“They say nothing lasts forever. Dreams change, trends come and go, but friendship never goes out of style.”
– Carrie Bradshaw on Sex in the City
Female friendship is important to women. In researching her book, Girl Talk, New York Times Science reporter Jacqueline Mroz discovered that the nature of women’s friendships can be traced back to human evolution. In traditional societies women have typically left their village or family group and gone to live with their mate and his family. As a result of living with strangers, they invested heavily in a small group of friends to enjoy a secure social network.
This notion of women surrounding themselves with a circle of close friends has endured. In addition to sharing happy moments and comfort in difficult times, friends can be beneficial to physical and mental health.
A study of 2,000 women published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology (2011), found that breast cancer patients with close social ties in the first six months after diagnosis had better survival rates and fewer recurrences within the first few years. In an interview, Dr. Maria Epplien, who studied the patients, shared that the biggest surprise was that physical well-being was less important than strong social ties in breast cancer outcomes.
Moving on to the impact of friendship on mental health, a landmark UCLA study by Dr. Laura Cousin Klein and Dr. Shelley Taylor found that women’s propensity to “tend and befriend”—tend children and gather with other women—may explain why we consistently outlive men. When women engage in tending or befriending, oxytocin is released, countering stress and producing a calming effect.
According to Toronto Rehab geriatric outpatient clinic social worker Andrea Brodey, the impact of friendship on her clients, particularly when they lose a spouse, is very important. Friends experience the various life-cycle events with you and can provide comfort and company, in a different way from your own family.
You’re busy! We know. Here are some ways to maintain female friendships.
Let’s face it, life gets hectic and we do not always invest and prioritize time with our friends. I am lucky to have a network of good friends—caring, smart and accomplished women. I asked them how they maintain and nurture their friendships with such busy lives.
Stay involved and aware of what is going on your in your friends’ lives.
Are they going through a hard time at work? Are their parents healthy? Be thoughtful. Phone calls and face-to-face contact are important but can sometimes be impractical. In the interim, short texts or just checking in, asking about significant events can let your friends know that you care and are thinking of them.
Building your friendships into your life.
Integrating your friends into your self-care routine or even mindless chores is a double-win. I have two friends who I run with regularly. In what would otherwise be time spent alone, across those kilometres, we chat and stay connected. I love to read and participate in a monthly book club with another friend. I’ve even gone to Costco with a friend because it was the only time we could manage to get together and we both needed groceries. Spending time with a friend does not need to be a big production or “event”. Squeeze in time wherever you can.
Birthday lunches or dinners can be a yearly tradition with close friends. Also, annual spa days or girls’ getaways are a great way to reconnect.
Don’t take things personally.
Understand that things do get busy and do not take it personally if friends are absent. Be understanding. Try not to judge someone for not getting back to you right away. Sometimes we have a lot going on and drop the ball. Be prepared to pick up where you left off.
For some of us, scheduling time for our friends is like booking an appointment— and it works! Set aside the time and commit to it. For others, planning too far ahead is a lost cause because someone always has to cancel plans as the date draws near. Never be afraid to try something spontaneous or last minute.
On a final note, let’s value our female friendships and appreciate how important they are to our overall well-being. We can draw inspiration from Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, who sums it up, “We need people who encourage us, believe in us, support us, and remind us that we are not alone. For women, this kind of support can be especially important — because, too often, the world tells women what we can’t do.”