I have a friend who I care for very much who sort of disappeared on me over the last 2 years when I needed her most. I had had a baby and after a traumatic birth found myself stuck behind the foggy mist of post-natal anxiety. While my life turned upside down and I was desperately trying to hang onto anything which was a link to my old self, she who knew me best, went silent. I’ve been in this position before and was reminded of the familiar sense of loss. As the fog started to clear in my mind I began to ponder once again about these friendships where you laugh, cry and share all your thoughts with the other- only for it all to change.
Why did I miss this friend when she had forgotten me during a time I needed her? I needed answers and as human interaction interests me above anything else I began to read about what bonds women together. After much reading I did find the answer, or an answer which I liked. I came across some research conducted by Taylor et al, (2000) which found that women reacted to stress in a very unique way. Rather than ‘fight or flight’ like their male counterparts, when threatened by predators women would ‘tend and befriend.’ This means women tended to their children, and looked to befriend other women which is where they would find safety. If women felt safe in the friendship it would release oxytocin and would make them want to hang out with these women more. I was blown away by this research – it explained to me why I could feel so connected to my good friends and why I cherished these friendships. It seemed to me after reading this research that the right friendship could physically release the same hormone I have always associated with looking after my babies. Perhaps, this is why I have always liked women’s circles and I have been excited about starting my own circle to explore life, thoughts and experiences. The research did show that the evolutionary process of women ‘befriending other women is inherently necessary for the protection of offspring.’ Since pregnant and nursing women make women more vulnerable to an outside threat and protection may be found in a larger female group. In terms of how some of the ways the ‘tend and befriend’ works now, it was found in another study ‘that women who have a high stress burden due to the demand of multiples roles such as caregiver and wage earner who engage in tend and befriend coping are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than other women.’ Interestingly around the same time my sister was going through the same thing except she had known this friend so long they had been born on the same day in the same hospital! ‘I’m giving up on her,’ she said. ‘She never replies to a single message or picks up when I ring. I feel like she’s lost all care for our friendship.’ I listened to all the things which had hurt her and said ‘I think Z sounds depressed. Give her time – she’s been there for you in the past and if she can’t even pick up the phone then something may not be right with her.’ This was the choice – to preserve the friendship or give up.
This research had signalled to me that although my friend had disappeared when I needed her now, there was a time when she was very present and that friendship had been a joyful and safe place. I realised I didn’t want to close the door on this friendship. I told my sister not to do the same.
My friend did eventually contact me and we had that conversation where I asked where she had been. She had been struggling herself and had no idea she had become absent. She was tearful and I didn’t want to cause her any pain.
‘It’s ok.’ I said. ‘My door and my heart is always open to you. And for now let’s drink tea, eat chocolate cake and talk about those resolutions we’re definitely going to keep this time!’