One thing I need for all of eternity is time with girlfriends. In my early twenties, children, husband, household, and my educational pursuits left little breathing time. But by my early thirties, I’d met women who became my sanity and confidants. A group of us started a monthly bridge group. Jeannie purchased a tablecloth listing different openings, Maureen (I think) got her hand on a bidding wheel, and we proceeded to learn to play Bridge. We drank into the night. We laughed until we near peed in our pants. Four decades later, our game hadn’t improved much, but the joy and sanity outweighed any concern.
Hannah lived nearby me and we took turns driving to bridge club. Collapsing into the passenger seat as only a mom of three young-ins can she’d exclaim, “Thank god, I can speak in complete sentences again.” This group grew to include eight career women who came from the corporate world, law firms, education, and the science community. Some had children, some were single, and all of us struggled to remember Jacoby Transfers and Stayman bridge conventions. Bridge night was freedom to let go of roles and responsibilities, to let go of the need to preserve a persona, no pecking order, just moments to be ourselves.
We took girl trips. In 1986 we traveled by train to Toronto to see the Phantom of the Opera. Sharing a hotel suite and much to the expressed disgust of some and unexpressed delight of others we discovered a porn video channel. We giggled. None of us had ever watched one, or so we claimed, and curiosity got the best of us. Then, one after the other, we left porn-land for dreamland, all except Marge who watched the whole thing. At breakfast, she refused to elaborate. “It was disgusting. You don’t want to know.” I did, but it was not to be. A trip to Nashville visiting honky tonk bars and line dancing. Drinking hot chocolate with peppermint snaps after long hikes in Northern Michigan, while staying at Jeanne’s cottage on Lake Margrethe. And so many more memories.
When I retired, I joined a local women’s group, The Troy Women’s Association. Here I learned about non-profits and saw first hand how hard women worked to make life better for others. These new friends inspired me, and challenged me when as the President (It was not at coveted role) I set out to change the group’s status to a non-profit (503C) status. The disharmony it created surprised me, but my determination didn’t falter. With these women, I learned that my retirement years needed to include serving others. To those that much is given much is expected.
Post-retirement plans and geography changed how and when I get together with girlfriends who shared my adult decades. But somehow and someway our spirits reunite in person or ether. The other day when I learned Cyn was moving to Florida, Lynn texted me, “We could have a girls’ bridge weekend!… Still, have lots to learn, but I am much better than when I last played with you guys.” When Jo from the Michigan women’s group visited her daughter in Denver, we made a point of getting together via car, bus, and train. And social media has made it easy to keep in touch.
Moving to a Florida community meant starting over. I set out to find three women to befriend. I found one working on her bike, another one at our club, the third stopped her car to say “hi.” Little did she know how that decision would give the four of us a sense of belonging, a nest to call our own, aka the “Walton” sisters. When you are in your late sixties, time is a factor, so the bond that binds must cement faster.
It could be an age thing, but a new need began stirring — this time to find a group of spiritual sisters. Perhaps church-attending women find it through their church. I was not looking for a Bible study, but what’s described as a sacred circle of women where we face ourselves and reclaim the song that is ours. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Within a year in my Florida community, I was invited to a circle of women (Sangha Sisters). Here I feel free to speak the truth in my heart and listen as other women talk, a transformative experience of empowerment, trust, and acceptance. Together, we seek to deepen our spiritual growth as we walk the rest of the way to the vault of heaven.
In the meantime, as I’m running around netting women into my macrocosm, research is piling up. It turns out my sister seeking quest is right as rain for maintaining mental health, a vital element of a long, happy life.
Starting in 1987, Swedish institutions looked at factors that affected longevity in the elderly, 75 years and older. Yes, eating broccoli and walking daily makes a huge difference in your life expectancy, but there was a grain of surprise. Dementia risk was lowest in those with a variety of satisfying contacts of friends (and relatives).
Psychologist have found that they can predict how large our social circle is by measuring our tolerance to pain. If my dentist read this study, he would conclude that I’m a hermit. (nature.com)
Need more evidence? (brill.com) Researchers at the University of Tokyo, have found evidence that good time with friends increases the oxytocin, a hormone that signals the brain to communicate feelings of happiness and belonging. The more oxytocin, the more trusting, generous, and friendly we tend to be. In other words, the more people we attract.
Beyonce is quoted saying, “I love my husband, but it is nothing like a conversation with a woman that understands you. I grow so much from those conversations.” Men are from Mars and Women from Venus. Although we complement each other, women think, act, and solve problems differently. Tim likes his male relationships without sharing personal issues and feelings. He may think it enough to deal with me and his daughters’ emotions. Women’s sanity comes from deep bonds with strong females. Knowing this, it makes sense to invest in friendships that make us happiest and provide a sense of belonging. It’s said somewhere, or I imagined it, that we are the average of the five people we spend most of our time with. If so, we should choose wisely and with intention.