Why it's time we make more time for our friendships

These women are my lifeline. They see me, they get me. They ignite joy. They are the witnesses to my life.
These women are my lifeline. They see me, they get me. They ignite joy. They are the witnesses to my life. Photo: Stocksy

We speak almost every day, sometimes more than once. She lives 20 minutes away but I haven't seen her since January because, even though she's one of my closest friends, well, who has the time?

We celebrated her significant birthday two months late, on a Tuesday in school hours, the first window we could find between a bunch of women pulled in different directions.

With another good friend it came to this: a snatched walk beside a four-lane expressway between my chiropractor appointment and her work meeting. We took what we could get.

These are the subpar friendship arrangements we too often settle for, even with women we love and whose company we thrive on. But too often we barely see them because, in the pecking order of a mounting schedule of priorities – kids, family, partners, work, renovations – it's friendships which invariably get demoted.

Attempts to meet up with a group of friends for dinner usually play out like this: one brave soul kicks it off; group emails fly around scouring for a mutually agreeable date; finally, a night three months down the track is chosen. But when the day arrives, the attendees drop like flies – a sick child, a cancelled baby-sitter, husband working late, just too damn exhausted. The initiator of the ambitious plan gives up, never to go there again. So now, no one does.

We assume friendships can wait. That they'll always be there. But this is to our great detriment. They are, in fact, up there with the most vital relationships of our life.

"Female friendships can be great love stories," says The Friendship Cure author Kate Leaver. "We underestimate how much like romantic love friendship can feel: you want to see them all the time, you'd do anything for them. We rely on each other for fierce loyalty, moral support, emotional confidence and compassion. Friendship love is real and I wish it upon everyone."

Leaver believes women's friendships are wired by a unique pull, intrinsic to our existence. "There's something undeniably different in female and male friendships. It's said that while men stand shoulder to shoulder against the world, women stand face to face.

"The language of female friendship is vulnerability, candour and communication. We reveal something of ourselves to our friends that we hold back from the rest of the world."

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This isn't just in our heads.

Mounting evidence backs up the life-affirming nature of the girl gang. One UCLA study found connections with other women release oxytocin (the love hormone) into our bodies. We reach out to friends and seek out new ones to help regulate our stress levels.

Women are "genetically hard-wired" to gather together, which is not just uplifting but also markedly beneficial for our wellbeing and longevity. Sustained and stable friendships are the strongest predictor of a long and healthy life.

A calm descends upon me when I connect with my friends. We may not see each other as often as we'd like, but our phone chats – covering everything from mothering advice to career debriefs and Netflix recommendations – sustain me and, hopefully, them.

These friendships matter even more to me as a single mother. These women are my lifeline. They see me, they get me. They ignite joy. They are the witnesses to my life.

Yet we drop the ball.

My mum is still thick with a group of women who met as nurses in the 1960s. Through divorce, widowhood and other losses, they're constants. My 85-year-old neighbour shares an opera subscription with a friend she's known since preschool. This is true love.

There are prime friendship windows. Mothering young children is not one. We've just got to ensure that these tenuous connections will still have life in them when the kids are long gone.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale October 28.