From The Blog

Can I Groom You?: The Importance of Female Friendships in Adulthood

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. It started when Double X announced a new advice column called Friend or Foe by Lucinda...

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately.

It started when Double X announced a new advice column called Friend or Foe by Lucinda Rosenfeld focusing on female friendship. At first, this struck me as a rather “girlie” topic for this particular women’s magazine. And then I thought, why not? Rosenfeld is absolutely right that most women spend far more time talking about other women than they do about their boyfriends/husbands/partners.

Then I saw The Duchess, a period drama in which the bond between two women is so strong that it survives one of them becoming the mistress of the other’s husband…even sharing a house!

Finally, I read about this new study out of UCLA arguing that baboons whose mothers have stronger female ties are much more likely to survive into adulthood. Interestingly, it’s not about the number of social ties – but their intensity – that seems to matter for the reproductive success of their offspring.

As someone who’s been likened to a rhesus monkey on more than one occasion, perhaps I was unduly drawn to this particular line of research.

But I also think it’s true. I’m not sure if close female friendships make me (or anyone) a better mother, but I am convinced that they are an essential part of a happy adulthood.

I regularly exchange emails with two friends of mine from Chicago, even though I haven’t seen either of them in three years and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever live in the same place again. But we met when we were all new mothers. And the intensity of that bond has kept us emailing about politics…parenting…literature – you name it – on a regular basis to this very day.

Ditto for my older friends from college and graduate school.

I have one historian friend who felt so close to another colleague that they decided to write a novel together. They each took one of the two main characters and then lobbed the plot back and forth to one another over email like a tennis game. She told me that it was an absolute blast and I’m sure it was also one of the most gratifying things she’s done professionally.

I wish I had better insight into what makes adult female friendships so essential. There’s the obvious bond of motherhood and all the agony and ecstasy that giving birth and raising a kid implies. But I find that these bonds are just as important for my friends who don’t have children.

One clue may come from the baboon study, which says that there’s something about the grooming process between females which lowers the release of hormones that induce stress.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to carry a hairbrush with me to my next ladies night out…


Further to Monday’s post about freelancing during a recession, I came across this humorous and thoughtful blog – pink slip – about the travails of being a freelancer.

Image: Baboon Concentrating by patries71 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Madeleine June 12, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    I do believe that good women friends can make one a better mother, and I believe that my good friends have made me a better mother.

    Thank you for this article. It made my day.

  2. Kathleen June 12, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    Lovely post. If you asked my kids, they would likely agree that my mothering skills and patience suffer when I am separated from my closest friends. I can also attest to the accuracy of the baboon study as it relates to homo sapiens, as my stress hormone level is lower when I have strong, regular connections and gatherings with my close women friends.

  3. Rachel June 12, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    I’m not so sure about the friendship-to-better-mothering trajectory, but I absolutely agree that good friends, and regular contact with same, is a must for the Good Life.

  4. daryl boylan June 12, 2009 at 11:58 pm #

    Beyond desireable, close female friends are a necessity, True at all stages of life, but most essential as one gets older — indispensable!

  5. Libby Dougan June 19, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    Offspring of female baboons who have strong friendships are more likely to survive to adulthood because when the dominant male of a troop (who is the father of most of the offspring)is vanquished, the new dominant will try to kill all of his predecessor’s offspring, and related females band together to try to save them. Not exactly the same as humans…although I suppose there are some parallels.

  6. addy's friend June 20, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    My friend Adelaide and I actually have a ‘grooming pact’… we have agreed that if we ever see one of those early-mid-life chin hairs on the other, we will take her aside and help her remove it. One must retain one’s dignity, and one often needs a VERY close and trusted friend for important maintainence activities, if you know what I mean.


  1. Sabbath Saturday: Five Things I Gained From Taking Saturdays Off « RealDelia - February 1, 2010

    […] that has come with taking Saturdays off is that I’m now back in touch with old friends. Close female friendships are a big predictor of long-term survival and success. Back when I was still living in the States, […]

  2. Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Join A Book Club « RealDelia - February 24, 2010

    […] (as someone ominously referred to men recently…yikes! sounds contagious!) we all thrive on friendship as we grow older. And book clubs are a great excuse to make and keep […]

  3. Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons The Elegance Of The Hedgehog Is For Grown Ups « RealDelia - March 17, 2010

    […] about love. But not of the sappy, head-over-heels variety. Rather, it’s about the love of one’s friends. It’s about the love you can experience when you connect with strangers. And it’s about […]

Leave a Reply