The Challenges of Forming Female Friendships
Females friendship are good for women’s health—that is according to the Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School. The study results revealed that a lack of friends or confidants is as damaging to women’s health as being overweight or smoking cigarettes. Even in the face of major life losses like the death of a spouse or sickness, women with close friends with whom they can share their troubles were better off than women who lack close friendships.
Given this truth, why then are friendships among women a challenge for some? There a myriad of reasons why. One is that making friends is becoming exceedingly harder with the prominence of technology. More people seem to be connecting online rather than in person, thus creating a real-life disconnect.
"I believe we have an epidemic of unacknowledged loneliness," says Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women’s friendship matching site in 65 cities across the U.S. and Canada, and author of "Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness".
Spending large amounts of time on social media can leave women feeling like they have hundreds of friends, but don’t know anyone intimately enough to grab a coffee with or join them for a movie. To remedy the online-only social connection, women need to bond offline by setting up in-life meetings such as a workout group or book club that meets regularly.
Friendships take time to build and often women are not in environments where friendships can be developed and cultivated. Between work, kids, and being busy with the lion’s share of the chores at home, there is not much time left over for friendships.
Then there’s the dynamic of spouses who may not get along with the female friend. Or the spouse may take the emotional space that friend once held.
Another challenge may be that two women can be on different tracks financially or career-wise. Envy can creep up when one person is successful and the other is struggling to stay above water financially. While meeting and befriending successful woman can be motivating, it can also be isolating. The goal is to not let these kinds of differences derail a friendship.
Studies reveal that friendships can enhance women’s physical and emotional lives. The question becomes why so many women find it challenging to nourish them. Ruthellen Josselson, author of “Best Friends: The Pleasure and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships” explains that when women get busy with work and family, the first thing to go is friendships due to lack of time or energy. As the research suggests, women need to build and maintain these important bonds to protect their physical and emotional well-being.
A landmark UCLA study by Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor on the relationship between friendships and stress discovered that women react to stress differently than men. This difference is due to the different proportions of hormones that are released into the bloodstream. When men and women are stressed, the hormones cortisol and epinephrine are released together, which raise a person’s blood pressure and circulating blood sugar level. Then oxytocin comes into play, which counters the production of cortisol and epinephrine and produces a feeling of calm, reduces fear and counters some of the negative effects of stress. Men release much smaller amounts of oxytocin than women, leaving them to feel more acutely the effects of the flight-or-fight response. Men tend to respond to stress by escaping from the situation, fighting back or bottling up their emotions.
Taylor contends that women, on the other hand, are genetically hard-wired for friendship in large part due to the oxytocin released into their bloodstream, combined with the female reproductive hormones. When life becomes challenging, women seek out friendships with other women as a means of regulating stress levels.
Acknowledging the need for good female friends and a healthy social support network is a boost for women’s health, happiness and well-being.