The Hidden Benefits of Girl Talk: Friends are Real Life-Savers
“We made an agreement ages ago. Men, babies...it doesn’t matter. We’re soulmates.”
---Samantha to the girls, Sex and the City 2.
When Carrie and the girls return to the big screen May 27th in Sex and the City 2, groups of women friends around the world will surely be hoisting their Cosmos and heading to the movies en masse. A reunion with the women of “Sex and the City” is an excuse to gather real-life girlfriends too, and that’s important: research shows that friends have a positive effect on women’s health, wellbeing, and even life expectancy.
In their six seasons on HBO, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha went through 94 men, one woman, and an unknown quantity of cocktails, but at the core of the show—and the characters’ lives—were their friendships. Sure, they spent a lot of time kissing and telling, but they also supported each other through the death of a parent, a divorce, a miscarriage, and breast cancer; they helped each other negotiate the work/life balance, motherhood, career highs and lows, and moments of financial insecurity. Unrealistic as their lifestyles may have been, this aspect of the SATC experience was true to life: the odds an adult finds that calling a friend helps him or her de-stress at the end of the day are 1 in 7.69 (1 in 5.56 in the Big Apple). The ladies’ coffee shop dates were more than just dish sessions: They were the stuff of a real family-by-choice.
The experience of relying on a group of female friends is one many women relate to, which explains the wild popularity of Sex and the City. While women have, on average, slightly fewer close friends than men do (7.9 to 9.3, respectively), they have 13% more people with whom they discuss important issues. Most of us will have observed this anecdotally from a young age: While men value their friends and engage in all kinds of activities with them, when it comes to chatting, women do it best. Journalist Jeffrey Zaslow, author of The Girls from Ames, the true story of a 40-year friendship between 11 women, notes that his own friendships with men are markedly different from what he observed in his research: “I’ve been playing poker with a group of friends every Thursday night for many years,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “About 80% of our conversations are focused specifically on the cards….For weeks at a time, our personal lives—or our feelings about anything—never even come up.”
Women, on the other hand, love to open up to their friends. About two thirds of women, in fact, would rather discuss an intimate topic with a close friend than a family member. Adoration of friendly chatter seems to come with having a second X chromosome, and it’s been abundantly capitalized on in female-targeted pop culture. From The Babysitters Club to The Golden Girls, from Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood to The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, and of course, Sex and the City, books, television shows, and films geared towards women and girls have again and again recognized the significance of women’s friendships.
But the value of these relationships goes well beyond having someone to gossip with over the phone. Girlfriends provide real health benefits, too. Samantha’s healthy prognosis, following treatment for breast cancer in season 6 of Sex and the City, may have resulted from more than just early detection: research shows that women with strong social networks are more likely to survive breast cancer than those who are socially isolated.
Friends also ease the challenges (physical and otherwise) of the aging process. A study at Harvard found that social ties help maintain brain function in old age. And the presence of a “confidante” for older women is a strong predictor of physical functioning and vitality. Perhaps this is why a new trend has emerged among aging Baby Boomer gal pals—moving in, with an eye towards growing old together, when spouses have passed away, divorced, or never materialized (Golden Girls, anyone?). It makes sense financially and emotionally: as social networks become smaller, having a loved one to share dinner and conversation with is important. For women growing old without spouses, strong friendships provide an appealing alternative.
So the men can roll their eyes all they want as their womenfolk rush out to see what antics Carrie and the girls are getting up to this time, but it’s the women who get the last laugh. Female friendships provide a lifelong safety net that can outlast spouses and weather the highs and lows of growing old. As Carrie noted in the first Sex and the City film, “Dreams change, trends come and go, but friendships never go out of style”—a statement with which women friends the world over would surely agree.