The Secret to Long-Lasting Female Friendships? It May Not Be What You Think

And why they’re essential to our health.

By Brandy Joy Smith

My female friendships have come a long way. In my youth, I was always the “guy’s girl”— as in “friends” with a bunch of guys and “acquaintances” with women. Looking back, I can now see why. Being friends with the dudes meant that I could keep a distance that didn’t require vulnerability–or competition. The boys never asked too many questions, and we tended to keep things light. I was the ultimate wing woman, free to make mistakes without the judgment of another women’s view of who I should be. In full honesty, I wasn’t exactly sure who I was or what I wanted to be, so this all felt like a safe space. 

Fast forward to late adulthood and I could’t imagine my life without my girls. It’s easier now that I’m sure of who I am and what I stand for. To be fair, it’s probably inevitable that I would come to this place with a gang of girls. But I didn’t know until later in life all the power and strength that lies within female friendships. From how to navigate my career in a man’s world to sharing the joys and fears of motherhood—it’s all there. My female friendships lift and fill me up in a way my friendship with men cannot. So, this all got me thinking: Why was I so afraid of getting close to women? What was so complex and confusing about those relationships?

While popular culture has given us female friendship gems like Lena Dunham’s Girls and Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, most romantic comedies include female best friends who help give context to the heroine and push her toward her love interest. The fact is, female friendship is deeply complex and overflowing with nuance, but there are also few bonds more beautiful or rewarding. 

Feature image by Jenny Sathngam.

Why Female Friendships Aren’t Just a Nice-to-Have

Female friendships are essential to our health and they can even help us live longer lives. Have you ever experienced that warm, elated feeling you get after leaving dinner with your best gal pal? Platonic closeness gives us a healthy, stress-busting boost of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—all vital to emotional wellbeing and physical longevity. Now more than ever, the intimacy we share with friends helps us avoid feelings of isolation, increases our sense of belonging, and helps us cope with the world around us.

In a society that considers romantic relationships to be the be-all and end-all, women can find friendships elusive and difficult to maintain—especially in adulthood. With that said, it’s never too late to build new relationships with women or work on the ones we already have. Plus, knowing the many benefits of friendship is a great reason to start investing in them in a new or different way. So what’s the secret to lifelong friendships?

Keep scrolling for three tips that will help you cultivate long-lasting female friendships.

Lizzy Mathis morning routine, tea, couch, living room, wellness
Image courtesy of Lizzy Mathis

Shine Together 

One of the common reasons why women feel challenged in their friendships is jealousy and competition. The reason for this is rooted in evolution, where our ancestors competed for the safety and protection of mates. In a modern and patriarchal society, women often find themselves competing for the affection and approval of men. When our value becomes wrapped up in attaining male attention, rivalries can develop. Many women can similarly relate to the feeling of bitterness when they see a friend landing a big promotion or achieving a significant milestone before them. But since our friends are a direct reflection of ourselves, shouldn’t we be genuinely celebrating and lifting them up? 

This is the idea behind Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman’s Shine Theory. It states that by consciously investing our full selves into our friendships, we can become allies instead of competitors. And when we encourage our friends to be their best selves, we also encourage ourselves. I don’t shine if you don’t shine, right? When we cultivate relationships based on mutual and unwavering support, we create the perfect conditions for long-lasting and ever-blossoming friendships. 

Go Deep Together

In a world that places a great deal of emphasis on showing strength, vulnerability can feel like a weakness, and that means it can be hard to express it even in our closest friendships. Sometimes, it’s just easier to respond with the requisite “good, you?” when our friend asks how we’re doing. But when we choose to close ourselves off in this way, we also stifle the potential for genuine connection. 

The truth is, vulnerability and openness help us cultivate closeness with those we love and support a sense of belonging and safety. When we let our guards down, we give ourselves an opportunity to communicate our true selves while creating the safe space that allows our friends to share theirs. When we allow ourselves to be seen—scars and all—we’re able to develop the true intimacy necessary to create long-lasting female friendships.

female friendships, dancing, hannah haston photography, cinco de mayo, garden party, outside dinner party
Image by Hannah Haston

Commit To Each Other

We are all likely familiar with the defined stages of commitment within romantic relationships: moving in together, engagement, and marriage. Friendship, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same obvious milestones. Because of this, it can be easy to justify certain behaviors we would never accept in our significant others, like transience and inconsistency, for instance. 

When we begin to see our friendships as investments, we can understand that commitment isn’t only reserved for romantic relationships. By making the conscious effort to choose our friends, we create the habit of consistency which provides us with enduring support over time. True long-lasting friendship means accepting where each of you are at all life stages, and choosing to evolve differently, but together.

How do you pour into and support your female friendships?