotional intimacy with each other. They get together more around activities -- sporting events or work for instance.