Friends make everything better

I have been saying for some time now that friendships are every bit as important as family and romantic partners. Now there’s scientific proof:

A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.

“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”

What she said. It’s always puzzled me that there’s so much emphasis on romantic love and family and so little on friendship. Don’t get me wrong, I come from a very close knit family. I count my parents and my sister amongst my closest friends. And yet my non-family friends have been extraordinarily important to me over the years and helped get me through some really tough times. They’ve definitely been more important to me than any of my romantic partners (other than Scott who is my best friend).

I have friends I’ve been close to for more than twenty years. I’ve never been with any romantic partner that long. The worst breakup of my life was with a friend, not a romantic partner. I know I am not alone in this. When I’m miserable I IM or email my friends. “Tell me something happy!” I’ll demand and they do. When I have good news there are more than a dozen people that I simply HAVE TO TELL.

Last year, researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone.

The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.

“People with stronger friendship networks feel like there is someone they can turn to,” said Karen A. Roberto, director of the center for gerontology at Virginia Tech. “Friendship is an undervalued resource. The consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better.

Don’t you love that? Friends make mountains less steep. Mine have made my life immeasurably better. Bless you all!

One of the many reasons I love YA books so much is that many of them are about friendship. It’s no accident that the most important relationships in the Magic or Madness trilogy and How To Ditch Your Fairy are between the protags and their friends.

What are your favourite friendships in books?


  1. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Hmmm, maybe I should think about making friends.

  2. Rebecca on #

    Yay for friendships! Mine have all been way longer-lasting than any romance. They’ve all been much better relationships too (well, mostly).

  3. Dave H on #

    I’d offer to be your friend, but there’s that whole unfortunate sworn enemies thing.

    As for books, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

  4. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    I can attest to this. My family moved a lot as I was growing up, every two years or so (dunno why—jobs, climate, wander lust, what-have-you). The places where I made friends stand out as happy times in my life, but the places where I did not make any friends are recalled as being very stressful, unhappy times. Really none of the places were that different. My family’s financial situation didn’t really change, school was no more or less difficult, there were no problems in my life to speak of, or anything like that. But the lack of friends made life seem much less satisfying.

    Leaving friends was always the hardest part of moving. Packing and unpacking didn’t bother me, losing stuff in moves became commonplace, living in a new area was an adventure, and I even learned to use my “new kid in school” status to my advantage. But leaving my friends was always painful. Some of them I still miss, though we’ve been apart for *years*.

    The interwebs have improved the situation somewhat. (I didn’t have reliable access to them until my mid teens — *GASP*!) I can keep in touch with friends long-distance, and have even made some friends who I’ve never met face to face, but who I am deeply connected to.

    Friends make all the difference in the world. 🙂


  5. Aimee on #

    All the sisters and friends in Jane Austen – part of the reason I love her so much is the different ways she writes female friendships and relationships.
    Also, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

    And in YA, my favourite friendships are in Saving Francesca (Melina Marchetta). Francesca and Justine’s friendship makes me cry (“you’re my rock”), and I love the multi-faceted, incredibly REAL conversations the characters have. I read it when I was 17, so the same age as the characters, and I believed the dialogue so completely.
    Anyway, yes, amazing.

  6. J on #

    That was very interesting and insiteful. and so true. now, right now i am procrastinating instead of writing, so i must (sadly) go back to word mines (so close to finishing!!) then i must close this, and disable internet so i don’t procrastinate anymore. much.

  7. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Testify. When Woofy and I moved to London several years ago, we knew no one. It was stunningly awful. We had family nearby and, of course, each other. But the transition from a huge friend circle in New York to an empty one in London was horrifying. Now we have buddies in both cities so everything’s cool again. Great friendship story in a novel? Colors Insulting to Nature and, of course, Huckleberry Finn.

  8. Justine on #

    All your comments are making me want to cry and miss my friends back in Sydney. And also want to hug all my NYC friends. Bless!

  9. Amy on #

    I treasure my friends, and when I had to relocate, I found it harder to leave my friends than my family, although I’m very close to my family.

    Favorite book friendships: I agree about Jane Austen’s characters, but also the Fellowship in LOTR – except Boromir, of course!

  10. Carlie on #

    My favorite friendship in YA is from another Melina Marchetta novel – Jellicoe Road.


  11. Harriet on #

    My favourite YA friendships are in Jaclyn Moriarty’s books. Feeling Sorry for Celia shows the development of a friendship (as well as the outgrowing of one that has become toxic) and Finding Cassie Crazy has one that goes all the way back to Primary School. And I think the reason Bindy McKenzie comes so unstuck is because for most of the book she doesn’t have a network of friends. The books really look at how important friends are in surviving adolescence.

    Of course, I also like the friendships in Melina Marchetta. And Jane Austen, though it’s interesting that the really strong links are between sisters. Elizabeth and Jane will be friends for ever, as will Elinor and Marianne. But things are never quite the same between Elizabeth and Charlotte after Charlotte marries Mr Lucas, the Emma/Harriet friendship isn’t exactly balanced, and the Fanny/Mary one is much stronger in Edmund’s imagination than it is in real life. The only non-sisterly one I can really think of is Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney (who do end up as sisters-in-law). Or are there other key ones that I have forgotten?

  12. Aimee on #

    @ Harriet: Eleanor Tilney and Catherine Morland are the big friendship, yes. But I still see Lizzy and Charlotte as an example of interesting, strong female friendship. Emma also has her friendship with Mrs Weston. Anne Eliot has no support from her family but makes up for it with close friendships with the Musgroves, Admiral and Mrs Croft, Mrs Smith, and Lady Russell. Elinor and Colonel Brandon develop a sort of friendship that never becomes anything but platonic.

    Also, most of her heroines are friends with the hero first, which is neat. I mean, Emma and Knightly are best mates, Fanny and Edmund are cousins and confidants, Edward and Elinor are necessarily ‘just’ friends…

    Sorry, once I get started on Jane Austen it’s hard to stop 🙂
    Definitely agree with you on Jaclyn Moriarty’s friendships. I loved Feeling Sorry for Celia.

  13. Harriet on #

    I had forgotten about Anne Eliot’s friendship with Mrs Smith. Although, since they don’t seem to have communicated much since school, I’m not sure how important it is to either of them. Then again, the implication of the end of the book is that they will stay much more in contact. Not so sure about Lady Russell and the Crofts – they are friends, but there does feel like a bit of a generational difference (in spite of the fact that Mrs Croft ends up her sister-in-law). And although Anne is friendly with the Musgrove girls, it’s kind of superficial – it doesn’t bear comparison with that of Elinor/Marianne, Elizabeth/Jane, or Elizabeth/Charlotte. Somewhere in the book it says (or implies) that Anne likes them, but feels intellectually/emotionally superior to them. Though maybe Eleanor Tilney feels the same way about Catherine.

    I hadn’t really been thinking about male/female friendships, but I agree Elinor and Col Brandon is a good example.

  14. Jon on #

    Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in Patrick O’ Brian’s novels.

  15. Hillary! on #

    I just had a huge, horrible break up with my best friend, and I’m not gonna lie, it was mostly my fault. My closest friend was visiting me while I was cleaning my room and every five seconds I found something that either reminded me of my best friend, or there was something she had given me. Then i just gave up cleaning. And CF and I just sat on my bed, and she said, “This is almost like a romantic break up.” And it was. It was almost worse. And sometimes i still cry at the drop of a hat. But CF has helped me a lot and so have all my other firends. More than my family has.

    I gotta say my favorite litterary friendships are the ones in Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books and in Violet and Claire. I keep hoping that BFF and I will work out our issues and get back together like Violet and Claire did.

  16. Amber on #

    Well, family members can be friends as well. My siblings and I are closer than many of my non-relative friends.

    The thing I have most always heard is that you are always stuck with family, but not with friends. Therefore family is more stable and consistent in your life than friends. However, I recently come to know someone for whom that is not true. So I guess it really depends on the person and situation.

  17. Lunamoth on #

    My favourite “book friendship” is Frodo & Sam in the Lord of the Rings books. 🙂

    And it totally makes sense that having friends to turn to makes the going easier. When we lived in Texas (my husband & I), we had only each other and a small handful of aquaintences, and both felt like everything was just so difficult. Now we’re in Pennsylvania where we’ve become surrounded by friends, and we feel like we can move mountains and have done more challenging things in the past 3 months than we did in a year in Texas.

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