Sinead Ryan: Guilty about my all-girl getaway? Hell no. I've got science on my side
SSSH! I know there's a recession on but I'm off on a little Stateside jaunt this weekend which I've been looking forward to for ages -- even more so now that Aer Lingus have got their act back together.
"Just yourself and himself?" asked a friend the other day with a smirk. "Romantic weekend for Valentine's?"
Oh right, Valentine's. I felt doubly guilty answering: "No way! Going with my gal pals and you know -- girls just wanna have fun!"
Sure, we love our other halves, and having the kids on holiday is a joy (right?) but nothing, nothing has the same thrill as getting away with gal pals for a few days R&R.
It's good for us -- and in more ways than one. Some might go so far as to venture it's a necessity. And the guilt? It's gone I'm glad to say, because now I have science on my side.
Yes, research by the University of California has shown that the "strong social networks" and "socially rich environment" enjoyed by women help produce Oxytocin -- the happy hormone which is also released during sex and the, er, not quite so delirious time when you're in labour. It's called the 'bonding hormone' and apparently being around your girlfriends brings it on.
Strong friendships make women more resilient and better able to face life's struggles, claim the boffins. That's the posh way of saying it's the Sex And The City effect: Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda went through dozens of men, had their hearts broken, loved and lost but through it all, they had each other.
Oh, and shoes, of course. Even when they had fallen out, they knew it was just a blip. Their friendship (like most good ones) transcended time, age and place. There was quite simply, nothing like it.
It's the reason that women can spend all day with their best friend shopping, talk every subject to death and then come home and spend another hour on the phone with them.
They don't need an excuse, agenda or topic. There doesn't even have to be a reason.
It can annoy some blokes intensely that groups of women can just stop on the street and gab away for ages about seemingly nothing. I reckon they're jealous.
The 'science bit' goes back to the neanderthals, of course. While the men were out hunting and gathering, the women had to make sure that if their homo erectus turned out to be less on target than his mates, she would have enough food to feed her sprogs.
Making friendships and building relationships with other women over the fire meant there was a better chance of getting her to share her portion with you, before lurching back to your cave presumably, and complaining, "did you see the get up of her in that loincloth -- what was she thinking?".
The news gets even better, though. The researchers found that oxytocin stimulation can be acquired. In other words, even if you're the broody, Garbo-esque type who only has her cat for company, you can build up your reserves -- and future happiness -- by manufacturing your own happy hormone.
"You can change your behaviour to increase oxytocin. We found hugging everyone can release [it]. It's just a simple thing you can do. Hugging works".
Don't feel tactile? Well, put more effort into making your circle of friends wider, and it will have the same effect. The close relationships train your brain into tricking it happy. "Now we actually know, not only is the brain set up to care about others, it makes us happy to do so," the report concluded.
More importantly though, it finally answers that most elusive of questions asked by men everywhere: what do women want? Well, the answer's clear. A night out with her friends every so often, and she's all yours for the rest of the time.
Keeping her happy is your job, right?