By Claudette M. Reno, Ph.D.

What defines a friendship? How do I know if I have good friends? I am so busy, is it worth it to use what little free time I have to spend with friends?

In psychotherapy, when I recommend women spend more time with friends, these are questions they sometimes ponder. One research study indicated that women on average now have only two or three close friends as compared to four or five in the 1970s and 80s. We are much more likely to be spending our free time on Facebook. While this might seem as if we are connected to other women more than we ever were in the past, this is not necessarily true. If we define friendship in terms of seeing each other face-to-face and spending time together, these online friends would not really be considered actual friends.

As a practicing clinical psychologist for over 25 years, I believe that the quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our relationships. It saddens me whenever I meet a woman who acknowledges not having any close friends, missing out on what I believe to be one of the most fulfilling connections in life. One study found that the more friends a woman had, the less likely she was to develop physical problems as she ages and the more likely she was to be leading a joyful life. Only another woman can know what it is like to be a female going through various developmental stages in life and dealing with other relationships as a wife, sister, mother, or daughter. It can be extremely gratifying to have a friendship that spans decades. Witnessing each other’s lives change, as well as walking together through the victories and challenges is extremely rewarding.

Definitions of friendship include such descriptions as the state of being friends, attachment, close relationships, understanding, companionship, and closeness to name a few. A friendship is as unique as the two individuals it comprises. Some friendships are present for a season in our life. These tend to end once we relocate or drift away from each other. Other friendships may last a lifetime.

In healthy relationships, caring is reciprocated between two individuals. Typically, a close friend will make time to be with you and listen. Not only is there love, honesty, and respect in a flourishing friendship, but the freedom to be vulnerable. It is through being vulnerable and sharing parts of ourselves that our friendships can strengthen and deepen. While we might unwittingly hurt each other through careless actions or words, there is also a willingness to apologize and own our mistakes. In a thriving friendship, there is no room for criticism, manipulation, dishonesty, possessiveness, or controlling behaviors.

There may be people we know only casually who would be considered acquaintances. These are individuals that we may meet through our children’s activities or our own interests, but the conversations tend to be more superficial. We can also have as mentors other women more experienced in living life, offering trusted advice and wisdom gained through their own life’s journey. These relationships may be time limited or be with someone whom we can travel through life and turn to for ongoing guidance. Mentoring friendships can be especially beneficial for those who may not have a positive relationship with an older sister or mother. Close friends are the ones who are like “family” or even seem closer than some of our family members. These are the “sisters” we choose to have in our lives.

While some of us have a best friend, others would say they do not have one specific best friend, but rather several close friends. It depends on us as individuals and what best meets our needs.

I have been honored to have friendships that have lasted decades and others that have developed in recent years. These devoted friends have been there to celebrate my children’s births, challenges of parenting, birthdays, my children’s weddings, and starting a private practice. During the darker times, they walked with me through the death of my father, the near loss of my mother, and my son’s frightening hospitalization several years ago. I cannot imagine my life without the gift of each and every friendship and the investment they have made in my life. In honor of all the wonderful women who celebrate life with us by their ongoing friendships, thank you!   

claudette-renoDr. Claudette Reno has worked as a licensed clinical psychologist in Bismarck for over 24 years, providing individual and group therapy. She specializes in treating eating disorders. Other areas of interest and professional experience include treatment of anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain, life adjustment difficulties, and women’s issues.