Compromising Positions

A sex ed blog with more

The Importance of Friendship

We’ve all heard the old adage “It takes a village…” in terms of raising children. I’d also like us to use this idea when it comes to taking care of ourselves emotionally. Friends we can confide in are super important for reducing stress levels. Having platonic relationships aka friends we can talk with is one great way to create safe space to allow external processing to occur. In an earlier post called Dear Teenagers, I discuss how youth need 5 adults in their lives they can trust in order to live mentally healthy lives. I think adults require the same. We all need at least 5 people that we can talk to regularly about important things, be they friends, family members, colleagues, or professionals.

For those in hetero relationships, men and women have different ways of processing and communicating. Studies say that men tend to figure things out on their own or at least with fewer words, while women have been taught to communicate more freely. We know that humans are social creatures, and these same studies say females use something like 5x more words than males. I’ll say upfront that most of these differences are likely due to upbringing and societal norms.

So, having friends around that we can chat with is key. We may not all be lucky enough to have a stable group as seen on Friends or a tonne of time to devote to friendships, but having at least a few people that we can chat with about various topics will help alleviate stress, allow us to work through thoughts and feelings, and generally to feel more emotionally stable.

Emotional wellbeing is especially vital for the way women’s brains work. Due to the nature of certain biological and societal differences, many women, extroverts in particular, process externally. This means that many of us need to talk about things in order to figure them out.

Some things that can affect the emotional closeness of relationships: job change, city change, house change, partner change, economic change. I lived in Toronto for 2 years and spent a lot of time cultivating important friendships there. I have my 6 girls in Toronto and I love them all dearly. Now that I live in a different city, I need to establish a new group of girls I can hang out with often. I have 2 right now, and I know that this is not enough. Not having the kind of local female support system that I need is significantly affecting my confidence, my drive, and my relationship.

Having a strong female network is so important to me at this stage in my life because I want to be able to talk with people who get what I’m going through and are at the same life stage as I. Every woman I know is at one time or another concerned about her biological clock or the first few grey hairs or being told she’s too sensitive/emotional/irrational. Dudes just can’t relate to everything, and that’s okay.

One really important aspect of being able to get out with friends is discussing a partner without that person being present. We all need to vent, we all need time to process, we all need people who understand what it is that we are going through, and it really helps to have a listening ear who knows how you operate. For me, I need to have friends who are on my side and tell me I’m right. I also need to have friends who ask me questions to help me figure out my plethora of feelings. And then I need people to say things like “I don’t think you mean that; that’s pretty harsh.” or “You’re totally over-analyzing this.”

A lot of us get stuck in the trap of spending inordinate amounts of time at work and with our significant other while forgetting about other things and people in our lives. At the beginning of relationships this is all too easy to do. I strongly encourage getting out and doing things both with and away from a partner. If you’re the kind of person who really loves spending a lot of time with a significant other, try doing things together that require other people: join a team, set up events that require at least 4 people, have regular dinner parties or board game nights or what have you. Spend time together with others.

One reason it’s so easy to stick to a partner is because making new friends when you’re an adult is hard. I’d like to think of it as another deliberate practice: I spend time and energy investing in supportive, productive friendships. I know that my mental health is far better when I am interacting with a lot of people and have different women I can approach about various topics. For example, I have one friend to be totally silly with, another to discuss my relationship, a third to talk about books & TV, and another to share travel stories and school stuff with. Here are some things I have done very purposefully: training for a 5k run with a friend, going to aquafit every week with another friend, getting my nails done with a 3rd friend, studying (come September) with another woman I’d like to be closer with.

I have also come to recognize the effects of what I call a leech: someone whose energy is continually draining mine. We often have friends come and go naturally from our lives, but so many of us are unwilling to “unfriend” in real life. I’d suggest that we all think carefully before cutting someone loose, but let me say that without the negative energy, life can be much nicer.

I think self-awareness is also vital to maintaining good relationships. I let people  know when I’m grumpy or fragile and need a little extra attention. I think this awareness helps others to realize that I am not frustrated with them, and they are more willing to help me out. Remember, none of us are mind readers.

If anyone has suggestions for creating and maintaining solid friendships in adulthood, please share. Good friends help us stay healthy and feel the various kinds of love that we need.

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