The Gift of Girlfriends
Why friends are worth their weight in gold
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” – William Shakespeare
Women are friends to many. They play the roles of mother, wife, sister, daughter and friend while juggling being boss or employee. Women nurture, nudge, and at times, nag those in their lives to be the best they can be. But how do they maintain balance in their own lives? Women are strong and healthy for those around them, but so often, they are not friends to themselves.
If you ask the experts, relationships between women may be the most valuable connection that women can make. Bottom line, women experience life differently than men. Evey LaMont, MS, Billings West High School Psychologist and Transition Coach says, “The relationship between girlfriends is very centering because we share such similar experiences being women. We can relate to each other. One of the beauties is that women talk and listen.” The unique relationship women possess is further validated by Kate Mattucci, LCSW, LMF of Sage Counseling. She says, “As women our friends are the mirrors to our true selves. They reflect who we are by mirroring back to us. We tend to gather friends who can validate our experiences with honest opinions and suggestions.”
So, what does this really mean? It means that these friendships do more than bring joy from day to day. These relationships are scientifically proven to bring happiness and a sense of overall well-being.
"Without my women friends, my world would be grey," confirms busy professional Sue Balter-Reitz, Interim Director of e-Learning and Professor of Communication at Montana State University Billings. "The different women I have in my life provide me with such texture and color that I feel energized."
As a working mother, Lisa Bland, M.D., a urologist at Billings Clinic and mother of two, finds “The relationships I have with other women is the indescribable key component of what makes me successful as a wife and a better mother.”
Not only are there psychological and emotional benefits to having friendships with women, but there are biological rewards as well. According to Mattucci, “A landmark study from University of California, Los Angeles by Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D. and Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D. discovered that as women responded to stress, their brain released a hormone called oxytocin which buffers the flight or fight response that is natural in humans. Women are hardwired for relationship as the hormone oxytocin encourages “tending and befriending” behaviors noted by both doctors. Thus the desire to nurture, connect, and be a part of our friends’ lives has a mutual benefit that enhances the way we react to stress, wards off illnesses related to stress and may in fact contribute to why women live longer than men.”
Karen Sanford-Gall, Director of the Big Sky State Games knows how friends have helped her resolve many of life's issues. This busy wife to Dan and mother to Carter and Hayden shares, “I have several longstanding female relationships that are renewed weekly with a run and great conversation. We have solved many world problems and a few of our own on these jaunts.”
Kimberly Boelter, Relationship Manager for Private Banking at US Bank by day, and wife to Marvin and mother to Sam and Zach by night makes time once a week to have lunch with a female friend. On the other hand, Tina Postel, CEO of the Billings Family YMCA communicates with her best friend daily. “I am fortunate to have my best friend living next door. I could not be luckier. It is a matter of convenience. At least once a week, we have dinner together with our families.” Postel admits she stays connected with the help of technology. “We text each other all the time,” exchanging very light-hearted stuff. Jen is best at sending me a quote or a crazy saying.”
Aside from gathering for a glass of wine, a cup of coffee or lunch, participating in what Lamont terms as “parallel activity” such as running or walking is one of the most valuable friendship builders. Both Sanford Gall and Balter-Reitz make standing exercise dates. Sanford Gall meets weekly to run while Balter-Reitz says “How much and how often depends on how the other elements of my life are balancing, but one strategy that works for me is to include women into other activities. For example, Kathy and I meet at the Y twice a week. It's easier to make time for each other when we can accomplish something else.” With the camaraderie of women, Bland trained and completed marathons in Boston and Las Vegas. Though trips to the yoga studio and bike rides through town are fun and provide healthy results, Bland still cherishes the girlfriend times where she can “drink wine and tells stories.”
Postel suggests joining a church group or an organization such as the Junior League to make connections with women. Lamont says, “You need to take a leap and get out of your box to do things. Once you start, it snowballs. For example, accept an invitation to join a book club. You need to reach a little deeper and make the first step.” If invitations do not come, Lamont suggests, “If you like to read, then go to a session at the library. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Maybe you then can go out for a cup of coffee.”
Whether it is time over a glass of wine or a run through the neighborhood, girlfriend relationships are invaluable for women trying to balance their lives. In the frenetic and chaotic life of a woman, nurturing and building a friendship with another woman is being a good friend to herself.
What Is A Good Friend?
Here's one expert's definition
The desire to support genuinely what is in the highest good of each other
Honest, empathic feedback and support
Trust in each other
The ability to be present and engaged
Compassion and understanding for each other
Mutuality – being there for each other creating a relationship that is reciprocal in support and enjoyment
The ability to create shared experiences that are joyful, fun, uplifting and genuinely embrace each other unconditionally as we are – imperfect yet beautiful.
Source: Kate Mattucci, LCSW, LMFT of Sage Counseling