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Will You Have the Friends You Need When You Need Them the Most?

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If your life suddenly fell apart today, who are the first three women you'd call? Who are your intention holders -- those friends who are there for you no matter what, as confidantes and cheerleaders as you overcome adversity or celebrate accomplishments?

In today's busy, hyper-connected world, heart-to-heart friendships can seem impossible. But if you're intentional, you can create and maintain a support system of women to turn to as curators of support, companionship and love.

After interviewing dozens of women for our book, Women I Want to Grow Old With, we learned that the urgencies of the moment -- work, family, volunteer or community commitments -- often prevent women from reaching out to sustain friendships or create new ones. Social media helps us keep up with each other's milestones and activities, but nothing replaces the intimate conversations and personal connections that allow us to truly be part of each other's life.

Don't Leave Friendships to Chance

As a consultant, Pat traveled 150,000 miles a year for business and barely had time to go to the cleaners, much less see her girlfriends.

"When that job ended, I thought, 'I should call so-and-so,' and then I'd realize I hadn't spoken to that friend in years. Or, I'd remember another friend, and it would occur to me I never made time to return her call. Finally, I swallowed my pride, reached out, and made lots of apologies. Eventually, I rebuilt my network and vowed never to let that happen again. I had lost all balance. Life is so much better and fuller with my girlfriends."

Like Pat, our lives can change in an instant. Many women find themselves suddenly alone or lonely when they move, change jobs, lose a best friend or partner, or the kids leave home for college or careers. If we haven't purposefully built and maintained our reservoir of friends, we won't have the friends we need when we need them the most. Seems so simple, yet if we overlook this important aspect, we can find ourselves desperately wanting for other women with whom to share our lives -- and not have the slightest idea of where to turn.

Sometimes fears and concerns can move us to take bold steps. Just as we invest in our health and finances as a safety net for the future, we must not leave our friendships to chance. We wouldn't let our bank account dry up without taking serious action, would we? It's time to secure the friendships we want today -- and tomorrow!

Hanging Out with Friends Improves Our Health

Friends don't just make us feel better emotionally. Research shows that spending time with friends actually helps us live longer, healthier lives. A landmark University of California, Los Angeles study showed that the hormone oxytocin, released when women share each other's company, staves off stress, loneliness, and disease.

The more friendships women have, the less likely they are to develop physical health issues and the more easily they recover after the death of a partner, according to the Harvard Medical School Nurses' Health Study. Women with friends are also 26 percent less likely to develop dementia, according to a study by Kaiser Permanente, as reported in the American Journal of Public Health.

Friendships are not just good for women. The Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders University found that all people with large networks of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 percent.

Widen Your View and Discover New Friends

At times, the thought of finding new friends can seem daunting. However, if we think about all the women we come in contact with throughout our daily lives, chances are we can more easily make new friends than initially imagined. Here are three steps you can follow to help you create new connections and widen your friendship circle.

1. Imagine yourself in the middle of concentric circles.

2. Write the names of your closest, most intimate friends in the next circle. These are your confidantes -- your intention holders. If you don't have any, don't worry.

3. Place the names of other friends and acquaintances in remaining spheres. These may be women in your neighborhood, those you see at your children's school functions, or perhaps someone you only see at your yoga class. With intention, you can decide which of those women you want to be closer to and then take steps to get to know them better. Over time, some will even become your intention holders.

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Next time you sense that you and another woman have a point of confluence, say or do something. Don't let self-doubt or excuses (she's probably too busy) thwart your desire for meaningful woman-to-woman relationships. Ask for her card, get her phone number, invite her to coffee or for a walk -- and then, follow up to set a specific date and time! Remember, it doesn't matter who gets it on the calendar. What matters is the meaningful and lasting connection you are about to make!

About the Authors: Diane Gage Lofgren and Margaret Bhola are authors of Women I Want to Grow Old With: Grow Old Together With Courage, Health and Attitude! Diane, from California's San Francisco Bay Area, is Chief Communication Officer for Kaiser Permanente, a not-for-profit health care insurer and provider. Margaret Bhola, from San Diego, California, is a National Sales Director for Juice Plus, a global nutrition company.

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