On the bad days these pillars of strength hold you up; on the good ones, they cheer you on
We all know that friendships are essential. Research confirms that socializing improves your happiness and positivity. But I also believe that female friendships are even more important and integral to our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
Having a supportive partner or a sibling or a parent is all good. But there is nothing like the unconditional support of our girlfriends to get us through the highs and lows of life. They can offer us a different perspective and hold space without judgment. Engaging with female friends reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increases serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps fight depression, lowers stress, and creates a general feeling of well-being.
An Ever-Present Influence
When my first novel, “Perfectly Untraditional,” was released in India, my female friends showed up in numbers. They flew down from different parts of India and Singapore for the book launch in New Delhi, and attended the book tour in urban centers there. They flooded social media with my book’s promo pics. And they brought their local tribe to support my journey. My girlfriends bought signed copies of my debut novel. They filled rooms at event spaces in cities where I was a stranger. My creativity, vulnerability, and I felt so safe amidst them with their hugs and smiles. They were my sounding boards when I felt unsure. A 2019 Harvard study found that the most successful women were those with a close inner circle of female friends.
When my mother died suddenly on her way to a vacation with my dad, her funeral was in one city and the four-day puja was in her hometown. I was in shock. The only way I know how to navigate the world is through writing. I continued to write my collection of poems, “Saris and a Single Malt,” about and for my mom. I couldn’t share my fears with anyone or show my vulnerabilities because I wanted to be strong for my father. So I had become the gatekeeper of my mother’s ashes and memories.
One of my dear female friends attended mom’s funeral in New Delhi. My best friend flew down from another city for all the pujas. The only time I felt my stress lower and my eyes openly well up is when these two women hugged me. Because women friends have nurturing and empathetic qualities, my healing began on a deep level and altered my life.
Ease, Escape, Refuge
When one of my best friends lost her son to a road accident a couple of years ago, a tight knit group of us wore his best-loved color, cooked his favorite meals, prayed at temples and churches, and talked about him to honor the young soul. Our friend was allowed to experience the confusing range of emotions without any of us patronizing her or telling her how to heal. We held space. According to a UCLA research, women more reliably turn to their social circle when experiencing stress or trauma, which has been noted to protect their health and longevity.
I studied in a boarding school, so I learned early on to be self-reliant. I speak my mind, but I don’t always open-up easily. In fact, when I fell sick in 2018, my father said it was the first time in my life that I had asked him for anything, “Papa, can you please come to NYC?” My female friends in NYC showed up. For six months, I felt loved even though I could barely stand or smile. My friends from India, Singapore, and the UK offered to take turns to fly down and help. It’s no wonder that female friendships are essential to our health and they can even help us live longer lives.
When a friend is upset about her experience or feeling violated because of another person, female friends hear her out and validate the experience without offering solutions. Sometimes, you just want to vent and get things off your chest. I feel the intimacy we share with our female friends helps us avoid feelings of isolation and increases our sense of belonging. A recent 2020 study in Feminism and Psychology found that female friendships are “a site of ease, escape and refuge.”
I am aware that I am evolving at a pace that can be confusing to many family members. I have gone from happy hour on Thursday evenings to 2.5 hours of yoga to make me happy. But I can talk to my female friends openly about the emotional and physical transformations. They accept Sweta 3.0 without referring to my 20s and comparing it to my 40s. Losing your mother suddenly and then almost losing your life will transform you forever. So, they meet me where I am, and I do the same. It’s no surprise that hanging with your girlfriends is considered good for your mental and physical health.
No matter how amazing your spouse or kids are, they can’t become your girlfriends. Women connect intimately with each other. In 2022, when my father was hospitalized, three of my best friends put their lives on hold and spent a week with me in India. I didn’t need to use a filter with them about what upset me, what I was grateful for, and what scared me. They each made my dad feel special. Be it meals, hospital appointments, or nonsensical chatter, he was surrounded with love. When I was on work calls, one of them gave dad a facial. I never once felt alone even though I worried what would happen to dad.
A 2021 study found that friendships among women release calming hormones, helping to negate the impacts of stress.
Find a Friend
I have heard people say women are catty, bitchy, and competitive. “That’s why I don’t have a single female friend.” My advice: Then try harder and be a better friend yourself!! Gurus berate the gift of female friendships by making it sound transactional.
True female friendships are a sacred gift we are given. They are deep, nuanced, and rewarding. They help you deal with stress and calm you down during your worst. So, let’s honor the female friendships from our past, present, and those who we have yet to meet and acknowledge the power and strength we all gain from having them.
“True friends aren’t the ones who make your problems disappear. They are the ones who won’t disappear when you’re facing problems.” ~ Shubam Shaw https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000522082151.htm