by Sonia C. Solomonson—
What are your plans for National Women’s Friendship Day (Sunday, September 20)? Oh, you didn’t know? I didn’t know either until I was asked to write this article. Created by the Kappa Delta Sorority in 1999, National Women’s Friendship Day seeks “to promote special friendship among women” and falls on the third Sunday in September.
The importance of women’s friendships comes as no surprise to Women of the ELCA participants. The organization and its predecessor bodies have a long history of gathering women together for support. I have fond childhood memories of going with my mother to what was then called Ladies’ Aid. That, her circle and their quilting bees meant so much to her. They provided space to share joys and concerns. In the Iowa farm country where I grew up, women’s work was carried out in isolation at a time when women didn’t meet for lunch or shopping trips. Women’s gatherings in churches and homes were good “girlfriend time.”
Today there are many additional outlets for “girlfriend time,” yet quilting groups, circles and Women of the ELCA gatherings continue to help women reach out to others to “tend and befriend.”
The social distancing and increased isolation during the coronavirus pandemic helped many of us see the importance of relationships with friends and family. Whether you live alone or with family members, whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, you need other people. Author Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, says her research shows that we are “hardwired to connect” with others. If this is true in less challenging times, it’s surely true when we’re facing a pandemic.
Perhaps you’ve heard the popular saying, “Men walk, women talk,” about how men and women handle stress differently. A University of California-Los Angeles study conducted by researchers Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor showed that while previous research focused on “fight or flight” as a typical stress response in humans, for women another response—“tend and befriend”—was more prevalent. When stressed, women seek social contact, the researchers found, especially with other women. “After a hard day’s work, for example, women are more likely to affiliate, while men may need time to decompress,” Klein said.
My women friends are a mainstay right now. One of the gifts God has given me is my sister, Cheryl. Even before this year of pandemic and an increasing awareness of racial inequities in everything from health care to policing, Cheryl and I have had a habit of talking by phone nearly every day. Our conversations help to ground me as we discuss the latest news and information, along with whatever inspiration we’ve found helpful: music, prayers, poetry or stories about “the helpers.” (We can’t forget what the mother of the late children’s TV host Fred Rogers told him when he heard scary news: “Look for the helpers.”)
Cheryl and I have come to this stage of life as best friends. We’ve been through a lot together—her first husband’s untimely death, my divorce, the joys and challenges of children and grandchildren, the final hours of our parents, graduations, weddings and now, tending to the details for our brother as he suffers with dementia.
I count on Cheryl’s love, support, nurture, wisdom and encouragement. When I tell her things, I am heard and validated. She listens with compassion and honesty. She often says, “We women want to be heard,
and we’re more often aware of that need and will listen to one another.” As women, most of us have experienced being ignored or dismissed, so being heard and validated is extremely important in our friendships.
Then there are my YaYa friends. Formed in 2003, our group of four has been gathering once a month for years. Now that we are all retired, we’ve added more activities and spontaneity. At one point we decided to go deeper into our relationships and focus on a book or topic at our monthly gatherings (which during the pandemic have become weekly Zoom meetings). These friendships provide sanctuary, enrichment, nourishment, therapy, playtime and fun—to say nothing of indulging our shared love of chocolate! We each have a wall hanging in our home that says, “YaYas: A group of three or more women whose hearts and souls are joined together by laughter and tears shared through the glorious journey of life.” That says it all.
I have other dear friends who keep me going. We’re staying in touch during these challenging times, trying to help one another to remain hopeful. Each of my friends brings something different to my life. I need every one of them. When I am anxious, frightened, or can’t focus and settle, I know that all I have to do is call one of my friends and I’ll come out on the other side, feeling better. It doesn’t matter whether I want to talk about COVID-19, the great divide in our country, systemic inequalities or about how much I miss physically being with my sons and grandchildren. I know my friends will listen and be present when I share.
LOSS OF CONNECTION
Being present is no small thing. We’ve been feeling a deep loss of connection as we experience social distancing and its stricter companion, shelter-in-place. But we already had been feeling a loss of connection as part of the social fabric, for many years. We women know how to fix that. We are all about connections. Checking in with friends isn’t just important during a pandemic. It’s always important, particularly in light of rampant loneliness in the U.S. and other countries.
Sonia C. Solomonson is a life coach with Way2Grow Coaching. You can find her at way2growcoaching.com, where you can sign up for her monthly e-zine.