Women are frequently taught to compete with each other, to view others as rivals in the challenge for ‘finite’ resources like men’s attention, work opportunities, and seats at the metaphorical table.
‘Philia’ is a great love that develops over a deep, long-lasting friendship. In classical philosophy, it is noted to be as powerful as Eros (romantic love), Agape (selfless/sacrificial love), Pragma (dutiful love), and Storge (love for family).
Female friendships are essential to our health and they can even help us live longer lives. Platonic closeness gives us a healthy, stress-busting boost of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—all vital to emotional wellbeing and physical longevity. Now more than ever, the intimacy we share with friends helps us avoid feelings of isolation, increases our sense of belonging, and helps us cope with the world around us. Friends wipe our tears, make us try the scary things, scrape us off the floor, tuck us in when we are absolutely done, check on us, make us laugh raucously, show up.
Notable aspects of female friendship have been explored by writers, poets, artists, and psychologists.
The early 20th century Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote with eloquence tinged with jealousy, about the friendship between his wife and her best friend, the activist, Amala Das, sprawled together on a divan, deep in conversation, their affection and respect for each other completely transparent. He desired to have the intimate and heartfelt conversations that came so naturally to the friends.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, upperclass Hindu women formalized the friendship ritual (known as Soi Patano, in Bengali). They gave each other small gifts, came up with personal nicknames, had inside jokes, turned to each other for advice, wrote each other letters, and became each other’s confidantes. In a largely patriarchal society, this was a space that was safe, intimate, and private.
Memes, text messages, girls’ night out, shared interests, new interests, advice, laughter, the shoulder to cry on; friendship is an immortal tradition. From book clubs to women’s encounter groups, women have gravitated to sharing their experiences with other women, with the concomitant closeness, conflict, grief, and loss. As couples therapists, we do more and more ‘friendship therapy’. Friendship ruptures and breakups can be incredibly painful, sometimes more than romantic ones. Interestingly, clinical psychology research shows that like romantic relationships, platonic friendships start with chemistry; an attraction and interest ￼in getting to know a future friend.
The psychologists Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman coined the phrase ‘Shine Theory.’ It states that by consciously investing our full selves into our friendships, we can become allies instead of competitors. And when we encourage our friends to be their best selves, we also encourage ourselves. When we cultivate relationships based on mutual and unwavering support, we create the perfect conditions for long-lasting and deepening friendships. Instead of having feelings of rivalry, mindfully surrounding yourself with compassionate, creative, talented, stylish, successful friends, makes everyone better. Shine theory: when your friend shines, you shine.
Friendship, across the lifespan: the concept of seniors moving in together and intentionally sharing a home has become known as the “Golden Girls” trend — named for the popular ‘80s sitcom in which four older, single women lived together, and it’s been gaining popularity among retired women. Older, single adults interested in aging in place and preempting isolation are embracing the trend of moving into homes together. In turn, they share companionship, household duties, resources, and financial responsibilities. While there are certainly pitfalls to be considered, it’s notable that there has been an exponential growth in this lifestyle for senior women.
There is another type of love described in classical Greek philosophy: Philautia. Self love and self esteem. No doubt, strong friendships contribute.
Dedicated to my friends, with gratitude.
Happy Valentine’s Day. ❤️🌹