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…

14 Comments

Filed under The Search

14 responses to “The Doctor Is In

  1. Mmmm…great post Rachel.

    I think that’s a really special kind of friendship. Which is probably why it’s so coveted. You can probably come by it two ways – either through years of cultivation and familiarity or through some sort of spontaneous friendship combustion whereby you both just ‘get’ each other immediately. Obviously, we hope for the second one since we want this type of friendship to happen right now!

    I think the Dr. is right, you just keep looking and being open and making the first and second moves and all those things!

  2. Donna

    If an expert on friendship is having a friendship drought, I feel a whole lot better (and sadly, a whole lot worse) about my own drought!

  3. You know, I don’t consider my closest, local friendships to necessarily be spontaneous friendships. I mean, there have been times when I’ve been spontaneous with these girlfriends in the past. But, generally, our lives are busy and we have different priorities, so we do need to take out our calendars to figure out when we can get together next.

    That said, I’ve become very friendly with my neighbor. And while I don’t yet consider her one of my besties, I am much more spontaneous with her than I am with anyone else. So, I think those kinds of friendships do exist, but proximity is crucial. And I don’t think the two (bestie versus spontaneous friend) necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

  4. Ana

    Great post, and great advise from the Doctor—I never could really articulate that the “spontaneous friendship” is what I’m looking for. However, I agree that even the bestest of best friends may not be “spontaneous” given lack of proximity/busy schedules/different phase in life. Conversely, a “spontaneous” friend may not be your best—a neighbor or coworker that is readily available for spur of the moment stuff may not be the same one you would trust with your darkest secrets.
    So I guess what we want is a convergence of the two—and those are a lot of things to align in this day and age of constant moving, working, families, etc… It actually makes me feel better to see the reasons spelled out instead of thinking there is something in me that is preventing me from having that kind of friendship :)

  5. I feel as though friendships of spontanaeity are nearly impossible. Even my relationship with my husband is difficult to be spontaneous with our crazy lives! (Not because we want it to be that…but because our schedules force that upon us).

    In addition, I am extremely into planning and scheduling – so this is probably an impossible goal for me. But spontaneous friends definitely existed in my single, college years!

    • Abby… I feel the same way! I think I want a “spontaneous” friendship, but then at the same time, I am a planner. And some of the most wonderful BFF-worthy people I’ve met are young mothers who don’t necessarily have the luxury of spontaneity… so the question is, I guess, what do I REALLY want? Myabe it’s someone who, though realistically might not be able to grab food in 30 minutes, I would at least be comfortable calling and asking if she’s free to get food in 30 minutes.. does that make sense?

      • Rachel, that totally makes sense. I myself am generally not a spontaneous person — I’m a planner at heart and I need a fair amount of alone time. I’m not sure it’s fair for me to expect to find one of those “30-minute friends” when it’s not often that I’d be able to (or WANT to) drop everything and run out to a girlfriend date, you know?

        I think your solution is perfect — a friend who you can at least call and ask without feeling weird or like you’re intruding. The flip side of that is, she should understand and not get upset if I respond with “ugh, had a bad day at work so I’m crashing on the couch with a trashy novel!”

  6. Wow, how nice of the Doc to write you back such a long and thoughtful post.

    I agree with Nilsa, proximity is key. Proximity will turn a regular friend into one of those, ‘I’ll see you in 30′ friends in no time. Either that or convenience. One of my most recent BFFs – who became so back in 2004 and now lives in Michigan – became that way, in large part, because my apartment was on her way home from work. She’d often swing by for a glass of wine and a chat. It was awesome. Sigh.

  7. This post made me sad for all of the friendships that I let wither and die. I’ve moved around a good bit, and I’m The Worst at keeping in touch with people (probably why I dig Facebook so much.) It is sad but true that finding a BFF is like finding a life partner.

  8. Rachel,

    So lovely for the doctor to respond. The “spontaneous” friend concept is interesting – I’ve never thought about it that way. I think everyone, needs a “go-to friend”, a friend that lives near you, who can breakfast with you, but also listen to you without judgment. In the end, I agree it is a rare find and although I hate to admit it, some of us may look forever and never find that go-to gal.

  9. I don’t really have an spontaneous friendships… I feel like I did in college, but post-college, our lives are all so over-planned. To get together, we have to make plans weeks in advance it seems. I do have one friend that is sort of a spontaneous friend. She’ll text me and ask if i want to go on a walk and we’ll meet up an hour later, etc, but she is the only one. I miss the days of spontaneity.

  10. Eva

    On the surface, I like the idea of spontaneous friends… but as I think about it more, I realize I’m not a very good spontaneous friend. It’s not just the goal of finding someone you can call at a moment’s notice, it’s also being that person who will drop everything in return. And I kind of hate last-minute activities. I love to plan, to know what I have on my plate for the day. That probably sounds like a sad way to live, but it generally makes me happiest. Spur-of-the-moment is stressful for me.

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