I love and appreciate my male friends, my husband, couples’ dinners and big parties, but I sometimes find myself craving the bracing, rigorous conversation of a group of women together in a room. As time goes by, these nights, when the men are banished or abandoned, are the ones glittering in memory.

On girls’ nights, there is an openness I don’t always feel in other sorts of group settings. As we sit around, some on sofas and chairs, some on the floor, glasses of wine scattered on the coffee table, we talk about the pressing parts of life. A very young-seeming 14-year-old who suddenly transforms into a full-blown teenager over the course of a single week. A woman who married and had kids with a man who once said, unbeknownst to her, that she was “OK if you put a bag over her head.” A brilliant friend lost to addiction.

It feels like reading a few pages of several absorbing novels all at once. There are flashes of insight. Fantastic stories about strangers. Little intriguing snippets. There is nothing like the intensity of a group of women cutting to the heart of things.

Sometimes we embark on what I can only describe as elaborate gossip projects that extend over more than one meeting. These are particularly mystifying, juicy quandaries within our extended social circles. Gossip in the highest sense of the word (and probably the lowest mixed in there too).

I have a feeling that if a man were to wander in for 20 minutes he might think this part of the conversation was “mean” or “brutal,” but he would be missing some layers. Beneath the sharp observations, the cutting analyses and the jokes are also compassion, a deep desire to sort things through and a genuine effort to figure out how to live a good life.

In these all-female settings, we have exhilarating conversations where you almost want to go home and take notes. I like the feeling of ideas buzzing, of not being able to fall asleep because you are going over things in your mind. It reminds me of an earlier phase of life—say, college or right afterward—when you stay up talking with friends until the sky is streaked with pink, some ancient excitement unearthed.

Why is a women-only setting so freeing? Though I hesitate to make sweeping, irresponsible generalizations about huge swaths of the population, women are usually better than men at analyzing a human situation (or maybe I should say generally more inclined toward this type of conversation). With couples, we tend to become our correct adult selves. The conversation often turns to schools, vacations, renovations, television, when what we want to talk about is human tragedy or betrayal or love or aspiration or grand-scale delusion or crushing disappointment.

Men, through no fault of their own, have a diluting effect. I think, unconsciously, some of us maybe feel we need to be nicer or more tactful or less brazen or less revealing if there are men in the room. There may still be some invisible pressure to perform a softer or showier or more attractive version of ourselves. Or maybe we just water down the conversation out of habit.

In a mixed gathering, there will also be the man telling a funny story. The man being clever about politics. The man discussing a work thing. Men, in other words, needing attention of one kind or another—an audience. Not that this can’t be fun, but it is a different kind of fun from what I’m talking about.

In 1928 Virginia Woolf made a point that I sometimes think about: “Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle.” I think we still do this a little bit. We still have to spend some portion of our evenings reflecting back the figure of a man at twice his natural size.

For me, in terms of socializing, girls’ nights have become the pure high. I always want to collect my women friends together: my old female friends, whom I have known forever, a comfort, a sustenance, and the newer friends, exciting, intriguing.

I have also noticed that even when there are women there who have just met, or women who don’t know each other well, we can still dive right into a remarkably honest, open conversation. We can still broach deep or intimate or revealing topics. The usual borders and boundaries are expanded. There is barely any boring conversation. It may be that women can access an intimacy in larger groups that men tend to preserve for one on one.

The next morning we text each other: We should do this again soon! We always think that after a women-only night. When will the next one be? As I’m clearing dishes and throwing wine bottles into the recycling, I have the feeling that progress has been made.

Even at couples’ dinners recently, while the men stand in another room, I notice myself communing with women on a couch, seeking out a mini girls’ night in the middle of a dinner party. It’s there, in these momentary clumps of women, where we reproduce bursts of intimacy, where the real human connection occurs.

I’m not starry-eyed or utopian or sentimental about women. I see the jealousies and jostling and difficulties women sometimes have with each other. I’m talking only about the potential for transcendent conversation that a group of women can have when sitting around a room together. It is somehow ten thousand times easier to share intimacies, to confess outlandish or shocking opinions, to puzzle through complex situations, with only women.