“What do you mean—you don’t have any close friends?” asked Gene, my husband of four months. “What about me? I’m your friend.”
I appreciated my groom’s attempt to make me feel better, but his words brought little solace. Marrying him meant being uprooted from my hometown to be transplanted a thousand miles away. Our circumstances at the time made it nearly impossible to grow new relationships, and my joy quotient had slowly withered.
I sprawled on our bed, feeling sorry for myself and for this valiant man trying to understand me. The least I could do, I figured, was give him a clue: “Yes, you’re my friend and I love you,” I said, “but I need a close woman friend.”
The treasure of woman-to-woman friendships
“To find another woman whom we can let walk around our heart is truly a treasure,” says Shelly Esser, editor of Just Between Us.
I agree. Girlfriends know us inside and out and love us anyway. They listen to us, challenge us, and pray for us especially when we’re weak. They also come alongside in practical ways.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says it well: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
I discovered the truth of these Scriptures when I developed a kidney stone while seven months’ pregnant with my third child. Women from my church rushed to the rescue. For the next two months, they cared for our other two kids while Gene was at work, weeded my garden, cooked meals, and cleaned my house. When the baby came, they threw a party to celebrate her safe arrival.
Years later, one of these gals learned that her husband was having an affair. Now it was my turn to help. We talked, we cried, we beat on heaven’s door together every week for months. More than two decades later, she still testifies to the strength our friendship gave her during that storm.
The worth of women’s friendships cannot be measured. What would we do without them?
Health benefits, too
Friendship yields physical benefits, too. Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., and Dr. Shelley Taylor compared men and women’s response to stress. They found that men usually demonstrate a fight or flight response. Most women do not. Dr. Klein explains the reason: “When oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children or gather with other women.” Studies show that “tending or befriending” releases more oxytocin, which in turn reduces stress and produces a calming effect.
Scientists say women’s social ties reduce the risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. This may explain why women consistently outlive men. But that’s not all.
A Harvard Medical Study found that the more friends women have, the less likely they are to develop difficult health issues when aging and the more likely they are to lead a joyful life. Researchers say, “Not having close friends or confidants is as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.”
Studies such as these prove women’s friendships are more than an emotional nicety; they’re a necessity.
Keeping friendship strong despite hindrances
Women’s friendships are vital to our well-being, but we face several hindrances in our attempts to grow them. Issues including time constraints, distrust due to negative past experiences, chronic illness, and even our own personality quirks challenge our efforts.
And then there’s social media. Perhaps technology has duped us into believing an untruth about what meaningful relationships look like. In reality, they grow best in the soil of time and intentionality. Here are a few suggestions to ensure they flourish:
- Combine elements of your busy schedule. Exercise together or go for a brisk walk ‘n talk.
- Start a weekly book club or Bible study.
- Embrace women from other cultures, faiths, political views, marital status, and ages. Learn from the differences.
- Dump annoying or hurtful habits. Refuse to gossip or complain. Focus on others’ needs rather than your own.
- Celebrate others’ successes. Reject comparison.
- Plan a monthly girls’ night out. Do a cooking class, play board games, give each other a foot massage. Keep it simple.
I’m thankful for the close women friendships I enjoy today. Without a doubt, these relationships enrich our lives. A treasure beyond measure, they are. What would we do without them?
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