September is National Women's Friendship Month. Like anything worth celebrating we should be doing so all year round but like anything that's a part of our day to day life sometimes we need reminding not to take it for granted. It's no bad thing to stop and think about why our female friends are so important to us.
We all talk quite a bit now about the 'sisterhood' and 'girl tribes' but of course it's nothing new. Women before us may not have labelled it or celebrated it but they certainly put it into practice, cooking and cleaning alongside one another and raising their children together. We may have busier lives now and aspirations beyond cooking and cleaning but 'it takes a village' is still true, even if we're in different counties or countries than our friends. Our hectic schedules and strive for balance means we look to our girlfriends for empathy and support more than ever.
It's unrealistic to think that we can get all the emotional succour we need from our families. Sometimes the understanding and empathy we look for can only be found within our non-romantic, non-familial relationships - not situational friendships but the people with whom we have a genuine connection.
As women we are natural nurturers and givers. Some days we may give more than others, some of us may be more naturally nurturing than others but generally we all spend a lot of our time giving and that can leave us feeling a little depleted. Often it is our girlfriends, the ones who have have been giving and giving of themselves, that nourish and restore us - simply by being around us. In the last decade some major studies have shown that on the whole men and women deal with stress in very different ways - whereas men's natural response is to become aggressive (fight) or to withdraw (flight) women seek social support, typically with female friends. Just being around each other can make us feel stronger.
An incredible study in 2006 revealed that women suffering from breast cancer were more likely to survive if they had 10 or more friends. It didn't matter if the friends were nearby or even in contact, just having friends had a beneficial hormonal and physiological benefit.
Women have an innate need to share and dig deep. Some time ago a couple we are close to were experiencing difficulties. I went out with the wife for the evening and my husband went out with her husband. We drank wine, cried and tried to make sense of it all - they drank beer, laughed and watched the match. That doesn't mean he didn't care, he just didn't need to share - what he needed was distraction and a break and what she needed was to talk it all through.
Now we find our lives' loves later and marry later it is often our female friends that are around longest. We can remember those carefree responsibility-free days together and the nights of dancing wildly and not worrying about a thing. Really we were each other's first loves and those bonds are hard to break - as are those with friends we have met at important moments later in life as we move through careers and parenthood.
I ran a Cancer Research Pretty Muddy race with two of those friends last week and it struck me that the whole event was a bit of an anology for female friendships (I do love a life metaphor!) - as we ran the course we found different obstacles difficult and took it in turns to charge forward and help the others or hang back and be given a leg up. It was when things were most muddy and tricky that we laughed most - and we didn't stop talking once! It was torrential rain but all you could see across several wet Cornish fields were groups of female friends grinning widely and cheering each other along.
I always wanted a sister (it's ok my brother will have given up reading this girly nonsense by now) but I am so grateful for the awesome sisterhood I've been blessed with. Life would be harder, and far less fun without them.
'Friends pick us up when we fall down, and if they can't pick us up,
they lie down and listen for a while'.