Some women insist that while all of this lady love is nice, gender really isn't the point; it's about respecting and making meaningful connections with any person, regardless of sex. We aren't bound to one another beneath the umbrella of sisterhood, the arguments go. We don't owe anything to one another because of our shared female status. We can enjoy superintimate friendships with men too, yada yada. And while I appreciate the intellectual appeal of those sentiments, I also think Come on. Men step up to the plate too, but most of us agree it's a different brand of camaraderie. We don't even have to get into testosterone and estrogen or Mars and Venus—I think it's disingenuous to deny the variances in complexity, depth, and tone that seem to characterize most female relationships.
How do I know? My own experience tells me so, for one thing. I have some really wonderful friendships with men, but it's just different. For another, all of this research I've done underscores, loudly and clearly, both the critical importance and the distinct nature of female camaraderie. If my more than three thousand survey respondents are at all representative of the contemporary American Everywoman—and I believe they are—the good, the bad, and the ugly of our girlfriendships absolutely merit special attention. As Judith Eve Lipton, a psychiatrist who works with breast cancer patients in Seattle, has explained, "The heart-to-heart stuff is female. We women talk to each other, confide, whine, wail, plan, and just plain kibbitz." This style of relating draws us uncommonly close and can literally become a life-sustaining support source. Like so many others, Lipton believes that women are key to de-stressing one another because we're so skilled at making the other feel heard and understood. Of course, there are exceptions. But, really, what's the point in denying that which makes us unique and desirable?
Female Connections: Our Cheapest, Most Effective Medicine
For years now, psychologists, neuroscientists, and other specialists have been confirming the important biological role that female friendship can play in a woman's life. The research in this area is nothing short of remarkable. I won't labor too much over the hard data here but, amazingly, experts have conclusively linked our positive female connections with an array of physical and emotional health benefits, perks they say don't necessarily extend to male-female or male-male relationships. Some insist it's all about evolution, that the patterns our female ancestors set a zillion years ago still drive the show. Ours is a socially nurturing brain, they say. We evolved as emotional and physical caregivers and come biologically preprogrammed to cooperate, coordinate, and talk, talk, talk, which, as linguistics professor and author Deborah Tannen points out, is the very glue that holds us together. In other words, girls and women have needed each other for pretty much always. Experts like psychologist Shelley Taylor, author of The Tending Instinct: Women, Men, and the Biology of Our Relationships, and Pepperdine University psychology professor Louis Cozolino seem to be taking it a step further, in fact, suggesting that when it comes to females, we need to tweak Darwin's survival theory to reflect that those who are tended to and nurtured best survive best.