Article by Grace Fox
“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. “
My groom’s attempt to comfort me brought little solace. Marriage had meant saying goodbye to my family and friends in Alberta and then living in transit for the next five months as we studied and prepared to work overseas. Loneliness had crept into my soul. My joy had slowly dissipated, like air seeping from a helium balloon. I felt emotionally deflated.
I sprawled on our bed, feeling sorry for myself and for this valiant man trying to understand my sadness. The least I could do, I figured was give him a clue: “I agree—you’re my friend,” I said. “But you’re not a girlfriend. I love you, 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. Friends laugh and cry with us. They encourage us to aspire to our full potential, challenge us when we stray, and pray for us especially when we’re weak. They know us intimately and love us unconditionally. But 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 while pregnant with my third child. At seven months, I developed a kidney stone. Women from my church immediately came alongside to help me carry the baby to full term. They stayed with me while Gene worked. They cared for our other two kids, weeded my garden, cooked meals, and cleaned my house. And when the baby came, they threw a huge shower to celebrate her safe arrival.
Years later, one of these women learned that her husband of 28 years was having an affair. She and I met weekly for several months to pray for her family. We talked, we cried, we beat on heaven’s door together. Nearly two decades later, she still testifies to the strength our friendship gave her during that difficult time.
Many share similar stories. Immigrants, new moms, women with chronic illnesses, those with shattered dreams and broken hearts, and those who have suffered loss or geographical separation from family testify to the support their friends provide.
The worth of women’s friendships cannot be measured. What would we do without them?
Health Benefits, Too
Women’s friendships also yield physical benefits. One UCLA study says that men, when stressed, usually demonstrate a fight or flight response. Most women respond differently. Why? A researcher says, “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.” She explains that “tending or befriending” releases more oxytocin, which in turn reduces stress and produces a calming effect.
These social ties, scientists believe, 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 suggest women’s friendships are a necessity. Trouble is, they’re sometimes difficult to maintain amidst busy lifestyles.
Hindrances and How to Overcome Them
Time or lack thereof, is a major hindrance to growing strong relationships. So are negative experiences—being hurt or disappointed with past friendships. Sometimes personality quirks unknowingly turn people away. And then there’s social media. Perhaps technology has duped us into mistaking a faceless screen and water-cooler chatter for deep relationships.
Developing lasting friendships requires intentionality. Here are a few suggestions to grow meaningful relationships with other women:
- Combine elements of your busy schedule. For example, exercise together at least once a week.
- Start a book club or Bible study. Encourage honesty. Respect differing views.
- Get to know women from other cultures, faiths, political views, marital status, and ages. Learn from one another’s differences.
- Change habits that might prevent others from seeking friendship with you. Refuse to gossip or complain. Show honest concern for others rather than focusing solely on your own needs.
- Celebrate others’ successes. Reject jealousy and comparisons.
- Plan a monthly girls’ night out. Do a cooking class or play board games. Keep it simple.
- Pray together.
I’m thankful that, over time, I re-discovered the joy of having girlfriends. Without a doubt, they enrich our lives. Building strong and lasting friendships require time and intentionality but the effort yields a treasure beyond measure.
Grace Fox is an international speaker and author of five books including Moving from Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation. She lives in British Columbia where she’ll be hosting a weekend getaway for businesswomen on February 3-5, 2012. This is a great opportunity to spend time with coworkers away from the workplace. See http://www.strivingforexcellence.ca/made-for-this-womens-retreat/. Book Grace for your next women’s retreat (www.gracefox.com) or corporate event (www.strivingforexcellence.ca).