My female friendships have come a long way. In my youth, I was always the “guy’s girl”— as in “friends” with a bunch of guys and “acquaintances” with women. Looking back, I can now see why. Being friends with the dudes meant that I could keep a distance that didn’t require vulnerability–or competition. The boys never asked too many questions, and we tended to keep things light. I was the ultimate wing woman, free to make mistakes without the judgment of another women’s view of who I should be. In full honesty, I wasn’t exactly sure who I was or what I wanted to be, so this all felt like a safe space.

Fast forward to late adulthood and I could’t imagine my life without my girls. It’s easier now that I’m sure of who I am and what I stand for. To be fair, it’s probably inevitable that I would come to this place with a gang of girls. But I didn’t know until later in life all the power and strength that lies within female friendships. From how to navigate my career in a man’s world to sharing the joys and fears of motherhood—it’s all there. My female friendships lift and fill me up in a way my friendship with men cannot. So, this all got me thinking: Why was I so afraid of getting close to women? What was so complex and confusing about those relationships?

While popular culture has given us female friendship gems like Lena Dunham’s Girls and Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, most romantic comedies include female best friends who help give context to the heroine and push her toward her love interest. The fact is, female friendship is deeply complex and overflowing with nuance, but there are also few bonds more beautiful or rewarding.

Why Female Friendships Aren’t Just a Nice-to-Have

Female friendships are essential to our health and they can even help us live longer lives. Have you ever experienced that warm, elated feeling you get after leaving dinner with your best gal pal? Platonic closeness gives us a healthy, stress-busting boost of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—all vital to emotional wellbeing and physical longevity. Now more than ever, the intimacy we share with friends helps us avoid feelings of isolation, increases our sense of belonging, and helps us cope with the world around us.

In a society that considers romantic relationships to be the be-all and end-all, women can find friendships elusive and difficult to maintain—especially in adulthood. With that said, it’s never too late to build new relationships with women or work on the ones we already have. Plus, knowing the many benefits of friendship is a great reason to start investing in them in a new or different way. So what’s the secret to lifelong friendships?