Monthly Archives: March 2010

Make Two Friends and Call Me In the Morning

If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you might be under the impression that I’m on the search for a new BFF solely because I need someone to join me for a manicure, or because I want a Grey’s Anatomy-watching buddy (yes, I know I’m the only person still tuning in), or because I’m just generally fascinated by friendship and all aspects of social interaction. All of that is true, but there’s more to it. There are some pretty amazing health benefits to surrounding yourself with friends. I’d like to live, relatively healthfully, for a long time. If the research out there is accurate, having lots of friends will add years to my life, increase my chances of surviving breast cancer, delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, stave off colds, help me sleep and lower my blood pressure. Amazingly, in many of these cases, having a spouse or close family doesn’t have a comparable (or any) effect. Friends, as it turns out, are the miracle drug.

• A recent study of Australians aged 70 or older found that participants with extensive networks of good friends were 22% more likely to survive the next 10 years than were those with fewer friends. Having close relatives had no impact on survival, and the effect remained steady even if the participant lost a spouse during the decade.

• A 2006 study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that those who had 10 or more close friends pre-diagnosis were four times as likely to survive than women with “low levels of social integration.” Having a spouse had no impact.

• Harvard researchers studied the effect of large social networks on brain health as we age, and found that—surprise!—“social integration delays memory loss in elderly Americans.”

Both breast cancer and Alzheimer’s run in my family, so you can see why this quest is an important one. It’s not just about the short-term satisfaction of having someone to invite to girl’s night. If I succeed, it could have lifelong effects for me, my husband, and my family. There’s no definitive answers (yet) as to why friendships have such a strong influence on health, but here’s a guess: More friends means more people to convince you to quit smoking, get that weird mole checked out, put down the ice cream, and get back out there before the bummer of a break-up turns into full-fledged depression. And while “did you apply enough sunscreen?” sounds like nagging when it comes from the mom or the husband, it becomes thoughtful concern when uttered by a friend. But that’s just a peon’s hypothesis.

Have you ever seen the effects of friendship on your physical health? Do you trust the research? Does it seem odd to you that friendship is so much more important to health than family is?

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Filed under The Hard Facts

Queer Eye for the Straight Girl

This past Sunday, I was driving to meet a potential new BFF (I have a good feeling about this one!) and was listening to Ryan Seacrest interview Lady Gaga on his Casey Casem-esque radio countdown. I’m a little late to the Lady Gaga train, but now I’m fully on board. For a woman whose outfits are so out of this world, she seems surprisingly down to earth in interviews. I was particularly struck when she told Ryan that she attributes her fearlessness to her gay friends.

“My friendships with my gay friends, they are so pure because gay men, they don’t want anything from you except your love and friendship. I’ve had that my whole life and I really value it so much.”

I’ve actually been thinking about this quite a bit. I need a gay best friend. Or, as one woman I know says, a best gay. Gaga’s point is a good one: Friendships with gay men are unique. They don’t involve the competition or jealousy that can turn a true female friendship into a toxic one, and there’s not the sexual tension that makes supposedly platonic straight-male-female friendships anything but.

Will & Grace is perhaps my favorite sitcom (tied only with Friends, appropriately enough). I’ve always wanted what they had, or, really, what Jack and Karen had. I know plenty of gay men, of course. One of the most memorable nights of my life involved me, a gay guy, dancing my heart out in the middle of a sports bar, and a late-night/early-morning race to IHOP (thanks Jed!). But I’ve never had an intimate friendship with a gay man—not the kind Lady Gaga was referring to, and certainly not the stuff of Will and Grace. Gaga told Ryan she almost deleted a scene from a music video because she wasn’t happy with the way she looked. She kept it in, she says, because her gay friends told her she looked fearless. It takes a lot of trust in another person’s opinion, and an iron-clad belief that they have your best interests at heart, to release a video to the world in which you’re unhappy with your looks.

That’s not to say female friendships can’t have the same level of intimacy, but the gay BFF seems a special breed. And I want one. So the question is, what to do now? A co-worker friend offered to take me to showtunes night at a nearby gay bar. This is a win-win situation, as even if I don’t meet the gay man of my dreams, I might get to sing a ditty from A Chorus Line or The Sound of Music.

Do you agree that the female/gay-male relationship is a vital one? Does a gay man bring something to a friendship that a woman-to-woman BFFship lacks? Or is Lady Gaga just a looney toon who wears outfits made of Kermit puppets? Discuss.

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Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, The Gender Gap, The Search

Friend Finding 101

The last time I made a conscious effort to win over potential BFFs I was an awkward, eager 18-year-old—one of about 2,000 college freshman looking for the same thing—so I was feeling a little rusty when I started this search. But when you cannonball into the friend-dating pool, you learn a lot…fast.

So, here, the strategies I’ve developed so far. Call it Friend Finding (Woman Wooing?) 101. The first five tips were included (in more detail) in an essay I wrote about a month ago. The others are new. All 10 may seem obvious, but I’ve found that the no-brainers are the easiest to forget.

1) Facebook is there for a reason. You may have 50 online friends who live in your area but whom you’ve only met once. I subscribe to the belief that if we can be virtual friends, we can be the face-to-face kind. Reach out to anyone in your Facebook network (or MySpace or Friendster, if those sites even still exist) you think might have potential. Utilizing the Facebook message system gives your approach a casual feel before you take the friendship offline.

2) Make the first move. If you’re a woman who’s used to being wooed, you might forget that friend-dating isn’t the same as romantic dating. If you defer to the potential BFF to ask you out, you could be waiting forever. Every girl likes brunch. Just invite her for an omelette.

3) Tell your old friends you’re in the market for new ones. After I started this blog, a long-distance friend sent me the names of three girls she knew in Chicago. When I asked her why she hadn’t told me about them earlier, she said she’d figured I already had my own crew. Lesson learned.

4) Make the second move, too. The rules of friendship may call for reciprocation, but until you are actual friends, rules don’t apply.

5) Join, join, join. I’m in two book clubs. I’ve done cardio hip hop and yoga classes. I want to start a ladies poker game. I’m even toying with the idea of joining Weight Watchers (lots of girl dates=lots of wine and cheese).

6) Be up for adventure. It’s easier to create an insta-bond when you’re both outside your comfort zone. Plus, you’re more likely to create a memory at a roller rink or fortune teller than a diner.

7) Give second chances. First dates, any kind, can be awkward. If someone you weren’t so keen on asks you to get together again, say yes. One more date can’t hurt, and it might turn out that she doesn’t truly have a potty mouth, she just curses like a sailor when she’s nervous.

8 ) Listen. I used to be so worried there’d be uncomfortable lulls in conversation that whenever a friend-date spoke, I’d be working on my next line instead of hearing what she was saying. Nothing says “I’m a good friend who listens” than being a good friend who listens. Referencing something she said earlier does not go unnoticed.

9) Admit your girl crush. We all just want to be liked. If you really feel like there’s a mutual connection, some breezy version of “Oh we’re totally going to be BFFs!” at the end of the date isn’t scary, it’s endearing.

10) Assume others are looking for the same thing. Everyone wants good friends. Don’t present yourself as the sad sack who can’t find anyone to play with at recess. No, you’re the strong independent woman who wants to expand your social horizons. Own it.

Did I miss anything? Think any of my tips are off-base? Got advice of your own? Do tell!

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Filed under The Search

Rule It Out

I like rules. Not the “Be home by midnight” kind or the “You’re not allowed to go the homecoming party” kind. (What, just because I was 14 and the party, which was in Manhattan, would be dripping with alcohol and pot, and my father, the Assistant Principal, sent letters to all the parents warning them of the dangers of this annual event, just because of these minor factors I had to stay home watching Boy Meets World while my friends were likely hooking up with seniors? It was, like, so unfair.) But I like rules of thumb. Easy maxims I can live by.

It’s hard to follow too many rules at once, and mine are constantly changing. Matt gets a real kick out of my kicks. He’s been known to scream, to no one in particular, “She’s on a new kick!” when I tell him whichever rule is the latest. Like when I gave up caffeine, or declared Slow Cooker Sundays, or vowed to share three good things that happened that day before going to bed each night.

Right now I (am trying to) subscribe to two rules:

1) “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself,” from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules
2) “Never postpone any task that can be completed in less than one minute,” from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project

There are a gagillion books dedicated to the rules of dating, but I’ve been trying to track down some friend-making rules. Guidelines I can adhere to, today, to help me find my BFF. This is where you want to tell me that building relationships is personal and must be handled on a case-by-case basis, I know. But still, I want a roadmap.

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with Shasta Nelson, the founder of GirlfriendCircles.com. It’s a site that sets women up in small groups to meet and hopefully make friends. We talked about how it’s often easy to go on a first friend-date, but the follow-up is tricky. Do I call the next day? Email? How soon is too soon to ask her out again? Can I strike the right balance between friendly and needy? It’s like I got married and was then promptly thrown back in the dating pool.

Before she started the site, Shasta was a life coach. She told me that she’s found—anecdotally, not scientifically—that women need to see each other twice a month for three months before they consider each other friends. This is a rule I can get on board with.

There’s no one in Chicago I’ve seen that often other than family, Matt and coworkers (probably why I’m sitting here typing this up instead of watching Project Runway with my Chitown BFF. Duh). My book clubs are once a month, which seems pretty often. But it makes sense that I’d need to up that if I want to take a friendship to the next level. So I’m adding this to the rulebook. Now, when I meet someone promising, I’ll hear Shasta in my head and make the effort to get a second date on the books within 30 days. Love it.

Do you think Shasta’s rule has merit? Are there any friendship rules you live by? Or any rules you live by at all (I’m always looking to add to my collection)? Or is life about going with the flow and I just need to lighten up?

A quick housekeeping note: I was lucky enough to write two blog guest posts this month. The first, at The Friendship Blog, introduces my search…and has a photo! The second, at Embracing the Detour, is about choosing to move to Chicago when my career dreams were in New York. The blogmaster over there said of this blog, “It’s fun, it’s witty, it’s heartfelt.  A trifecta of bloggy awesomeness.” This makes me want to marry her. Thanks so much to  Irene and Lauren for hosting me.

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Filed under The Search

Friendship Envy…Frenvy?

A coworker asked me last week if my closest friends—the ones in New York, Boston, San Fran and beyond—are upset about my search. Her closest friends all live near each other, mostly in rural Illinois, and she said if she embarked on this quest, they’d get jealous.

My friends are certainly not bothered. Just the opposite, really. They’re thrilled. They’re my best friends—isn’t that what it means to be a BFF? To encourage the other’s passion? To be supportive, not envious, when she takes a big scary leap into the unknown? And to be confident enough in your relationship that you don’t discourage new ones? My closest friends want me to be happy, not lonely, and they’re all perfectly aware that they don’t live in Chicago. Sure, they’d love to be the ones to join me for a bite or drive me to the airport when Matt can’t, but that would entail them moving here, which isn’t exactly in the cards (no matter how hard I try to woo them away from their shoebox Manhattan apartments with Chicago’s space-to-dollar ratio).

When I started this project, Sara and Callie (the lifelong BFFs) sent flowers to my office. The card read: “You are a rock star! We are so proud of you. We’ll always be your oldest and most admiring BFFAEs.” (Best friends forever and ever, that is. It’s fifth grade lingo.) I know. They are some friends. You can see why I’m struggling to find people who compare.

Over the past week I’ve wondered why my coworker’s friends might react badly if she, too, were to start a BFF search. I haven’t asked her about this since that conversation seven days ago, but it seems fairly obvious that if they would be annoyed or jealous, then they must be really nervous about her moving out to the big city and forgetting about them. Maybe they think she’s outgrowing them; maybe they’re scared she might replace, rather than supplement, them.

Jealousy in friendships is a very real thing. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but who are we kidding? My own moments of BFF insecurity are strongest, strangely enough, when I’m actually with said best friends. Out here in Chicago, it’s hard to truly know what I’m missing. But when I go to a high school friend’s wedding and see how close everyone still is and hear them talk about friends of friends—new additions to the group I’ve never even met—I get more than a tinge of envy. I should be a part of this. That new kid should want to know me. And suddenly I’m so busy wishing I was more a part of things that I’ve forgotten to enjoy the time when I’m actually able to be a part of things. I know that old friends grow geographically distant as we grow up. It’s something I have to get used to. But when you’re one of the only people who has left, it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing out.

My coworker’s friends aren’t crazy at all. I still think that if anyone in that scenario (which I really know nothing about and probably have no business blogging about) should be jealous, it’s my coworker. But I’m sure there’s something very real to the fear that a friend is moving up and moving on. Plus, she’s getting married soon, which seems to spark a whole different set of will-she-love-him-and-forget-about-me fears, to be discussed another day.

Does there come a time when friendship envy (frenvy?!?) ceases to exist? Or is jealousy a universal emotion that we just handle better as we age? Am I a complete lunatic for admitting that there are times I feel left out, as if I was still on the school playground rather than the frontlines of the real world? I’m ok with the admission, because the truth is that my BFFs won’t be surprised to hear it. They know I’m a little bit crazy, and, somehow, they love me anyway.

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Filed under The Search

She Liked Me, She Really Liked Me!

Last Friday, I blogged about a blog about… me. I’d gotten drinks with a potential friend a few nights earlier and the next day she friended me on Facebook (“to friend” is a verb now, right? Did I use that correctly?). While engaging in some very important office procrastination social networking, I happened upon her blog. And even though it’s out there, like this blog is, for all the world to see, something about reading it felt sneaky. Like I was getting a deeper glimpse into her psyche than I was supposed to after only one outing. Of course, I forgot about any stalker-esque guilt I might’ve had when I saw that her most recent post was about our BFD (that’s her term, short for Blind Friend Date). She wrote about how she was nervous and hoped I was normal and that the whole thing didn’t feel too job interviewy (I had the same concerns).

So I posted about her post about me. And now it’s getting even more meta as I’m posting about her post about the unnecessary nerves of her first post, which I wrote about in Friday’s post. Follow?

The moral of the story is: I passed! To quote my new potential friend: “Our time was fun, easy and interesting. Nothing like a job interview, or even like a real blind date, where there might be awkward lulls or uncomfortable staring contests across the table. I was sad she does not watch Lost but happy that she was up to snuff with celebrity gossip. I could not share her affinity for Survivor (still!) but we both got excited talking about all things wedding-related (I am engaged, she got married not too long ago).” For the record, Survivor is still really good. This season is one of the best in a while. When it comes to TV, as with friends, I am loyal to the core. I do not give up just because Jeff has yelled “Come on in, guys!” more times than I can count.

Now that I’ve read two of her blog posts, which were—shockingly, I know—about more than just me, I feel like I’m starting to really know this woman. Which brings up an issue I’ve been curious about: Do Facebook and blogs and Twitter and LinkedIn and the like make it easier for us to make new friends, or harder? I see how it might be easier in the sense that, if you’re Facebook friends, you can get to know a potential BFF pretty well before you’ve even met. You might know her favorite books or TV shows. You might’ve seen pictures from her wedding. If she’s a frequent status updater, you might know what she did last summer. Or last night. Suddenly you’ve fast-forwarded through the awkward could-we-be-friends stage and have arrived at the meat of friendship building.

All of that said, I don’t really believe it. Because as my brother once observed, “Everyone knows that everyone else Facebook stalks. But you don’t just admit it!” I may know exactly how many weeks pregnant someone is, but to say “how’s week 27 treating you?” before we’ve met face-to-face seems creepy. So I check out her profile and she reviews mine, but then we meet and pretend to know nothing. And I’m no actor, so it would be a lot easier if I actually knew nothing.

Does technology help us connect with others? Or does it just allow us to have a boatload of superficial relationships—I have 500 facebook friends!—while hindering our ability to connect on deeper levels? I lean toward the former, but here I am blogging, so I’ll register as undecided for now.

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Famous Friendships: The BSC!

If you’ve gotten to know me through my last 12 posts, you’ve probably come to learn that I’m a huge nerd (in the most lovable way, of course). If you’ve known me forever and read these posts because you are both fascinated by my every written word and you want to support everything I do, well then you’ve likely known about my nerdiness for some time. Either way, it won’t surprise you that when I read that Scholastic is bringing back The Babysitter’s Club next month, I was elated. The famed Ann M. Martin will be writing a prequel—The Summer Before will trace the lives of the inaugural BSC members, well, the summer before—and the publisher will be bringing back the first two volumes of the series, which, in its 14-year run had 213 titles total (if you count the Super Specials, Kristy’s Little Sister books, et al).  I’m a bit worried that bringing back only the first two won’t be enough to get kids hooked—early set-up novels are never the best in a series, which is why I still get crazy when someone tells me they started reading Harry Potter but couldn’t get through it. That invariably means they’ve only read the first two—but it’s a start. Books #3-5 are scheduled for re-issue later next year.

There was a time when I collected all of these books. I can still picture them lined up, in numerical order, in the upper left section of my childhood bookshelf. Then, like all stupid kids, I told my mom it would be fine to get rid of them. I was too old for kid books, anyway. Until I wasn’t, and I went searching in Barnes & Noble, only to find that they were out of print.

The Babysitter’s Club is one of the earliest examples of pop culture completely skewing my expectations of friendship. I read the stories of Kristy, Mary Ann, Stacey, Claudia and related to each of them—Kristy’s a tomboy! Mary Ann’s shy! Claudia loves candy!—and thought there was absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t host my own BSC. Why shouldn’t my BFFs come over every other day for half an hour? And of course we should start a small business. And sure there would be fights but everything would get worked out in about 200 pages.

The BSC was a fearsome foursome long before anyone had ever heard of Carrie Bradshaw and her merry band of horny pals (until California girl Dawn came along and they became a fivesome. And then came the alternate officers…) Over the course of the series, and the Disney Channel show (whose theme song is currently playing on repeat in my head), and the movie, I developed an expectation of what friendship should be. In my youth, that expectation was reinforced by Blossom and Six, Beaches, Sweet Valley High, Kate and Allie, even Cory and Shawn (yes they were boys, but they were BFFs of the highest order). I didn’t just want but I expected to have that one friend with whom I was attached at the hip. I’m only half-embarrassed to admit  I vividly recall the trip my elementary school BFF and I took to the mall to buy “Blossom hats” and fight over who got to be Six (Jenna Von Oy was so much cooler than Mayim).

Cultural models of relationships start early. Even when we’re young, it’s impossible to avoid outside influences on how our families should behave (like the Huxtables, of course, or the Von Trapps), what our parent’s marriages should look like (like the Huxtables, of course, or the Von Trapps), or what our friendships should entail.

Did any pop culture BFFs give you unrealistic expectations of friendship? Are there TV or movie friendships that you once tried to emulate? Clearly someone out there still yearns to go to Central Perk. Do tell!

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Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, Famous Friendships

Just One of the Guys

I spent the weekend with friends. The old kind, friends I’ve known since college with whom I can sit around in my sweats debating whether Barack has cheated on Michelle (God, I hope not) and why I can’t get on board with Idol, and in the same breath discuss career plans and hopes for the future. Here’s the one thing: These friends are men.

Matt (the husband) and I went to college together and I spent a healthy chunk of my senior year in his apartment, so his buddies are mine, too. Three of those friends hailed to the Windy City this weekend for their fantasy baseball draft. (There is a truly amazing force at work with fantasy sports leagues, one that propels grown men to buy plane tickets from Los Angeles or New York City or Scranton to sit in a hotel room and draft an imaginary team while overdosing on chicken wings. That can’t have been fantasy’s intended purpose, but the leagues are like a built-in bonding mechanism for men. I’m clearly jealous.) One friend stayed with us for the weekend, the other two I saw over dinner and drinks. It was easy in that familiar I-don’t-have-to-be-on-right-now-to-see-if-we-are-a-perfect-match kind of way.

When I first told people I was going to take my BFF quest from “one will show up eventually” to “I’m going to go out and find one now,” somebody asked me if I’d thought about men.

“Oh, gay men? For sure. I definitely want a gay best friend.”

“Not necessarily,” she said. “Gay or straight, just, have you thought about befriending men.”

I told her that it seemed odd to try to befriend a straight guy. I’ve been informed by plenty—and memorized enough Will & Grace to know—that the gay best friend is perhaps the best companion. But trying to turn a heterosexual man into my new BFF seemed like a dicey endeavor. If a straight guy were to be my best friend, shouldn’t it be Matt? He’s not the jealous type (to the point where I’ve heard myself say ‘aren’t you just a little jealous?’), but if he were out of town and I spent a Friday night drinking wine and catching up on Survivor with another testosterone-filled body, wouldn’t that be weird?

It wouldn’t be an issue if it were one of these long-standing college friends. I’ve spent countless nights with them, relishing in my acceptance as just one of the guys. In fact, on Saturday night I was the only female at dinner with eleven men, a fact not lost on the waitress who let out an aren’t-you-brave chuckle when I arrived. But could I make a new BFF, tomorrow, who was a straight guy? Wouldn’t that be opening myself up to some sort of drama or confusion down the road? Or do I sound like a nervous middle school girl?

It brings us back to the question that’s as old as time, or at least as old as When Harry Met Sally. Can men and women be friends? Can two heterosexual adults, otherwise engaged or not, have a meaningful, platonic BFFship? I’m on the fence. You?

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Filed under The Gender Gap

Being Social in a Social Media World

The other night I got drinks with a woman who reached out after reading my essay on CNN.com. She moved to Chicago from California about five years ago and lives with her fiancé, but said she could relate to my plight because while she has girlfriends here, they are mostly younger and in different life stages and just not the same as her BFFs from home. So we made a date.

It went really well—easy chatter, a few beers, important discussion about E! news and John Ritter (separately, of course). We talked about friendship in today’s world, both acutely aware that we were looking to see if we gelled. I thought we did.  One date does not a BFF make, but still, it was encouraging.

Yesterday we became Facebook friends and on her page I noticed she too has a blog. Like any good Facebook stalker, I checked it out. The most recent post is dated March 17. The first sentence: “I haven’t really written much about this, but I am going on a Blind Friend Date tonight.” Oh my god this post is about me!!! I couldn’t believe it. This really is friend-making in the digital age. Here I am writing a post about her post about my post… or something.

I get that it’s silly to be surprised that someone else is blogging about our date when here I am doing the same thing. But still, I am surprised. Blogging is new to me, and though I know there’s a big bad blogosphere out there, I know very few other people personally who participate. When you spend your life as the observer, you forget that somewhere someone’s watching you.

Social media has completely revamped relationships. There’s a fascinating article in today’s New York Times about couples fighting over Facebook. I’ve heard plenty of stories of friends getting angry over someone else’s away message, or employees dissecting Twitter for a clue to their boss’s mood. The Times article captures the reason my husband refuses to go on Facebook or Twitter or any such site…he didn’t even have Instant Messenger in college. Too many opportunities to be misunderstood and create unnecessary drama, he said. This article proves his point. We live in a world where you can google or facebook a date (of the romantic or friend variety) in advance, and find a cyberspace recap of the outing the next day.

It’s a voyeur’s fantasy, but does it change how I should approach this search? The last time I consciously went looking for friends,  a facebook was an actual book, printed on actual paper, with the names and majors of my freshman classmates. Things are a tad different now.

On her blog, my girl-date said she was nervous. Really? I never would have known. She worried that she had no idea what she’d say. Could’ve fooled me, the conversation was seamless. She wrote, “All I can do is be myself and know there is a mutual camaraderie in the fact that we are even brave enough to do this.” So true. In closing, she made a promise. “I will keep you posted on how it goes, good or bad.”

I’m waiting on the edge of my seat.

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Filed under The Search

Up In the Air

I’ve taken four flights in the past two weeks, and each one rated differently on the shoot-me-now-I-hate-the-airlines scale. One, my flight home from LA, went pretty much according to plan. Two were delayed a mere hour, though the turbulence on my flight to New York sent my stomach into my throat a few times. The fourth was one of those airport experiences where you want to rip your own arm off just to have something to throw at the gate agents. I got to LaGuardia three hours early in hopes of getting on an earlier standby flight and things looked promising. There were three flights scheduled before mine. But no luck. The first was full. The second was full, but then a guy told me I should go back and check because he’d cancelled his seat and I could have it. When I got to the gate, the agent stopped me before I could open my mouth. “We’re full.”

“A gentleman just told me…”

“We’re full honey.” It makes me crazy when a stranger is unbelievably rude and uses a term of endearment in the same sentence.

For the third flight, scheduled an hour before mine, I stood in line before the agent even opened the ticket counter. Eventually she arrived, typing a million keystrokes before giving any indication she saw me standing there (it’s so obvious they’re just clicking away, wondering how long they can go without looking up. Airport gates are the only place it’s standard to completely ignore someone, and I’m too terrified to even breathe too loudly, lest they add me to some no-fly list. They are drunk with power). She eventually acknowledged me, only to tell me that, oh, we don’t do standby anymore. Apparently, American Airlines now prohibits non-gold or platinum customers to fly standby altogether. Went into effect Feb. 22 I was told. Consider yourself warned. I could book a seat on that flight, she said, for another $50, but at that point I had some work to keep me busy and I couldn’t bring myself to give them one more dollar.

An hour later I boarded my flight and sat next to a girl who seemed very nice. According to her daily planner, she went (maybe now, maybe once upon a time) to St. John’s University. I wondered why she was headed to Chicago, if she too was from New York, if she was destined to be my new best friend. Flying so often has me thinking about meeting people on planes. You’re confined to a small space for an extended period of time, and are on the same journey, literally. But she went to sleep as soon as we took off, and you do not mess with someone who wants to nap on a flight.

When we landed there was a backup at the gate, obviously. The captain said we’d be sitting on the plane at least another half hour. My neighbor muttered something about hating the airlines. I gave her a sympathetic half-smile. She told me she’d been scheduled on a flight at 9 the night before. Her flight was delayed for 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes, then another, until they boarded at 1:30. Only once they were seated was it announced that the pilots had maxed out their flying time and her flight was cancelled. I told her I’d had a crappy flying day too, though hers trumped mine. It was a brief chat—we finally deplaned—but struck me because of how it all started.

No one wants to be friends with a downer. Gossip and hating on others is not the stuff of life-long friendships. But studies show that having a common enemy is one of the surest ways to bring people together. In fact, a 2006 study found that two people are more likely to bond over a mutual dislike of someone than a mutual affection for that person. (Any girl who has survived middle school knows this to be true.) The authors write, “If there is a positive side of gossip, we believe it is that shared, mild, negative attitudes toward others can create and/or amplify interpersonal intimacy.”

I might not teach this to my kids (if I had any), but it’s a nice counterargument to the age-old “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Sometimes I have nothing nice to say, and I can’t keep my mouth shut. And I have nothing nice to say about the airlines. Maybe I should hang out at O’Hare more often.

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