This should not come as news to anyone, but there it was in the venerable New York Times last week, written by the Times’ longtime Personal Health columnist Jane E. Brody, headlined: “Social Interaction is Critical for Mental and Physical Health” (www.nytimes.com, June 12, 2017).
In it Brody writes about a café in Toronto that declines to offer Wi-Fi to its customers because it aims “to get customers to talk with one another instead of being buried in their portable devices.” This reminded me of an outdoor café here in San Miguel de Allende that recently had a sign outside reading, “We Don’t Have Wi-Fi. Talk to Each Other. Pretend it’s 1995”:
“What a novel idea!” Brody enthuses in her column. “Perhaps [proprietors of cafés such as these] know what medical science has been increasingly demonstrating for decades: Social interaction is a critically important contributor to good health and longevity.”
Brody, who is 76, wrote of her women friends “with whom I can share both joys and sorrows. [They] help me solve problems big and small, providing a sounding board, advice and counsel and often a hearty laugh that brightens my day.”
In his book Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue (which I wrote about in a recent blog post, “On Loyalty,” published May 13), author Eric Felten writes about friendship from a strictly male perspective, in my view. For him, the reason to have friends (presumably male friends) is “to stand by us when accused of some heinous crime or otherwise brought low by fortune,” as in I’ll-have-your-back-if-you-have-mine.
This was one of the (few) weaknesses of his book, I thought — that he didn’t touch much on the richness of women’s – particularly older women’s – loyal friendships. Women friends not only have each other’s backs, they have their fronts too.
I’ve found many opportunities to make new friends here in San Miguel – at the Hats and Scarves (for campo kids) group I attend on Sunday afternoons, the Urban Sketchers group I’ve begun to take part in on Tuesday mornings, and the delightful folk dancing class I’ve joined on Wednesday evenings, among other places.
Most of the people I’ve been meeting and befriending are fascinating older women from all over the world, who have traveled widely and have chosen to settle in San Miguel. “Until death do us part!” they say, half-jokingly.
Meanwhile, I hold fast to friends who are afar, through e-mail correspondence and (occasionally) Skype. Even Facebook, easily disparaged by those who don’t use it, can be a fine way to stay in touch with faraway friends, I’ve found. Some examples:
Fifty-three years ago this month my then-roommate Kathy and I graduated from Katherine Gibbs School in Montclair, New Jersey. We haven’t seen each other for many years, but we’ve remained in close contact. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve watched her five grandchildren grow up and I’ve seen her children prosper. I know if we were ever reunited face-to-face, Kathy and I would feel that no time had passed since we were last together.
Another example: Forty-two years ago my friend Maureen urged me to apply to Columbia University, where she had graduated. I followed her advice, was accepted and granted a full scholarship. Her urging changed the course of my life. She has remained a soul-sister to me.
Another: Thirty years ago, when I had my catering business in Manhattan, Michael was my head waiter. We have maintained a close, loving connection over the years. Last August he was my “date” at my grandson’s wedding. To me, Michael is family.
And another: Twenty years ago Morgan was my post-mate when we both served as Peace Corps volunteers in Gabon, Central Africa. She and her husband Tom have lived in Idaho for years. I’ve watched (again, thanks to Facebook) their darling son Eddy grow up. Although it seems as if he just learned to crawl a month ago, he’s actually just graduated from third grade.
Where, I wonder, would I be without my dear friends? Not as happy and not as well, that’s for sure. As I wrote in a WOW post on friendship last year (“Silver and Gold,” published May 24, 2016), “I feel rich in friendships – new and old, silver and gold – that I’ve made and kept along the way. And it’s been a long way!”
Myriad studies have shown, Brody points out in her New York Times column, that friendships are good for your health. (Not news to me! I thought.) She quotes a Harvard Women’s Health Watch report: “Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships … are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”
To which I say, in my new, adopted language, “Viva Amistad!” (Long live friendship!)