Last year, I reconnected with an old friend, Rachel, who I met at summer camp when I was 12. Although we were very close, a family crisis and a move separated us, and we’d lost touch. She finally tracked me down through my older brother, who passed on her number to me.
We met up for lunch on a brutally cold January weekend. Rachel remembered small things like the name of my family’s dog, and big things like the date of my birthday. We had each brought a picture of us as teenagers together, and we laughed and winced at our adolescent selves. When we hugged goodbye, 30 years had somehow vanished, and the past and present seemed to collide.
Friendships are important to most women — and scientific research offers some interesting reasons why. Having close friends can actually contribute to our good health. One large, long-term study found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to be physically impaired as they aged, and the happier they were likely to be. Other research concluded that when women get stressed, our brains release the hormone oxytocin, which both calms us and drives us to draw closer to our friends.
That isn’t to say friendships are always idyllic. Mary and I have been best friends since we met our freshman year in college. We’ve shared scuzzy apartments, sterile dorm rooms, and bare-bones hotel suites. We’ve laughed a million times and probably screamed at each other a million more — often about something pretty trivial. (I love to remind her about the time she asked me to turn the pages of my magazine more quietly when she was trying to get to sleep.) But I know, deep down in my bones, she will always have my back, and I will always have hers.
How do you make friends? It can happen gradually over time, or more suddenly. Sometimes it takes shared experiences — you work together, worship at the same place, or find yourselves next to each other in a class. Or, sometimes you meet someone, and you have an instant connection — you laugh at the same things, share an interest in old movies or knitting or tae kwon do. And you just know you’ll be friends — it’s as simple and as easy as that. But many people find the process of opening up to someone new a bit nerve-wracking. You may need to push yourself a bit out of your comfort zone to get to know others and let them know you.
Since that January lunch, Rachel and I see each other regularly. I’ve also been making more of an effort to reach out to other old friends. In the past month, I’ve been talking with two women from high school online — and I’ve realized that reconnecting with a friend from the past offers its own distinct rewards.