Why Women Need Best Friends Forever

I’m always fully aware of how much I appreciate my friends, but there’s something about summer that really sends that sentiment home.

My theory is that it’s the automatic pull to slow down and hang out; as a kid, whether you went to camp or stayed home, friendships were cemented poolside, lakeside, in bunks, plopped down in front of the TV, at the ice cream stand, in backyards, and on beaches — all of the places we went when the school year receded and time to bond was left in its wake.

Now that I’m a grown-up, the urgency to connect with my BBFs (Best Bitches Forever) comes from a slightly different place: stress. Making time to catch up with friends — which definitely is more possible in the summer months — is just what the doctor ordered to take life down a notch.

And by “just what the doctor ordered,” I am being literal: there is a ton of clinical research supporting the idea that gals need pals. A landmark study by Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor revealed that women are “hard-wired for friendship” as a hormonal response to stress: when the anxiety-causing cocktail of cortisol and epinephrine kicks in, our lady hormones (particularly oxytocin, but also reproductive ones, too) rush to the rescue…. and create the common female stress response of “tending and befriending.” Men, on the other hand, with their dinky doses of oxytocin, have the opposite response: they tend to escape stressful situations by fighting back or shutting down.

In other words, when the shit hits the fan, guys tend to bail, while the ladies hunker down, make coffee, and settle in for a nice long chat.

Our friendships also help us live longer and have more contented existences. A Nurse’s Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that not having BBFs is as detrimental to your health as being overweight or smoking cigarettes. (This I find ironic, since most of what I do when I hang out with my friends is eat, drink, and be merry, often to excess. But I’ll take it.)

But you and I don’t need any fancy studies (and you can read more here) to know that hanging with our BBFs is www.theshit.com — and to really get the rush, we have to make an effort to jump from trolling Facebook feeds to see what our friends are up to and actually meet up in real life.

So that’s what I did this past weekend. I dropped my kids at their bus for sleepaway camp, and jammed out to meet my BBFs from college. Aside from all of the things we have in common and have shared for going on three decades, I realize that there is one aspect of our a BBF that transcends all: the ability to see right through all circumstances, directly to the core of whatever is going on with one and other.

For me, that meant when I arrived with my stress-o-meter having gone all the way to 11 (that’s for you, Spinal Tap fans!), by the end of lunch, I was back to “normal.” Because with their x-ray vision insight to my soul, my BBFs don’t see so-and-so’s mother, wife, employee — whatever I am to people who know me in just one way — they see exactly how I was before the gerbil wheel of adult life (duty, obligation, responsibility) went whirling full-tilt.

As the weekend wore on, I felt myself getting lighter and lighter, even though nowadays we are heading into waters fraught with some heavy shit. From aging parents to our own aging bodies (more on that in the coming weeks as I have a little elective surgery), we are all changing and growing in directions we never imagined… and yet here we are.

This brings me to the Forever part in BBFs. I think when you meet a kindred spirit at any stage of life, you make a connection that transcends time and space. This is particularly important when that BBF moves on — as in fully over to the other side.

The day after I saw my BBFs, I was once again on the road when Lord Huron — an excellent LA indie band — snuck up on me on the radio, and the random thought, oh, D would love this, immediately drifted through my brain. And then, a pair of stray and angry thoughts slammed into me: oh shit, she’s been gone four years ago this coming week; and then, fuck cancer.

D is — not was — IS — one of my BBFs. And that forever part? It’s a mighty long time…

I have to say that there is a barely a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. We were work colleagues for starters, but quickly formed a fast and deep bond over office shenanigans and a shared love of pop poet Bruce Springsteen, off-season Christmas lights, vintage finds, and what’s now known as indie music. When interests and values are in alignment, that’s when the whole friendship thing catapults to a deep and lasting level.

And I am often reminded that I still have miles to go on my BBF bargain with D. I’ve watched some important things happen to the people she loved most — her husband and son — including far-flung world travels and exciting adventures, including a new marriage that brought a brother to D’s son. Family 2.0.

That thing women do when they share their deepest darkest hopes and fears — which is exactly what she and I did just a few months before she died — is a lasting love song. And although her passing has been very tough at times, the great joy in seeing her dreams and desires come to fruition has gone a long way in easing that pain.

I also pledged to see her magnum opus to publication, and indeed, being the Bitch’in Suburbia is part of that master plan. The name of this blog is inspired by how I felt when I sat across a coffee shop table from her and kept her entertained in the waning months of her life with my stupid, petty suburban stories. At the time, I felt self-conscious, like we should be discussing giant, worldly, grave matters, but now I know all she wanted was a break from her stressful reality… and she got just that by doing what us X-chromosomal beings do best: nurturing those around us.

So the next time you find yourself dumping your stuff on your BBF, don’t think twice about quitting your bitching; in the end, this is how we bond, how we alleviate our stress, and how we cement our friendships so that they really do last forever.

Now enjoy this sweet little ditty from Lord Huron in honor of my BBF, D — When Will I See You Again: