As I grow older I enjoy my female friendships more than ever. I’m blessed to have a few close women friends with whom I’ve shared some of the best and worst moments of my life. As well, I have other friendships based on similar interests, experiences, and hobbies. These relationships sustain, challenge, and support me.
I have never watched much television but, during the 80s, I dedicated time every week to see the antics of The Golden Girls. The four women exhibited the best aspects of female friendship with humour, empathy, wit, and love — all flavoured with occasional doses of spitefulness and envy. They fought among themselves yet they always protected one another from outside threats. The show demonstrated a perfect circle of friendship that nourished and enriched viewers by modelling the benefits of rich female relationships as well as demonstrating how an unconventional living arrangement worked for these women.
Another excellent example of female friendship — and non-traditional cohabitation — is that of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Viewers of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, see a hilarious yet poignant celebration of female friendship that empowers women. Off screen, Fonda and Tomlin enjoy a decades-old relationship that supposedly led to their agreement to costar in the series.
Female Friendships Need Nurturing
In real life, strong and trustworthy relationships don’t just happen. Effort is required for trust to develop. Sometimes the building blocks of a friendship include shared experiences such as working for the same company, living in the same neighbourhood, or a belonging to the same club. Occasionally a friendship happens easily based on a new interest or a shared milestone event.
It’s not easy to create solid friendships in later adulthood. We may have lost close friends or experienced betrayals, thus leading to a guardedness when encountering new people. Perhaps we have unrealistically high standards for people with whom we’ll spend time.
At any age, setting an intention to join groups and show up regularly for activities, will provide opportunities to meet new people. A cheerful smile, a kind word, and a listening ear also help the process even when joining an established group. When people with similar values identify each other and then consistently spend time in shared activities, relationships are built — regardless of age and stage of life.
How Women Connect
Women often connect over discussions of a shared experience or problem. The #Me Too Movement provides a current example of how the telling and believing of each other’s stories created strong bonding among victims who came forward with painful truths. The women who joined gained strength from self-disclosure of shared injustices.
Bonding among females is natural. John Bowlby’s attachment theory postulates that psychological connectedness in human beings begins with caring and responsiveness in the maternal-infant relationship. Interpersonal support among friends also develops when feeling understood, validated, and cared for by another. When things go badly in life, a friend’s commiseration, empathy, patient listening, advice, and understanding eases immediate pain. When things go well, happiness increases by sharing the happy experience with a friend.
There is an ease of talking among women that differs from conversation between men and women. Women talk with each other about feelings and emotions. Secrets are exchanged. Confidences get shared. We laugh; we cry; we vent. We persevere through misunderstandings because friendships, like all relationships are never easy.
Sadly, some long-time deep friendships end for petty or inexplicable reasons. Frustrations and complications may arise. Too often women are nice to each other but don’t really like each other. Cattiness, exclusion, and gossip happen among groups of women harkening back to school yard fights and ‘you can’t sit with us’ cliques. Memories of toxic female relationships cause many to avoid close friendships with other women.
Female friends aren’t only for single, divorced or widowed women. Happily married women find that associations with other women provide emotional understanding in ways that husbands don’t give — even if the husband is considered a best friend. Bonds with female friends are different from bonds with husbands and lovers. Rather than inhibiting or restraining intimacy in a love relationship, the bedrock of female friendships helps women to appreciate an intimate partner.
The longevity of a friendship creates a special closeness. For those readers who are blessed with friendships that have survived years of happiness and upsets, let’s acknowledge how we’ve been blessed. These female friends often know us better than we know ourselves. Many of our happiest memories include the fun we’ve had together. They have lifted us, inspired us, and, yes, forgiven us.
I’m interested in hearing from readers about experiences with female friendships. Have other women enriched your life? How? Have you been disappointed with a friend’s betrayal? Please send your comments and thoughts.
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