Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus.
You’ve probably heard that one before. When it comes to female versus male friendships, it’s right on the money. That’s not to say that all men don’t understand women – in many, many cases, they might know you better than you know yourself. But since we are generalizing, it’s safe to say that there are certain things about women that only other women really get.
That includes our neurosis about totally inconsequential things. Women will readily entertain our obsessive thoughts for hours – something not many men are keen to do. Women know intrinsically how to support us when we’re grieving – whether it’s to stand silently in the background, hold us really tight, give us things to break when our pain turns destructive, or talk us off the ledge when it’s time to face reality. They see our vulnerability and those ugly bits inside us that we try to hide with astounding ease, and they know just the right time to call us out on our BS. They can tell by our tone of voice on the phone if we’re about to impart good news or bad news. They wait comfortably with us as we go through our dark and scary places without trying to fix us. They’re indignant on our behalf in the most gratifying way. And they’re the best bartenders around when we’re winning at life. Most important of all, they’re smart enough to know to never, ever tell us to calm down.
That’s the power of good girlfriends. But what makes for these mighty friendships? According to science, the people we choose to be in our inner circle do more than just support us through thick and thin. They actually affect our health.
Having good women friends is how we thrive.
A study done on approximately 2,000 breast cancer patients in China and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2011 found that the women with close social and emotional ties had better chances of survival and fewer recurrences within the first few years. Researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine found that patients with the highest satisfaction when it came to marriage, family, and friends at six months post-diagnosis had a 38 percent reduced risk of mortality and a 48 percent lower risk of recurrence, while women with “favorable” interpersonal relationships had a 35 percent lower risk.
Friends also influence us. A study published in ScienceDirect in 2011 found that, if you have friends that exercise, you’re likely to do the same, while in 2018 the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found that friends who quit smoking decrease your chances of smoking by 36 percent.
Science aside, journalist and author of The Friendship Cure Kate Leaver believes that friendship also has the power to influence the outcome of our lives. According to her, not only is friendship the essential cure for modern-day illnesses such as solitude, ignorance, poor health, and angst, but it also affects our emotional wellbeing and our ability to hold down a job, get (and stay) married, find a home, and understand ourselves.
Makes sense, really. We all need our squad to get us happily and humorously through life, which would otherwise, well, suck.
Case in point: In 2018, I took a trip to Rome with seven of my best friends from high school. It was one of the best holidays of my life. We rented a cute four-bed Airbnb flat overlooking the Piazza del Popolo and, from the minute we got there until the second we left, no one had to compromise, no one argued, and the traditional big blowout every couple experiences at least once on holiday was absent. We essentially just carb loaded and laughed until our bellies ached. It was magical.
We all need our squad to get us happily and humorously through life.
It wouldn’t be a girls’ trip, however, if in between the mountains of pasta and laughter we didn’t indulge in a few group therapy sessions. One of us was in the midst of a divorce and needed to gripe about the way her kids were treating her, as if she alone was to blame for the demise of her marriage. How could she be there for her kids and yet still stop them from walking all over her? The other was an overworked, high-up executive who was struggling badly with mom guilt, especially when she learnt that a work trip had been scheduled right on the back of our Roman adventure. As all seven of us clambered on a queen bed, huddling together in our PJs with steaming mugs of coffee, we were able to reassure her that her two-year-old would never remember that time mommy went away for nearly 15 days.
These solemn moments are a great example of how girlfriends nourish the soul. For women, our deepest bonds are created over countless cups of coffee, during happy hour, in whispered secrets and guilty admissions, and over silent tears and hilarious group texts. Having good women friends is how we thrive.
If you’re not quite sure whether or not your friends are the real deal, here is something that can help you figure it out. In an article entitled ‘Ladies in Waiting: The Power of Friends’, which was published on Oprah.com, authors Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff came up with an activity to help you gage your friendships.
First, think of four qualities you most want in a friendship. Mine, for example, are honesty, generosity, someone who will stand up for me, and trustworthiness. Make a chart and put those four qualities on a paper across the top of the page. Next, write the names of all your close friends in a vertical list on the left side. Next to each name, put a check mark next to each of the four qualities they possess. If they check them all, that’s awesome. If not, you may have some considering to do.