It hit me with tsunami force: a wave of remembrance and longing, as deep as a craving, for the comfort of a particular female friend. In my mind, she could break the drudgery of my day by steeping a pot of tea, offering a smile and a warm scone. These are not simple free associations, but activities we shared often when we lived around the corner from each other. Both entrepreneurs, our youngest children the same age, we had many things in common. I don’t need to use the past tense, and yet I do. Since I moved 64 miles and an entire stretch of ocean away from her, our time together is either abbreviated – the 2 hours before my ferry leaves to return home after a work trip – or digital. There is always a sense of loss in this communion now.
Female friendships are powerful forces we too often take for granted in the hustle of our everyday lives. In “What Women Find in Friends That They May Not Get From Love” writer Rebecca Traister calls her female friendships “replenishing.” It is a “fill-my-cup” kind of nurturance that is unlike romantic love. She goes on, “Female friendships are not a consolation prize, some romance also-ran. Women who find affinity with one another are not settling. In fact, they might be doing the opposite, finding something vital that is lacking in their romantic entanglements…” (Source).
I believe female friendships to be vital currents through which we re-define the very nature of love and community, as well as ourselves. In communicating with another woman, in sharing pieces of your life and emotions, you learn not only about her, but about yourself, the world and your place in it. Further, female friendships are the glue of society. When this kind of bonding was the norm in cultures, women came together in the name of strengthening civic and familial ties. Think church groups and fundraising circles, communal baking and childrearing.
And yet in the backdrop of all female friendships is the cultural dark side that casts woman-to-woman connection as some kind of sinister practice – plotting against the patriarchy, a male fantasy lesbian love scene. Emily Rapp writes in “Transformation and Transcendence: The Power of Female Friendship”, “people diminish and poo-poo the real power and strength of female friendship … which is either supposed to descend into some kind of male lesbian love scene porn fantasy or be dismissed as meaningless or be re-written as a story of competition. Here’s the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones, Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers and sometimes children.” (Source).
Research also shows that friendships, for both men and women, reduce stress. Women, however, are more likely to seek companionship as a stress response. This “tend and befriend” response has been well-documented in the research by Shelley E. Taylor. She writes, “…women more reliably turn to their social contacts in times of stress, responses that are, as just noted, protective of health and longevity. The fact that men may be somewhat more likely to cope with stress via fight or flight and women to cope with stress via tend and befriend may help to explain the world-wide gender gap in mortality.” Her theory is fascinating, and seems to be upheld in real-life examples of men and women demonstrating different responses to stress. She cites the Soviet Union in 1989, when the social environment of Eastern Europe left many people unattached. Women often came together during this time in informal groups to share the daily management of tasks. Men were more likely to seek substances and aggressive encounters with other men. (Source.)
Today feels like an apt time to discuss the power of women coming together to heal, soothe and strengthen. Women in the United States of America are organizing to march on Washington and many people here in our own country of Canada are planning to do the same in solidarity. Memes are popping up around the internet expressing with seriousness and humour the desire to take over the patriarchy.
There is in this revolution then the very foundational need for women’s friendships. On one level, women coming together provides the mass and the message needed to leave an impact. On another level, the finding of intimate spaces for women to lift each other up, nurture and strengthen provides the individual impact we all need in order to live full, rich lives that include achievement of our highest potential.
If friendships have dangled when life has evolved alongside your role within it, now is the best time to pick up the phone, send a text or write an email. Making a step toward contact, repair, rejuvenation and yes replenishing the well of female love is the way forward right now. For each of us.