One week ago I was waiting in the Oakland Airport in California for my plane to depart. Nearby were eight women who were attracting a little attention. No one, including the eight women, seemed to mind because the women were so infectiously happy. They were quite a sight as they sat there laughing and joking together. Most of the women were in their 60s or early 70s.

All of the women had cameras slung around their necks and travel brochures stuck in their traveling bags and purses. They simply were having a good time.Somewhat out of curiosity I ventured near one of the women who had gone to the water fountain for a drink. I asked where they were going and who they were. The woman smiled, straightened her straw hat and told me they were on their way to Hawaii for a week's vacation. Then she said as she walked away, "We are just friends."

Their plane left before mine, but the scene and the comment stuck in my mind during the flight back to Salt Lake City. "We are just friends." How important friends and friendships are in life! Having friends may be as important as having family. We simply need both to survive and endure.

Somewhere over Lake Tahoe I began to think how important friends are not only in life but also in marriage. Having good friends is extremely important for both husbands and wives as individuals. It is also important to have other couples as friends with whom we can associate with on occasion. Having access only to each other as a married couple may put too much burden on a marriage. We need other friends of the same sex to meet a multitude of needs. (Having friends of the opposite sex is an entirely different and somewhat controversial matter.)

With the deer hunt in Utah under way, there are many jokes about "deer hunter widows." But the deer hunt and other activities may serve a vital function for friends getting together for a few hours or perhaps days. While most of the hunters seem to be male, it is obvious that many women enjoy the hunt as well whether they go to the mountains or stay home. There are many other activities that men seem to enjoy together.

Similarly, women fulfill needs in each other that sometimes are difficult or even impossible to derive from men. Women often desire to get together, like the eight I met in the Oakland Airport, for social purposes. It is possible that most of the women in that group were single. But married women also have a need to associate with other women on occasion. In fact, some family life educators and counselors now believe that the high divorce rate in the United States may be attributed to the breakdown of social networks among women. In the past, women met together to work and/or talk about common concerns and interests. These groups now appear to be on the demise, and as a result, many wives transfer these unmet needs to husbands who find them difficult to meet.

At the beginning of his book, "The Different Drum," M. Scott Peck states, "We need each other." Not only do husbands and wives need each other but parents and children need each other, and extended families need each other. And yes, friends still need each other.

It may well be that having a network of friends, both as individuals and as a married couple, is a critical factor in today's marriage. Who are your friends? And more importantly, who includes you in their circle of friends? What kind of friend are you to others? Perhaps that is one area of your life that needs attention.

Laurence J. Peter noted, "You can always tell a real friend: when you've made a fool of yourself he/she doesn't feel you've done a permanent job." Likewise, Ed Howe observed, "Instead of loving your enemies, try treating your friends a little better."