A couple of weeks ago, two friends of mine who live in Atlanta collaborated to send a handmade gift to a friend of mine in Virginia who is fighting breast cancer. None of the three have ever met, but I feel certain they’d all get along and love each other if they did. I know for sure they’d make each other laugh.
The week before that, as I was stuck at home preparing for a medical procedure the next day, two friends jumped into action to go help another of our friends whose dad died unexpectedly, sitting with her and just being present for her as she packed to go home.
All of this got me thinking about how lucky I am to know such good, kind, generous people. And it also got me thinking about the kinds of friends we all need in our lives because some these women are so different from one another, yet I treasure my friendships with each of them and am a better person for knowing all of them.
Friends laugh with us, cry with us, and toughen us up when we need it. Friends make the good times even better and give us comfort when the days are long and hard. They even help us live longer, healthier lives. A team of researchers that tracked a group of people aged 70 and over for 10 years, found those who had the strongest network of friends lived longer, had better health outcomes, were happier, and had better mental well-being, both cognitively and emotionally. In fact, having many strong friendships has as many health benefits as exercise, healthy eating or giving up smoking.
So, as you build your network of friends, here are a few types of friends to keep in mind.
1. The One Who Has Known You Forever
Whether you’re childhood besties or you met in college, it feels like you’ve been friends forever. You can’t remember a time when you didn’t share your inner most thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears, and life with this person. They know all the skeletons in your closet and love you anyway. You may have special nicknames for each other that only the two of you understand. And the two of you can fall apart laughing at an inside joke that leaves those around you baffled. As you breathlessly try to explain why the phrase “You’ve got cheese on your foot,” makes you both cackle, your audience that just nods politely while thinking you both might be nuts. Whatevs. You and your forever bestie will never not laugh at that.
2. The One Who Has Your Back
This friend is always there when you need her. No matter what. No questions asked. Some might call her your “ride or die.” Need your kid picked up from school because your work meeting or a doctor’s appointment ran late? She’s on it. Need a night out on the town because you’re feeling down? She’s got a plan. Afraid you might need bail money when your cheating ex does something stupid? Her credit card is at the ready. But she has an even better plan for getting even that probably won’t involve jail time.
Whatever you need, this woman has it covered. Country singer Kalie Shorr even wrote a song about her called “Alibi.” It includes the lines “If someone’s breaking your heart, hold my beer, I’ll fight ‘em. If you get one call, say my name. ‘Cause anyone can be your best friend at a party, but if you dig the hole, then I’ll bury the body. No questions. I won’t ask why. I’ll be your alibi.” And while that’s all tongue in cheek, it completely captures the passion with which this type of friend defends those she loves. We all need the kind of friend who is always on our side, ready to lend a hand, no matter what.
3. The One You Can Laugh With
Friends who can make you laugh are one of the best gifts the Universe has to offer and whoever said “laughter is the best medicine” was on to something. Laughter can relieve stress and help you release tension in your body. It has also been found to help boost the immune system and when you laugh your body releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical that increases your sense of well-being. And, of course, the more you laugh, the less room you have for negative thoughts, so it can help improve your mental health in that way as well.
Perhaps more importantly, laughing together forges strong bonds among friends and creates lasting memories. The joy that comes from laughing together is also contagious. The more you laugh with your friends, the more laughter and joy you spread to others in your life. So, make time each week to laugh with your friends, whether you’re laughing at your own misadventures over a cup of coffee or taking in a night at a comedy club together. You’ll be glad you did.
4. The One Who Inspires You
She may be a vibrant, enthusiastic cheerleader for your efforts or she may quietly encourage you. Whatever her approach, we all need a friend who makes us want to be a better version of ourselves while also reminding us we’re awesome just as we are. Maybe she has amazing business acumen and a career path you admire. Or maybe her yoga and meditation practice makes you want to take better care of yourself. Perhaps you stand in awe of her amazingly organized home. Whatever her gifts, this friend is always happy to share advice, review your resume, come walk through a pantry clean-out, coach you up, and remind you what a great job you’re already doing.
5. The One Who Makes You Think
This friend is your go-to when you really want to dig into a topic and have a deep, meaningful conversation. They tag you on interesting posts on social media, send you magazine articles they think you’ll enjoy and are always up for a discussion. Even if you don’t agree on a topic, you love engaging with them because you always walk away with new insight.
If you don’t already know a friend like this, be on the lookout at your book club, church, in your college alumni group, or wherever you socialize. They may be sitting quietly in the corner with a book or magazine, but they’re worth the effort to get them talking. Your mind and spirit will thank you (and them!).