For people who are married or in a serious relationship, friendships do not usually take center stage. For singles, however, friendship can be our main source of support, connection, and joy.
Women who develop meaningful and stable friendships with other women tend to be happier, more fulfilled, and feel more connected. The effects are important for health too, as research shows us that social support is linked to good physical health and feelings of wellbeing. With all the attention focused on marriage, family and romantic love, it can be refreshing to read and discuss the importance of friendships for singles.
In New York Magazine, Briallen Hopper writes about relying on friendship in an honest reflection about being a single woman in a world made for couples.
It’s difficult to organize your life around friendship in a world that’s built for couples, and it’s doubly difficult when your time with friends is seen as a fun extracurricular instead of a basic human need.
When we are single, especially when we live alone, friendships fulfill our basic need for human connection. Without friendship,
I'm literally all by myself in an apartment staring at the wall (or more likely at the TV).
In today's world, being a single woman is much more acceptable, and for many, sometimes desirable. In the past, the economy was set up in a way that made it very difficult for women to remain unattached for long. It was difficult if not impossible to earn a living. Single women were looked down upon as if they had failed to meet some fundamental aspect of their existence.
Society has changed and things are different. Many women are single by choice, others have decided to wait until they are ready for marriage, and others simply haven't yet found the one they were looking for.
What this means is that for many of us, our most significant relationships are with our circle of friends. And if friendship is our source of emotional support and feeling of connection, we need to develop good relationship skills. For many, developing and maintaining good solid friendships is almost as significant to our health and wellbeing as is food, shelter, or clothing.
Every friendship we have is vulnerable. Sometimes a friend finds a partner and has children. She now has new demands on her time and energy that leave her unable to invest in immersive friendship at this stage of life. Friends can move away, and although it is now easier to maintain connections over long distances, our connection with a friend who moves away will inevitably change.
Navigating the change in relationships can be difficult, and when this happens, we need to take steps to preserve the connection with our old friend while at the same time create new relationships that supplement our need for companionship and community.
While marriages are formalized and build on promises, friendships are not subject to such contractual agreements. One of the most important things to remember about adult friendship is something we knew instinctively as children: Prioritize your friendships and treat your friends as you wish to be treated.
Friendships at every age and stage of life require commitment and nurturing. They also need understanding, honesty, openness and a non-judgmental spirit. Do not expect to agree with all of the decisions your friends make, but be prepared to come along for the journey.
All relationships need boundaries, including friendships. While you meet the needs of your friends, remember to love and honor yourself as well.
When we think of friendships, we often don't think of the negotiations that are sometimes required. Sometimes there is a push and pull between two people who are close and have learned to depend on each other.
If your friend is overstepping boundaries such as insisting you to do things you don't wish to do, not respecting your time, or relying on you in inappropriate ways, you may need to set boundaries.
Boundaries keep us safe in relationships. Friendships are another opportunity to practice holding our own self as valuable while doing our best to be there for those who need us.
You may be single by choice or you may be searching for a partner. But this doesn't mean you have to feel disconnected and alone. Many married people look back on their single days with fondness because of the close friendships they held.
Understand that your friendships are not a second choice. They are a gift that cannot be matched by a romantic partner and offer a different kind of kinship and closeness. If you change the way you feel about your friendships, you make room for an even closer, more nurturing bond.
About the author
Dr. Alison Ross is a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City. She has been in private practice for over 25 years and specializes in relationships, NYC work/life balance, and mental health concerns. For more information, you can visit her website here.