Be Well, Marsha 3/22/16

Old friend, new friend

By Marsha Bonhart

I think it starts as soon as we make it to the sand box. Even as little girls we learn to vibe and connect with each other. It’s not anything we are told to do, it just morphs. And 20 years later, we instinctively follow each other into the ladies’ rooms at restaurants, clubs, athletic events and shopping malls. It’s our claim to fame. In fact, it’s how we structure our friendships.

The movie “Steel Magnolias” is often used as hardened proof of female bonding. Six women range in age from young to old, live in the small town of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Their years-long friendships are tested when they go through hard and good times filled with loss and love. For social scientists, this is an exact study of how female friendships are formed and kept.

As emotional involvement, all friendships relieve stress and bring pleasure and support. But women and their connections to each other take on a different dynamic, says local banker Stacy Thompson.

“They keep me balanced, like a refuge. They bring great joy in my life,” Thompson says of her girlfriends.

Not every friend we make will last. People come and go, but if we are lucky, we can keep some friendships from childhood. But as we get older, our needs and wants change in life and our friendships do, too. Sometimes, distance can be the greatest killer of a friendship whether it’s across town or across the country. What can happen is someone forgets to call or write, you get caught up in life and the friendship fizzles. What we learn from Lifescript News is, life makes it difficult to maintain friendships, which with women may ebb and flow and when two friends don’t hold up their ends of the bargain, the relationship can go on the fritz. Marriage and children can give you a different lifestyle than your single friends. Changing geographies creates new relationships that don’t always get a chance to become solid because always meeting someone new can be awkward, especially when regarding women. New, benign conversations are filled with worry about rejection. Depth takes trust and time to build a foundation.

According to CyberParent.com, all friendships of women need to start with a period of self-disclosure; putting yourself out there on an emotional limb. Humans put up emotional brick walls and those barriers serve as protection from hurt or embarrassment. This can also create a period of evaluation and assessment. The age of the woman doesn’t matter, because how we “measure” each other actually begins as early as the playground.

How female friendships begin is the active ability to listen to one another. Making someone feel as if they are completely understood can take down the emotional protective barrier. Once trust is established, the friendship can blossom.

“Women tend to not always agree, but have the same thought patterns of compassion and kindness and generally speaking, we know how to comfort each other,” says Thompson.

ChangingMinds.org explains that friendships also begin when two people experience the same things at a certain point in their lives. You can see that when women start to have families and are thrown into similar social setting, swapping stories about raising children, sharing those conversations over lunch, coffee or the backyard fence. Once that trust is established, the friendship can progress to the next stage. At the same time, because of 21st century lifestyles—careers and families—friendships with women can often be absorbed by life and get tossed to the side. But a friendship, a true one, can help you get through life by causing a reduction in the amount of daily stress.

The University of California at Los Angeles released information that explains how female friendships work. Women have a “friend-and-befriend” response to stressful situations and, according to the study, is a hormone-driven reaction that is much different from the “fight or flight” response from men.

Ending a friendship can add stress, but isn’t always negative. Sometimes it can fade for no apparent reason and neither party realizes what’s happening. A disagreement can be the catalyst or maybe a major life change. When there is no more emotional connection, interest can be lost. Or, if someone becomes detrimental to your life, the need to end the friendship is felt. If you feel taken for granted, or taken advantage of, friends who are users, overly judgmental or extremely manipulative, it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship. Creating havoc versus happiness creates more stress.

“My friends bring joy and balance in my life,” says Thompson. “My fiancé is my best friend but he brings a different energy. He wants to solve the problem that’s on my mind—women just listen. They know it just needs to be heard.”

What else is learned from the article in Lifescripts is, despite the evolution of friendships, there is always the feeling of shared experiences and the ability to understand each other. “I have friends I don’t talk to for months and then I pick up the phone and talk as if it were yesterday—the bond is still intact.”

Be well,

Marsha

Marsha Bonhart is a freelance writer and public relations/marketing consultant in the Dayton area. She can be reached at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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