Just having friends isn't enough—every woman needs a tribe.
By Christine Organ — need bio
For most of my life, friendship was something that I took for granted. I had a handful of good friends, whom I loved dearly, but I didn’t spend a lot of time questioning why some friendships lasted while others faded away. I didn’t spend a lot of time navel-gazing about the importance of a “tribe” of friends in my life—until, well, one day I didn’t have that tribe anymore.
It happened gradually, within a couple of years: I moved to another state, quit my job, and had a baby. My close friends and I were no longer close geographically, and my new role as a stay-at-home mom created a major shift in my life. In other words, my friend tribe changed—it expanded in some ways and shrank in others.
But one thing remained constant: my friendships were important before all of these changes and they were just as important after—except that now, I appreciate the importance of a friend tribe more than ever because I went through a tribal dry spell.
Most women will tell you that their friendships are among the most important relationships in their life. Whether they’re a lifelong friend from childhood or a friend they met as an adult who lives around the corner, these relationships are essential to a woman’s well being. In fact, studies have shown that a large network of friends can increase a person’s longevity. Friends, it seems, not only make our lives better, but they can also make our lives longer.
There is a difference, however, between a large network of friends and a tribe. While friendships can be numerous and range from the near-familial relationship to the pleasant acquaintance, a tribe is typically a smaller group comprised of those friends who are closest to you. A tribe consists of those friends with whom you feel most comfortable, most at ease, and most at home. The way I think of a tribe is summed up by a quote I once read: “Tolerance is my most valued trait in a friend,” said New York Times bestselling author Andra Watkins.
Connecting with other women can be challenging
Because a tribe tends to be smaller and tighter (think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants kind of tight), many happen organically in our youth, which means finding a new friend tribe to join—especially at an older age—is not always an easy task. Plus, the proliferation of the Internet, mobility of today’s families, and increasingly busy schedules often make it even more difficult to connect in real life. In some ways, meeting other women, forming a tribe, and maintaining those friendships may have been easier for previous generations of women because of natural proximity and group living. “In ancient times women shared a lot more than they do today,” writes Tanja Taljaard and Azriel Re’Shel in an article on Uplift. “They shared care of their babies, gathered food and cooked together. The women and the children shared their lives intimately, and were a source of strength and comfort to each other on a daily basis.”
Because it can be so difficult to find an existing friend tribe that you fit into, sometimes you need to take the bull by the horns and create your own, like one mom I spoke with, Eileen Carmody Shaklee did: “I couldn’t find a tribe when my son was diagnosed with autism. Mommy playgroups were not my people. So I created my tribe through my blog Autism With A Side of Fries,” she says. The women who began reading her blog slowly became her friends, opening up a dialogue about things very close to their hearts. “If you can’t find your tribe, create one because a tribe makes you feel less alone. That’s your role in life. To give a safe space to those wandering around lost looking for it.”
With those words, Eileen struck on something that seems to be universally true about tribes: they aren’t just surface friends to do activities with, they fill a deeper need to be understood, and to combat loneliness. Most women I talked to agreed that one of the key essentials to a tribe is feeling less alone. “You need folks in your life who understand what you’re going through,” said Teri Beibel, a New York Times best-selling author and blogger. “My tribe MUST have people with a good sense of humor, who are also kind, compassionate and self-deprecating in manner.”
And in order to be understood on that level, one’s authentic self must be allowed to shine through and be shared. In essence, a true tribe lets you show your true colors because you feel like others are being their real selves as well. This way, both sides demonstrate a willingness to be there for each other. “I learned that my network of women are the women who show up for me,” says Nicole Leigh Shaw, a magazine writer and one of the authors of I Just Want to Be Perfect. “When we allow ourselves to see one another as we really are, those handy identifiers people use in society at large, (the thin one, the do-it-all mom, or the fabulous single woman) melt away. That’s when we become sisters. My tribe is made up of women who learned to say, ‘I need you,’ people who are brave enough to be needed.”
Once the women in a tribe have shed their surface identifiers, you can often see them for their deeper unique and beautiful personality traits. While a friend tribe looks different for everyone, you’ll find that there are a few essential types of friends that most women rely on to round out their tribe, like the supportive spokes of a wheel.
The 8 kinds of women you need in your tribe
1. The deep thinker. This friend is willing to dig deep in hard and complex conversation on topics like politics and religion. You help each other reach new depths of awareness and understanding, and dig into the weeds of life together. “My ideal tribe would be cynical with a sense of humor, hard-working, cognizant of world affairs, and intimidatingly smart,” said one woman I spoke with.
2. The comedian. “My tribe must make me laugh—or at least laugh at me. They must be real and allow me to be real without feeling bad about it,” said ScaryMommy writer Katie Bingham Smith. “There’s no need to apologize to your true tribe.”
3. The nurturer. This friend takes care of you. She cooks meals. She sends you care packages. She checks in with you regularly. Truth be told, most friends in your tribe will be nurturers to some degree. In fact, studies show that women are genetically predisposed for nurturing friendships. When life becomes challenging, women often have a “tend and befriend” response, which, according to Dr. Randy Kamen in an article on the Huffington Post, means that “when women become stressed, their inclination is to nurture those around them and reach out to others.”
4. The “I-got-your-back” friend. This is the fiercely loyal friend who always knows when to step up for you. The one you can call in the middle of the night or the friend you call when you are in need of immediate help because you know she’ll run to you. She might not always be at the forefront of your day-to-day life, but when those things hit the fan, she is the one you can call on.
5. The personality doppelganger. She is the friend that gets you because in many emotional ways, she is just like you. You don’t need to explain the hows and whys of your decisions and feelings, because she intuitively empathizes with you and understands what you are thinking. Best of all, you laugh at all the same things.
6. The “seems-different” friend. Unlike the just-like-you friend, this friend is very different than you. You disagree on politics, parenting styles, careers, and religion. But these differences don’t seem to matter because you are comfortable with each other, respect each other, and grow as women because of each other. In other words, you aren’t friends in spite of your differences, but because of your differences and the way your worlds are expanded as a result. “My friends don’t need to be carbon copies of me—how boring!,” says Kim Bongiorno, who writes at Let Me Start by Saying. “But they need to accept our differences and happily encourage and support me when I need it. If they do, I will absolutely reciprocate.”
7. The secret-keeper. She’s got the dirt on you, and you have some on her. But, fortunately, you have a deep and abiding trust in each other so you know those secrets aren’t going anywhere—she definitely won’t crack like Gretchen Weiners in the movie Mean Girls!—and she always has room for one more.
8. The forever friend. This friend has known you since … well … forever. She knows the name of your second grade teacher. She knows the name of your childhood dog and she cried with you the day he died. She knows the name of the street you grew up on and why it is still so difficult for you to go home. In short: she knows the subtext to your life text. You don’t need to explain the backstory to her because she already knows the backstory.
[border_box align_left=”true”]Did we miss a type of lady in your friend tribe?
We’d love to hear about the strong, beautiful personality types that make up your tribe. Just let us know in the comment section below![/border_box]
Regardless of the types of personality traits that are found in your friend tribe, one thing remains certain: it’s a crucial support system for any woman that is worth finding an maintaining. Keeping up with a tighter circle of friends ensures that someone will always be there to lend an ear, empathize with your triumphs and losses, or simply share a glass of wine to unwind. Instead of one best friend, you have a bestie to call upon for every different scenario. And having a friend tribe doesn’t mean you need to talk or see each other all the time to tap into that powerful resource. Think of it this way: “[W]hat may feel like a challenge to our friendship in the moment—working versus nonworking, kids versus no kids, patiently listening versus speaking up—is almost always temporary,” wrote Heidi Stevens in the Chicago Tribune. “If we stay at each other’s side through it all, eventually the challenges fall away. And all we’re left with are the riches.”
So in honor of Friendship Day, which is on August 7th—heck, in honor of friendship every day—why not take a few minutes to reach out to someone and tell her just how much they mean to you? Send her this article just to say, “hey, you’re my #2 on this list!” After all, what is a treasure chest of riches if we don’t take some time to recognize the gems inside?