The gift of girlfriends

by Karen on June 1, 2015

©Lindsay Chambers 2015

©Lindsay Chambers 2015

I took a brisk walk with a friend first thing Friday morning, and I felt great afterward – ready to take on the day and the world. Yes, I know at least part of that feeling came from the boost in feel-good endorphins that exercise naturally provides. Not to mention the fresh air and sunshine.

But another part – maybe most important to me – was that I got to spend an hour with my friend. We walk many mornings, and we talk, sometimes about pressing issues or personal crises but mostly about bits of life so inconsequential we’ll have forgotten them by mid-afternoon. We laugh a lot, and we’re quiet sometimes, too, especially when we hit a particularly challenging hill. But what we say – or don’t – doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re together.

I’ve been thinking about girlfriends lately, partly because I recently caught up with two childhood friends – one I hadn’t seen in about 15 years and another with whom I had lost touch after seventh grade. I was amazed, in each case, how quickly we returned to the comfortable cadence of our former friendship. Our lives had taken vastly different paths, yet we reconnected immediately and intimately.

What is it about friendship – and specifically friendship with other women – that fills such an important place in our lives?

I have a husband whom I love dearly. He’s not the stereotypical, uncommunicative lug so often portrayed in popular entertainment. We have meaningful conversations, we share secrets, and we laugh together every day. Nobody knows me better.

I have male friends, too. But I need the women in my life. I need the girlfriends I’ve known since childhood and the ones I’ve only recently met. I need the ones I see often and the ones I catch up with only once or twice a year. And, when I talk with other women – be they 18 or 80 – I hear a similar refrain. No matter how much they love and connect with the men in their lives, they need their female friends.

There may even be a bit of science behind the power of girlfriends. One 2000 UCLA study suggested that while “fight-or-flight” is the primary physiological response to stress for both men and women, the natural behavioral response for women may be to “tend and befriend.” Furthermore, biological factors, such as the impact of the hormone oxytocin, may contribute to the strength of female friendships.

So, when I’ve had a crummy day or a stressful week, maybe it’s an extra shot of oxytocin that prompts me to schedule breakfast with my friends. Or maybe it’s knowing how hard it is to feel stressed while laughing uncontrollably.

Either way, I’m grateful for the gift of girlfriends.



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