My partner lends me his sympathetic ear when I need it, but when I just need to get my complaints out, there is no better place than my girlfriend’s couch. The wine-facilitated talk time does wonders for my soul and I never feel the need to explain or defend my over-analyzing of a situation. I know I’m not alone in my desire to maintain these female-to-female bonds, but it’s an added bonus to learn that science not only encourages such relationships, but preaches their importance as well.
For years researches assumed that both men and women process stress chemicals the same way. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the fight-or-flight response; when faced with stress we either flee or stand with fists of fury ready to fight. However, recent studies have found that women may actually experience different reactions, and process these chemicals in a different manner, than their male counterparts.
For men, having the carnal instinct to run or fight when confronted with danger in the “cavemen days” may have benefited them greatly. However, women – who were mostly home tending to the younger members of the tribe – would have benefited more from what we call a tend-and-befriend response. This involves tending to the children (protecting them and caring for them) and relying on other women (befriending) for support and back-up.
Our lives are a lot different nowadays, but these ancient models of behaviour may still exist. For instance, when most men have a bad day they often exhibit the flight response by getting far away from the office, zoning out and forgetting the situation. However, women generally respond by picking up the telephone and calling a close friend or relative to hash out the situation, analyze their response, and vent (the befriending response). In centuries past, this kind of bonding and sharing of information may have been quite helpful to a woman’s survival, and the survival of her offspring. So it’s not surprising that women feel like chatting with a friend when they are faced with stress.
According to research, this built-in survival instinct centered around bonding may also have physical benefits. It’s been shown that simply spending time with other women can actually help to decrease stress and increase oxytocin – the feel-good chemical that has a calming effect on our brains. When this hormone is released as part of a woman’s stress response, it not only buffers the age-old fight-or-flight instinct, it actually encourages the woman to take care of people and gather in the presence of other women. The cycle then comes full circle, as it has been shown that as she engages in these two behaviours, more oxytocin is released, which in turn decreases her stress.
Making time for your girlfriends is therefore not only biologically innate, it is important in controlling your overall anxiety level and stress-reduced happiness. Maintaining your female relationships is one of the best ways to also maintain your romantic relationship, as spending time with other women helps you to relax and provide empathy, energy and support to others in your life. It also gives you the distance needed in order to remember all the things you love about yourself as a woman, without the label of mother or wife.
So, girl time is important, to help us ease our stress and connect with ourselves. But to maximize this female friendship, remember to insert entertaining and active activities as well. Wine nights on the couch are nice – no, wine nights are stupendous – but changing up the routine to include things like belly-dancing classes, spa-weekend getaways or art shows can really help to liven the spark within you and bring a more well-rounded, interesting partner back into your relationship. So feel the ancestral bond and reach out – we may drift away from some friends, but we never outgrow our need for them.