Did you read in last year’s General Social Survey that in the last 20 years, the number of people who have no one to talk to has doubled? So much for our gabby tell-all small world and the easy connections afforded by today’s fast paced high-tech culture.

The report went on to say that the number of “core” confidants with whom we could discuss important matters is down from three in 1985 to two today, and that the percentage of Americans who named at least one non-kin person as part of their inner circle has declined from 80% to 57%. As if life wasn’t hard enough. How can people survive, I wonder, without the patient, nonjudgmental advice, comfort and support of their friends?

History is a huge component of my friendships. I can’t imagine the stress of getting through any stage of my life repressing how I felt about boyfriends and birth control, car pooling and Weight Watchers, night sweats and Botox. As my emotional terrain became complicated by rises in status and dips in career, by marriage and kids, illnesses, blessings and loss, it was my friends who got me through. What could be worse, we all agreed, than being alone with a secret… or a fear… or a failure? Bound not by law or blood or power or profit, but by a soul-melding intimacy and a fierce loyalty, my friends are my memory, my anchor, my safety net.

Without my friends I’d walk around with lipstick on my teeth, filthy eye glasses, and trailing shoelaces. I would never have the confidence to believe anyone would actually find what I write helpful. I wouldn’t realize how normal it is to still be anxious each time I turn on the computer. And I would never know the joy of being cranky and whiny and feeling bloated and ugly… and yet still respected and accepted and loved.

One friend taught me how to smoke, another to soul kiss. One explained what I should order in Starbucks, another how to shake (not stir!) the best martini. One suggests the new author I will undoubtedly grow to love, another alerts me when it’s time for my mammogram.  One friend lent me some of her urine when we went for a job physical together and I couldn’t go. One has taken my favorite photos at every one of my family’s milestones. Another introduced me to spinning, my newest addiction.

Being understood instinctively and entirely, is a gift worth more dollars than I’ve earned in my lifetime. I can share the events of any given day and, like in a good novel, my friends will know how I felt about them without being told. By example these women show me not only how to be a more patient writer, but what it takes to be the most awesome grandmother… how to accept what’s happening to my upper arms and why I should visit my father more often… how to be courageous when you are seriously ill and when it’s time to let go and forgive.

My friends and I know most problems in life are not fixable and we no longer expect each other to solve them. But science has found that just being there, like the rings around a tree, is enough to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce both stress and the risk of chronic disease. Which is why I say “Happy Valentine’s Day” – to all my friends — and all of yours. To paraphrase one of my husband’s (bad) old jokes, why are those lucky enough to have friends living longer? Because they want to.

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