ATTUNE: IT’S UP TO WOMEN

The lifelong benefits of female friendships? There are many, even in what seems like a more disconnected world, according to our lifestyle virtuoso Amy Edwards, who helps navigate the girlfriend-ship craft these days.

How many friends do you have who you call regularly? I mean actually call.

My guess is that number is likely much lower than it was, say, ten or fifteen years ago. These days, we text. We Facebook messenger. We email. It’s quick and easy. And just like all things quick and easy… it’s not that fulfilling.

I think I can count the friends with whom I speak on the phone on one hand. One friend, whom I rarely see, calls me often. She makes it a point to connect. And I know that I can pick up and call her anytime I need to, and she’ll actually answer. She remains one of my closest confidantes, even though our time together IRL (in real life) is scarce.

I’ve always been big on friendships. Namely, my girlfriend-ships. One of my pet peeves has always been those females— and my bet is you’ve heard this before— that say, “Oh, I just always get along better with guys.” Or, “All my good friends are guys.” The invocation of that phrase has always grated on me. And why? I’ve had to really look into the reasons behind my aversion, and here’s what I have come up with over the years

When a female says that, it devalues something I hold very, very dear. My female friendships have been the cornerstone of my life. I’ve never been a loner. And more so, I’ve never been the girl who gets lost in a relationship and doesn’t see her friends anymore until the breakup. Rather, I was a member of cars-full of chicks and the host of regular slumber parties as far back as I can remember. In fact, I’d still do that if most of us didn’t have kids to tend to the next day. I was the one who would (and still will) stay out all night carrying on with my ladies because I enjoy being around them – girl time. Not to ever discount my many male friends, but to me, connecting with other women is an integral part of being a woman.

And with that feeling, we can get scientific about it. According to a landmark UCLA study from 2002, women respond to stress differently, and our release of oxytocin when under stress blocks our fight-or-flight response. In turn, we do something called tend-and-befriend. As women, it’s in our DNA to connect with other women. And get this: “Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol.” We literally live longer because of our female friendships.

A famed Nurses’ Health Study from several years back also offered this: “The more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life.” Going further, the researchers concluded that “not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.”

I truly hope that the times I eat, drink, and occasionally smoke with my friends are counteracted by these physiological benefits. But it’s also notable that these studies were done before the advent of Facebook and Instagram. While those social media applications are meant to bring us closer to others, they can actually foster loneliness and a sense of disengagement because of the lack of the real-live human connections and online envy. ’Likes’ won’t cut it when it comes to real friendships and the psychological and physiological benefits women proffer from those. How could they, really?

Research aside; day-to-day, however, I don’t feel scientific. All I know is that when I don’t nurture these relationships, life feels less full. And yet so often we don’t make time for these proven and worthwhile life-fillers until there’s a crisis of some sort. We are all busy, busy, busy. And just like everything else— be it brows, cars, or kids— friendships require care and maintenance.

Need a simple trick to remedy this? When you’re feeling something— perhaps an emptiness you’re looking to fill with likes, or food, or shopping, or whatever— pick up the phone. Make a call. Don’t text. That call is a connection, and I know that I feel closer to that friend I mentioned earlier simply because I hear her voice. And there will never be a substitute for that. Long live the female friendships we seek to nurture, now and in the future.