Like many women my age, I grew up in the age of Oprah. I truly enjoyed watching The Oprah Winfrey Show and was inspired by not only her story, but that of her many guests. In 1997, her Valentine's Day show featured celebrity pals which inspired me to celebrate the love of the amazing women in my life.
We all have these women in our lives. We may call them our sister-friends, BFFs, partners-in-crime, confidants, or soul sisters. Months or years can go by without talking to them, but you can pick up right where you left off just as if you shared a cup of tea yesterday. That is the beauty of the unconditional love of our friends.
While living a hectic and overwhelmed life in medical school, I decided to reach out to my friends in a special way. In my final year of school, I sent each of my dear girlfriends a handwritten Valentine's Day card. It was my way of telling them how much they meant to me, even if I hadn't talked to them in since the previous Valentine's Day.
As my work hours increased, cards morphed into the always-anticipated annual Valentine's Day email. Every time I sent that one email, it reminded us to schedule a meeting in person or pick up the phone to connect if we were in a different city. Enter Facebook. I stopped sending that annual email. I had wrongly assumed that we were more connected than we had once been through sharing status updates -- I knew what was going on in their lives and they knew what was going on in mine. We were still just as connected, if not more... right?
The next Valentine's Day, I didn't send the email. The phone calls and emails came in from my treasured BFFs, "Why didn't you reach out to us on Valentine's Day this year?"
I know that physicians are not alone in getting consumed by their careers. Other important facets of our lives come in distant second, including time for our girlfriends. The mind-body medicine and psychology research shows that isolation is one of the key factors that leads to illness. Women with ten or more friends are more likely to survive breast cancer. Let's not wait until one of our soul sisters gets sick to reach out.
This Valentine's Day, don't let it be just about romantic love. Rather, share love with your friends and celebrate your sisterhood. Try these five simple suggestions that I have learned from my own circle of sister-friends who now live all over the country.
1. Schedule girlfriend time, and make it a priority on your calendar.
In our hectic days of juggling work and families, time for our friends can easily get ignored. Plan ahead and pick one day per month centered on an activity that you and your friends will enjoy. It can be as simple as meeting for happy hour or scheduling manicures together. When a regular meeting time with your friends is on the calendar, the difficulties of coordinating schedules is avoided. It also creates an event that everyone will look forward to attending. Are you all in different cities? Schedule a regular "girlfriend mastermind" teleconference. It's a great opportunity to support one another in careers, relationships, motherhood, and life transitions.
2. Welcome "the new girl."
One of the biggest struggles women face is moving to a new town for a relationship or job, and then having to leave a circle of carefully cultivated girlfriends behind. Take the time to notice the "new girl" at work or in your neighborhood. Take the initiative to invite her out for a drink or to a social group where she can meet other female friends. We all have been the "new girl" at least once in our lives, this is our way to pay it forward to another woman.
3. Use technology to your advantage.
While texting and social media take the intimacy out of relationships, we also can use technology to our advantage. Video conferencing on our computers and telephones helps to erase the miles between friends on opposite coasts or different countries. Emails and text messages are a superficial method of checking in. The sound of a human voice or sight of a familiar face creates a more genuine connection.
4. Remember your single girlfriends on Valentine's Day.
Holidays can amplify feelings of loneliness and isolation for anyone, especially your single girlfriend. Take a moment to send your single friend flowers, her favorite dessert, a funny card, or just take a few minutes to call. If you are single, gather a group of single friends together and schedule a ladies' night out. When you gather your girlfriends and celebrate each other, it will help reduce emotional stress.
5. Reach out to an old friend.
Is there a woman in your life that you have lost touch with from childhood, college, or a previous job? She may be on your "Connections" list on LinkedIn or your "Friends" list on Facebook. Take a moment and reach out, if only to share a memory of your time together. Out of sight, doesn't have to mean out of mind. By taking the time to honor a loving memory, we open our hearts to creating new ones.
How will you take a few minutes this Valentine's Day to honor the love of the amazing women and friendships in your life?