Monthly Archives: April 2010

My Life, Only Funnier

Every time I watch Friends, I realize there’s something in the episode that relates directly to this blog.  It’s no surprise that a quest devoted entirely to the sometimes thorny, sometimes hilarious issues of friendship might overlap with a similarly dedicated sitcom. So, just in case you feel like watching some of my blog posts acted out by much skinnier, tanner, Hollywooder people than me (and because I can’t resist this trip into new classic TV nostalgia) (and because it’s Friday, and who needs heavy BFF talk on a Friday), might I direct you to the following episodes:

The One Where Rachel Finds Out
: The question of whether men and women can be just friends was a hot-button issue last month. The ultimate consensus was no, because one is almost always in love with the other. In this case, Ross was in love with Rachel. And then Rachel was in love with Ross. And then Chandler was in love with Monica. The series finale made clear that TV men and women can’t be just pals either—66% of the friends ended up with each other—but the episode where Chandler lets slip that Ross has googly eyes for Rachel was a hilarious portrayal of a gal’s confusion when she learns her man-friend wants more.
Favorite moment:
Ross: I have to go to China.
Joey: The country?
Ross: No no, this big pile of dishes in my mom’s breakfront.


The One with the Videotape:
Even a married couple with four best friends needs couple-friends. Monica and Chandler’s first attempt at wooing another twosome goes less-than-well when they realize the phone number they were given is actually that of a deli. (Side note: Turns out Ross taped Rachel and him doing It.)
Favorite moment:
Ross: Rachel won’t talk to me! She won’t even open the door!
Phoebe: Hmm, I wonder why. Pervert!
Ross: Okay, listen I am not a pervert!
Phoebe: That’s like the pervert motto!

The One with The Tea Leaves: Wondering how to take a friendship to the next level? According to Monica, going to a friend with a problem is a surefire way to speed up the process. So when Joey and Rachel are feeling distant, she asks Joey to help with quite a conundrum: her boss is trying to steal her baby.
Favorite moment:
Mr. Zelner: If I in any way implied that I wanted to buy your baby…I am sorry. Okay? Last week when I asked you when your due date was, I certainly did not mean that I felt that I was due your baby. Yeah, I want to be very clear that I understand that its your baby, and it is not mine to purchase.
Rachel: Well, as long as we are clear about that.

The One with the Kips: If you think a friendship breakup is tough, imagine when a friend needs to separate from the whole gang. After Ross says the wrong name at his wedding, he promises not to hang out with Rachel anymore. Once she hears the news, Rachel worries she’ll get phased out (the slink away!).
Favorite Moment:
Monica: You’re not gonna be phased out!
Rachel: Well, of course I am! It’s not gonna happen to Ross! He’s your brother. He’s your old college roommate. Ugh, it was just a matter of time before someone had to leave the group. I just always assumed Phoebe would be the one to go.
Phoebe: Ehh!!
Rachel: Honey, come on! You live far away! You’re not related. You lift right out.

Tell me, have you ever watched a movie or TV show and thought “this is my life”?

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The Doctor Is In

Dr. Irene S. Levine, aka The Friendship Doctor is a freelance journalist, a professor of psychiatry at the New York University Langone School of Medicine, and  the author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend, a book about female friendships which was based on an online survey she conducted with over 1500 women.

She’s also generous with advice, so I made an appointment for a checkup. I told her my whole spiel: The move, the friends all over the country, the desire for a “meet me in 30 minutes” friend. Then I bombarded her with questions: Is searching for friends crazy? Can our hectic schedules handle spontaneous friendships? Do best friends forever even exist?

And the good doctor wrote:

Dear Rachel,

You’ve posed a number of good questions, many of which keeping popping up in different forms from readers of my blog, The Friendship Blog. I couldn’t possibly answer all of them at one sitting; that would take a book (or two)! But I will address one issue you raised that really resonated with me: How do you make a spontaneous friend?

Having a spontaneous friend is a rare and precious gift. She’s the kind of friend whom you can ask to come over right away to help you decide what to wear tonight—or the friend who’ll be sitting with you as you wait for your repeat mammography that was only scheduled this morning. She’s the person you can call on a Saturday afternoon to go for a walk in the park because the foliage is at its peak—or the one who will run over to TJ Maxx with you within a half hour of closing just to see what’s there.

Friendships like this aren’t easy to come by because a number of things have to coalesce at once: A spontaneous friend lives nearby, feels as close to you as you do to her, shares many of the same interests, is accessible (probably because she is at a similar place in her life as you), and has a flexible schedule or one that seems to effortlessly mesh with yours. Plans aren’t needed because you’re always there for each other, even at the last minute, because your lives are so closely intertwined.

Women’s friendships have become more complicated; we have become more mobile, are more likely to be multi-tasking, and are juggling homes, careers, and family. I have close friends that are far-flung across the map whose career paths have veered from mine. I have busy friends on my block with whom I have to schedule lunch dates weeks in advance. Both are frustrating!

Any significant change in a woman’s life (such as graduations, births, marriages, moves, men, career changes) can topple a spontaneous friendship. I moved 250 miles away from my spontaneous mommy-friend, next-door neighbor, confidant Judy, who modeled much of what I know about parenting because her son was just a couple of years older than mine. My spontaneous work-friend, soulmate Linda, once shared an office with me and we lunched together whenever we wanted to until she moved away from me and changed jobs.

To be honest, I’m experiencing a drought like you. Finding a spontaneous friend doesn’t happen spontaneously. It’s a little bit like finding your Prince. As long as you have the energy to do so, you need to continue to put yourself out there to find your other half (or perhaps more than one) although you shouldn’t make it a full-time preoccupation. You need to pursue your own life and interests, make time for your friendships, and if you’re very lucky—you’ll eventually find someone else whose circumstances, personality and desires are close enough to yours that you click, just like Thelma and Louise or Lucy and Ethel.

Hope this helps answer one of your questions!

Best,

Irene

Thanks Doc!

Do you think spontaneous friendships exist? Seeing how much needs to be aligned at once, I’m not so sure…

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The Hard Facts: Breaking Up Is (Really, Really) Hard To Do

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Experts at Manchester University claim the bonds of friendship are so deep that splitting with even unwanted pals leads to ‘terrible’ guilt. And women in particular find it more traumatic to dump their friends than they do their lovers.” (The Daily Telegraph, April 13, 2010)

Friendship breakups are a loaded topic. I haven’t broached them yet because I haven’t known where to start. I figured I’d wait until I had to break up with someone myself, and then I could come to you all for advice and a rousing chorus of “don’t feel guilty, you’re doing the right thing.” But the truth is that I don’t anticipate a BFF breakup in my future, just as there hasn’t been one in my recent—or distant, actually—past. Because even when there have been times where I thought, “I just need to end this,” I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Too stressful. Too…mean.

But then, two weeks ago, a team of sociologists produced the finding above from a study of more than 200 people. And here we are.

It doesn’t surprise me that, for women, breaking up with a friend carries more guilt than breaking up with a lover. When you enter into a romantic relationship there is an understanding, even if it’s unspoken, that it could end. (I’m thinking lovers=boyfriends/girlfriends in this case, not spouses. Though the study didn’t specify. Just said “lovers.” How European.) With friends, that’s not the case. Sure you might drift apart one day, talk once a month rather than once a day, but the friendship contract is, in theory, never ending.

There’s also the idea that with a romantic relationship, you’re moving towards something, hoping to one day cross the marriage finish line. (Marriage is not for everyone, I know, but the idea is that you’re progressing toward a partnership. It’s that “us against the world” mentality.) If you don’t see a future with a lover, you know you’ve got to end it (eventually). Not really the case for BFFs. With friends, you end it because you can’t handle the present. Because no amount of dodged phone calls or rescheduled dates will relieve the stress of having that person in your life. (The study says that, for women, “slinking away” is the friendship-ending method of choice. We avoid the whole break-up talk. I know that’d be my go-to. More cowardly, but so much less painful than a real confrontation.)

I think dumping a friend is undoubtedly harder than dumping a boyfriend. Telling a buddy that, sorry, I don’t like you anymore…just the thought of it ties my stomach in knots. There is no easy cliché, no “it’s not you it’s me.” With friend breakups, it’s definitely you. You’re toxic. Or you suck the air out of the room. Or you ask too much of me when I have only so much to give. But how in the world do you tell someone that?

Have you had to break up with a friend recently? Did you think it was harder than breaking up with a romantic partner? Do you try the “slink away” approach  first? Either way, was the guilt debilitating?

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It’s Real and It’s Deep

Over the weekend I came across a blog that linked back to me. The author, Jenn, is on a BFF search of her own. She writes, “Juggling work, kids, husbands, boyfriends and families while trying to develop friendships is much harder than it once was! The time I spend with my friends is time something else is not getting done – laundry, housework, yard work, painting, reading…and really I have a fairly tenuous grip on those things anyways! I recently ran across a new blog [this was me… thanks Jenn!] that is asking similar questions. And even though I had been thinking about this issue and in fact had written something last year, I never wanted to publish it because I felt a little, well, crazy. Even though we talk about making friends, and wish for deep connections with others, we don’t really talk about how or why.”

What Jenn says is spot on. People talk plenty about the importance of friendships. We celebrate the great ones. But when it comes to admitting that we want more, or that as adults we’re not entirely sure how to go about finding them—that making friends can be difficult, or hilariously awkward—we clam up. Why?

I think it’s because if you say to someone “I want more friends” what they often hear is “I have no friends.” There’s quite a difference. And wanting more friends must mean you’re lonely, and being lonely must mean you’re….sad.

The Sex and the Citys of the world have made it ok—even encouraged—to scream “I want a man!” from the rooftops. Why haven’t we given ourselves permission to do the same when it comes to friends? Jenn didn’t write her blog post last year because she was worried she sounded nutso. She thought she was the only one. And that’s what I keep hearing from women in the same situation. “I’m so glad I’m not crazy!” “It’s such a relief to hear I’m not alone!”

I toyed with the concept of this BFF search for a while. I knew I was eager to make more close friends locally, but, like Jenn, I felt crazy. I didn’t want people to think I was friendless. Or unhappy. I was neither.

Then I realized that the desire for social connection is universal and biological. As my friend Grace Adler would say, “It’s real and it’s deep.” (Granted she was talking about Jews and chicken, but it works.)  I learned there are plenty of women in the same boat and figured we might as well talk about it. But there are absolutely still days when I feel silly telling people about this quest. I say “I’m searching for a new BFF” and then “I do have close friends, it’s just lot of them live far away” in the same breath, before anyone can conclude I am friendless.

Why do you think women are embarrassed, or feel crazy, when we talk about wanting new friends? Why is it so awkward to admit we’re not sure where to start? What can we do to end the stigma?

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

A True Tale of Food and (Potential) Friendship

Last week, I went to my first MeetUp Group. Meetup.com bills itself as “the world’s largest network of local groups.” Their mission, they say, is to “revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.” Basically, it’s a social network for groups that engage in just about every activity under the sun. Love doing needlepoint while watching Harry Potter? There’s probably a group for that.

On Thursday, I went to the inaugural meeting of the “Chicago Cooking Chicks” group. It was a presentation by Susan Goss, the chef at Chicago’s West Town Tavern. There were about 15-20 women there, mostly in their 20s and 30s. The majority of them were with a friend. Not me. I flew solo for the express purpose of meeting someone new. After standing awkwardly near the door, I introduced myself to the girl just a few feet away, also alone. (I know this was the obvious first step, but when I’m alone in a group of new people I get uncharacteristically shy.) Erica and I had been chatting for few minutes when two other girls, Lizzie and Jess, approached us. They’d come together but the whole point was to meet new people, they said, so they were determined to not spend the whole time talking only to each other.

When the presentation started, the four of us took the back row. I sat next to Jess, and we chatted throughout the presentation—mostly about the creepy mime who for some reason was the cooking studio mascot. One hour and zero food later (who puts on a cooking presentation from 6-8 and doesn’t actually serve the cooked food??), class was dismissed. Everyone gathered their bags and I tried to figure out what my next step should be. Do I just go up to Jess and say, “Can I have your number?” Would that totally freak her out? It seemed there was no natural way to take our casual banter to the next level.

Halfway to the door, I knew I’d kick myself if I came home without even attempting to befriend someone. I took a deep breath, turned around and walked up to Jess and Lizzie. “Um, I’m just going to give you guys my card because…” I didn’t really know how to finish the sentence. Because I’d love to be friends? Because I think you’re super-cool? Because I really really really want you to call me?

I didn’t even get to finish the sentence before Lizzie said “Oh, ok…” As in “Wow, that’s weird.” Oy. They must think I’m crazy.

But then, “We’re going to grab dinner and a drink, do you want to come?”

Uhhh yes please. So I said, “Sure, I’d love to.” And we went and ate Pad Thai. And had a great meal. And laughed a lot. And exchanged phone numbers.

It’s a fairly unremarkable story, I know. I introduced myself to someone, who was kind to me in turn. I have a friend who literally meets people while she’s crossing the street. But for me, it was big. Huge.

You never know. It might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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Famous Friendships: Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff

You might know them better as Rachel Berry and Jesse St. James, romantic rivals on Glee. You might not know that, in real life, they’re best friends.

The New York Times did a fabulous piece on Lea and Jonathan last week, just as he started his Glee guest-stint, and I kind of adore them.

The (very truncated) backstory: The duo originated the lead roles of Wendla and Melchoir in Broadway’s Spring Awakening. They met at an audition, fell in friend-love, and have been BFFs ever since.

Ok, first of all, when they sang Lionel Richie’s  “Hello” together last week I died a little. In fact I’m going to go buy it on iTunes now for inspiration.

I’m back—reinvigorated!—two repeats and a five-minute Glee rendition of “Like a Prayer” later.

These two are adorable. They talk every day. Their families spend New Years together. They only communicate in song. (Ok, I may have made that last one up, but they should. It’s silly they’d waste those voices on talking.)

Actually, my BFF Sara and I aren’t all that different. We can perform the entire “Halloween”-into-“Goodbye Love” sequence from Rent. It’s quite something.

After reading the Times article, I was struck by a few things. Like how Lea and Jonathan became best friends at work. And how they stayed best friends once they left the show and went their separate ways. (Another 15 minute break so I can watch YouTube videos of them performing Spring Awakening numbers on The Tonys and Good Morning America.)

But mostly, I was struck—and by struck I mean mildly disturbed—by the fact that their nicknames for each other are mom and dad. As in, “Sometimes I’m on the phone with Jonathan and I’m like: ‘Dad, I miss you so much. I can’t wait that you’re going to come over tonight and sleep in bed with me, and I can hold you all night long.’ The people that are next to me look at me all weird.”

Um, yeah they do.

Do you and your BFF have strange nicknames or habits that seem normal enough to you, but insane-slash-creepy to everyone else? My friend Julia and I have a dance move we do whenever we’re out together. I forget it’s weird until we bust a move in public and get crazy-person stares. And, if you’re a Glee watcher, what do you think of Mr. Saint-James? I vote keep him around for the vocals (but get Rachel and Finn together!).

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Are We There Yet?

Last week, a blog reader sent me an email with a question that’s been on my mind a lot. (For the record, I absolutely love it when readers contact me. Please excuse my not just listing my email here, but I’m told that’s an invitation to spammers.)

Reader wrote: “I’m on a similar quest to find new friends and put down roots in my new community. I have never been shy about initiating a conversation or offering an invitation to someone who could become a friend, but I find that it is difficult to make the leap to a fully established friendship. [How do you go] from ‘first dates’, to building a more solid foundation with a new friend?”

I wish I had a definitive answer to this question. I, too, am now well-versed in the first girl-date. But how do you take it to the next level, so you’re not just friends who go to dinner once a month, but capital F Friends. The kind who talk about the deep stuff, act goofy together, and call each other just to say hi?

I’ve read that self-disclosure is the game-changer. That the first time you say “Can I talk to you about something?” might very well be the moment you move from friends to Friends. And it really is flattering when someone confides in you. It means they trust you. That you are their Friend.

Ultimately, the BFF quest is about putting yourself out there. I know that sounds really Sex and the City, but it’s true. If you want to lay the friendship foundation, but don’t know when self-disclosure becomes appropriate, use your best judgment and just go for it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s that people want to create new friendships. I really thought the opposite would be true—that we lived in a self-involved world where people are wary of friend-seekers—but since throwing myself into this quest I’ve realized that everyone wants to be friended, it’s just that nobody wants to do the friending. It takes actual energy.

So maybe you have something you’d love to talk to a new potential BFF (perhaps we just call them PBFFs) about. Don’t wait for a signal from above that your relationship has reached some arbitrary place in which self-disclosure is suddenly acceptable. If you think you click, just go ahead and tell her about the monster under your bed. If you want to go to a movie tonight, but don’t think you’re at the spontaneous-movie-date place, just give it a try. Cliché as this is, it’s true: The worst she can say is no.

I’ve had so many conversations with Matt where he says,  “Why don’t you call X and see what she’s doing?” and I respond, “Oh, I don’t really think we’re there yet.” The only way any of us will get “there” is if someone makes a friendship advance. Otherwise, we could all be staring at the phone for a while.

Now if I could just take my own advice.

Can you pinpoint the moment a friend became a Friend? What do you think my reader, and I, can do to take our new friendships to the next level?

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The Hard Facts: Friends and Money Do Mix

“A study of 10,000 U.S. students over a period of 35 years suggests the wealthiest people are those that had the most friends at school. Each extra schoolfriend added 2% to the salary.” (BBC New Magazine, March 3, 2009)

There has been much discussion in the comments of this blog about how it is the quality of friendships, rather than the quantity, that is important. Yes. I think this is true. But I also can’t ignore the research I keep finding about how, when it comes to friends, more is more.

That there is actual evidence pointing to the concept that more friends in high school equals more money down the line is pretty remarkable. I know there are a lot of people who will take issue with it (Good! I love dialogue!), but before anyone gets too upset, it’s important to think about what “friend” means in this case.

Discussion about friendships often gets heated because we all define “friend” differently. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says: “One attached to another by affection or esteem.” That’s kind of broad. Then, it gives a synonym: Acquaintance. What?? Friend and acquaintance are entirely different! And this is the problem. You might think the friend title should only be bestowed upon those you would make dinner plans with, while I might think the label applies to anyone I would stop and chat with if I ran into them on the street. In both cases, I think the “attached by affection or esteem” definition would hold true.

Social psychologists often talk about three tiers of friendship: Let’s call them the BFFs, the friends, and the acquaintances. You might be able to maintain 100 acquaintances, but if you have 5 BFFs, you’re mighty lucky.

As for this study, I would argue it’s not really about friendship at all. It’s about popularity. Very different. Each student in the study (all of whom were male, I don’t know why) was asked to name his three best friends from his senior class. Those people whose names were listed the most  were considered the ones with the most friends.  Per the study, “One additional friendship nomination in high school is associated with a 2 percent higher wage 35 years later. This is roughly equivalent to almost half the gain from an extra year of education. Shifting somebody from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of the school popularity distribution – in other words, turning a social reject into a star – would be predicted to yield him a 10 percent wage advantage.”

It’s kind of crazy. What about the whole “the nerds will run the world” thing? But then, it’s not shocking that someone with good social skills—someone who more people consider a best friend—would make more money. To be in management positions, you need to be a bit of a people person. At least in theory.

The moral of the story: If you have kids, teach them good social skills now. Their bank accounts will thank you later.

How do you define “friend”? What makes one person deserving of friend title and another one not? Does this study seem bogus or totally logical? Surprising?

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A Blog Eat Blog World? Not Really

When I first started this blog, I figured it would be a solitary endeavor—just little ol’ me, typing away behind a computer screen, hoping that some reader in cyberland might happen across my site. I was blogging to chronicle my search for a new BFF, but I never dreamed it would be a means of actually finding her. You see where this is going. If this were a movie the scene now cuts to Rachel, surrounded by blog buddies, laughing over drinks while we balance laptops in our, well, laps.

Turns out blogging is a surefire way to meet friends. They may not live locally, but it’s a pretty crazy cybercommunity. I’m still kind of flabbergasted by its inclusiveness. “Sure! I’ll take you under my wing little baby blog. Stick with me, and you can’t go wrong.” I comment on your blog, you comment on mine, and suddenly we’re email pals. In fact, just this weekend I had a pseudo-study date with Lauren of Embrace the Detour (pseudo as in, we gchatted then both went about our writing, then gchatted again. But knowing I’d have to report my progress held me accountable and actually spurred productivity) and connected Julie of Fox and Bird with a brilliant designer friend in children’s publishing, Julie’s dream job (or so she wrote in this awesome post).

My very first blog friends were the ladies of Big Girls, Small Kitchen. They’re also the only blog friends I know in real life. Their site is a self-described guide for quarter-life cooks, and I absolutely adore it because it combines my two favorite things: food and friendship (the cooks have been BFFs since high school, and they write about keeping the bond strong over their love of all things culinary). Cara, one half of the Big Girls, is my friend Jill’s little sister, and, dare I say, now a friend of mine in her own right. She was instrumental in helping me launch this project. And what do we do when we make new friends? Support them, of course. And when supporting them means supporting a good cause, even better.

The quarter-life cooks are currently collaborating with Baking For Good, a gifting site for sweet treats that donates 15% of every purchase to a cause of the customer’s choosing. Cara and Phoebe baked in support of The Valerie Fund, an organization in the tri-state area that provides comprehensive health care for children with cancer and blood disorders. BGSK Peanut M&M Blondies are available on the site, now through Mother’s Day, as part of a blog-wide Virtual Bake Sale. You should probably go and buy a package now. Why? Because 1) blondie’s make a delish Mom’s Day gift, 2) you’re helping kids with cancer, and  3) I’ve been eating Cara’s treats since she was a wee lass (or a middle-schooler) and she’s a damn good baker.

But back to me. (Kidding! Sort of!) Blogging’s not the only supposedly solitary endeavor that has led me to unexpected buddies. Reading, certainly an activity for one, has been the catalyst for many a close friendship. I’ve always considered cooking a me-time activity, but for Cara and Phoebe it’s a great way to connect.

Have you forged friendships over solitary endeavors? Which ones? How did the friendships come about? And is there a way I can turn TV-watching into a friend-making activity? Because then life would be complete.

Oh, and don’t forget to buy some blondies!

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Working Hard or Hardly Working

Last month, I wrote about how important it is to have friends at work. If you missed that post, and don’t feel like going back to check it out, let me sum it up: Very. But once we understand that, then what?

When I first started this blog, a few people mentioned their struggle with asking out a coworker. Taking the office friendship out of its natural habitat is tricky business.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered from my own experiences, and those of my friends:

1)    Start on a weekday. Weekends are precious, and people like to keep them free of workplace reminders. Until you’re a friend, not just a coworker, don’t infringe on the all-mighty Saturday.

2)    A few drinks helps. I know I’ll get flack for this, but the truth is that a glass of wine says “we’re not at work anymore.” It also helps part the looming clouds of professionalism. Loosens you up. This is not to say, obviously, that if you don’t drink you can’t have work friends outside of the office, or that your relationship will be based on alcohol. I’m just saying, throwing back a Miller Lite can help.

3) If there are a few of you that get along, plan a group outing. I’m lucky. I have four best work friends. And they’re not just co-workers I chat with. They’re, like, real-life BFF material. But it took us two years to get there. How did it start? With a group activity. We joined a fitness challenge and started taking Booty Beat classes together after work. Jealous? I know. A friend of mine told me her co-workers do a brunch outing every couple of months. Group activities lack the intensity of one-on-one time.

4) Text message. If you’re calling an officemate during off-hours, there’s a high likelihood your phone call will be screened. On a  Saturday night, the last thing a potential office BFF wants to do is to work, or talk about work, or think about work. If you text, “What are you up to? Want to meet up?” She’ll know you’re in the play hard stage.

5) Don’t talk shop. When you get together with a coworker, it’s natural that you’d discuss work. It’s the tie that binds you after all. But when you’re beyond Big Brother’s walls, try to avoid it if you can. At least keep it to a minimum. A little workplace gossip can be fun, but you’ll never build an independent relationship if you can’t get past office politics.

That’s all I got for now. What do you think? Anything I missed? Or that I got completely wrong?  Do you have a surefire way to transition from work-friend to life-friend?

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