For many women, the pain of the pandemic led to stronger friendships


Female friendships are often long-lasting and powerful, transcending family, partners and others’ objections. Credit:Stocksy Sue Williams

Relationship break-ups. A death in the family. An excruciating fashion disaster. COVID-19. When the tough times come, who do most women turn to? They call a female friend. The importance of the bosom buddy remains largely constant throughout our lives. BFFs can share the burden of worries, help us cope with trouble, reduce stress, increase self-confidence, shore us up when we’re low and take us down a peg when we’re too damned pleased with ourselves.

They’re often the only ones who are brutally honest. When I bought a beautiful pink flouncy silk dress the other day that made me feel like the Sugar Plum Fairy, no one said a word except my closest female friend. “That makes you look fat and frumpy,” she said. The dress went back immediately.

There’s now a burgeoning amount of research on the importance of female friendships and how they nurture and sustain so many women. The findings consistently show they boost overall happiness and health, all the way from the survival of those terrible teenage years to approaching The End.

Growing Up in Australia, a longitudinal study following the development of 10,000 children and families from all parts of the country, has found that teenagers who have at least one close friendship are much better able to bounce back from stress.

While girls generally had lower resilience scores than boys – 25.5 out of 40 compared to 26.5 – those who reported having at least one good friend attained a significantly higher count at 27 than those without at 23.

“Girls’ connections with their friends are really important and a much bigger deal than for boys,” says Dr Tracy Evans-Whipp, a research fellow with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, one of the agencies which conducted the study. “Having friends you can discuss your concerns with and feel supported by is very valuable.”

Later in life those friends can become even more important. A wellbeing survey of 280,000 people conducted by Michigan University found that, while family and friends were both valuable, the only strong sign of health and happiness in old age was … friendship.

Female friendships are often long-lasting and powerful, transcending family, partners and others’ objections.

I recently wrote a novel, Elizabeth & Elizabeth (Allen & Unwin), looking at a possible friendship between two of Australia’s leading women in the early colonial era, Elizabeth Macquarie and Elizabeth Macarthur, despite their husbands’ deep enmity. The ties that bound were numerous, including miscarriages, births … and syphilis.

“When a woman is having a child, female friends are the most important supports they can get,” says psychologist Amanda Gordon. “There’s huge value in shared experience. And it’s likely to become more so, with Millennials dating much less and hanging out with their girlfriends for longer.”

The pain of the pandemic saw many prioritise their friendships as a means of staying sane. Dr Shane Rogers of WA’s Edith Cowan University, who surveyed 1599 Australians, says, “Participants reported spending more time interacting with friends using technology during the pandemic.”

A lockdown coping mechanism for many women was having drinks with female friends over Zoom, watching the same movies at the same time, and forming book clubs. One friend made up for not going out at night by donning a glamorous dress and “bumping into” similarly attired female friends doing permitted shopping at the supermarket. It never quite became “a thing”, but it helped her survive and thrive.

Not even COVID, it seems, can keep women apart.



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