Friends for life: how women’s friendships differ and why women need a tribe

They lived together as children.

They played, laughed and endured much hardship: war, famine, the loss of close friends and family. As teenagers, they were already earning a living, looking after their homes and younger siblings. Later, they married and parted ways; they followed their husbands, moving away from their homeplace and starting new families.

Many years passed, lifetimes of experience. Yet the love for each other never diminished. They would speak on the phone, keep in touch and share — deeply, from the heart.

My mother thought of her friend often. Her face would light up instantly. “She loves me so much!”, she would say to herself, glowing. “I was younger… Antonia liked to take care of me”, she would add. She herself loved her friend dearly, and would fondly reminisce about the times together, as children.

More than 60 years passed. Intense years. In their old age, they became devoted carers to their ailing husbands. They were widowed. Through it all, their love for each other stayed strong. Despite ill health and heartache, they made an effort to meet. The few meetings they managed in their 80s gave them immense joy.

You’ve seen them as teenagers, above.

Here they are, octogenarians, at the theatre.

Mum-And-Friend-80

An extraordinary friendship?

Yes and no.

This is deep, soulful, life-long friendship between women, sisterhood; the kind of relationship that modern women now realize they can — and need to — have in their lives.

In a similar vein, “The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a 40-Year Friendship”, by Jeffrey Zaslow, documents the story of eleven childhood friends, who scattered across the country, yet their friendships endured college and marriage, divorce and other crises, including the death of one of the women in her 20s.

These close friendships shaped the women’s lives and continued to sustain them, evidently supporting their health and well-being — even when they lived far from each other. (Read more about the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health and longevity in “What Are Friends For? A Longer Life”.)

Is there more?

According to a landmark UCLA study, Gale Berkowitz writes, “friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are.”

This research suggests that women respond differently to stress than men, with a “larger behavioral repertoire” and higher levels of oxytocin (rather than testosterone) under stress, which compels them to seek social support and bonding.

“When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate,” Berkowitz continues.

Another researcher, Dr. Ruthellen Josselson, co-author of “Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls and Women’s Friendships”, stresses that it’s a grave mistake for a woman to let go of friendships with other women — which women often do because of demanding lifestyles, increasing work and family commitments, and time pressure.

“Women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they’re with other women. It’s a very healing experience”, she concludes.

You’ll find these and more sources cited in “Why Women need a Tribe”, which makes a strong case for sisterhood and Women’s Circles.

Traditionally, women would spend much time together, providing care of their children, their families, communities and each other. They would find support and nurture in being together.

“Women are natural nurturers and empathic givers. It is vital for them to receive and be nourished as continual giving out ends in depletion, an increasingly common health problem. Women instinctually know how to nourish each other, and just being with each other is restorative.”

The benefits don’t stop here.

Women who are strengthened and supported in this way, become a powerful force for the greater good.

As Jane Fonda puts it, “female friendships are just a hop to our sisterhood, and sisterhood can be a very powerful force, to give the world…the things that humans desperately need.”

Things like peace, love, care for each other, synergy.

It’s a crucial evolutionary movement. I call it the “New Feminine Emergence” — and you’re part of it.

The video below highlights the main points of the article “Why Women need a Tribe”; do you see yourself here?

Please enjoy and get in touch with me, Elena Angel, to find out about:

Don’t miss out! You need your tribe and your tribe needs you.

Hope to see you soon. And who knows? Perhaps you’ll be that friend I’ll still cherish 40 years from now…

Article commissioned by RisingHer.com: dedicated to Women’s Empowerment.

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