Our lives are enriched beyond measure by dear friends, bringing joy and companionship, as well as contributing to our wellbeing. But, like prescription medicines, there are friendships with a use-by date! Here’s how to pinpoint if your besties list needs a check-up.
The good news is…
If you’re like most women, your friends represent a critical life support system: you’d go down in a blaze of glory without them. No matter what else is going on, you figure you’ll be okay if you can share, cry, laugh or just put the world to rights over a coffee or a glass of wine. Real friends see the ‘un-Photoshopped’ you and love you anyway. These are the friendships that withstand good times and bad, honest exchanges, differences of opinion and any amount of time or distance.
And it turns out there’s much more to these positive connections than meets the eye. Women who have supportive, nurturing, solid relationships with their girlfriends are less likely to suffer depression, tend to recover more quickly from illness, and may have less risk of obesity and its inherent ills, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Research from Harvard University says that friends may even help us be smarter and live longer by continuing to challenge us as we age.
Science suggests that when emotional bonds are strong – when we feel loved, supported, respected, encouraged and validated by our chums – the brain releases more serotonin, a neurotransmitter that leads to feelings of contentedness. In turn, the body produces less of the stress hormone, cortisol. With less cortisol circulating, immune function improves, helping us fight off any nasties and so we bounce back faster if we go down.
Health-conscious friends also encourage us to take better care of ourselves. If there’s a general ethic of regular exercise and healthier eating in a group, you’re more likely to follow suit. Mind you, the opposite is also true, so if your amigos are heavy smoking, hard-drinking couch potatoes, your health might be being affected.
When the good vibes go
Unfortunately, not all pals are right for us. A ‘friend’ who often brings you down can damage your psyche and negate any potential health benefits. Like a wardrobe that mocks us with clothes that are now too small, friendships can also do with a serious spring clean!
Like trends, buddies can be seasonal; some are classic and last for all time, while others just fit for a while. Yep, you enjoyed them once and have fond memories, but it’s perfectly healthy to recognise that times (like fashions) change.
Many friendships run their natural course as we move through life. We grow apart and there’s no ill will. It’s only the people who masquerade as being close to us, while chipping away at our self-worth, that need re-evaluating.
Signs it might be time to ‘unfriend’ a friend
It’s all one-sided
You do all the chasing. You never hear from her, unless you make the call.
Keep it if: She’s up to her ears in a genuine crisis. Give her some slack and know she’d do the same for you.
Try: Telling her – in person – that you feel low on her priority list.
Reconsider if: It’s clear she only comes to you when she wants something. Focus your energy on those who return the favour.
It’s all about her
Just once, you’d like her to ask how you’re doing before she launches into the next chapter of her life’s seemingly endless melodrama.
Keep it if: You otherwise really enjoy her company. The drama is lots of fun.Try: Inserting something really odd into the conversation to see if she so much as pauses for breath.
Reconsider if: You can’t stand being in her company. Decide to become increasingly unavailable.
She brings you down
It can be oh-so subtle, but certain people have a knack of making you feel like rubbish with put-downs. Does she pass off little digs at you as jokes?
Keep it if: Part of her charm is calling a spade a spade and perhaps it’s her own insecurities at work anyway.
Try: Saying, ‘Hey, I can take a joke, but sometimes you take it a little far.’
Reconsider if: She makes light of your concerns and doesn’t make an effort to be more sensitive.
She does you wrong
She talks about you behind your back, flirts (or hints at worse) with your partner, lies to you, or tends to blow hot and cold for no valid reason.
Keep it if: You’re a glutton for punishment! Is there a deeper issue?
Try: Calling her on it. Tell her these are not the hallmarks of a real friend.
Reconsider if: You want to emerge with your self-esteem intact and know you deserve far better.
10 ways to be a better friend
1. Make time, not excuses. That spare hour is never going to present itself, so just pick up the phone, even if it’s just to say a quick ‘hi’. Follow up with a newsy email or buy a ‘thinking of you’ card. Then actually mail it!
2. Be dependable and don’t back out of plans, unless absolutely necessary. Do what you say you will.
3. Apologise if you do mess up and make a mistake. Own it.
4. Show solidarity and don’t gossip about your pals. Don’t sit in silence if others gossip about them.
5. Have their best interests at heart and be available to help cushion a fall or help them pull back if they’re in over their heads.
6. Help out – mind the kids, pick up groceries, ease the load!
7. Be a good listener, often all anyone wants is to be heard. Be there for them at that time.
8. Allow room for the friendship to evolve and expect things to change. It’s okay to go with it.
9. Don’t expect one friendship to solve all your problems –that’s a lot of pressure to put on a person. Avoid being too needy.
10. Have fun together and remember, friendships are not meant to be hard work!