I was telling my friend Pam about a conversation I?d had at the gym: ?One of my workout friends says??
?Who?? Pam interrupted.
?My friend Elizabeth,? I said. ?We work out together.?
?Oh, well, she?s not really a friend then,? Pam said, not quite offhand.
I get Pam?s point. I?ve known her for 22 years. She?s one of my closest friends?a connection that?s lasted through marriages and childbirth and the loss of beloved parents?so it?s no wonder she bristled a little at the idea that someone she had never even met could possibly be a real friend of mine. At our age, it can take years to catch up, to understand the pivotal moments of the past that made us who we are, to come to recognize the core beneath the carapace we?ve built around ourselves over a few decades of life.
And it?s certainly true that I haven?t known my workout buddies?Elizabeth, Linda, Karen, Debby, Carla?for even a fraction of the time I?ve known Pam. These friendships still feel very new. We?re still learning each other?s stories, still figuring out where we gel and where we agree to disagree.
Nevertheless, I do consider them to be genuine friends. And learning how to make new friends?and different kinds of friends?has been one of the healthiest things I?ve ever done for myself.
Medical research has repeatedly shown that intimate friendships sustain us in ways that doctors don?t yet understand. People who have many friends catch fewer colds, have lower rates of heart disease and dementia, and are less likely to die if they develop breast cancer than those who don?t. And yet, a study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona found that, on average, today?s adults have only two people they can talk to about important subjects. More than a quarter have no one at all. Equally disturbing was how many Americans can speak intimately with only their own spouse, a terrible burden on an already stressed institution.
Trying to make new friends can be daunting at an age when we can?t skip next door for a playdate or stay up late giggling with a roommate. I didn?t make friends with the women in my workout group by a simple accident of timing or circumstance. It happened because I was actively seeking new friends. We met at a time when we were all wide open to the possibility of friendship. Several of us were at a turning point?a recent divorce, a newly retired husband, a troubled child just hitting adolescence?and craved support and understanding, while others are just openhearted by nature. We all found ourselves at the gym early every morning, talking to pass the time, and somewhere along the way, almost miraculously, we each made the conscious decision to take time-passing to the level of real friendship.