I received an email yesterday with an attached study on Friendship Among Women from a few years ago. A couple of woman scientists at UCLA initiated the study after noticing that the women in the lab reacted to stress in different ways than the men while 90% of stress research had been done only on males. The end result is that men react to stress with “flight or flight” patterns while women “tend and befriend”. It turns out that friends help us live longer.
So what does this have to do with my Italian cultural moments?
A long-term American expat woman (and friend) in Rome also received this study and wrote:
“I had read this before…it is probably true and it is sad for us because I think living here we miss that “neighbor” kind of contact with other women that we might have in the States…if I had to state the thing that I missed the most living here it is the friendship of women…girlfriends…chatting everyday...I remember when I came I found some girlfriends through Italian school and exercise classes…but after the first few left and I grieved…I never wanted to get so close again…my last talk everyday girlfriend went sort of mad and disappeared!”
Although not all of us go mad, we do grieve as our fellow foreigners move on. We all have Italian women friends, but we also eventually notice that these friendships are different and that we are, well, foreign, and never, never, break into their souls and inner circle to become friends in a deeper sense of the word. My closest Italian women friends I either inherited from my husband – his high school friends – or they are also foreigners in Rome, from Milan or Catania, while the rest remain close acquaintances.
One Italian / American friend grew up in Rome and attended Italian schools until the end of middle school before continuing at an international school, university in the US and graduate studies in the UK. Back in Rome, she immediately hooked back up with her middle school friends – they are her inner circle in which she finds her closest friendships although nearly 15 years have intervened.
So while the women scientists at UCLA clean up the lab, make coffee and gossip when under stress, we become frustrated and saddened as we seek out Italian women friends with whom we can really get down to tending and befriending.