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Why Friends Matter

Friends are like math!
They multiply your joy,
And divide your sorrow . . .
They subtract the past,
And add to tomorrow . . .
They calculate the need
Deep in your heart,
And are always greater
Than the sum of their parts!

When was the last time you grabbed a cup of coffee with a friend? When did you last make a new friend? Chances are, that if you are a mother, the answer is “a long time ago.” Research shows that women with children spend an average of five hours per week with friends, whereas before having children women spend an average of fourteen hours with friends. This would not be an issue if friendships were not so vital to our health and happiness.

There are a lot of benefits of having close friends. Research shows that those with close friends live longer, are happier, and feel less stressed. We all have experienced this: after spending time with a good friend, we feel energized and happier. We walk about more lightly on our feet. In addition, if we share pain with a friend, we feel less sad. On a deeper level, friendships protect us from depression and anxiety. In fact, psychologist Martin Seligman argues that higher levels of depression as we age could be attributed to a dwindling group of friends because we spend less time socializing than we did while in school.

Journalist Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore, explains that friendships “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.”

The benefits of friendship are particularly potent for women as opposed to men. Experts are unclear about why women generally need more close friendships than men, and attribute it to different emotional needs. In addition, many men count their wives among their best friends.

When still in school, it’s easier to make friends because you are forced into social situations. As an adult, making friends can be harder – especially because your life is busy. That being said, there are steps you can take toward making true friends even later in life. Here are some tips:

Do what you love. If you love to read, walk or knit – continue to do so. Except, instead of doing them by yourself, get other people involved. Organize a book club, find a walking partner or join a knitting group. Any of those activities (and many others!) are great forums for discussion. If you keep doing what you love and involving others, chances are that you will meet someone who shares your passion.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. When trying to make new friends as an adult, you might feel that other people are not interested in getting to know you. It’s never comfortable to put yourself out there and have someone reject you. But, constantly remind yourself that you are a person of worth – you have a loving family and a full life. While being vulnerable is never fun, it is the only way that you will ever open yourself up to new friendships.

Put in what you want to get out. Once you find people that you are interested in being friends with, try reaching out a few times. By reaching out (a phone call, invitation to Shabbos lunch, or a request to run an errand together), you are letting the other person know that you are interested in his or her friendship. Pretty soon, you will be invited to visit.

Revive old friendships. Look through your address book for friends that you have lost touch with over the years. Is there anyone with whom you’d love to be in touch again? Call her up and invite her and her children over for a playdate. You might pick up right where you left off – and if you don’t – then all you lost was an afternoon.

Don’t make excuses. Many women say, “I have no time.” In truth, our lives are so busy, but women who have healthy friendships are much happier in all other areas of their lives. So, squeeze in coffee before you go to work, take an exercise class together, or put your kids to bed and head out for dinner (even if this means hiring a babysitter because your husband has to go to Ma’ariv). All of these things will ultimately enrich your life.

Try, try again. As hard as it is to face rejection, sometimes the person you are hoping to befriend really did have plans the night you asked her to join you for dinner. Ask again. In the end, the relationship you might create will be worth much more than the embarrassment of a repeat rejection.

You may have noticed that making new friends is often scary – you expose yourself to rejection when you try to befriend others. On the flip side, the rewards are plentiful: a longer, happier, and less stressful life. In the long run, I think it’s safe to say that it’s worth it. Therefore, consider making your extremely busy life just a little bit busier and making a little bit more time for friends.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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