A Season of New Rituals

Fulfilling our intrinsic need for connection through intimate gatherings.
Photography: Morgan Maassen

By Dr. Lea Lis

I miss my friends. I miss parties. I miss weddings, dinners and events. When quarantine is lifted, what will life be like? How can I keep my family safe in the “new normal”? What is the answer? Think small. It’s not about growing our social circle, but diving deeper into the one we already have.

Dr. David Spiegel, the head of psychiatry at Stanford University, said one of the best things a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things she can do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.

In an ancestral environment, intimate bonds were essential to a woman’s survival. During pregnancy or when saddled with young offspring, a woman could not protect herself by running and fighting like men could. Women had to rely on “safety in numbers.”

Females needed the protection of others around their partner, and the other members of the community, to survive. They developed brain pathways to reinforce these social behaviors. Fostering bonds was essential for survival and women got dopamine reinforcements in the brain for doing so. Women are very motivated by physical connections to other women. Time with your girlfriends creates more serotonin, which is another feel-good attachment hormone that can mitigate stress. It is so powerful that it can do as much for women as working out or not smoking.

I went on a women’s retreat to Mexico last winter with Purist. I loved our sharing session, the community of women motivated to connect. It filled our cups.

Last summer, I invited 20 people to my house in the Hamptons for a seven-hour sound meditation. Everyone slept over, and we curated an amazing journey into the mind. My favorite part of the experience was the end, when everyone shared intimate details about their lives. It was beyond touching. It felt like I deepened my connections with people whom I have always admired.

Once the quarantine lifts, it’s unlikely we will be able to go to Mexico, but we can focus on a small group of friends. And this might be able to meet our social needs in ways we don’t even realize.

This is the summer of creating new rituals. I suggest small, intimate events. Intimacy gives us a serotonin boost in a way that not even the best party can. Just remember to focus on intimacy with people who have a positive approach to leading their lives.

We can create new rituals: things like a small anniversary gathering with a thought leader to talk about love and relationships. This can also be an opportunity to go with your besties on a yoga retreat, or create one within your home and invite your friends.

You can host small group cooking classes or start a book club. If you can’t go to a movie, buy a projector and project them on your lawn with friends and some popcorn. Start a music club where a group can all learn to play something new. Get a teacher to come over, and all learn the same song. It would be fun, and I am sure it will provide a ton of laughs.

This is a great summer to reinvent how we socialize, a chance to develop deeper relationships with a smaller group of people, and a chance to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. I am excited by the prospect and plan to focus inward, rather than out.

Dr. Lea Lis, MD, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and author of the upcoming book No Shame: Real Talk With Your Kids About Sex, Self Confidence, and Healthy Relationships. See shamelesspsychiatrist.com for more