It turns out that there is a lot of truth to the commonly known term ‘best friends forever’ or ‘BFFs.’ As we get older, our lives continuously change through marriage, divorce, children, grandchildren, moving, careers, retirement, and death. However, one constant should remain—your female friendship. Of course, friends will come and go over the years, and friendships evolve or even end under varying circumstances. Yet, it’s now more important than ever that we maintain strong female friendships as we age. In fact, your health depends on it.
According to Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT, “Research shows that women, [possibly] more than men, need to maintain those connections. It increases serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone.” In Laura Barcella’s article, According to Science, Your Girl Squad Can Help You Release More Oxytocin, she discusses additional studies from Stanford and UCLA that confirm this and show that in times of stress, women release oxytocin, which can compel them to “tend and befriend.” This could apply either to protecting their kids or connecting with other women. Dr. Bash also states that these bonds are more important as we age, get busier, and have more responsibilities. She states, “It makes us feel nurtured and validated to hang out with friends we can be totally ourselves [with], minus the outside pressures.”
As a single, career-driven woman with no kids, my girlfriends have truly become closer than family. While I have four sisters, and thankfully still have both of my parents, two of my sisters are twins who are 14 years younger than me, and two of them are married with kids—meaning we are living in completely different worlds. As my family dynamic has changed over the years, I have come to rely more on my friends for companionship and emotional support than I do on my family, or than others do who have husbands and children. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a future husband for me to rely on, or that I don’t still have close and wonderful relationships with my siblings and parents, but no matter what life throws at me, I am committed to maintaining each female friendship I have developed with the many amazing women in my life, especially now that I know these relationships can actually affect my health!
In Kayleen Shaefer’s book, Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, she focuses on our growing appreciation for relationships between women and writes, “There just isn’t only one love story in our lives.” What she means by this is that our relationships with female friends, especially as we get older, should essentially be viewed as a variety of love stories throughout our lives. The friends we had as BFFs in high school aren’t necessarily going to be our BFFs in retirement, but that all depends on how you value and nurture your friendships over time. As we get older and go through life’s many challenges and experiences, we should have many love stories to tell about our female friendships because they take just as much work, if not more, as marriage and family.
Shaefer’s book was recently reviewed by NPR’s Rhaina Cohen, who so eloquently stated, “The book’s stories bring to life the ways the waning dominance of heterosexual marriage can leave space for a heartier form of friendship among women, relationships that fulfill many needs once thought to be the domain of husbands.” However, Cohen criticized the book for offering, “a limited sense of what friendship looks like for women in their 60s, 70s and beyond — women who are less likely to have families and work to consume their worlds, and for whom friendship might be ever more crucial.”
According to an April 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and designed by Michigan State University psychology professor William J. Chopick, the importance of friendship increases with age; not just good friendships, but also those that are broken. In other words, friendships in disarray can lead to chronic health problems, whereas strong friendships positively correlate to happiness and healthy habits. In her article, To Age Well, You Need Friends: Your health depends on stable friendships, Temma Ehrenfeld sums up this study by explaining that it’s good for your health and happiness at any age to value your immediate family, but as you get older, strong friends are more important. Ehrenfeld states, “You’re happier and healthier when they’re happy—and you’re more likely to be sick when you don’t value friendship or your friendships are in trouble.”
Given all of the existing research, it makes perfect sense that we focus on nurturing and valuing our female friends as we age. What better way to improve the health of a female friendship than to spend more quality time together, especially on a fun girl’s weekend? If you want to further aid the cause of feminine friendship, check out our very own editor-in-chief’s article on How to Plan the Perfect Girlfriends’ Getaway!