Female friendships offer a powerful and rewarding relationship, nuanced with high emotional intelligence, searing honesty and fragile vulnerability. They provide a foundation for some unique and special bonds that can be formed over years, or fleetingly, and stand the test of time.
Beyond this, female friendships can also be surprisingly beneficial to our health, helping maintain our physical and mental wellbeing. In what was considered a groundbreaking study by UCLA, researchers discovered that female responses to stress could be alleviated through a release of oxytocin when surrounded by their female friends. It found, “Females create, maintain, and utilise social groups, especially relations with other females, to manage stressful conditions.”
Another reason women’s friendships are so empowering is that women tend to give women strength. Whether it’s through having their back, a listening ear, great advice or encouraging each other to strive for what they want, the depth of the relationship aids many a life decision. Female friendships can also offer a confidence boost and energy lift thanks to a reliability in the relationship, knowing you can call upon your ‘gal pals’ at any given time.
That’s not to say that female friendships aren’t complex and intense, too. Women tend to be more emotionally expressive than men and lean towards support, nurture and trust in their friendships. If at any point, through a lack of communication or disagreement, these fall by the wayside, the relationship can suffer in a similar vein to a relationship.
This article explores the importance of these relationships, the complexities that can come with them, the bond formed through shared adventure, and looks at how to nurture and maintain them.
Exploring the importance of female friendships
Numerous studies have looked into the nuances of female friendships and found they help women prosper in everything from their health to their everyday lives. The holistic nature of these friendships also brings with them a natural intimacy or family-like bond.
In an extract from her book, A mind of her own: The evolutionary psychology of women, author Anna Campbell suggests, ‘The friendships women develop with one another mimic the close “communal” relations normally found between blood relatives, with a strong focus on empathy and responsiveness to others’ needs’.
Women are confidants, advisors, listeners, empaths and co-conspirators in life’s fun adventures. They provide an unwritten level of ‘girl code’ that enables those relations to naturally flourish and deepen.
Friendships formed in group settings or through shared experiences, such as solo group travel, can be even more empowering thanks to the memories they create. And, despite being newly-formed, they can withstand long-distance and sporadic face-to-face contact.
Here are some of the reasons female friendships are so important.
Provide a good support network
Female friendships are often the bedrock of women’s lives. Having a good support system, solid sounding board and comrade to explore and adventure with is empowering and life-affirming.
Women tend to lean heavily into their friendships, forming a network of care and reliance. In fact, one survey found that, in comparison to men, women ’more highly value friends who provide emotional support and intimacy’. A good network of friends will be there during the good and the bad, offering a helping hand and shoulder to cry on and highlighting why these friendships really matter.
Share core values
In the book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, the author describes the considered differences in male and female values. According to his research, men value ‘power, competency, efficiency and achievement’. Women, on the other hand, value ‘love, communication, beauty and relationships, noting that ‘a woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships’.
The values women possess are key when forming good relationships with friends. Communication is vitally important, especially if the friendships are long-distance or have limited face-to-face interactions, and can be a key component in the success or failure of friendships.
Offer emotional transparency
Female friendships offer a safe space to pour out and explore emotions. Women are largely comfortable sharing their feelings, thoughts, secrets and vulnerabilities with each other. In one survey it was found that women talk openly with their friends more than men, suggesting they tend to express feelings, share personal issues and seek support through their interactions.
This emotional connection, coupled with empathy and trust, helps maintain deep and lasting friendships. According to another survey, 88% of women told their best friend something they wouldn’t tell their partner and 52% were in touch with their best friend everyday.
Promote fierce loyalty
In the urban dictionary, ‘girl code’ is defined as following an unwritten set of rules about friendship. It’s an unspoken trust that, whatever happens, you will have each other’s backs and be there for one another.
Many female friendships are built on this and the comfort it breeds. Knowing you can rely on your friends at any given point strengthens the relationships you have with them. And in turn, the loyalty is recipricated. In a four-part survey on gender differences across trust and loyalty within single sex friendships, women displayed higher levels of trust among their friends than men.
Good for health
Most surprisingly of all, female friendships are actually good for your physical and mental health. Researchers at UCLA found that the female response to stress could be reduced after a release of oxytocin which came when surrounded by their female friends. In another study, it was found that valuing friendships influenced better health among adults. And, the head of psychiatry at Stanford University in the US said one of the best things a woman could do for her health was ‘to nurture her relationships with her female friends’.
It’s also been noted that women who are around their female friends see an increase in the release of the chemical serotonin, which controls your mood and is responsible for happiness. And studies have also shown a strong link between human attachment and good mental health.
Why do many of us struggle with female friendships?
With such a depth of friendship, comes the risk of high expectation, which can see female friendships waiver at times. Feelings of competition or jealousy can also affect relations, presenting challenges that ruffle the foundations.
The psychology of female friendships is intricate and complex. In her book, BFF? The Truth About Female Friendship, writer Claire Cohen talks about the antidote to the idealistic notion that every woman must belong to a girl gang or have a BFF (best female friend). In one article, she discusses the challenges of friendships: “We create false friendship narratives in our own heads, over the slightest misstep, imagining that we know how our friend feels because we “know” them so well, without ever actually asking.”
And, despite viewing our female friendships with love, like we do our partners, we often negate to challenge them or share how they make us feel as we would in a non-platonic relationship. Conditioned people-pleasers, we often seek to be liked over speaking up, which can lead to prolonged annoyances that niggle away over time.
But, there is always room for growth and reflection. And, with good communication, these issues can be brought to the forefront and ironed out. In fact, a combined university study in the US found that feelings of jealousy can actually be a useful tool in maintaining friendships.
How to make female friends
Making new female friends can be intimidating, with many of us not having a clue where to start. We often expect others to have all the friends they need already, especially in our 30s and 40s, while we are seeking new connections or better ones. But the beauty of female friendships is the depth of the connection when you do meet a kindred spirit. Follow these rules to making and nurturing female friendships.
Be open and honest
Trust is a huge part of any relationship so being open and honest with new friends should see you in good stead. It’s an excellent tool for nurturing both long-established friendships, as well as forming new ones.
That’s not to say you still won’t have conflict, but it should open up a space to resolve things much quicker. One study found that adult female relationships rely heavily on honesty, along with love, trust, patience and reliability, meaning that it’s important to establish early on.
Saying yes to things can help older friendships grow or new ones form quickly. That shared desire to throw caution to the wind and take risks or have an adventure is hugely valuable and showcases a desire to make meaningful memories.
It’s also a good confidence boost, especially if saying ‘yes’ is not within your comfort zone. Taking the chance on a new encounter or experience could lead you towards new people and, subsequently, new friendships that you’d otherwise have not discovered.
Use social media
There’s a multitude of apps to help people meet and they can be a useful tool in connecting with others, especially if you’re in a new city or travelling solo. Meet Up is an app that brings people together through events and activities worldwide.
Instagram can also be a good way of connecting with locals and meeting others through shared interests. It’s also changed the way we travel, helping us connect with others in locations, follow recommendations and learn about a location before we arrive.
Confidence is key when meeting new people and making new friends. It enables us to start conversations and lean in to establishing shared connections.
It also pushes us beyond our comfort zone and enables us try new things that we perhaps wouldn’t have before, such as travelling in a group. Having the ability to explore new ways of connecting with others can bring with it some incredible new female friendships.
Attending events is a great way to make new friends. You’ve all signed up for the same thing so instantly your interests align in some way. It could be anything from a supper club to a cookery class to starting a new hobby.
Alternatively, there are organised group socials, such as Flash Pack’s Solo Cities events and house parties. Both are currently hosted in London, New York and Los Angeles, and offer a chance for solos to reclaim their cities and meet other like-minded people with the hope of forming new connections.
Fundamentally, patience is key when making new female friends. For some new friendships, they happen instantly, but for others, they can take longer to establish and need a little more time to develop and grow. Both can be life-changing and open many new doors and experiences.
Whether formed over time or through fleeting interactions, reaching a point of trust and vulnerability will give the friendship a better change of longevity. So, don’t rush and allow bonds to form at a natural pace.
Female bonding and nurturing friendships
Science has been key to analysing the psychology behind female friendships. Over time, numerous studies have found these relationships increase levels of oxytocin and serotonin, and show strong links between them and good health, success in business and longevity.
One recent study from a top-ranked US business school found that women with a strong professional and social network tend to have an edge in business. And, in the research from UCLA, they found that women who have the support of their female friends during times of stress may even live longer than those who don’t.
Attachment styles also have an impact on female friendships. Developed in the mid 20th century and heavily linked to our childhood, they impact the way we bond and who we are able to connect with best. There are four attachment styles: secure, anxious and preoccupied, avoidant and dismissive, and disorganised and fearful-avoidant.
While some attachment styles can cause conflict, insecurity and the inability to communicate effectively, the most impactful attachment style for female friendships is secure, which is key to breeding trust and drawing on respected boundaries. It heavily influences positive relationships with solid communication skills, as well as honesty and love.
Lessons on female friendship from solo travel
One of the best and easiest ways to make new female friends is on a solo group adventure. It’s common that when people reach their 30s and 40s, their group dynamics change, with friends getting married or having families and no longer available to share adventures. On Flash Pack’s solo group trips, like-minded travellers come together to share adventures full of ‘can’t-do-by-yourself’ experiences. Many have formed wonderful and life-changing friendships along the way.
On a Flash Pack trip to Australia, Melissa Capocci couldn’t have foreseen she’d come away from the trip with a new best friend for life. She says, “I now have the greatest travel partner any girl could ever ask for – my now best friend, Dina. We hit it off immediately. We were instantly friends and have been inseparable ever since. She lives in California and I’m based in Georgia (around a four-hour flight away), so we travel back and forth to see each other. We have also travelled across Europe together and did a road trip across the US.”
On trips to Argentina and Bali, Kate Volzer made some incredible long-distance friendships on both adventures. “My career gap adventures have taught me about the power of meeting new people and making friends from around the world. I feel extremely fortunate to have generated so many new friends from my trips. It’s nice to realise you can build new friendships in such a short space of time,” she says.
For Nolina Bergman, the highlight of her Flash Pack trip to Morocco was the group dynamic. She says, “It felt like our pack was special. We all just hit it off immediately. It helped that we were all professionals at a similar age and phase of life. We could have great conversations, and we were all interested in exploring the culture and magic of the places we visited, rather than partying. I still talk to everyone two or three times a week, and we’re planning another trip together.”
For others, making female friends from across the globe has been a turning point. Flashpacker Karen Crowe travelled to Argentina. She says, “Having had my first taste of group travel and meeting such brilliant people, I feel like I am much braver in life and willing to make bolder decisions going forward. I now have friends all over the world. We’re already planning our next adventures together. It has definitely ignited my passion for travel.”
Meet your people on a Flash Pack adventure
Overall, making and nurturing female friendships can be beneficial to more than just your number of contacts. These relationships can offer a solid support network, improvements to your health and the opportunity to form incredible experiences with other like-minded souls.
Armed with all the information on forming and developing these female friendships, it’s now time to explore ways to do so. And travel is one of the most rewarding. With Flash Pack, you’ll meet a like-minded group of travellers, all in their 30s and 40s, looking for similar life-affirming experiences.
Together, you’ll have the opportunity to encounter local, epic and memorable experiences, together. You could take a 4×4 excursion across the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, encounter giant tortoises in their natural habitat on the Galapagos Islands or learn to cook authentic local dishes in Greece. Whatever adventure you choose, you’ll likely come away with more than just incredible memories.
Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.
Images: Flash Pack