Friends: More Important Than We Realize

On the day to day mental to do list, friends come last. Not consciously, mind you. The days I get to spend even a little bit of time with a friend are great days, and so that should count as important. But I guess as I’ve gotten older and the responsibilities have mounted, I think about time with friends as a treat rather than a necessity. A guilty pleasure, if you will, especially because it means stealing time from other things, like marriage, kids, work. But is it really a guilty pleasure?

As my babies turned into toddlers and then into kids, one of the primary things I’ve watched is their social activity. Who are they interacting with, how are they interacting, how have their relationships changed over time, what characteristics are they attracted to and which ones are they repelled by. I’ve never thought about the end game being marriage, parenting and career success, though certainly social health plays a big role in all of those things. I’ve always thought about it in terms of their happiness. Good friendships = happy kids. Friends are actually a treat AND a necessity. How many other things in life can we say that about?

My college girlfriends and I went to Nantucket last weekend for a reunion, only the second time we’ve taken a trip together in over 20 years – kinda pathetic. We left on a Thursday morning and were back on Sunday afternoon. I essentially blew off all of my traditional mother/wife/career responsibilities. No work, no cooking, no cleaning, no school meetings, no driving to lacrosse practice, no comforting a sad kid, no homework help, no listening to a story about a bad client meeting. I don’t talk about these things with disdain; I enjoy them a lot. But they ARE responsibilities. I technically had none last weekend, except to be a good friend. But it turns out that was a responsibility, and it did take work, just not in the traditional sense.

While a weekend is not a lot of time, the nine of us managed to cover a lot of ground: rocky marriages, sex lives, gay kids, transgender kids, career concerns, health issues, learning disabilities – heavy stuff. And stuff we rarely get the opportunity to discuss in our daily lives, especially with people who are objective, removed and won’t judge – who personally care deeply and who in some ways know us better than we know ourselves. I left with a hangover, no voice and strained stomach muscles from laughing so hard, but also feeling fulfilled, heard, justified, thankful, normal (no one is normal and therefore we all are), and really good for having helped each of my friends feel the same. And oh, the capacity to be able to more deftly handle all that life threw at me upon my return. For a few days, at least!

Yet despite knowing all of these wonderful things would result, it still took us too many years from the last time we all got together to do it again. Because our need-to-do lists prevented it from happening any sooner. And even still, two missed it.

With age comes lots of awful things like wrinkles and saggy boobs, but also with wonderful things like wisdom about what and who is important. I have friends from all pieces of my life: growing up friends, high school and college friends, work friends, my kids’ friends’ parents friends, etc. I’m lucky in that the list is a fairly long one, but it’s been organically curated over the years. Meaning I don’t bother investing in people from whom I get nor give little. That may sound crass, but I’d imagine this is true of most adults. For kids, it’s different. Their world is smaller, and they’re experimenting with who they are and who they surround themselves with. This experimentation process can be a really painful one through adolescence. Insecurities, hurt feelings, downright mean behavior. Friendship takes a ton of work and kids do that work without even realizing it. Because they know friendship is vital to their happiness. As adults, friendship is thankfully a lot easier, but it means we take it for granted despite the fact that it remains a primary source of happiness. In fact, multiple studies throughout the years have proven it remains vital for health.

Husband, kids and career are all on my mental to do list, but exercise is too – I manage to do that five days a week despite it not being an absolute need (though watch out! I would be a crazy bitch if I didn’t do it!) – why not friends? This isn’t to say I have no social life, just that I fit it in when time allows, rather than allowing time for it. Making the latter happen requires a conscious mental shift. Not easy to do, but the karaoke bar awaits…

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