Excerpted from an article I wrote in 2006 for Grace magazine
“We value our friends not for their ability to make us laugh, but for our ability to make them laugh.”
I am not sure when I first heard this or who said it, but it has proven to be true in my life. When I can make a friend laugh, I feel needed and valued. The same holds true for being there to listen, hug, or cry with.
Gina Barreca, Professor of English Literature and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut and best-selling author and columnist, explains it this way: “Women look for more than just companionship. We are looking for comfort, validation, and reassurance that we’re not nuts.”
Much has been written about the power of women’s friendships and the role they play in our emotional development and physical health. In Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship, author Sandy Sheehy explores the premise that the bond between women friends is not only a powerful emotional force, but may even be rooted in physiology. Some researchers have found that women who have close connections with other women lead physically healthier lives.
So what is it that friends do for each other? Give advice? Listen and nod? Bring a covered dish? Share a bottle of wine? Yes to all of these things, but more importantly, our women friends know us in a way that most people don’t. Even women we haven’t known very long.
Barreca explains that women are able to be intimate on contact and that, in and of itself, is powerful. “You can feel like you are best friends with someone you just met,” she says. “Two guys could know each other for 30 years and the only things they know about each other are their names and what kinds of cars they drive. A woman can meet another woman and in 15 minutes she knows if she’s in a relationship, if there are problems in that relationship and if she’s taking her estrogen orally or via a patch.”
Another way women help each other is by allowing them to feel what they feel. “When you admit to your friend how you feel, whether it’s sad, anxious, angry or triumphant, she will work with your feelings, not try to reason you into or out of them,” Barreca says. It’s that validation thing again. Knowing that we’re okay and that we’re not nuts. “With your girlfriends you can laugh at the injustices and absurdities of life and demystify them, make them less sacred. You might start out in tears but you end up laughing.”
Women’s friendships come in many forms. We have best friends, work friends, friends of friends, and groups of friends. And these days, social networking and blogging has brought friendship to a whole new level. Back when I wrote this article, the Internet wasn’t exactly new, but it certainly wasn’t as evolved as it is now. And it played a role in the development of a couple of close friendships that are now almost 15 years old!
One of my most enduring and treasured friendships is with a group of six women who are from five different states and a Canadian province. I found Janet (Virginia), Stacey (British Columbia), Dede (Texas), Nette (Louisiana), Sue (Michigan) and Carla (Alabama) on the Internet. On the surface, we’re an unlikely group of friends, but we’re in touch on a daily basis, we genuinely care about each other and know each other in ways that even our some of our “real life” friends don’t.
We discovered each other in 1998 on a message board on America Online called “The Second Wives Club.” As a new “second wife” and stepmother, I found it to be a great place to compare notes with others in the same situation. Over the years, we gravitated towards each other and formed what we now call “the loop.” Instead of posting on the message board, we found it safer, easier and more intimate to email each other as a group.
We’ve become a tight-knit group that has supported each other through everything from the typical day-to-day stuff, to such serious issues as dealing with the mental illness of a stepchild, illness, surgery, death, hurricanes, divorce, and even the brutal murder of two family members. What we have come to know is that you can love and trust someone you’ve never met and who comes from a completely different walk of life than your own. We have literally cried with each other and laughed out loud with each other, right through our computer screens. The most amazing thing of all, at least to me, has been witnessing the personal growth the seven of us have achieved. And much of that growth has been due to our friendship and the unique support we have received because of it. We all agree that it’s rare to find the same level of support from “real life” friends because of the time we take when we write out our advice and comments, versus saying it out loud.
Sue put it perfectly: “I think of the loop as a huge energy bowl. We may not be feeling energetic at the same time, but we can always come here, to fill up on the strength of others. And while my real-life friends share more of my life physically, I share more emotionally with my online friends.” Echoing the quote at the beginning of this article, Carla says: “The loop is good, true and comfortable. When I’m feeling down, my online friends make me feel better, either by giving me helpful words or advice, or by needing my helpful words or advice. It has also taught me that I have much more to offer and teach people from my own experience than I ever thought.”