The Friendship Doctor

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Why Sarah Jessica Parker is jealous of Carrie Bradshaw

The importance of making friendships a priority

I have to admit that each time I watch a re-run of Sex and The City, I'm jealous of Carrie Bradshaw's friendships. The foxy quartet seems to have infinite time and opportunity to sit, talk, and laugh.

For me, carving out time to meet a friend for a leisurely lunch feels like a guilty indulgence even before I look at the menu. To tell the truth, I'm so pressured by the unfinished tasks on my to-do list that I even hesitate to take the time to catch up with friends by phone. Feelings like this are eerily reminiscent of the days when I was a student weighed down by homework assignments. Now, I'm still driven by deadlines and responsibility. I know what you're thinking: A "friendship doctor" who doesn't have time to nurture her own friendships? Mea culpa. It's easy to get caught up in the stuff of life and forget what's important.

Even Sarah Jessica Parker isn't the same person as the character she plays in the series either. In a recent interview in USA Weekend, the busy wife, mother, actor and producer admits that she, too, is envious of Carrie. "One of the many differences between myself and Carrie Bradshaw is that it's as if she has 48 hours in the day," she says. "She can really luxuriate in her friendships and nurture them by virtue of the choices she had made in terms of career and family."

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Certainly, the friendship patterns of the last two generations of women are infinitely more complex and dynamic than the ones that preceded them. Our lives are filled with more possibilities. When I surveyed more than 1500 women for my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, women repeatedly echoed the sentiment that having one best friend isn't enough---particularly if that best friend moves away, gets married, changes careers, gets divorced, has children, becomes widowed, retires or her life circumstances change significantly. The dynamic lives of two close friends rarely follow parallel paths.

There is abundant research that suggests that close friendships are essential to a woman's health and emotional well-being; these vital ties enable them to become better wives, mothers, daughters, and workers. To maintain these relationships, though, women need to create and maintain face-to-face rituals with their female friends. This can take the form of a book club, cooking club; planning regular get-togethers; joining a civic, political or religious group; having a weekly game night (bridge, Scrabble, Bunco, or mah-jongg); or planning periodic girlfriend getaways (if your friends are out-of-towners). One woman told me that she and her best friend have a regular "date night," penciled in on their calendars each week.

The choices we make depend on our personalities, interests and life situations. But to make life-affirming and joyful friendships that stick, there's no substitute for putting in the time. We all need to develop routines to incorporate friendships into the ordinary fabric of our lives and make them a priority--just like Carrie and the girls.

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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