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You Gotta Have Girlfriends - Excerpt

A brief, lively, and relatable guide to improving your health through friendship

In her trademark style-a vibrant and accessible mix of anecdotes, personal observations, and relevant research - Suzanne Braun Levine's You Gotta Have Girlfriends is an inspiring and eye-opening affirmation of the power of female friendship in the second half of life.

The best thing a man can do for his health is to be married to a woman. One of the best things a woman can do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends, especially after the age of fifty. The longer we live, the more important our friends become. We call them our "chosen family" and in times of need they are the most likely to be at the door, on the phone, or in the waiting room. In other words, the post-fifty version of "an apple a day" is "nurture your friendships."

That the benefits are physical as well as psychological, spiritual, and emotional comes as a surprise to many of us, but in fact many of the ingredients of time spent with a trusted posse of supporters are literally life-giving. Laughter, for example, releases such feel-good hormones as endorphins; the confidence that they are watching your back gives you the courage to try new things and get the stimulations that is essential to keeping fit; and the pleasure of their company releases an important hormone - oxytocin - that is a serious stress-reducer. Indeed some researchers are suggesting that one reason women live longer than men is that we benefit from regular doses of soothing down-time.

While girlfriends have always played an important role in our lives, as we move into our fifties, sixties and seventies, they move up in our priorities. For many they become the most important relationship of all. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase "I couldn't have done it without my girlfriends" in connection with tales of both triumph and tragedy.

The reordering of priorities is part of the overall recalibration that includes all kinds of clutter-removal including stale relationship. We focus more on quality than quantity in all things. The friends that really matter become more precious. I have noticed that we have begun to say "I love you" when we say goodbye.

Age brings a powerful impulse to make the most of every day, because you never know... The increasing sense of urgency makes us take our friends even more seriously; it also makes it necessary to revise our friending style.

Some of us check in with each other daily; others have regular encounters, like coffee after work or after yoga class; and still others, like me, count on my friends to make contact if something important is going on between calls or coffees. I am thinking about becoming more pro-active, though, in light of how important it may become to pick up clues on a close friend's state of mind or body that she may be unaware of. Even if friends are in regular contact, this may be the time to discuss being somewhat less discrete in questioning each other.

Most of our girlfriends have been in our lives for a long time - all the way back to grade-school in my case - and therefore have lived through some of our defining life experiences including marriage, children, divorce, and job problems. But the more we explore the possibilities that freedom - the empty nest is not all bad - and daring bring during these Encore years, the more we uncover new aspects of ourselves and new things to do. Our old friends may be supportive and interested but aren't necessarily inclined to go down all those trails alongside us.

It is never too late to make new friends. Changing jobs, moving to a new community, going back to school all of these things put us into a context where the possibilities for friendship are as rich and as necessary as the possibilities for personal growth. It hasn't gotten any easier since the days of "Sadie Hawkins dances" to walk up to someone and introduce yourself, but a special bonus is that if you become friends, you will also be befriending your new post-fifty self in the relationship. That connection is certainly good for your health too.

Open Road Integrated Media


Suzanne Braun Levine was the first editor of Ms. Magazine and the first woman editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. You Gotta Have Girlfriends - A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your Health is her first ebook (Open Road Integrated Media). She is the author of numerous books, including Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood.

Copyright 2013 (c) Suzanne Braun Levine

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suzanne braun levine

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor, blogger, activist and authority on women, family issues and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988) and the first woman editor of the Columbia Journalism Review (1989-1997). While at Ms., she produced the Peabody Award-winning documentary, “She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women in the Twentieth Century.” She is a blogger for Huff/Post50, Vibrant Nation, The Third Age and other popular women’s sites. She is an advisor to women’s groups and media organizations, including, The Transition Network and the Women’s Media Center. She is on the Board of Civic Ventures, a nonprofit think tank on boomers, work and social purpose.

Levine’s new book – How We Love Now: Sex and the New Intimacy in Second Adulthood (Viking/2012) is the “third chapter” in her on-going conversation with women in Second Adulthood, the stage she defined and celebrated in two popular books: Inventing The Rest of Our Lives (Viking/2005) and Fifty Is the New Fifty (Viking/2009).


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