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Cyma Shapiro Interviews Suzanne Braun Levine, Author of You Gotta Have Girlfriends

Cyma Shapiro

Q:  On the heels of your last book How We Love Now: Women Talk About Intimacy After Fifty, what compelled you to write this new book?

With each book about women of my generation – Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Fifty Is the New Fifty, How We Love Now – I talked to more women, did more research, and learned more about the exciting new stage of life we are exploring.  Every interview, no matter how wide-ranging, eventually got to the subject of girlfriends. “I couldn’t have done it without my girlfriends!” was the phrase I heard over and over again. I realized that I needed to write a book that focused on that life-enhancing subject. Hence, my just-out e-book You Gotta Have Girlfriends: A Post-Fifty Posse is Good for Your Health.

Q: You write often about what you call, “Second Adulthood.”  “The twenty-plus years after fifty are a statistical gift to our generation…An open field of dreams lies between adulthood and old age, where we move from a life in which we have fulfilled many roles…to one where we are able to write our own scripts.” This is so true for midlife mothers – can you expound on this most recent phenomenon, and the possible reasons for this sociological shift?

As a midlife mother myself, I am acutely aware of the gifts of second adulthood in terms of sharing experiences with my twenty-something children and, at the same time, of having the post-parenting time to reinvent myself on new terms.

Q: In your book, you delineate your own “circle of friends” – those who have stood by you and stood the test of time in supporting, encouraging, compassionately listening (etc.) – the women you expect to live out your life with. I have not been so lucky with this. Although I had dozens of friends prior to getting my youngest children, I found that my life choices truly and inalterably changed the playing field.  Now, being somewhat “out of sync” with the masses around me, it’s been tough to truly find those people who understand me and my new life.  I think that female bonding is created, in part, by shared experiences. Those women who “go against the (traditional) grain” might find this harder to find.  Can you address this?

Even for those with a long-standing circle of trust, as we explore new frontiers of our own experience in the second adulthood stage of life, we are drawn to new friends who respond to our new interests. Making friends at our age isn’t easy. It reminds us of those days when we were wondering “how to meet boys” and later “how to meet men.”  And the advice is the same: do things that interest you, go places you want to see, volunteer, join a book club, show up where interesting things are happening and check out what is available on line. The hardest part is the first “hello my name is….” But, hey, this is a time of risk-taking and adventure in our lives – and in our relationships.

Q:  In your second chapter, you carefully explain how being with girlfriends is good for your health, producing large levels of oxytocin – the cuddle hormone! Please shed some light on this new information.

Studies are showing that when women are together they experience important physiological changes – specifically hormones that reduce stress and enhance good feelings are released. It is thought that regular doses of stress-reducing girlfriends may account for the fact that women are living longer than men, who – sadly – don’t seem to have the same kind of relationships with those they call friends.

Q:  The old (bad) joke referencing how heterosexual women sometimes prefer to be in same-sex partnerships, rather than struggle with their husbands is a truism for women seeking healthy partnerships and best friends, and often not finding that same connection with their male-partners. What are your thoughts about this?

Several of the women I interviewed for You Gotta Have Girlfriends said their male partners were their best friends- understood them best, brought out the best in them, and had their best interests at heart. Most, though, thought that no matter how much they loved the men in their lives, men just don’t “get it” the way women do. The consensus is that both relationships matter, and one doesn’t replace the other.

Q:  Over the past few decades, you have been such a pioneer of women’s rights and visibilities – a champion of true “girl-power.” In fact, you seem to be every girlfriend’s best friend!   Where does this trait come from? What are some of the factors which contributed to this?

I think a trusted friend listens, remember, cares, and most important laughs with you.

Q:  You also discuss, at length, how unfriending women friends is a mainstay to continued happiness in our (later) lives.  This is an area I know quite well.   You write, “Even if we stay put, the process of reinventing ourselves brings regular reminders that…we are not who we were, only older,” is so true! But, it often severs ties with a large number of friends who were our “staples,” requiring us to make great efforts to find like-minded female companionship.

As we consider those friends who will be important to us going forward, we must also consider those that are now or always have been toxic or those who, for whatever reason, don’t support the journey we are on. Clearly they are not good for our health. But the most delicate unfriendings are with those we simply have out grown, women who were important at other stages – like raising children – or in other circumstances – working together, say – but just don’t make it into the Post-Fifty Posse I write about as being so important.

Q:  In this era of rapidly changing jobs, careers, lives and geographic locations, the old “community” doesn’t serve itself in the same way it did for our mothers. Now, we must rely on Skype, the Internet and many other forms of interaction which lend themselves to continued connection, but at a distance. Some of my best friends live in other parts of the country. Try as hard as we might, we just can’t stay as connected as we’d like. What are your thoughts about this? And, for our future connections?

Women communicate as much through eye contact, body language, touch as through words, so a cyberspace encounter is not as satisfactory, but it does give us a way to keep one another posted until we are in the same place at the same time. Another advantage to the Internet is that it helps us find and reconnect with childhood friends, who can become very important at this stage.

Q:  The continued crises in our country – war, terrorism, etc. – have changed the way we operate as a society. In what way do you see this as contributing to our interpersonal female relationships?

That one is too big to answer here. Except to say that I believe women working together to make the world better will ultimately prevail.

Q:  Finally, will you be my friend?

I’d love to. We have so much in common.

This interview originally appeared on Mothering in the Middle – the blog for new midlife mothers.  

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