Sunday 23 November 2014

Friends with benefits

Honesty is the best policy: Deirdre O'Halloran, right, and her best friend Kay Moran
Honesty is the best policy: Deirdre O'Halloran, right, and her best friend Kay Moran

A new study says that women with close female pals live longer, happier lives, writes Chrissie Russell. But men need to see their friends more

Ladies – you've often heard it said that your girl friends will probably outlive your husband ... so find good ones.

But there's an increasing body of evidence to support the notion that making good friends might actually be one of the most important decisions you make.

New studies have found that close female friendships can help us live longer, happier, healthier lives, while Oxford University professor Robin Dunbar has said that men need to meet up with their friends at least twice a week and 'do stuff' to be truly healthy.

According to researchers at Flinders University in Australia, women with the highest number of close friends outlive those with the least by 22pc. Whilst other relationships, with a spouse or offspring, were recognised as important, researchers didn't find the same link between those bonds and longevity.

A 2009 Harvard Medical School study found women with close female friends were less likely to develop physical impairments as they aged while other research suggests good friends can help in the battle against stress, cardiovascular problems and even the chances of catching a cold.

The researchers concluded that not having good gal pals was as detrimental to health as smoking or being overweight.

"Women are more likely to confide in their female friends about concerns or health worries," says Pat O'Connor, professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Limerick.

"It's an important outlet where they can talk about what's important to them and as a result that often leads to better mental health."

O'Connor believes female friendships fundamentally cater to a very specific need. She says: "Traditionally men were out and emotionally unavailable so women turned to each other.

Cinema abounds with tales of diehard female friends. This summer saw the portrayal of an unlikely BFF bond between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in The Heat while classic gal pal films include Thelma and Louise, Beaches and Steel Magnolias.

But female friendship can be a complex thing and, particularly with relationships forged in the schoolyard, the relationship can sometimes delve into the love/hate zone of 'frenemies'.

Colette McBeth's new book, Precious Thing, traces the path of two childhood friends and their fraught relationship.

The author reckons school friendships are often the most intense relationships making for lasting bonds – and occasionally high drama.

At one point, her lead characters meet after several years apart and Rachel, who was the frumpy one, has lost weight, something Clara takes as a personal affront.

"There is that thing with school friends where we want them to do well, but not so well they eclipse us," McBeth explains.

"It's because we feel like we know them inside out, we know who they are and who they were and established those roles very early on. If someone decides to break out of that it can make us very uncomfortable."

Irish Independent

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