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“No, thanks. I’m not really a joiner.”
How many times have you heard that? Or said that? If you’re anything like me, the answer is plenty – on both counts.
Though I’ve written whole novels and even a whole series of novels centered on the subject of community and friendship among women, I don’t think of myself as a joiner. Much of the time, I prefer to keep my own company or hang out with the imaginary friends who inhabit my books. I spend so much time alone, and so comfortably, that I have occasionally been accused of being a hermit.
Well, look. If you’re going to write novels, you need to be okay spending time by yourself. Finishing a book requires hundreds of hours of solitary confinement. But that’s not the only reason I spend so much time alone and don’t think of myself as “a joiner”.
If I’m completely honest (and what’s the point of writing a blog if you’re not?) the thing that so often keeps me from joining in is fear. Fear of rejection. Of not fitting in. Fear that I won’t be accepted. Or liked.
I think a lot of women feel like this. You’d think, having lived this long, I’d be over it by now. And in many ways, I am.
I really don’t worry about people’s opinions of me as much as I used to. Some of that has to do with life experience. Some of that has to do with being a writer. After a while, you quit worrying about those one star reviews and focus on those discerning, highly intelligent readers who get what you’re doing.
Even so, that desire to be liked runs pretty deep. A while back I asked my mom if she cared what other people thought about her. She said no but it took until she was about eighty to feel like that.
Well, at least it’s good to have something to look forward to.
Even Introverts Need Time with the Girls
I’m not as much of a people pleaser as I was ten years ago, or even five. Still, if I have a choice between hanging with people who like me or people who don’t, I pick the former. Who wouldn’t? But most of the time, if you’re coming into a group of strangers, we don’t get to pick. So why take the risk?
I think that’s where the “not a joiner” mindset comes into play. Having been burned in the past, we’re hesitant to take the chance. Better to stick to familiar people and patterns, or keep to our own company and counsel, than risk repeating past hurts, right?
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with spending time alone. We need that quiet space in our lives. But we also need connections with other women.
Did you see the word I just used – need? That’s not just my opinion. Scientific evidence backs me up.
You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” hormone that is released in moments of stress, right? But a landmark study at UCLA, headed by Dr. Laura Cousin Klein, suggests that women also respond to stress by releasing chemicals into the brain that cause us to make or maintain our female friendships.
“It seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone—which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.”
When the Risk Pays Off
In 2010, some women I had gotten to know online decided to gather in Connecticut for a quilt retreat.
Honestly, I wasn’t entirely convinced about the wisdom of joining in – especially for an entire weekend. Couldn’t we just have lunch or something? Sure, they seemed okay online. But would I still like them when I met them face- to-face? Would they like me, the real me? Or would they be disappointed when they found out that I am not the characters from my books? It wouldn’t be the first time that had happened.
In spite of my reservations, I decided to go. Eight years and eight retreats later, I’m glad I did.
Over the years, those women have become friends, true friends. They are the people I call when I need to laugh, cry, celebrate, pray, or vent. I try to do the same for them.
We make quilts together, yes. More importantly, we do life together. And we do it better together than we could on our own.
Female Friendships are a Matter of Survival
In good times and bad, women need other women, especially in the years beyond 50.
A study from Harvard Medical School found women with many friends were the less likely to develop physical impairments as they aged and are more likely to be leading a joyful life.
If you’ve already got some good women friends, you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t, I urge you to find out.
Yes, joining in and finding friends can involve a certain amount of risk. And it might take a few tries before you “find your tribe”. But once you do, you’ll be glad you did.
That’s why I just registered another retreat, occurring later this month, with the women of my church. This feels even riskier than heading off to my first quilt retreat years ago. Back then, I had already gotten to know the other attendees a little online. This time, I won’t know a single person. I’m still so new to the church that I’ve hardly met anyone.
Also, unlike my quilt retreat, where there are one or two women to a room, I will be sleeping in a dorm with seven total strangers, in bunk beds.
Yeah I am not excited about that part. At. All.
I’m going anyway. Why?
Because though I’m fine on my own at the moment, the day will come when I need these women. And they will need me. That’s what community is all about – receiving and giving, supporting and being supported.
They say you can’t be too rich or too thin. I’m not sure if believe that. But one thing I do believe? That I absolutely know to be true?
You can’t have too many friends.