Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Value of Female Friendships

Relationship Research
The Tending Instinct, by Shelley E. Taylor, unlocks some of the mysteries of "women, men, and the biology of our relationships." The need for community with other women is biological; it is part of our DNA. Taylor's book consolidated a variety of studies covering cultural factors, decades of research, anecdotal references – even the biological ties to the girlfriend concept in the animal kingdom. An unending stream of fascinating facts helped define why we as women are more social, more community focused, collaborative, less competitive and, above all, why we need our girlfriends.
Consider these findings:
  • Longevity – Married men live longer than single men, yet women who marry have the same life expectancy as those who don't. However, women with strong female social ties (girlfriends) live longer than those without them.
  • Stress – For decades, stress tests focused solely on male participants, believing that all humans would respond in the same manner. When these same stress tests were finally conducted on females it was discovered that women don't have the same, classic 'fight or flight' response to stress that men do. According to the research presented in The Tending Instinct, women under stress have the need to 'tend and befriend.' We want to tend to our young and be with our friends. Time with our friends actually reduces our stress levels.
  • More Stress - A study conducted by the UCLA School of Medicine found that when we're with our girlfriends, our bodies emit the "feel good" hormone oxytocin, helping us reduce everyday stress. By prioritizing our female friendships and spending time with these friends, we take advantage of a very simple, natural way to reduce our stress.
  • Even more stress - Prairie voles, a monogamous rodent, have a similar response to stress. When a male vole is put in a stressful situation, he runs to his female partner. Female voles, when stressed, immediately run to the females they were raised with.
  • Self-esteem - A recent study by Dove indicated that 70% of women feel prettier because of their relationships with female friends. It's no surprise that our self-esteem is highly influenced by our girlfriends; this is important to understand for girls as well as women.
  • The Health Factor – Women without strong social ties risk health issues equivalent to being overweight or a smoker - it's that serious.
Nurture those friendships and tend to them like you would a garden. Just as a garden can enrich and nourish your family, a quality friendship with another woman can strengthen each woman’s family. I have found personally, a kind of contentedness that falls on me after spending time with a special friend. That feeling carries over when I return to my family and they notice it as well. My husband notes my elevated mood and when the wife/mother is happy, it is far easier for the rest of the family to be at ease. How do those sayings go?
“Happy wife, Happy life.”
“When momma ain’t happy, ain’t no body happy!”
I thank God for the special friendships in my life. They’ve lifted me up and given me another person to fight for. They’ve enriched my life beyond expectation and given unexpected joy that carries me through difficult times. I hope that I give that kind of feeling to the friends I have as well.
A best friend, is a sister destiny forgot to give you.

Without communities of women, we often miss opportunities to be involved in our cities, to learn from each other, to empathize with other women and to share the benefits of laughter and a heart-felt hug.
As women, we sometimes need to be reminded what being a girlfriend means. Too often it takes an illness or loss to hit us with reality, realization, and appreciation of friendship. That reminder can also be as simple as a caring card, a hug or an e-mailed photo. Once in a while we simply need to take the time to think about our friends, stop and live in the moment, and if at all possible, celebrate that moment.
Hear some bad news? Call a girlfriend. Have something great to celebrate? Share that celebration with a friend. Want to feel prettier, be less stressed, be healthier and happier? Spend some time with your BFFs. My dear girlfriends, recognize your own need for friendships and fill that need with time and memories together.
Life is better together – with your girlfriends.

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