HOUSTON — Who knew Leslie Knope was on to something when she threw a party for her girlfriends during an episode of the popular TV show Parks and Rec.

“What’s Galentine’s Day?" asked the fictional character. "Oh, it’s only the best day of the year. Every February 13th, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home and we just come and kick it breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies."

A decade later, Galentine's Day is celebrated across the country. But unlike the TV show, female friendships can go beyond brunch.

Doctors and researchers say a good gal pal can literally save and extend a woman's life. 

"So when men get married, their lives get longer. Their life expectancy goes up," said Dr. Jessica Rohr. "Women don’t enjoy the same benefits from marriage. However, women who have female friendships have longer life expectancy than women who don’t have female friendships."

Rohr is an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. The psychologist helps women navigate life through services offered at the Menninger Clinic. 

"Female social engagement is so important for our mental health," she said. "It’s important for physical health. We live longer. We don’t get sick as much."

And research shows if a woman has a great female friend by her side, she can help her beat cancer. 

Rohr says it's easier for most women to develop emotional intimacy with each other because women want to be heard and validated. When a woman's needs are not met, "Loneliness is one of the most harmful experiences that somebody can have," said Rohr. 

HOW A LACK OF HEALTHY FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS CAN LEAD TO LONELINESS 

"When people are lonely it does increase their risk for depression, in addition to a lot of other things like heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure," said Dr. Winston Liaw. "Loneliness does increase our risk for premature death… by about the same amount as smoking 10-15 cigarettes per day."

Liaw, a professor at the University of Houston, studies loneliness. He's the chair of the UH Department of Health Systems and Population Health Science. 

You can read his research on how loneliness affects physical health. 

He also wrote an article that was published in the Annals of Family Medicine that explores the connection between loneliness and where you live. 

"I think a lot of times people feel like something’s wrong, and that happens a lot, where we feel like something’s not quite right," said Liaw. "But we can’t name it. We don’t have the words to describe how we’re feeling. We don’t even know that’s a condition people can feel."

He recommends THIS PODCAST which focuses on the loneliness epidemic. 

And, if you're one of the thousands of women who moves to Houston each year, you may not know how to make a new friend. 

TRYING TO MAKE NEW FRIENDS? TRY SWIPING LEFT OR RIGHT

It's why Bumble, the popular dating app, created Bumble BFF in 2016. It's a friend-finding feature on the app that works just like the dating app. According to Bumble, Houston is one of the top five cities that use Bumble BFF the most. We're talking women between the ages of 23 and 39. 

RELATED: Trying to make a new friend? Swipe right!

As of January 2020, more than 35 million connections have been made on Bumble BFF and over 200 million messages have been sent on Bumble BFF globally. 23 to 29 is the most popular age group to use Bumble BFF and the app is also for men. 

Bumble BFF is a friend-finding app
Bumble

The company says the number of men who use the friend-finding features has increased 55 percent in the past year. 

Lizzie and Christine both live in the Houston area and formed a friendship with the help of the app. 

“I was new to the city of Houston. All of my close girlfriends lived in other cities, and at this age, I knew that having a quality female friendship was very important to me," wrote Christine. "One night, I discovered Bumble BFF and was swiping along when I saw Lizzie's profile. We swiped right, chatted up a storm, and set our first date at Wooster's Garden."

"We had never been on a Bumble BFF 'date'/meet-up before, so we were a little nervous. Over drinks we had discussed many things including our families, travels, favorite shows. Three strong cocktails and several hours later, we joked as if it were the end of a romantic date and said things like 'This was great. Would you like to do this again soon?' in a somewhat awkward manner," wrote Christine. "Our second date was at a Frida-themed event at a Mexican restaurant in Houston. Guests were encouraged to dress up as Frida, and she did so without hesitation. Bonding over Frida Kahlo, delicious Mexican food, and dressing up, I knew I had found a lasting friendship."

Two Houston women form friendship with help of Bumble BFF
Bumble

BOTTOM LINE, FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS ARE A WISE INVESTMENT

"Female friendships are really magical," said Rohr. 

"So that’s actually, I think, the really powerful piece about loneliness," said Liaw, "is that we are actually each others medicine."

How female friends can LITERALLY save your life!

KHOU 11 Reporter Melissa Correa gathered gals and their pals for a candid conversation about the importance of female friendship.

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