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The greatest love of all

A good friend is like a well-fitting bra – close to your heart, supportive and hard to find – and now you can show her you care on ‘Galentine’s Day’

W

hile many of you are probably thinking about Valentine’s Day, there’s an event on the horizon that we’re much more excited about. Yep, 13 February is now (unofficially) known as Galentine’s Day, dedicated to some very special people – our girlfriends. And it’s a growing trend: research by florist Bloom & Wild found that around V-Day 2015, more than a quarter of bouquets were bought by women, for women. Aww.

 

We know they make us feel great (who else is going to console us about a bad haircut?), but it also goes deeper than that. Meaningful friendships are linked to increased mental wellbeing and reduced anxiety. In fact, your mates may even extend your lifespan: one study found people with large networks of friends lived 20% longer than those with fewer friends.

 

Yet our gal pals tend to slip to the bottom of our to-do lists. It’s not that surprising, really: we’re all juggling busy lives, and what with childcare, work and squeezing in time with our other half, friendships often have to take a back seat. And it’s not just down to lack of time, either. ‘Because friendships don’t have blood or legal ties like marriages or family, we don’t tend to work as hard at them as we should,’ says Shasta Nelson*, founder of women’s friendship community girlfriendcircles.com. Sadly, we’re more likely to give up on friendships than on a tricky marriage or a rocky relationship with a relative.

 

But, as Shasta says, ‘If you don’t tend to and nurture a plant, it just won’t grow. It’s the same with friendship.’ So it’s high time to celebrate the relationships you have with your girls. And with the help of our expert tips, you’ll be inspired to make those bonds even stronger!

If you don’t tend to and nurture a plant, it just won’t grow. It’s the same with friendship
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    The (free) therapist

    Bereavement, break-ups, family fights… this friend is your voice of reason in crazy times, and she doesn’t charge by the hour! She offers great advice, calmly and sensitively, and you know that she’ll drop everything to help you when the going gets tough. But you sometimes worry you might rely on her too much.

     

    Upping the love factor This relationship needs balance. ‘Don’t forget to ask about her problems,’ urges Mark Vernon, author of The Meaning Of Friendship (Palgrave Macmillan, £12.50). ‘If you’ve got into the habit of emotionally dumping on her, look for the opportunity to let her offload on you – even saying something as simple as, “You know I’m always here for you, too, don’t you?” will help.’ And to keep her from thinking she’s only wanted in times of need, make sure you also have fun. Set up a WhatsApp chat, so you can keep in touch day-to-day with light-hearted things such as photos, jokes and when your favourite shop is having a sale.

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    The careerist

    When you’re together, there’s nowhere either of you would rather be. Unfortunately, though, she’s more in demand than Beyoncé! She’s a great friend, but her job is important to her and she often struggles to find a date in her iCalendar.

     

    Upping the love factor ‘Ask her if it would be easier to schedule a repetitive date (such as the last Friday night of each month, or a phone call every Tuesday at 9pm) – hopefully, this will mean there’s less chance of it being cancelled or rescheduled,’ suggests Shasta. And when you do nail down a date, make it a multi-tasking meet-up. For example, if she’s a fitness freak, do a new class together and then have coffee afterwards. Or, if she loves pampering, catch up over a manicure.

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Friendships flourish when the emphasis comes from the future, not just from the past
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    The long-termer

    She loves your mum, tolerated your first boyfriend’s puerile jokes and pulled on a sparkly paper hat at your family’s Christmas ’do without so much as an eye-roll. Sometimes a year passes and you don’t spend time together, but when you do meet, you pick up where you left off. So how do you stop yourselves from relying on nostalgia to keep the friendship alive?

     

    Upping the love factor ‘Friendships flourish when the emphasis comes from the future, not just from the past,’ says Mark. ‘It’s easy to get nostalgic, or assume the friendship is healthy because you’ve been together for so long. Do something that’s out of both your comfort zones – it means you can look ahead, rather than reminisce.’ Why not sign up for a challenge, such as a 10km run? Even if you don’t always train together, you’ll reinvigorate the friendship by working towards a joint goal. She lives far away? Post her a book that you love – then you can discuss it the next time you’re together.

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    The ‘opposite lives’ buddy

    One of you might have kids, while the other is resolutely child-free; one of you might be married, the other single. You love their company, but sometimes it feels as though your lives are worlds apart – and you want to stop the gap from widening.

     

    Upping the love factor ‘Relationships often work well because of differences, rather than similarities,’ says Mark. ‘An example? If your friend has small children, then she might crave something that you provide: grown-up time. And if you’re single, her home might offer a welcoming family atmosphere.’ So when you catch up, make sure that you focus on your similarities – perhaps your love of Italian food (get her over and make your famed spag Bol), or your chick flick guilty pleasure (it’s always a good time to watch Dirty Dancing, right?).

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In conversation, listen for something that you’re both interested in and use that as a springboard for a get-together
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    The good-time girl

    She’s spontaneous Rachel to your restrained Monica, she can dance until dawn and is always keen to try new things – like queuing for hours to get into the most talked-about new restaurant in town. But you sometimes worry that it’s a bit… frantic.

     

    Upping the love factor ‘All this activity could be a form of defence,’ says Mark. ‘Someone who is always wanting to do something or be around people can often not tolerate being on their own or just doing nothing. Try to arrange a meet-up that means you can connect with them on a deeper level.’ If you think she’d pooh-pooh a quiet night in, suggest something that will pique her interest but still give you more quality time together than a crowded bar. If she’s a foodie, for example, why not try inspiring her enthusiasm with a sushi-making or wine-tasting class?

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    The ‘work wife’

    She understands exactly what you mean when you vent about office dramas – and she’s always on your side. Plus, she knows how you like your tea. But it can be tricky taking it to the ‘next level’ outside the 9-5.

     

    Upping the love factor ‘In conversation, listen for something that you’re both interested in – a new movie, a band or a hobby – and use that as a springboard for a get-together,’ suggests Shasta. She has this tip for during work hours, too: ‘Make an effort to keep the friendship feeling more positive than negative, and be careful not to have a relationship that’s built on complaining.’ So cheer each other’s wins, encourage each other’s successes – and never let them do the tea run alone!

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*Author of Frientimacy: How To Deepen Friendships For Lifelong Health And Happiness (Seal Press, £10.99)
**Never leave a burning candle unattended.

Words Charlotte Grant-West Photography Pixeleyes

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