10/15/2013 07:54 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Girlfriends: Our 'Must Have' For The Second Half Of The Journey

We sit around a table set just for us -- four interesting, accomplished, and attractive women at mid-life who are flying solo for the evening. We've left jobs, homes, and husbands/significant others behind to celebrate another aspect of ourselves that I now value more deeply: We are girlfriends.

Whether by initiation or invitation, I have spent more time recently with my girlfriends than I have in years. Over coffee, lunch, and, in the case of last Saturday night, a small dinner party dubbed "girls' night out," I am devoting more time to the women friends in my life. Some I haven't seen for months; in one case, it has been ten years and, in another, twenty years. But it's never an issue. We merely pick up where we left off, without apology or much in the way of explanation. We fill in the blanks by answering the question, "So, what's new with you?" and at the end of the conversation we vow not to let another three months (year... decade...) go by.

Midlife has brought a deeper appreciation for my female friends, more so than when I was in my 20s and 30s, and "some guy" always seemed to take precedence. Later in life, other things got in the way: marriage, motherhood, divorce, remarriage, job changes, a hectic schedule... And then there are life upsets that keep us from connecting, which really don't amount to more than five pounds or a pimple, and yet we tell ourselves we're not ready to reach out until we feel/look/become better.

Our girlfriends, though, are what we need most at those times. And so here is my list of the three top reasons to reach out to female friends, those you see fairly regularly and others whose names are on your mind and you wonder what they're up to these days.

1. Sisters by choice. The Pointer Sisters put it best: "We are family. I've got all my sisters with me." For those of us fortunate to have the biological variety (and I have two wonderful sisters), the sisters we collect by choice add to the abundance. These women friends have known us for so long and so well, they practically share our DNA. They know what makes us tick, which helps us get to the heart of the matter of what is happening now.

My sisters by choice (and they know who they are) have stood by me in tough spots, commiserated with me through challenges, celebrated successes and breakthroughs, and called me on my "stuff" when I need to stop being part of the problem. I value their love and honesty. They help me to stay on track toward becoming my better, fuller self, and not an imitation of what I think others want me to be.

2. Role models on demand. Our female friendships are a ready source of wisdom, experience, and advice (whether we ask for it or not). Their journeys mirror ours, which means we're not alone. We can discuss anything from hot flashes to Botox, to dealing with emptied nests.

I had not seen Debbie in ten years, although we traded emails about seven years ago. Then her first blog about her journey through cancer, which she writes for Thompson Reuters (we were colleagues at Reuters, back in the day) came across my Facebook page. I had no idea until then that Deb had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, which she is battling head-on with courage and candor, as she chronicles in her blog: When we met for lunch, we talked about life and families and work and writing... For Deb, cancer treatment takes precedence, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Through her writing, she's become a role model, putting "cancer in context" for others. And, for me, she's a role model of self-advocacy -- along with being a great friend.

3. Girlfriends share the journey. At midlife, this is the most poignant of realizations. As we grow older, we will face losses. But our network of girlfriends will be there to strengthen and cheer us -- just as we will provide love and support to them.

They sit together every Sunday at the early service at my church. These lovely ladies, ranging in age from 80 to 99 and counting, provide friendship and, often, transportation for each other. Health issues and relocation keep some of them away these days. But when one woman showed up last Sunday after an absence, she was greeted warmly by another who exclaimed, "I'm so glad you're here. We need you."

Amen to that.