In so many women’s novels—romance, contemporary romance, women’s fiction—the heroine’s friends play central roles. This is true in real life, too, isn’t it? They say friends are the family we choose, and that is something to celebrate and embrace. That’s why I wanted to take some time to talk about different types of friends, and why we need them!

1. The long-time BFF.

Hil and Laurel

(This is me and my high school BFF, and our winning ticket from a horse race. Yes, we’re still acting like we’re in high school even though it’s been almost 20 years – yikes! – since we graduated.)

Maybe you talk a few times each week. Maybe it’s a few times each year. But it doesn’t matter, because as soon as you hear her voice on the phone, you feel like you’re experiencing a tiny piece of home. Your long-time BFF is the person who has been through so many of life’s celebrations and difficulties with you, who has rejoiced and commiserated with you, and who knows you better than she knows her firstborn son. Just kidding. Why You Must Have This Friend: This is the friend who’ll give you a listening ear when you need it, and great advice whether you want it or not. She loves you like nobody else loves you, and the feeling is mutual… she’s like a compass needle when life gets too stormy to see where the sun is coming up.

2. Your partner in believing. The two of you have big goals and dreams, and you’re each other’s biggest supporters. Whether you plan to run a marathon, write a book, lose twenty pounds or win a hot dog eating contest (hey, we don’t judge here), you encourage one another, share ideas, and talk each other out of quitting (or throwing tantrums) when things aren’t going your way. Why You Must Have This Friend: The bigger the goal, and the more challenging, the tougher it is to see it through to the end. Self-doubt creeps in and can easily throw you off track. But not with a partner in believing by your side. This is the person who believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself, and she’s a necessary part of making your heart’s deepest desires a reality.

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(Me with my Partner in Believing, Rachelle, at my first Writers’ Conference last year.)

3. The adventurous friend. Whenever you do something that makes you question your sanity (like a triathlon or overnight relay race), this girl is right by your side. In fact, she probably convinced you do to it with her. This friend pushes you just a tiny bit beyond your comfort zone, and together, you accomplish things you never even knew were possible. Why You Must Have This Friend: Every new adventure is a new accomplishment, and this girl helps you discover the awesome stuff you’re made of.

Hil Amanda Christy

(My friends Amanda, Christy and me, at my first triathlon. Thanks, Amanda. ;))

4. The talk-20-times-a-day, go-to friend. You have your own secret language. Maybe you haven’t known each other twenty years, but it feels like you have. No matter how life has brought you together, it is clear you’re soul sisters. This girl knows your schedule, your routine, and your biggest pet peeves. When you send her a quick text about something you’ve encountered that day—”Mom, what’s a champon?”—she can immediately put it into context (“OMG. Where did your six-year-old hear about tampons?”). Why You Must Have This Friend: You talk to this friend so often that you never need to set aside a big chunk of time to catch up. You’re always caught up. This is someone with whom you can share the most intimate details of your life, exchange feedback, and giggle uncontrollably.

5. Your core group of friends. Although busy schedules may prevent you from getting together as often as you’d like, these ladies are steadfast reminders of the importance of having good friends. They let you know they’re thinking about you, they lift you up, and because they’re keeping tabs on you, they empower you to be better at everything you do. Each person in the group plays a role – the organizer, the dreamer, the details-keeper, and so on, and every role is equally important. Why You Must Have These Friends: These friends keep you grounded and centered, they support your biggest aspirations, and they know how to mobilize to take care of you and one another when you most need it.

I’d love to hear from you – which friends feature in YOUR life? And how do you strengthen your friendships?