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Women's Health Australia

GIRL POWER GOES PLURAL

Say cheese, ladies

(PHOTOGRAPHY: GETTY IMAGES)

Back in 2015, Taylor Swift first paraded her girlfriends (Selena, Karlie, Cara, Gigi) as a powerhouse not to be messed with, via the Bad Blood music video. Since then, and especially now, as the female-empowerment movement marches on, tons of celebs – the ladies of SNL ; the actress trio Cameron, Reese and Drew – and real women have followed suit, showing off their besties so much on social media that the hashtag #SquadGoals became the name of a (not-so-great) movie last year.

Of course, having a go-to group of friends is nothing new (Sex and the City preceded Girls, which preceded Taylor) but how we use this group nowadays definitely is. “As women pair off and get married a lot later than they used to, they are going through more of their lives with a unit of friends by their side,” says Andrea Bonior, psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix. “As a result, our friends, more so than ever before, have become our family.”

Buddies with benefits

How sweet – and also totally in sync with science. First and foremost, it’s natural for us to crave being a member of a tribe. Back in caveman days, that’s what kept us alive, Bonior notes. Study after study has shown that people who enjoy strong social relationships have lower risks for depression and early death but, beyond that, research from Michigan State University found that our friends become even more beneficial than our family for our health and happiness as we age. “Because we choose our friends, they tend to be people we have fun with, which reduces stress and makes us feel good,” explains study author William Chopik. “Especially as we move through life, family relationships are mixed with other emotions – monotony, anxiety – so many times, friends serve as an outlet or fountain of advice.” That’s the beauty of a girl gang: it’s a support system at the tap of a smartphone.

Dream teams

That group back-up was a godsend for Olivia Martin, 27, a digital marketer, when she moved cities two years ago. “I found myself lonely, not knowing anyone in my new city but my then-boyfriend. My group [of friends] all visited and FaceTimed to make me feel as if I’d never left,” she says. “I feel even closer with them now, seeing that even distance hasn’t made them any less present in my life.”

What’s more, “When you’re part of a larger circle, there’s less pressure on you than when you’re one half of a duo,” says counsellor Suzanne Degges-White. We’re not saying you get to be a lazy mate – that won’t win you a lasting group – but you do have a little wiggle room because your responsibilities are shared. Sit out a few group brunches and you won’t do any real harm to your connections. But bail on your best friend whenever life gets busy and you risk permanent damage to a relationship that you both need for long- term wellness.

Ironically, a bigger circle allows for more authentic connections, too, adds Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy. “You’d think people would mould themselves to please everyone, but women can be more confident in who they are when their personas bounce off close ones around them,” she explains. “This richness of personalities can make you feel more fulfilled in life, by exposing you to different opinions and dispositions.” When we’re choosing one-on-one friendships, she says, we tend to go for people who think and act like us. But, in a group, someone who might be too much for you on her own often becomes a refreshing and helpful addition. A classic, albeit fictional, example: Sex and the City’s promiscuous Samantha and romantic Charlotte likely wouldn’t have meshed as well without deep-thinking Carrie and cynical Miranda to buffer and inspire.

Why quality trumps quantity, every time

But what if you don’t have a trio of chicks to round out your psyche? “You can be just as fulfilled by a few individual close friendships, if you’re sharing experiences together and putting energy into them and getting it back,” Bonior says. And introverts need not worry: as long as your lower frequency doesn’t prevent you from attending social events more often than not, you’re smart to avoid overstimulating situations that drain you. It sounds a bit cliche but, in the end, quality trumps quantity.

Whether you have your own squad or not, the idea that everyone else does is just that – an idea. “You might see group outing after group outing on your feed, but you may not know that that dinner is the one meal those women share a year,” says Bonior. The best thing you can do? Take stock of your own friendships. Are your girls there for you, and are you there for them? If not, redirect your energy into fixing this. And if yes? Well, your friends are stars in their own right – not even Taylor can touch them.

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