Veteran journalist and long-time science writer for the New York Times Jacqueline Mroz set out to investigate the complexity of female friendship and her research did not disappoint. In her new book, Girl Talk, Mroz dives deep into the ins and outs of the friendships we have–from what we do right, to what we do wrong, to everything in between. In this exclusive heart-to-heart with VINAZINE, Mroz talks about toxic friends, the one thing you can do today to improve your friendships with other women and more. Read on for more!
Q: While researching female friendships in your extensive years of work, what has stood out to you the most?
A: I was amazed by how many health benefits there are for women who have good friends and a strong friendship network, from lower blood pressure to less anxiety and depression, to actually living longer!
Q: You mention the scarcity of studies and research on female friendships. Why do you think that is?
A: We’ve lived in a patriarchal society for so long, that it’s just started to change fairly recently. Also, many of the people who were in charge of scientific research were men who didn’t believe that female friendship was an important area of study. I wanted to research friendship to understand why women act the way they do with their friends, from a scientific standpoint, so I could better understand the motivation for their behavior.
Q: From your own research, what is one thing that women should be doing every day when it comes to their friendships?
A: It’s important to try to reach out to friends regularly. Don’t get mad if they haven’t called you—they just might have a good reason, like an illness. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Spending time with a friend, being supportive and engaged, and just having fun together are great ways to strengthen a friendship. If you want to reconnect with an old friend, just pick up the phone! Forget texting and emailing—talking on the phone is the next best thing to seeing her in person.
Q: How has social media affected female friendships?
A: Studies show that social media users are more anxious and depressed, and tend to be more socially isolated. Connecting with people online is not the same as seeing friends in person and spending time with them, or even talking on the phone. The friendships that people form online tend to be highly superficial, and less fulfilling. Next time you want to connect with a friend, make a plan to see them, or even pick up the phone! Social media, compared with face-to-face interactions with people, is similar to consuming real food versus food-like substances. It’s just not the same and can make you feel empty and undernourished. I think this is more prevalent among younger women because they use social media more.
Q: How important it is to forge new friendships in your 20s and beyond?
A: It’s always good to forge new friends—and it’s something that will be happening throughout your life, at every age. It’s important to keep up a friendship, and not let it fizzle out. Call and make plans with your friends! They will always appreciate it.
Q: What are some ways you can find new friendships in this digital era?
A: Taking the same exercise class every week is a great way to make friends (and stay healthy)! Joining a club or a meet-up group can also be helpful. And apps like Hey! VINA are a terrific way to find new friendships.
Q: What are some meaningful ways you can bond with your new friends?
A: Unlike men, women can bond with their friends by just having a cup of tea together and chatting. When I’m with friends now, I try to put my phone away so it’s not visible and not intrusive. That way I can really concentrate on what they’re saying. Try to keep up on what’s going on in their lives, and ask those important follow-up questions!
Q: We all seem to have a friend “who got away.” Why does that happen so often in friendships—is it just the evolution of friendship, or is there something more to it?
A: Women’s relationships tend to be more fragile than men’s because they’re more intense. That fragility could also be because women have higher expectations of their friendships. If we expect more, then we’ll be disappointed more often. And if we’re divulging our deepest, darkest secrets to our friends, then we’re making ourselves more vulnerable to them, and those relationships can be more easily broken.
Having realistic expectations of friendship, and being able to speak frankly with a friend about things that bother us, are good ways to avoid breakups.
Q: As you studied female friendship, what common mistake did you see women making in their friendships?
A: Not talking it over with a friend when something is bothering you. We can talk to our friends about anything—except for our friendship. So many women will give up on a friendship, rather than trying to make it work, and that’s a mistake.
It’s definitely hard to talk to a friend about something that’s bothering you, but if you work up the courage to do so, you’ll find that you will both be so much happier with the relationship. Sometimes conflict can be about a misunderstanding or miscommunication that is easily resolved.
Q: What’s your best advice for dealing with a toxic friend?
A: A toxic friend is someone who isn’t really authentic and doesn’t have your back. She can’t be happy for you and separate your success from what she imagines she should have. This friend is someone who would undermine you or steal your job or husband or boyfriend. She’d even steal your ideas. There’s a lack of trust between you.
Try setting boundaries with this friend—that can give you back some control. But at some point, you might have to say, ‘I’m not going to tolerate this anymore,’ and end it.
Q: What famous girlfriends from history most fascinate you and why?
A: I love the story of the friendship between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Cady Stanton was married with three kids when they met and older than Anthony, who was single, but they became immediate and lifelong friends. They complemented each other—Cady Stanton was the writer and Anthony traveled around the country, speaking about women’s rights. And they never fought. Sadly, they both died before women were given the right to vote.
Q: In typical VINA fashion, describe your ideal Sunday.
A: I like to spend time with good friends—going for a walk, seeing a film, or grabbing a cup of coffee so that we can catch up!
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