One man was brave enough to walk into the small ballroom, take a seat in the back and listen to us talk about the importance of friendships to women at midlife — a big umbrella that covers ages 45 to 80.

We were making a presentation at the American Society of Aging’s annual meeting in Chicago — a major event that draws 4,000 plus.

And I was talking about WomanSage, the non-profit founded in Orange County, Calif., to promote friendships among women, as well as other benefits.

Friendships formed in WomanSage changed her life, said Shannon Ingram, marketing director for Silverado Senior Living.

She talked about what it meant to her to come to the monthly meetings when she was spending her days as a caregiver for her parents. She said when she needed to find employment, it was a WomanSage member who put her in touch with Silverado.

“These friends were there for me when my mother was dying,” she said. “I could call someone on the phone for support, for a laugh. Girls are different than boys. And girlfriends are a whole lot different than boyfriends or husbands. These girlfriends literally saved my life.” (For information, go to

Ann Harwood of St. Ignatius, Montana, spoke up:

“Aging in a healthy way means keeping in touch with others. You use e-mail, the telephone, whatever works for you. And this way you are able to feel close to somebody all the time.

“Friends give you a reason to get up in the morning.”

Another woman talked about how important it is for women to know someone “who hears what we are saying.”

“Why this emphasis on women and their friendships?” the guy in the back asked.

Not sure, I said. Maybe because men traditionally are hunters and gatherers and women sit around the fire, cooking, tending children, sharing stories.

It is, however, a reality and one that influences just about everything else women do after 50 — from their sex lives to their personal ambitions.

Some 3,900 women have responded to a survey on the WomanSage Web site and, of those not married, only 23.4 percent are eager to exchange vows. Instead, they suggest a guy “live close and visit often.”

A conclusion that caused Ruth Ann Hattori of Detroit to nod her head in agreement.

She’s been married four times, she said. “My friends — I call them my Synergy Sisters — are the most consistent, important thing in my life.”

So why did she marry four times? “Because the guys want that,” she said.

Interesting phenomenon, this new awareness about the importance of friendships for women. It has no racial or geographic boundaries.

When the program ended, an African-American woman came up to talk to Shannon about bringing WomanSage to Chicago while a Japanese American woman chatted with me about Los Angeles opportunities.

“You know what really shows how women enjoy each other? It’s that old program, ‘The Golden Girls,”’ Hattori said.

“We all want to pick our sisters today. Create our own extended family.”

Ah, the colonel’s lady and Rosie O’Grady really are sisters under the skin.

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