Making Time for Friends

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Amy Holck and Amber White were inseparable when they were kids. Even though they went to different schools, they got together most days after classes and spent entire weekends with each other. Their closeness continued when they were students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The bond remained after college, but they found it harder to stay in touch. Holck moved to Colorado for a year, and even when she went back home to Houston, the women's schedules kept them apart. Holck, 28, a program coordinator for a youth ministry, often works late, and White, 28, a public relations specialist, logs plenty of hours in the office herself. Add their romantic lives, and there didn't seem to be time even for lunch. "We'd both look at our calendars, and there'd be no time that worked," Holck says. "Amber is in a serious relationship, and I was planning a wedding. That, plus work, kept us both busy."

Yet they missed the contact, the chance to unwind with someone who knew the other so well. Realizing that mornings were the only times they could carve out of their schedules, the friends decided about two years ago to have breakfast together. Now they meet at least one Thursday or Friday morning each month. Those early-morning sessions have brought their relationship back to what it was during their more carefree adolescence. "Since our meetings are fewer and far between, we've really learned to value our time together," says Holck. "Even if I'm exhausted, I make the time to meet at 7:30 and spend time with Amber. I just can't imagine not having her in my life."


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Researchers say men and women respond to friendship differently. While men are more likely to bond over a football game and talk about gadgets, women tend to seek intimate relationships in which they can reveal more of themselves. "A woman's inclination to get together and be supported by women friends is a basic process that has its roots in ancient neurocircuitry," says Shelley Taylor, professor of psychology at UCLA and author of The Tending Instinct: Women, Men and the Biology of Relationships (Times Books). She says having a close friend can be a life-enhancing experience in more ways than you might expect. "There's good evidence that friendship is an important tool for down-regulating stress," she says. "It restores psychological well-being and has definite health-protective benefits. It also prolongs life."

The problem is that the demands of being a wife, mother and worker leave many women with very little time to spend with friends. Technology helps. You can grab a quick cell-phone chat while you're stuck in traffic or keep in touch via e-mail or instant messaging. But that kind of communication is no substitute for face-to-face and heart-to-heart contact, so busy women are increasingly taking a page from the men's playbook and getting together around specific activities. Once they gather, however, the talk still tilts toward the personal. "The one finding that psychologists agree on is that for males, a friend is someone you do something with, while for females, a friend is someone you are with," says Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology and women's and gender studies at Yale.

A networking group called the Ladies, nine businesswomen who live and work in New Jersey, was formed 10 years ago for entrepreneurs. Members, who are ages 36 to 52, still take turns talking about specific work issues. But they're just as likely to discuss coping with a quarrelsome teenager or caring for an aging parent as they are to analyze a marketing problem. "One of the things we realized pretty quickly is that, especially if you're an entrepreneur, your personal life affects your business life," says Joanne Dennison, 43, who co-founded the group. "Our favorite saying is 'Leap, and the net will appear.' We are the net for one another." Last year the group added an extra layer of intimacy to its web of support. Each member took a decorative angel inscribed with her name to the December meeting. Then the women passed the angels around in a circle while one member read a poem. When the poem ended, each woman found herself holding the name — and angel — of her new individual cheerleader. "Your angel is the person who is going to push you even more than the rest of the group. They do the extra and above for you during the year," says Dennison.

In these multitasking times, many women find that it makes sense to combine seeing a friend with another pleasurable activity. Diana Kollmeier, 37, of Babylon Village, N.Y., an executive sales assistant and single mom with a 9-year-old son, and Faith Algazi, 34, a graphic designer who lives 20 miles away in Jericho, N.Y., have been friends for more than six years but didn't see each other as often as they wanted. The solution, they decided, was to find an activity they could share that would help bring them together on a regular basis. After considering several options, including a weekly racquetball game and matching gym memberships, the two joined a karate class at a center halfway between their homes.

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