Every month or so, I receive an e-mail with only three letters in the subject line: "GNO." It doesn't mean anything to my husband or teens when they see the correspondence in my inbox, but for the half-dozen of us who are copied on the e-mail, it represents a much-needed respite from the daily grind. After all, in my circle of friends "GNO" is actually a thinly veiled code for "Girls' Night Out," and the recipients know that the message contains an invitation to an event that invariably involves food, drink and laughter, "Ladies Only"-style.
The designation "Girls" may be misleading to outsiders (our current group ranges in age from 32 to 67), but it describes how we feel and act when we're together, so we embrace the cliché wholeheartedly.
Why do so many women seek each other out for regular get-togethers? Leah Travis, associate marriage and family therapist at New Leaf Resources in Lansing, says, "There are a lot of different theories on why women feel a strong need to connect with other women, and I'm not sure that any one theory is any better than another. If a group of women have connected with each other, they often share similar interests, are at similar life stages, and can support each other within those life stages and through the life transitions that are approaching by sharing their common experiences."
But still, is it selfish to want a "night off" from our husbands and children? Travis says, "The truth is that all people, men and women alike, are wired to desire connection with other people, and often the type of connection that we experience with members of our own gender is just different than the connection that we experience with the opposite sex. Relying solely on a job or single relationship to fulfill all of our needs can be very unhealthy, so having this type of support is extremely positive for women (and men, for that matter), and can help them achieve a sense of balance and greater satisfaction in their lives."
Remember, a GNO doesn't have to be a wild night out on the town, nor does the word "Chippendales" have to come into play. In fact, many groups of friends prefer conversation over chaos, kicking back instead in their own homes for a "Girls' Night In." But however you choose to gather, consider the following tips:
• Meet regularly: Life happens and people get busy, especially moms. Don't wait for everyone to magically have an evening off; instead, set the date and time for the next GNO each time you meet, get it on the calendar and stick to it.
• Take turns: Rotate the responsibility, giving each member of the group the chance to play "host" (the person who decides where to meet and what to do, and coordinates invitations and reminders).
• Change it up: If you're used to meeting on a weeknight, try getting together for brunch on a Saturday. If you usually gather at members' homes, try a new restaurant every once in a while, or go shopping in a neighboring downtown. A new "view" refreshes your context and, in turn, your conversation.
• Be sensitive: Groups of girlfriends have a lot in common, but there are always going to be significant differences that should be accepted graciously before they become deal-breakers. Keep in mind that everyone has specific budget considerations, babysitting issues, energy levels, smoking tolerances and dietary restrictions.
• Honor your commitment: Everyone is busy, and it's easy to back out at the last minute, but don't. Your friends are worth the effort -- and so are you.