A friend of mine was lamenting over her daughter’s breakup with her boyfriend. At the end of their vacation, the boyfriend pronounced that he wanted to return to his previous girlfriend. Considering that all parties (except him, of course) believed that this vacation would end with a proposal of marriage, it was a devastating time in her daughter’s life.
“But at least she has her girlfriends,” my friend said. “And that is really more important.”
She’s right, I could not get through life without my girlfriends and sisters. We share a need for these close relationships.
So, how, and why do women form such intimate partnerships? Researchers theorize that in earlier societies women had to move into their new husband’s family circle, (much like traditional Chinese, Muslim, and Indian cultures do today). Alone in their new world, it was essential for women to quickly build connections with other women for emotional support and help.
Research shows that close female friendships are more important for women than they are for men. By disclosing vulnerable information, women build trust quickly. As a result, women’s friendships tend to be more intense. These friendships thrive on intuition, intimacy, emotional support, and deep connection. This close relationship even results in the release of oxytocin and serotonin. The latter is a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being.
Male friendships are less intimate and more side-to-side. They tend to hang out in groups, while women prefer smaller, more intimate relationships. Women’s relationships are face-to-face and maintained through intimacy, communication, and support. Men are more likely to remain friends after a disagreement, but women-to-women relationships can be more fragile.
A researcher asked each gender what they were looking for in a friendship. Men preferred friends that have common interests, offer wealth or status, and can help them find dates, while women expressed more interest in friends who offered emotional support. Friendships between males are often transactional. Men have a larger number of friends, but fewer intimate ones. Men are more likely to bond by engaging in shared activities, such as sports, while women tend to bond through disclosing secrets, talking, and spending time together.
Men make friends easier as they do not feel pressure to disclose personal information. A humorous anecdote with my husband underscores this. When my husband and I were making our wedding plans, he asked me to hold off sending invitations until he told his weekly golfing partners that he was seeing someone (we had been dating for 18 months).
Why are girlfriends important to women?
Everyone who has them knows the answer…but just in case, this is what psychologists say:
- Girlfriends are the backbone of women’s support system.
- Girlfriends offer a different and honest perspective. They serve as a sounding board and offer an outsider’s viewpoint. They are a safe outlet to discuss problems and try out possible solutions.
- Girlfriends frequently act as a trusted advisor, their goal is to help.
- Girlfriends operate in a trust environment that allows them to share secrets and honesty.
- Girlfriends boost self-esteem.
- Girlfriends are dependable and loyal.
- Girlfriends are essential when life goes sideways.
- Girlfriends provide love and support as well as a safety net.
- Girlfriends are each other’s champions.
- There are medical benefits as well. Women with strong friendships have higher survival rates from breast cancer, less depression, less stress, and have a longer life expectancy.
- Same age friends offer a shared experience.
- Sharing a positive experience with a girlfriend increases excitement.
- Older women with strong girlfriends have improved self-care. When someone sincerely worries about us, we are more conscientious.
- Prolonged conversations with girlfriends stimulate brain activity.
- Overall, girlfriends serve as a crucial emotional support system: giving advice, being a shoulder to cry on, keeping secrets, listening, while boosting self-esteem.
The Memoirist, Rebecca Traister, said it best. “Female friendship has been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women.”
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.
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