On a recent Skype call with my sister (blood and soul) she told me about a study on why women tend to live up to five years longer than men. In a nutshell, the findings supported the argument that women live longer due to the difference in the amount of meaningful social activity they have in their lives.
Scientists found women are much more social in the way they cope with stressful occurrences in their lives; friendship offers comfort that mitigates the ill effects of stress. Men, on the other hand, tend to deal with difficult situations with their “fight or flight” response – aggression or withdrawal –, which have negative effects on the body and mind.
Friendships have a profound affect on the health of both men and women. Lonely people die earlier, are more prone to sickness and have more difficulty overcoming stressful situations than their counterparts with a strong support network. It’s interesting to note married men live longer than their single compadres; that’s because they rely heavily on their wives to stave off the negative health effects of loneliness. How do married women fair? Only slightly better than their unmarried or widowed counterparts… the difference is those strong friendships outside of the marriage. Men, too, have strong friendship connections; they just tend not to use them when the going gets tough.
Over the past fifteen months, by design, I have spent a great deal of time alone. Part of the exercise of leaving the grind and drifting to another continent was to connect with myself on a spiritual level. Wading through the silence and discovering my inner thoughts, needs and desires was number one on my priority list. It’s difficult and not for the faint of heart, but the results are staggering. Complete clarity is powerful.
Another important aspect of my journey was making connections with people of varying cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. I wanted to grow and expand beyond the limits of American thinking, which is much easier to do when you’re outside of its borders. Before coming to Italy I rarely met new people where I put in the effort to really connect with them. I didn’t need to. I have a shit ton of friends back home. I think that’s a pretty common feeling amongst people in their comfort zones. I’ve even heard multiple friends say before, “Who is that new person? We don’t need any new friends.”
At 36, being in a foreign country on my own, I was in dire need of making new friends. Loneliness was creeping up on me.
I’ve always known I was a people person, but have since discovered I absolutely adore meeting new people and making connections. It’s become one of my very favorite things and I’m great at it. In a short year, I have created a home for myself in Bologna, complete with an amazing network of friends from all walks of life. Every connection, every friendship, every experience makes the world a little smaller and the journey a little richer.
As I begin packing up my life in Italy, I ponder over the bonds I’ve made here and how this experience has changed us all. I’m having farewell dinners, final walks, last late morning coffee chats and goodbye aperitivi. The parting is bittersweet, but the connections are beautiful and lifelong.
Until we meet again, and y’all know who you are, thank you from the bottom of my Texas-sized heart. If that study is accurate, I’m sure you added a few years to my life. Regardless, you made this year unforgettable.
Ti voglio bene. Mi mancherai.