Gill South: Importance of girlfriends for wellbeing

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There's nothing like the reassurance of friendship, writes Gill South.

A strong group of female friends gives us the nurturing we need, which is supportive of mental health, counsellor Dorothea suggests. Photo / Thinkstock
A strong group of female friends gives us the nurturing we need, which is supportive of mental health, counsellor Dorothea suggests. Photo / Thinkstock

I just read a great book by Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. The 60-year-old is a former New York Times columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, novelist, bit of an annoying over-achiever when I think about it. Anyhoo, she devotes a whole chapter in her memoir to the importance of girlfriends to her wellbeing. She reckons the women she knows who are happiest today are the ones who have close female friends. She cites a survey which shows that men and women expect different things from their friendships. Guys think it means doing things together while women think it means emotional sharing and talking. Well, I wouldn't know where I'd be without my gal pals, as the Yanks call them. I had a long chat with Auckland counsellor Dorothea Lewis, about what our women friends do for our emotional wellbeing. We should not underestimate these friendships, she says.

A strong network of women friends gives us the nurturing we need, which is very supportive of our mental health.

Dorothea, who counsels a lot of women in my age group, says our girlfriends are really like extended family.

I rely on my girlfriends to keep me on the straight and narrow when I go off on some weird life tangent - a completely unsuitable house that I have fallen in love with, for instance or a new health kick. They frown thoughtfully. "Is this really what you want?" they ask. They hold us to our goals in life, remind us that we want them, says the counsellor.

Dorothea thinks rituals are important for our friendships. These rituals we do together will sustain us, she says. I have a ritual with a darling friend who I only see about every six weeks because she lives on the other side of Auckland. We tend to have tea and cake near a park and go for a walk. She has always been there for me, she was my informal lactation consultant when my over-sized breast was terrifying my newborn. I just feel so content in her calming presence.

I am about to go off to Melbourne with a couple of girlfriends for the writers' festival. We three share a love of books, politics and the craft of writing. I'll be meeting up with an old school friend over there who was a wonderful support to me when my father was sick a couple of years ago.

Each day when I got back to her place from hospital she would greet me with a huge, nutritious dinner and the command that I immediately join her in wearing pyjamas at 6.30 in the evening. There's a reason we've stayed friends all these years. And, whenever we see each other, we pick up where we left off. That's the sign of a true friend, says Dorothea.

As we grow older we treasure our relationships more, says the counsellor. Dorothea has heard it said that our friendships help sustain the family and the marriage by giving us the emotional support and connection. I would totally agree with that - I'm a saner person at home thanks to my friends. They allow me to reflect on things I might otherwise get bogged down in.

I have this fantasy, that when we are all old and grey, and our partners have gone to greener pastures, some of us will move into a big house and look after each other. Obviously there will be lots of tea and cake.

Next week:

I return from a wee trip to Melbourne struggling with the difference in time-zone. Could this be jet lag?

- NZ Herald

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