Wired for connection: Spending time with my friends is more than ‘time off’

Kinderling News & Features

Like many parents with small children, the time my partner and I spend away from the family is a carefully negotiated commodity.

It doesn’t matter if it’s exercise or ‘social’ time, it’s all put in the ‘time off’ bucket.

As my children have grown older and less dependent, I’ve found more time to see my friends.

My husband is content to play his guitar, and isn’t as driven to organise catch-ups with his mates.

At times its been a source of friction in our relationship. For my long-suffering home-body husband it must look like I’m running off every weekend.

The truth is, my friendships are so much more to me than just getting out of the house.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation: 

I need lots of time to catch up with my friends

I grew up in Sydney, a city of over five million people.

I don’t have one group of friends that I met in high school or uni. I have friends I met at high school, uni, dance class, and through different jobs I’ve had over the years.

It’s not like I gather friends wherever I go, but I’ve met some stellar people and they've become good friends. They don’t fall neatly into one cohesive group that I can catch up with at one go.

Which means that while I might catch up with one friend every six months, when you mix it in with other friends, it looks a lot busier than it actually is.

Face-to-face connection is where the heart is at

I’m a big fan of words. If you’ve ever received a letter, email or card from me you will know how much I love words. But there’s nothing like a face-to-face catch up.

Sitting across from a friend and listening to their stories, laughing and sharing your own thoughts is soul food.

Psychologist Karen Young from Hey Sigmund! says that this kind of connection is as old as time itself.

“We humans are wired to connect. It’s through that human to human contact that we feel seen, safe, and soothed, so our close friendships are gold and an essential part of nurturing our mental health. This doesn’t mean we need loads of friendships. We just need enough - and that will be different for everyone.”

My friends make me feel loved and valued

I know my husband and children love me. But life with young children is challenging. It’s being patient with every member of your family, endlessly. It’s trying to live up to what everyone needs from you: breakfast, toothbrush, underwear, understanding and mountains of patience. There’s always something that you need to do.

My friends don’t use my toilet every day, they can clean their own teeth, and it doesn’t make one jot of difference to me if they snore or not.

Friendships have their own freedom from the everyday pressures of life. They are a safe place to debrief. And in that space we have time to laugh, cry and truly listen to each other. We make the effort to see each other, and enjoy our time together.

My friends help me be a better person

There are some friends who will tell you everything you want to hear. But the really good friends will tell you the honest truth, and help you to be a better person.

I have friends who will listen to me complain about my husband, and then offer practical solutions on how I might better understand where he’s coming from. That is the kind of friend who makes me a better person, who shows me other ways I can be in the world.

As Karen says, “Friendships can shine a light on the blind spots we can all tend to have in relation to the decisions we make, our relationships, and the way we do life. Close friends challenge us when we need challenging, protect us when we need protecting, and smother our vulnerabilities with love and pep talks when we need strengthening.”

My friendships are important for my mental health  

There are things in my life that I know are essential to having a healthy brain.

Exercise is one, and time and connection with my family is another. And while it can look like a series of frivolous social outings, connecting with my friends is also a really important way for me to stay well.

And it turns out the science supports my need to catch up with friends.

Karen explains, “Harvard researchers have found that close relationships, more than money or fame, contribute to our happiness through our lives. The study found that close relationships are instrumental in strengthening brain health, physical health and mental health. They also help to protect us from the sharp edges that we all rub up against sometimes as part of being human.”

Spending time with my friends is more than ‘time off’.

It’s a vital part of my well-being.