From Cheerios to Cocktails
How Female Bonds Endure
They say friends are people who know you well, but like you anyway. When it comes to women, society tends to view them as a den of adversity filled with petty jealousies and cattiness. But is that really true?
I’ve certainly had my own experiences. I met my friend Melissa Tohill when our oldest daughters were nine months old at a Gymboree class. (The girls are now 13.) I see her almost every week. Then, there’s my friend Margaret Rieck. We’ve shared laughter and tears. And, I love it when she calls us “family, not family.”
That’s the thing about mom friends. When they click, they really click. Take Kelly Leatherwood, for example. She loves to talk about six women that are more than just friends; they’re family. Moving from San Francisco, the Leatherwoods arrived in Fairfield hoping to make new friends and after a few introductions at a Mommy & Me event at the Fairfield Public Library, their group was born. The kids, still friends despite different schools and interests, span from age 4 to 17. Like her friend Deb Placey says, they’ve gone from “Cheerios to college applications.” Leatherwood says she feels so fortunate to have such a tight-knit group of women. “I feel very blessed,” she explains. “It’s like I have a second set of sisters.”
According to social worker Nicole Zangara and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, meeting new friends can elicit a major fear factor and many times women will settle for a “toxic” friendship rather than seek out a healthy one.
“Finding new friends is almost like dating, you make an emotional connection and communication is key,” she says.
Zangara also made the comparison between men and women. While men may have good friendships too, they’re built on action. They’ll get together and play golf. Women make deep connections and place more emotional investment in the relationship. That’s why women tend to become more upset when the friendship doesn’t work out.
Lasting female bonds are a Fairfield norm. Like Leatherwood, Kelly Imschweiler, Sarah Puerini, and Sarah Lehberger all met each other through The Welcome Club of Fairfield and Easton. They ended up forming long-lasting friendships as a result.
For Imschweiler, having regular contact with women who understood the trials of everyday motherhood was like a breath of fresh air. “If I told everyone, ‘Oh great, another snow day!’ I wouldn’t have to explain myself.”
Puerini moved from Fairfield and now lives outside Boston. But for Lehberger, distance doesn’t matter. “We met when our girls were around 15-18 months old, and they were our first kids. So we got to experience a lot of the firsts together and bond over the craziness of it all,” she said. “What really made us close was her ability to really see me for who I was outside of being a mom or a wife. She appreciated me as a person despite all of my imperfections.”
But what happens when playgroups become a thing of the past? According to long-time Fairfield resident Jean Whitney, you just continue to foster good bonds. Whitney attends a knitting group at Trinity Episcopal Church in Southport. If you think it’s all for little old ladies, think again. “It’s just extraordinary to be part of this group of women of all ages,” she said. “There is a need for women to have a place to feel open and honest. At my age, I have as many friends leave this world as come into it!”
Trevor Crow, a marriage and family therapist in Southport and author of Forging Healthy Connections, couldn’t agree more with Whitney’s point. “These are people who have your best interests in mind. They’re not judging you and you feel safe.”
In the frequently cited 2002 UCLA study on how men and women handle stress, there was a huge difference. Not surprisingly, men handle stress with an increase of testosterone in a “fight or flight” manner. But when women are under stress, they have an increase in oxytocin, which calms and renders them more likely to tend to children and bond with other women.
But even more compelling, the study showed that those who had the most friends over a 9-year period decreased their risk of death by 60%. And, that follows us through the aging process. Women whose husbands died were less likely to become sick afterward when they had a close friend to get them through the experience.
So, the next time you want a girls’ night out, just tell your husband your health depends on it.