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The Science of Female Friendships

Coming to terms with all of this “growing up” business has been challenging.  While I knew twenty-something life would be different from college and certainly different from high school, I didn’t anticipate what this new environment would look like, let alone how I would feel once I was in it.  Achieving a comfortable balance between work and play, exercise and relaxation, seems persistently in flux as I come into my own adult sense of self.

Finding the harmony amidst these new responsibilities has been helped, immensely, by sharing them with the women in my life.  There is no problem too great that cannot be lifted, if only momentarily, by a home-cooked dinner with the girls.  Fundamentally speaking, we take care of each other.  In times of stress, we heal and inspire one another.  Upon reflection, my female friendships are very distinct to those I observe between my male friends.  While the girls are usually hanging out in the kitchen catching up on life, the boys are reliably found in their man cave, competing in their 2,315th game of pool.  When it comes to how the sexes decompress, it couldn’t be more opposite.  This left me wondering, why?

Since the 1920s, scientists have upheld the “fight or flight” response to stress.  The theory contends that whether the stress is life-threatening or not, an organism experiences a primary physiological response (think dilated pupils and increased adrenaline) followed by a behavioral response (fight or flee.)  Recent research indicates that while both sexes experience a similar physiological reaction, their behavioral responses are quite different.  While males follow through with fighting or fleeing, females instead seek out one another to cope together.  In short, females (chimps, mice, and humans alike) exhibit nurturing, grooming, and tending behaviors to alleviate individual stress.  

This was my ah-ha moment!  Not only did the puzzle piece fall into place, but more importantly, how cool is this? Across the animal kingdom female friendships make up the basic unit of social life.  Women survive and thrive because they have each other to depend on.  The same is true for wild mares and elephants.  Take the teensiest of rodents; a female mouse that chooses her fellow female nesting partner will bear more pups than a female forced to live with a mouse she dislikes.  The female disposition to nurture and gather functions not only as the foundation of our mental well being, but also our physical well being.  So much so that having meaningful friendships reduces our risk of disease and death.

The next time I am with my girls, I plan on taking a moment to appreciate them for the love we share.  I couldn’t find it with anyone else, quite empirically as it turns out…Then we can get back to gabbing, jibber-jabbing, and trying on new shades of lipstick.

For your own research, here are the articles/empirical studies I reviewed:

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