Our friends are among life's greatest treasures. They help us negotiate the difficult hurdles of life, such as the travails of puberty, our "unreasonable" parents, our 20-something romances, etc. Later on, in adulthood, they will coach us through first-time motherhood, are there when the kids go off to college, and will even walk us through menopause. And in their presence, we'll laugh about what drove us crazy or even cry without shame, knowing they are there for us.
Such intimacy requires an investment of time, energy, and emotions. There's always the risk — will I get hurt? But the dividends of intimate friendship are so many that we can't afford not to make the investment.
Women fulfill relational needs
In their attempt to help us deal with problems, men tend to focus on solutions, not feelings. Psychologist Dr. Josselson describes male development as hierarchical, using the image of the pyramid, and female development as interconnected, like a web.* Throughout their lives, men are concerned with ascendancy and self-protection in conversation and life, but women make themselves vulnerable in order to anchor their lives in relationships with men, children, and other women. Part of the way we make ourselves vulnerable in our relationships is through conversations.
A woman wants words that recognize her feelings, for these words show that her husband cares. She wants her husband to display his vulnerabilities, to show her his heart — to “unzip his chest.”
Men often engage in “report talk” and women in “rapport talk.” For men, talk is information; for women, it is interaction. Women see conversation as a vehicle to establish and maintain connections. From childhood, men learn to use talking as a way to get and keep attention. They are more comfortable speaking publicly to strangers than speaking privately to the love of their lives.
Women strengthen each other
Despite their increasing competitiveness in the marketplace, women need each other as never before. Not only has history trivialized female friendships, but during the last three decades, we have glorified heterosexual relationships above all else. We have so sexualized relationships between men and women that we have created a stand-off between the sexes.
Women are often separated from their families. Some women come home to empty apartments at night, while other women work all day only to come home to numerous demands from their immediate families. They have no time for themselves, much less for friends. Who will help them deal with loneliness? When relationships end, to whom will they go for comfort?
We need friends, whether single or married. Husbands provide love and support, but friendships give women that “open and easy relationship” they crave.
Friendships serve as buffers against stress
Our friends, especially our best friends, are buffers against stress. They listen to our problems and concerns, and when we leave their presence, we feel better than when we came. It is little wonder that isolation depresses us, and the company of our dearest friends relaxes and restores us. Sociologist Pat O’Connor says women who are rich in friendships enjoy better physical health, live longer, and are less prone to alcoholism, suicide, and mental illness than those who are lonely and isolated.
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Friendships improve marriages Married women need to be close to their husbands and a female friend. Studies have found that women who have close friends are happier in their marriages. If we have friends we can talk to about our problems, we put less pressure on our husbands. We spread our needs around and get both a male and female perspective. Some men may initially be threatened when their wives spend a lot of time with their friends. But over time most husbands find that their wives are happier when they also have close friends to confide in.
It is important when airing grievances about your husband to do so without character assassination.
Men may not know it, but their marriages have often been helped by their wife’s best friend. Contrary to male fears, our best friends, even if they are privy to some of our marital issues, are not usually divisive. A word of caution, though. It is important when airing grievances about your husband to do so without character assassination.
Friends are needed as confidantes, as support players, as guides in rearing our children, as companions. They accept us, affirm us, and understand what it means to be a woman. They hold us accountable; they help us grow. When we are married, they provide an undergirding support for our marriages; and when we are single, they are the people we go to for in-depth understanding.
An intimate friend is a cherished treasure. As you reflect on such relationships in your life, a shadow of concern can flicker when you wonder whether or not this friendship has what it takes to last forever. As women, we desire the security in knowing that the many secrets you have shared together, the tears you've cried, and the heartaches you have worked through, will be safe. While there are no gaurantees that our friendships will last "forever," it's always worthwhile investing in friendships.
*Ruthellen Josselson, Finding Herself: Pathways to Identity Development in Women
This article was written by: Karen SchenkPhoto Credit: Alex de Haas