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Women Friends Reduce Cortisol And Increase Serotonin, They Save Us

Male friendships are based on worldly things, like productivity, success, growth, and strength. Whereas female friendships are about unwinding, tuning into emotions and intuitions. It lets you ‘be’, instead of making you ‘do’

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Namrata Zakaria
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A still from Veere Di Wedding. Image for representational purposes only

Female friendships are the most important relationships a woman will have in her life.
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Earlier this week, I texted one of my ex best friends asking her out for coffee. She agreed, and I think she’s made the blue bluer and the green greener by just typing ‘Sure’. 

We had a horrible fight two years ago. It was not something as foolish as a common crush nor something as petty as not paying the other for lunch. It was the rather trite issue of a third person’s house help that had us screaming and hanging up on each other. We only texted each other on birthdays and waved out when we ran into each other that one time. But two years of our lives have gone by without shared giggles, cuddles, couture dresses and a bottle of a Super Tuscan. 

Camilla Is The Real Twist In The Fairy Tale

Until my text last week that read: “I think close female friendships are worth saving. They are the most important relationships a woman will have in her life.”

There are as many divorced and single women out there as there are married ones, especially in urban India. One can safely assume that women have come to accept that men may leave, or we may want them gone. Children, as much as we may love them, need to grow wings and move into their own independent lives. Women only have each other to turn to in times that are good, bad or just plain insecure.

I went to a godawful convent school that most of my classmates and I hated, along with each other. But now we congregate for a school reunion once every December when most of us are in town. These are loud, riotous tables with much food and wine on it. We have grown up, moved cities and countries, had marriages, divorces, blended families, lost parents, lost jobs, and gained weight. 

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All our experiences have made us realise how similar lives are for women regardless of where they live or who they marry. Our shared accounts have turned us into a sisterhood of sorts, where we nurture and heal each other, even if it’s just once a year. 

My sister-in-law takes a week off every year to travel with her two best friends. Each one lives in a different country, but they meet in a new one year after year. No families are allowed.

How often have we been saved by our female friends?

The ones who glared at the guy who broke your heart. The ones who held your hair back as you threw up at a party. The ones who held your hand and fed you soup when you had a surreptitious abortion. The ones who got you dressed and danced the most at your wedding. The ones whose bed you slept over in when you signed your divorce. The ones who brought you lunch and Diet Coke (obvio) when you suddenly lost your job.

A few months ago, Time magazine did an article on the importance of female friendships. It cited a 2010 study called ‘College Women’s Female Friendships: A Longitudinal View’ that found female friendships to be “a site for assessing the meaning of self and of reality, a site for the experience of different perspectives and viewpoints, and an opportunity for growth through interdependency”.

A New Zealand university study in Feminism and Psychology called  ‘Just Being and Being Bad: Female Friendships as a refuge in neoliberal times’. It reads: “Those investigating neoliberal and postfeminist subjectivities have argued that continuous self-improvement and self-surveillance have become everyday life strategies for many women. It has been suggested that these strategies have also re-organised women’s friendships so that this is now a significant field of practice for women to support each other in the anxiety provoking work of self-perfection.”

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The study goes on to say female friendships are “a site of ease, escape and refuge.” Another Harvard study of 2019, Time reports, found that the most successful women were those with a close inner circle of friends. 

In an interview with ‘Vanity Fair’, Jane Fonda writes of her friendship with co-star Lily Tomlin. She says, “I think that is one reason why women live longer than men. A friendship between women is different from the friendship between men. We talk about different things. We delve deep. We go under, even if we haven’t seen each other for years. There are hormones that are released from women to other women that are healthy and do away with the stress hormones… It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be.”

It is true, female friendships are actually good for health. UCLA research shows that female friendships reduce stress and increase longevity. Men respond to stress in a “flight or fight” manner, whereas women do it in a “tend and befriend” manner. This means we reach out for nurture and support.

Women friends reduce our cortisol levels and increase our serotonin (the neurotransmitter that fights depression). This is also why an average female friendship lasts 16 years, or six years longer than the average romantic relationship.

Male friendships are based on worldly things, like productivity, success, growth, and strength. Whereas female friendships are about unwinding, tuning into emotions and intuitions. Feminine energy is something that is kind, strong, maternal and uplifting. It lets you ‘be’, instead of making you ‘do’.

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So, here’s to my inner circle. Thank you for letting me “be”. Thank you for saving me.


Suggested Reading: Anjali Menon, Nithya, Parvathy Discuss Wonder Women, Female Friendships And More

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