This past weekend I vacationed with an all female group to celebrate a dear friend for her bachelorette weekend before her wedding. The retreat lasted a few days, yet I returned home feeling incredibly refreshed and happy. I don’t think I was alone. After the adventures, laughter, and special memories we enjoyed together I was emotionally elated and knew I had been engaging in something the field of Psychology has termed tend and befriend.
It is with this experience fresh in mind, the ladies’ time spent withdrawn from our normal environment, that I plan to introduce the phenomenon referred to as “tend and befriend”. While there is much more to explain beyond this post, this is supposedly a behavior that is more common in women when they reach out and use social connections with other women as a way to manage life’s stressors. It is a form of coping, and I argue a form of thriving as well.
This past weekend is a perfect example of tend and befriend, as an all women getaway was meant to celebrate a bride-to-be while also encouraging a sense of calm in everyone involved in this dramatic and positive life change. So, tend and befriend is a sort of coping that provides a calming effect as women engage fully in social connections with other women. Some studies have recognized the habit of sticking with female groups during duress to be true of human females and female rodents, while male rodents and male humans often prefer to be alone. Why is this so?
The answer to the sex differences is not be entirely certain, but there are a number of suggestions offered by researchers. As this behavior is noticed in both humans and other animals, it is likely to be related to an evolutionary need. One story, found here, suggests that mothers throughout time have needed to care for their young in order for the offspring to survive. In other words, staying put was a choice most likely to promote the survival of the young, while fleeing or fighting were less likely selections because of the low survival rate of the kids after abandonment or physical conflict.
Related to this question of sex difference, some research found here points to the chemical reaction that occurs in women physically as women tend and befriend. There is an additional release of the hormone oxytocin, that has an overall relaxing and stress reducing effect in individual women. It is possible that the same hormone may release in males, although the higher levels of androgens in the male body would counteract the hormone and thus have little to no effect. Men, also, may be socially conditioned (or trained by society’s norms) to choose solitude during times of stress.
All in all, tend and befriend is a behavior that is noticed most often in women as they gather in groups. Doing so has a calming effect related to chemical releases in the body. Read more about tend and befriend in the Wikipedia post on the subject by clicking here, but read with healthy skepticism as not all of it is cited properly.
Have you noticed the benefits of tend and befriend behavior? Do you notice others engaging in this way?