Friends Forever: How Girls and Women Forge Lasting Relationships

Friends Forever: How Girls and Women Forge Lasting Relationships


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442202016
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 10/22/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Suzanne Degges-White is a counselor in private practice,and professor and chair of the department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University. She is the author of several book chapters, journal articles, and other publications.

Christine Borzumato-Gainey is a Counselor and Instructor at Elon University, NC. She is the author of several publications and presentations.

Read an Excerpt

Friends Forever

How Girls and Women Forge Lasting Relationships
By Suzanne Degges-White Christine Borzumato-Gainey


Copyright © 2011 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4422-0200-9

Chapter One

The Biology of Friendship

To "Tend and Befriend"

Females seem to enter the world preprogrammed with a "friendship formation response." Most young girls pair up with their first "best friend" early in life as they enter the social world, whether on the playground, in a day care center, or at the schoolhouse. The membership of her troupe of friends may shift over time, but a woman's need for friends endures throughout her lifespan. Striking gender differences emerge early in the areas of social interest and social interaction that involve brain activity, sensory processing, and communication behavior. These differences play a contributing role in how females approach relationship formation.

No matter what age you are today, we bet you can remember your very first friend, your very first best friend, and, no doubt, you are definitely able to recall a time when you have been hurt by a friend. Friendships play a significant role throughout our lives. We may enter this world solo as vulnerable newborns, but we are primed and ready to form and navigate social connections from the start. It is as if we are driven to find a place of belonging and a sense of community from the moment we join the human race. Not only do women speak "in a different voice," as Carol Gilligan's book of the same name announced some decades ago, but women also go about building relationships with strategies and intents different from those men choose to use. These gender differences in social predispositions and friendship configurations appear quite early in our development and are expressed in both our physiology and our behavior.

"It's like she was ready to be homecoming queen from the moment she was born!" was how Dana, an elementary school girl's mother, described her daughter Janey's social prowess. Dana had a son, Trevor, a couple of years older than her daughter, and Dana had been surprised at the difference in social skills and social interest displayed by her children. Dana felt that she and her son had "bonded" as well as any of the books she'd read on mothering had glowingly described the process, but Trevor had never been as intent as his sister on forming relationships—and Dana acknowledged that this word was a deliberate choice. Janey had been keenly aware of others' feelings since she was able to sit up in her bouncy chair and Dana had wondered whether this was a "girl thing" or just a temperament thing. After chatting with other mothers, Dana came to the conclusion that it must be a "girl thing," and she is definitely on target.

Yes, it's true. Girls and boys enter the social scene programmed with different game plans—not just different equipment—for connecting with others. Based on the findings of recent physiological and neuroscientific research, it is apparent that young girls are ready to build alliances and interact socially with others much more readily than their male counterparts are. A deeper and more complex connection to the social world continues for young girls throughout their lives in many different ways, including brain development, neurochemical activity, sensory experiences, and, of course, behavior.


Gender differences in brain development become apparent well before birth. Every embryo begins as female, but at around the eighth week after conception, the child's encoded gender establishes the combination of hormones and brain chemicals that will soon begin to flow and continue to shape the child's development from that moment onward. While still in the womb, little girls are already building up the specific brain circuits that support a successful social life. Neuroscientists have dubbed the portion of the brain that oversees this area of activity the social brain, and striking differences between the genders are found here.

Many of us believe the key differences between boys and girls are embedded in the visible differences in reproductive equipment and the presence of the sex-specific hormones, estrogen and testosterone. But the differences are deeper—there are visible and significant differences between the brains of females and males. And it is the chemicals, or neuropeptides, produced in the brain, not only the sex hormones from the gonads, which control much of the behavior differences between the genders. We are all familiar with the blame game played with testosterone and estrogen, such as when PMS is blamed if a woman is moody or attributing a teenaged boy's risky behaviors to his being high on testosterone. Yet estrogen and testosterone are only co-players in the endocrine system's complex influence on behavior. In fact, it appears that two specific neuropeptides, oxytocin and vasopressin, are the true forces behind the gendered social behavior patterns that play out over a lifetime.

These two peptides are produced in the hypothalmus and stored in the pituitary gland until they are released into the bloodstream or into the brain. Oxytocin is a "feel-good" peptide that works to minimize a woman's stress response. It encourages social bonding in a lot of different situations, from helping new moms bond with their babies to helping group cohesion in stressful circumstances. It can also jump-start your memory in social situations. Research studies have shown that when oxytocin is released into your system, you have an easier time figuring out whether you've seen someone's face before. Vasopressin plays a role in typically male-identified social behaviors, such as resorting to aggression in the face of challenges or protecting loved ones or possessions. Somewhat like oxytocin, it can help lower anxiety when someone is faced with a threatening situation. As for vasopressin's role in relationship formation, its presence in the system kicks up the appeal of monogamous behavior and pair bonding. Although the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen, play a role in the regulation of vasopressin and oxytocin, it is these two peptides that govern our social behavior and that lead us into social alliance or enemy attack. These peptides begin shaping our gendered social development just weeks after conception.

During development in the womb, girls' brains are already being prepared to handle the tasks of communication, reading emotions, understanding social nuances, and nurturing others. The sections of the brain responsible for supporting social behavior are primarily the temporal lobe and the amygdala. These areas of the brain allow us to recognize faces and to express our emotions, and—as many women probably presume—these structures mature more quickly in girls than boys. In sharp contrast, the chemical changes that work on boys in the womb actually lead to a reduction in size of the brain areas responsible for communication, observation, and emotional expression and processing. Girls enter this world better equipped to observe and remember emotional details. They are also able to comprehend the nonverbal components of communication, including vocal tone, facial expressions, and body language, and to assess meaning more successfully than males. Girls are able to make good use of these skills when trying to negotiate social connections and resolve conflicts among their circles of friends. Their better memory for emotional details may likely be connected to their physical senses, including the sense of smell.


We are all familiar with the strong emotional responses certain scents evoke—a richly detailed memory of a certain place, a certain event, or a certain person can come flooding back when we catch a whiff of a particular aroma. Researchers have found a relationship between the role our memories play in social learning and the influence of our hormones and peptides on this process. Not only does our olfactory sense give us a lot of support in eliciting memories, but it is also a key component in social connection. As infants, we use the sense of smell to identify the people who are most familiar to us and on whom we can rely to provide nurturing and caregiving. And, as you might guess, infant girls surpass infant boys in the development of a strong sense of smell, and this sensory superiority continues throughout the lifespan.

Parents who have both daughters and sons probably know all too well that boys have a much higher tolerance for unpleasant odors than their sisters. Whereas a man might notice that a woman is wearing cologne, a woman is typically more likely to recognize the brand of the cologne. Our sense of smell alerts us to potential dangers—from a candle left burning to the smell of soured milk—and lets us know of the proximity of friends and family, too. Women use their sense of smell in associating certain scents with family members and close friends, thereby solidifying the relationship between olfactory processing and social connections. In addition to the unique function that the olfactory sense plays in social connections, the sense of sight is also an important factor in early relationship formation.


Fairleigh had just given birth to her second child, a little girl named Amy, a week earlier. James, her 4-year-old son, always seemed to be rushing around the room wherever she and Amy settled in for feeding. Fairleigh said that she already knew that raising a daughter felt different than raising her son. "After nursing, Amy settles into my arms and just looks up at me so intently, as if she can see deep into my eyes and really knows, deep down, that I'm her mother. It probably sounds crazy, and James probably was doing the same thing, but with him being my first, I was anxious a lot of the time trying to make sure I didn't screw up. At least the second time around, I can hopefully focus on the baby more than the worries!" Actually, Fairleigh is probably noticing an actual difference between her children. Female infants are much more interested in extended eye contact than boys tend to be.

Newborn girls land in the hands of the waiting obstetricians ready to look them in the eyes and form their first face-to-face connections. In fact, girls are noticeably more likely to respond to social stimuli than same-age boys from virtually day one. Human faces and the human voice are beacons of interest for the newborn girl, and she is much more interested in making and holding eye contact than an infant boy tends to be. In a longitudinal comparison of girls and boys, measured at age 5 days and then at 4 months, only the girls increased their gazing and eye contact behavior during this period. Moreover, infant girls spend the first three months of life increasing their skills in holding eye contact and mutual gazing by more than 400 percent. For adults, women have been found to be most successful in negotiations when eye contact can be made with another; for men, however, successful negotiations are best reached in the absence of any face-to-face contact. From the outset, girls appear to be focused on connecting to their communities through visual behavior well before they are able to connect verbally.


Along with enhanced olfactory and vision development, infant girls are also expressing greater interest in mutual communication than boys do. Boys are slower to provide a consistent response to the spoken word. And infant girls, although not yet able to articulate intelligible words to express their opinions, are eager to be included in the conversations around them. Attention and inclusion are important to girls from the start. Compared to boys, young girls generally learn to talk sooner; use longer phrases and sentences to get their points across; incorporate more accurate grammatical structure; and employ a larger vocabulary. 24 This language precociousness is underscored by the fact that girls and women use both sides of the brain for language functions, but males generally use only the left. Apparently the typical teenage girl's obsession with communication—whether cell phone, landline, texting, or IMing—is a natural phenomenon that her biological make-up pretty much prescribes.


One thirty-something mother shared the following story:

I was surprised and happy to get a real, old-fashioned letter in my mailbox a few weeks ago. I recognized the handwriting on the envelope—it was from one of my great aunts who lives a thousand miles away and is at least 80 years old, I guess. I was smiling as I maneuvered the twins' double stroller into the house and was looking forward to settling down on the couch to read the letter. I got the kids each a juice box and graham crackers and grabbed a water bottle for myself. Tabby sat down on the couch with me; she and Mikey are 21/2. She must have caught my pleasure at the letter. Michael just wandered over to the corner of the room where the toys were kept. I giggled at Tabby, and told her I would read the letter out loud to her, which made her beam. I opened the letter, and was doing a quick read first to myself, when I read that my great aunt's husband had suffered a life-threatening stroke three weeks ago! Tabby seemed to know before I did that the tears were about to start, because she jumped from the couch, grabbed the tissues from the coffee table, and said, "Mommy, it gonna be okay, I promise." These were the words she heard me use when she or Mikey were sad or had taken a tumble. I couldn't believe she knew that I was sad as soon as I did!

Again, girls get a head start on boys in the skills needed to express empathy.

As infants, girls are already learning how to "read" others' emotions and feelings with surprising accuracy. The babies who loudly offer their own "sympathy tears" when another infant is crying in a nursery are usually female. The ability to empathize with others develops much earlier and more effectively in girls than boys. During the preschool days, young girls lead the boys by far in their ability to recognize others' facial expressions and related emotions. Studies with adults offer support for the presence of a connection between empathy and specific neural pathways in the brain. It appears that the gender difference in empathy is hard-wired from birth. This natural empathy is a skill that will serve girls well in all of the friendships they form and it is a gender difference that tends to last a lifetime.

It makes sense that because females have an easier time reading others' feelings that they would also have an easier time understanding their own. Indeed, most girls are able to process and share their feelings with others relatively easily unless their emotional expression becomes blocked due to an outside influence or socialization parameters set up by caregivers. A young girl can usually openly express what makes her happy, what makes her sad, what gets her angry, and what frightens her. Girls' brains have a strong connection between the seat of emotion, the amygdala, and the cerebral cortex, which allows them to process and articulate their feelings. However, the brains of boys and men use a different physiological connection, and they have a much harder time processing their emotions or accessing emotional memories—except for those related to aggression. They may know they feel sad, but they would have a difficult time verbalizing their emotions and the specific reasons behind their feelings. This gives girls an advantage in being able to connect and relate to others on a personal and emotional level.


Excerpted from Friends Forever by Suzanne Degges-White Christine Borzumato-Gainey Copyright © 2011 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction Friendship Basics 2 Part I: Why Women Need Friends 3 1 The Biology of Friendship - to "Tend and Befriend" 4 2 Friendship in Context: Social Relationships in the USA 5 3 "Friendology"or the Science of Friendship 6 Part II: Friendship Chronology 7 4 Early Childhood: First Friends 8 5 Adolescent Friendships: Seeking Ourselves in our Friends 9 6 Emerging Adulthood: Decisions, Decisions 10 7 Coupled-Up but No Kids Yet 11 8 Motherhood: Kids on Board 12 9 The Midlife Years: Re-Connecting with Ourselves & Seeking Companions 13 10 The Long Road Home: Community and Friendship in Older Adulthood 14 Part III: Making Friends - Starting with Yourself 15 11 Understanding Who You Are as a Friend 16 12 Roadblocks to Friendships 17 Part IV: Taking a Census of your Circle of Friends 18 13 Mapping Out Your FriendScape 19 14 Redesigning Your Social Landscape 20 15 Finding New Friends 21 Part V: Strategies for Survival - Building and Maintaining Lasting Friendships 22 16 Building Strong Friendships from the Beginning 23 17 Tips to Strengthen Existing Friendships 24 18 Friendship in the Digital Age: Technology Keeps Us Connected-Sometimes! 25 19 Full-Time Friend, Part-Time Lover: Making Friends with your Mate 26 20 Coming Full Circle with a Circle of Friends

What People are Saying About This

Marla Paul

Friends are vital to our health and happiness, but finding and keeping pals is not always easy. This wise book offers solid advice on how to build and maintain strong friendships and an essential network of support. The authors shed light on the potholes of friendship to prevent us from stumbling and tell how to be the kind of friend whose relationships will endure 'forever.'

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