While sitting with a group of women the other day, the conversation moved toward the support that women traditionally offered one another.
"We used to gather, you know?" one lady said. "We broke beans together, or we made quilts. And we talked. We just don't do that anymore."
All around the table there were nods of agreement and thoughtful silences.
Why don't we gather like in times of old? My mind wandered back to the countless conversations I'd recently had with women inside and outside my office. In the midst of everything else that may have been bothering them, the underlying theme seemed to stay hauntingly similar.
The voices morph together like "...the bills are due and I'm broke and someone keeps breaking in my house and I can't seem to finish school and my kids are misbehaving and I'm not losing weight and I did something I feel ashamed of and I'm tired and my body hurts and I just feel so alone."
"I feel alone" was the general thread that kept weaving through each story. They knew they needed connection but didn't seem to know where to find it, and even when they knew, they often had to rouse tremendous courage to look for it in the company of other women.
Too often trust had been betrayed in close and meaningful friendships -- then rejection and retreat eventually won out. Or they were around other women but at times didn't feel connected to them. They were afraid to share their burdens because they feared being judged. These issues cause many of us to put our energy into romantic relationships, but we quickly learn that as wonderful and affirming as men can be, they are not women. They just can't replace a good sisterly gathering.
When women lend their unique ability to comfort, encourage and nurture to a conversation, a room or an event, deep healing often takes place. I've been in these wonderful situations. I let myself be propped up by loving women who knew just what to do and what to say in my time of need. Through them, I learned to take pride in being a woman and to be excited about learning more about how to share that particular type of strength and beauty with others.
Through the years, I've found that being with other women, attending their luncheons or breakfasts or small groups, somehow strengthens me and gives me joy. Reconnecting with old friends brings a literal sense of stability and relief to me.
Recently, I received an email from such a friend. We met more than 17 years ago. We'd been apart for a few years but were communicating again. She was apologizing for the extra time she took to reply to my last email. I emailed back, "No apology is necessary. I'm just glad we're still friends."
Emily Rapp, in her article "Transformation and Transcendence: The Power of Female Friendship," writes about what her experience of working with several older women while living overseas taught her, "... Support, salvation, transformation, life: This is what women give to one another when they are true friends, soul friends ... It's what ... women do for one another in real relationships with real consequences in real time, every day, what my friends do for me. We help one another live ..."
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a therapist and writer. Email her at email@example.com.