Dear Friends, You’re Like Family

What a Group Chat Taught Me about the Importance of Friendship on Our Health and Happiness

My Girlfriends and Me (snake print shirt) at Pinz Bowling Alley, Studio City, December 2019

Are you ready for some really great news? Getting together with a friend is not only fun, but it’s also great for your health and happiness.

We all know how important our Dear Family is but our friends might prove to be even more important, especially as we age. Research published in the journal Personal Relationships studied more than 270,000 people in nearly 100 countries and found both family and friend relationships were associated with better health and happiness. The benefits remained over a lifetime for people who reported strong friendships. This means our friendships are more predictive of our day-to-day happiness and ultimately how long we’ll live, even more so than spousal and family relationships.

Let’s break that down.

  • Friendship is good for you.
  • You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.
  • When your friends are a source of support, you are happier and healthier.
  • When you are happier and healthier you live longer.
  • To have a friend be a friend.
  • Friendship makes life worth celebrating.
Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

Over a year ago, beginning of March 2020 to be exact, some of my oldest friends and I started a “Pandemic Group Chat” as a means of support during such an anxiety-producing time. I never could have imagined how it would become a lifeline, proving my closest friendships to be even more important than I had ever imagined.

Wanting to see if my girlfriends felt as I did, I was thrilled when seven out of ten of them were able to hop on a Zoom and let me ask questions about our friendship with a day's notice. Yes there were husbands and kids coming in and out of our rooms and dogs were barking and texts and emails were dinging and phones were ringing and dinner needed to be made…but it didn’t stop us from making time for each other and feeling all the feels. When we hung up, or I should say “left the room,” we felt lighter and happier and more connected…just some of the many benefits of friendship.

I want to thank my phenomenal Dear Friends, Allison Bronson, Jill Chizever, Kim Gursey-Wills, Lauren Rojany, Jessica Sacks-Davimos, Deborah Singer,and Denise Snaoudj for sharing so openly and jumping in headfirst to help support a friend. My friendships with these incredible women goes as far back as kindergarten up to meeting in college, so anywhere from 45 to 30 years long. You know what they say, “Old friends are the best friends.”

The following is a transcription of the questions I asked my Dear Friends and should be read as dialogue:

What is a friend?

  • Someone who has known you at your worst and helps you always be your best.
  • Friends see your true essence. They’re there for you in the good times and the bad times. They’re not afraid to tell you honestly the positive things and negative things. Sometimes you need to hear negative things.
  • Friends are unconditional. They know you at your best and they know you at your worst.
  • A friend is someone that is always there for you and someone you can count on. With this group, with all the things that have gone on in the past 40 years, we’ve all had ups and downs. If anyone said, “I need you.” I think anybody would pick up the phone and do anything for them.
  • One of the most important things about a friend that I’m learning as I’ve gotten older is to genuinely know that somebody is happy for you or sad for you when you are experiencing something. That’s a rare thing to come by. But that’s when you know, you’ve got a real honest friend because they truly want you to be happy. And when you’re happy, they feel it for you and they put their needs aside and can be happy for you. How do you know that someone cares about you? They show up. They show up for your life. They show up for your good times. They show up for your bad times.

What’s your favorite thing to do with a friend?

  • We could just hang on the couch and do nothing and stare at each other but I love to work out with my friends, go hiking, go to dinner- just spending quality time together.
  • Sitting on the couch and giggling. You don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. When you’re with an old friend, the incredible memories flood back and you let loose. It’s fuel for so many good emotions and chemical reactions, a release of all those good endorphins. We literally could be anywhere. If we’re together, it doesn’t matter.
  • Even though we couldn’t go anywhere for a year because of the pandemic, it didn’t even matter because our friendships got even stronger- with all our texts, Facetimes, and Zooms. We hung out in each others’ backyards and learned we don’t have to go to a restaurant.
  • Whatever this pandemic friendship experiment was, it really made a big impact and brought us closer.
  • Storytelling- bringing back all of the memories over the years and talking about all of the things we used to do has definitely been a bonus especially because we have kids that are now getting to be the same age we were when we first met.

Do you consider your closest friends to be your chosen family and if so, why?

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
  • Most definitely. My husband always reminds me what I bitch about- his sisters and brothers and parents. That’s why we have the friends we have. We’ve seen all the bad things we don’t want in our family we’re born into. But our friends, we get to filter that out and find the best of what we want, hopefully, the people who mirror who we are and want to be.
  • My birth mother and my sister, who I don’t have a relationship with, never had any girlfriends from a very young age. They had no relationships with women. They were not very nice to my Nana, my mother’s mother and to my mother’s sister. They were all very contentious and battled with each other. I always wondered from a very young age why they didn’t have any girlfriends. So the seed was planted to not trust women. Women were bad for each other. Women were angsty. At a very young age, I knew I loved women and I wanted women in my life and I could learn from them. Friends at school brought richness to my life. I made a conscious effort to break that idea because it’s very important to have women relationships that aren’t negative or contentious or competing. Women lift each other up. They can also tear each other down.
  • Because my mom has been gone for so long, this group of women is very important to me because not only were you all there during that time, but you all have filled that void for me over all these years and to current days.

What is it about old friends? Tell us about a friendship that has survived the test of time?

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  • Even if you don’t talk to a person a lot, there’s something about the connection of somebody who knew you before life really took place and stuff happened and shit hit the fan. It’s like sitting in lukewarm water. It’s just there. It’s like one of those, summer days before it gets really, really hot where you’re outside and you’re in a tank top and you don’t feel the air and you’re comfortable. That’s what one of those friendships feels like. You don’t have to work at it. You don’t have to guess what you’re doing. You don’t have to worry about what this person’s going to think. You feel comfortable in your own skin.
  • There are some people I was friends with many years ago and all of a sudden I’ll see them and it’s like no time has passed. You can start where you left off. And that’s like our group. Also, even if we don’t see each other- we don’t talk every day on the phone. We talk maybe once a week or once every other week, but wherever we are, you can pick up where you left off. And that is a true friend that knows you inside and out. You don’t have to catch up on all the other crap that was going on. You just are there for each other, no matter what.
  • It’s very easy with old friends. Everyone knows you. They know your mood. They know what you’re going to like. They know when you’re going to be mad and it doesn’t matter because that person’s still gonna call you the next day. You’re still going to be invited to the next thing. You could have a crappy day or a good day, that person knows you and they’re like, “Oh, you know, Jill’s in a mood.” No one takes offense to anything. A lot of people I know do not have this core of a group, from our college friends and you guys in high school and elementary school that all hang out and do dinners and celebrate birthdays for over 40 years together. It’s very unique. It’s so special and I’m so happy to be a part of it. It’s a blessing.
  • I remember my dad saying to me he couldn’t believe that we were all still friends after college, after this or after that event. And he said, “This is so special. People don’t have this.” And in my young mind, I was like, how could people not. It’s so natural.
  • I did read there are four types of friends, a must friend, a trust friend, a rust friend, and a just friend. We are must friends- the best friends, members of your inner circle. Must friends are people you can count on when something good or bad happens. That’s pretty much this group of girls. And there are a lot of us which is the rare part of it. There’s the trust friend- someone you feel comfortable with and are glad to see but isn’t in your inner circle. The rust friend is the person you’ve known for a really long time who was a part of your life and now in the periphery. You know you’re not going to get any closer but if you see them at your reunion, you love them and it’s like you never left but then you go home and go about your life. And then there is the just friend- a person who is also a friend but more like an acquaintance. You see them at school events or for a weekly poker game, but they are still just whatever. All four different types of friends matter in your life. They’re all important. But this core group of girls is what keeps me going. If someone asks, “Who are your friends?” Immediately, I think if this core group of women, my must friends.
  • When my mom passed away, I had two friends show up. I don’t know what category I’d put them in but they’ve been there since I was in elementary school. They were family friends through my mom. Their moms and my mom were friends so there was a special bond. Our kids weren’t the same age. We didn’t see each other from month to month, but whenever we did see each other, there was a closeness and a kinship. The day my mom died, these two friends showed up. I hadn’t seen them in at least two years and they literally scrubbed my house from top to bottom, made me food, and prepared the house for people who were going to be coming over for the next few days- down to polishing my silver. These women didn’t know me at the most intimate because I didn’t see them day to day, but it was like they went into overdrive. They wanted my house to look its best and they wanted to do everything that they knew I would have wanted to do but that I couldn’t because I couldn’t think straight. That really stuck with me. Sometimes we take those friends for granted. They’re not like us where we’re together all the time. But there’s something that you’ve lived through that creates this commonality that they’re just going to show up for you and it’s surprising. And when it happens, you realize what a blessing it is.

What’s the nicest thing a friend has done for you?

  • Picked me up off the floor when I thought my life was over. It’s something you don’t forget.
  • This group has been there through thick and thin for me. I don’t know how I would have done it without your support. If I didn’t have you guys, I can’t even begin to even think of where I’d be. I love you guys so much and if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
  • You never know what’s going to stay with you and what you’re going to remember 25 years later, but there was a time when I was breaking up with a boyfriend who I thought I was going to be with forever. I was like 24 and completely broken and lost. And somebody here came with a moving truck and some friends and helped me move out of his house. I remember that moment because I was so distraught. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I didn’t expect this person to do it. I will never forget that kindness because it’s one of the most pivotal moments in my life where I said to myself, “Wow, she really cares.” I didn’t want to say how much I really needed the help and yet she was there.
  • Everyone’s been there for everyone. Whether you call them because you’re depressed or you just need some comforting. I feel like every one of you guys has done everything somehow in the past 40 years that’s been wonderful or that’s helped me. There’s one thing I can pinpoint that Ali did when I had Tanner. Brad was out of town and I called Ali, interrupted her with the “Bachelorette” or “Bachelor.” She met me at Cedars at 10 o’clock at night because my water broke. And Brad took an Ambien and was in North Carolina or something. And she went there and she totally hung out. She came the next day. She even got to the point where she stalked her doctor who I wanted to deliver me because they’re in the same practice and my doctor was out of town and I didn’t want the one on call. Ali was like, “You have to come. You have to deliver her baby.” And it all worked out.
  • When I was pregnant with my first child, my son, Ryan, I spent six weeks in the hospital because he wanted out early. I was literally a prisoner in a hospital for six weeks being woken up every two hours in the middle of the night to take my pulse, check the baby, give me medicine to stop the contractions. During the day it was total chaos because I was in a delivery ward where nurses kept running from room to room to deliver babies with doctors. I was only allowed a limited amount of people and it was just a never-ending nightmare. And I remember laying in bed one day thinking I just want a pedicure. I hadn’t even seen my feet in so long. I forgot what they looked like because I couldn’t bend over. I couldn’t get out of bed except to go to the bathroom and that was even limited. And I remember Ali showed up and I don’t think I even told her. She showed up with a manicure set and she came and painted my nails and cut my toenails because they were so long. They were disgusting and I just remember thinking, my God, that is so sweet. I just couldn’t believe it even popped in her head to show up and do that for me.
  • When Ali responds “It’s not about me,” I say, “But this is about friendship and you are the friend that is the glue that keeps us together. You’re the one that makes sure we have birthday parties. You’re kind of like the ringmaster.’
  • When I started my podcast I felt comfortable enough to text you guys and say, “Can you please comment on my social media? No one’s commented yet? Or can you please like, or can you please share?” You never made me feel like I was an imposition. There’s nothing like that support from a friend. Thank you for letting me be so shameless and letting me feel comfortable asking, “Hey, can you do this for me?” You know I would do anything for you too.

What did our pandemic group chat show you about friendship? How have your friendships fared during the pandemic?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
  • I don’t think friendship has changed so much through the pandemic. I’m still getting texts from Debbie saying get on the Zoom right now because I’m running back from an appointment. My friends always have my back. It hasn’t changed much. It’s actually in a way even more authentic. I’ll give you an example. My birthday came in August and we were trying to figure out a way to celebrate. It ended up being the best birthday ever. It was karaoke with open house booties on the microphone so we wouldn’t spread germs and it was social distance and it was dancing with Kimi on FaceTime.
  • This chat group has been the greatest group. It really kept us together. I love that we’ve kept it going. It connected us through hard times by talking about what’s going on. This group got me by more than I could say during the darkest times. Like when you just needed some social interaction, it was really great.
  • We did have a group that was larger when we first started and a few people just dropped off. The core group is still together. We’re the ones that always talk and see each other. Examples of things we discussed were conversations about the pandemic, the president, the new president, what show should I watch? I’ve watched everything on Netflix. It was just constant jokes, pictures, anything you can think of was in this chat.
  • There would be a time where not even 60 seconds would go by and I would look at my phone and there were like 35 responses about that one thing we were talking about. I will say, some of the memes that were sent almost made me pee in my pants. Some of that stuff that everyone brought into the group was so great and so different. It made you forget about everything. It was like a savior to come and see. It was so nice and we so needed it.
  • Not to be a downer, but moved from LA to Oregon. You don’t know that seasonal depression is a real thing until you’ve lived in seasonal depression. There were a lot of times where it had been gray and raining for weeks on end. I really tried to hide my feelings from my friends because I really was depressed and sad and didn’t see any end to COVID and the separation between my girls in LA. I used our text group as a reprieve for my life. And the chat was always funny and always entertaining. Seeing everybody support each other gave me this strange hope in my brain that things could get back to normal and things were still normal because our core group of love was still there. And it really got me through some really hard times that you girls don’t even know. I have never laughed so hard at everybody’s comments and memes. Anybody who wrote anything, there was always a response and always a joke and always an emoji, always a meme that was so funny- sharing a moment of happiness during a very dark time.
  • The endless amount of knowledge I gained about the vagina during this, for me, hands down, was the best thing. We should all have vagina sandwiches when we’re all done because that picture makes me laugh.
  • Let’s not forget all the things you can do with a penis cake mold.

Like in the movie When Harry Met Sally, can men and women be friends?

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
  • I don’t know if we should even answer this question with our younger generation talking about cis-gender and gender fluid and all of that, but I do think we can and we should.
  • Absolutely. I’ve been friends with your husband since I was nine years old. It’s not like we have private, intimate conversations at length on the phone. But there’s something between us that is special because we’ve known each other from prepubescence through the awkwardness of pubescence and sitting around a circle playing spin the bottle to getting married and dating and then having our own children. That definitely is a very special friendship. And honestly, not all the men in my life that I’m friends with have stuck around. I had a lot more male friends who disappeared when I got married or weren’t around as much, but there are certain men in your life who you definitely can call your friends that are lifelong friends, like Todd.
  • I was always that girl that had boyfriends so I never had guy friends. But now I do and I cherish them so much.
  • It’s important to have male friends no matter if there’s sexual tension or not. I have two guys that I would say are really good friends of mine. To get a different perspective when I experience something is very helpful for me and you can’t necessarily get it from your husband because he knows you in an intimate way. You want an outsider’s perspective that isn’t biased towards something. It certainly has helped me when I was dealing with stuff that they can show me that maybe I’m overreacting from a male’s perspective regarding a friendship that could be with a woman.
  • Adam was not a friend growing up but we crossed paths in three schools and knew each other at a distance. He ended up by coincidence becoming my husband’s best friend in college. He and I went through a major trauma together after my husband’s accident and he ended up becoming like my best friend. Adam stepped in and became an intimate friend who I could call and ask anything because we went through hell together. We walked through the fire together and all of a sudden I could ask him any question. There were no boundaries as far as what was appropriate or what was inappropriate. And to this day, I can call him and have a conversation with him that has a different perspective than my husband’s. It feels like a big brother in a way.
  • In my case, because I’m such a tomboy, girls don’t want to deal with me and so the husbands are always the ones that want to be friends with me. My neighbor, I call her husband all the time. I’m like, I need to get up on the roof and trim my ficus hedges. Can you come with me? He’s my buddy. We do stuff all the time. I didn’t see a whole lot of people during the pandemic, but Kimi’s husband came down to LA from Oregon to pick up some of their furniture. He came to my door after moving all day and I’ve never seen hair like this. He kind of looked like, I don’t even know the guy’s name that was married to Julia Roberts with the big hair going up. And I was like, “You can’t be married to my friend like that. The hair is not okay.” But all I had was my dog’s clipper and these food scissors. I had just finished cooking lobster. So we had lobster scissors and dog clippers. And I had the greatest time cutting his hair and he looked so handsome when he left. I didn’t want him to leave. Like I wish he were here. I love Kimi, but Kerry and I, we’re like two peas in pod.
  • He would never let me cut his hair with dog scissors. But Denise? No problem.
  • Denise can cut ficuses so she can cut hair. Denise, I have a follow-up question. Clearly, you have many friendships with men. What has this group chat meant to you? -with such feminine energy coming at you and lots of talks about vaginas.
  • I love it. You’re my girls. I would know nothing about COVID if I didn’t have you girls. And laughing at the simplest thing. It doesn’t matter where we are in our life. That’s what’s so incredible. Like you know when Jill finally got a break from the kids because they’ll be like five texts come through at once. It’s great.
  • Charli’s texts were great.
  • Oh, I had no idea the thread that she sent you all with the unicorn, and then she ends with “I Love Lucy” until someone said, “Jill, I think one of your kids took your phone.” I had no idea.
  • David’s quote was like, “Who do you think you are? Kim Kardashian. Fifty texts coming through in 20 seconds .”

Some of our friendships are going on 45 years now (granted we were 5 when we met). What’s it like to grow old with your friends? What are the benefits?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
  • It’s super healthy. I feel secure. Growing old puts one in a fearful state because our parents are leaving us. Our parents’ friends are. We know that we’re next. We know that this is the time when people start getting sick. To break up with one of you, female friends at this point would be harder than a divorce. It keeps me sane and safe. There’s a natural ebb and flow to friendships and the special ones survive. We will be friends forever and there is security knowing that if something happened to one of our husbands, we would all be there for each other. It’s a safety net.
  • Ha… Brad walked in to change and he keeps hearing “If something happens to our husbands…” He’s walking out now.
  • There’s a comfort I have with you all. We can have wrinkles and we can have fat bellies and we can let it all hang out. I still suck it in for my husband a little bit.
  • Putting in a little effort to say, “Hey, we’re still here. Even though the world has changed, we haven’t. Even though the world is different, we’re not. The uncertainty of the pandemic from the moment it started, none of us had any idea what this was going to be like. But the one thing we had was we knew each other were there. There were no questions with all of the uncertainty of how scary this last year has been. That’s the center. That’s the core for me.
  • Should we start playing mah-jong?
  • I know people doing Mahjong in their thirties.
  • Are we doing karaoke at 70?
  • Absolutely. When we get together age doesn’t matter because we all feel like we’re back in high school. Whether it’s a spontaneous dance party or karaoke or whatever it is, collectively we’re taken back. I have a feeling even when we are in our eighties, we’re going to be just as loud and just as excited to see each other.
  • On my last birthday before COVID, we all had a plan to go dancing but we never left your kitchen for hours. And that says something spectacular when you don’t even want to go out and get in the Uber because you just want to be together in a kitchen.
  • I can not wait to host that again very soon.
  • I just want to say how lucky we all are. Seeing everybody’s face and having this conversation has just cemented what a blessing you all are in all of our lives and that we all have such a big core of people to go to for everything in our lives that we need. And for support. It’s kind of hard to even comprehend. We’re so lucky. It’s so wonderful.
  • We’ve literally destroyed the cultural myth that female friendships must be bitchy or competitive or angsty to exist. We have shown the world what true friendship is.
  • I can say something so special about every one of you and what your friendship has meant to me. What you’ve given me is so beautiful and changed my life in such profound ways. You’ve supported me and been there. I literally could call every one of you at three in the morning and say, “I need something,” and I know you would be there for me and I would do the same for you. I hope you know that.
  • Today has been a hard day for me. I lost a very, very, very, very good friend who I’ve known my whole life. His name’s Rob Kurtz and he’s been sick for a while. He’s my brother’s best friend. It’s a pandemic so unless you are a patient, you can’t go in the hospital. Rob’s always had a real good temper and he was yelling at the nurses about how he didn’t like the food. Anyhow, my brother tells me this whole story and I call him two days later. My brother lives in Vegas and works crazy hours, has four kids, and he’s married. He’s at home telling me about this Crock-Pot. I’m like, “When did you start Crocking?” And he’s like, “Well, you know. Rob hates the food in the hospital and so I’ve been Crocking for him so he’ll have food.” He would go there twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday and bring him food. He would leave it at the front desk for him. That’s the type of friendship we have. And it’s not just with one of us, it’s with all of us. And it’s not one of us all the time, but it’s all of us all the time. We’re so, so fortunate because, in your final days, it’s those things that make you feel not alone in this world. And when Rob was so frustrated and alone, a Crockpot of food from my brother’s kitchen gave him comfort in an unimaginable way. And so on that note, I thank you all for being my Crocker’s- my people.
  • Denise, I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry you lost a friend. Thank you for being my Crocker.
  • And when the pandemic was big in Vegas, and I said your dad can come to live in our side apartment, I really meant it.
  • How many times have I gone to see your dad’s house to help him through this? When he couldn’t get meat at the grocery store, we just made it work.
  • Social ties are the key to happiness. Scientifically. We know that we’ve done our own little group study here and it boosts immunity. It cuts the risk of depression. It just makes you feel better about everything. And that is the important thing about friendship. If it’s an intimate friendship or a casual friendship, I am just highly promoting friendships in general. I do know people who aren’t lucky enough to have this. I don’t know what I’ve done in this life or another life to be so blessed to have you, girls, in it.
  • We have our good days. We have our bad days. Sometimes we’re bitchy. Sometimes life is heavy and it’s important to cut our friends some slack because you can get in your head during the pandemic and other times. We’ve all done a really good job of just let that moment go. That’s also what being a friend is all about- knowing not to take things personally. We’re all doing the best we can. We’re all going through our own personal stuff. Just to know that you guys are there for me, that Denise welcomes my husband any time that they have that friendship, that I can text Todd, any question, it’s just very special and important to maintain.
  • I’ve learned the longer we live, the more important it is to maintain friendships with women. I think the world is catching on that love is love and we are just so lucky to have each other, no matter what the situation. I count my lucky stars until the day that we’re in diapers and in yurts, I will always be grateful for you girls.
  • I don’t count my lucky stars for being in diapers or in yurts but I definitely count my lucky stars to be with you, Kimi. One of the reasons why friendship is so important is because loneliness is a pandemic. There are so many people that are lonely and they don’t have friends to turn to. And one of the things I’ve found, with you, in particular, Kim- you may not text me back. I don’t take it personally. If a friend doesn’t get back to me, I’ll check in again and ask, “Are you okay?” That’s what friends do. We give each other space and no judgment and say, “I’m here when you need me. Just want to make sure you’re okay.”
  • You never ever let me disappear within myself. That second text or that check-in always made me snap out of. It’s never a personal thing if I don’t text you back. It’s that I do get trapped in my own darkness of the situation, especially if you’re a super social person and you feed off other people’s energy and you need them to exist. When you’re isolated but someone says,” Hey, I’m still here.” It changes everything. It’s probably saved my life more times than not.
  • Because my podcast and writing focus on achieving good mental health, it’s important for me to bring up the fact that sometimes it’s our strongest friends that seem to have everything looking picture perfect on the outside who are often the ones really hurting. It’s important for us to check-in and ask, “No, really. How are you?”
  • We have that support system with one another. We know if we don’t hear from somebody then we’re going to check in again and not let anyone go.

What’s the first thing you want to do with your friends once when we’re all vaccinated?

Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash
  • French kiss.
  • Dance.
  • I’m going to throw the biggest party I’ve ever had in my life in Ojai when this is all over.
  • Yes, I will be there.
  • I can’t wait until a Beastie Boys song comes on and we’re all together and dancing in a big huddle.
  • Sounds good to me.
  • I’ll be there.

Host of “Dear Family,” the Podcast, Writer, Educator, and Mental Health Advocate https://writenowrachel.com/

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