Monthly Archives: September 2010

Friending on the Job

I have two friends starting new jobs this week, and today I heard of another one who just scored an offer.

The first week in a new office is at once an exciting and terrifying thing. You’re the new kid in school. Sure, you’ll know everything about these people eventually—what they eat for lunch, which dentist they go to, what instrument they played in high school marching band—but for now you’re just trying to remember names. And, more importantly, get them to remember yours.

We spend approximately 40 hours a week with our coworkers. That’s a lot of time to feel lonely if you don’t connect to anyone in your office. In fact, research has found that when Americans are asked to choose between having a best friend at work and a 10% raise, friendship wins out easily.

I’ve made close friends in all the jobs I’ve held. But it took time. Upon arrival at each office I was so eager to establish friendships immediately that I most definitely was the awkward girl trying to weasel my way into social circles. As I write this, I’m cringing at the memory of attempting to befriend someone at my very first full-time job, and it was totally one of those trying too hard situations.

“Hey, so, um, watcha working on?”

And then I proceeded to tell her my whole life story because, you know, why not.

Not that she’d asked.

So my advice for my new worker bee friends is as follows:

First, make yourself visible. You want your new colleagues to remember you’re there, so they invite you to lunch and include you on a group project. In the office especially, people are so wrapped up in their own lives that out of sight really is out of mind.

Second, don’t insert yourself for no reason. Though you want to be visible, you don’t want to be intrusive. Jumping in others people’s conversations—“Hey guys whatcha talking about?” (not that you’d do that)—screams Andy Bernard.

Thirdly, do your job, do it well enough, and relax. As long as you’re not burning down the office or forcing anyone to stay late, you’ll make friends eventually. Taking the relationship out of the office takes time, but for now you just need an on-the-clock friend—someone you can recap Modern Family or your weekend with. She may not be a BFF (yet) but that relationship is equally as valuable.

Remember being the new guy at work? Any tricks for establishing workplace friendships? Anyone think the office and friendship shouldn’t mix?

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The Hard Facts: Are You An Introvert?

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

“While extraverts spend more time overall in social activities than introverts do, the two groups do not differ significantly on time spent with family members, romantic partners, or coworkers. Moreover, extraverts and introverts both report a mood boost from the company of others.” (“Revenge of the Introverts,” Psychology Today, Oct. 2010)

I am not an introvert. Officially, I know this because I took that Meyers-Briggs test recently and was deemed extroverted. But unofficially, I’ve always known—I like socializing too much.

For years I’ve misunderstood introversion. I thought being an introvert and being shy was the same thing. Introverts wouldn’t understand my search, I figured, because they didn’t understand the big deal about friendship in the first place.

I was wrong.

There’s a significant difference between being shy and being introverted. As Psychology Today explains, introverts spend time alone because they want to while shy folks would love to be social but don’t know how. “An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual has no choice.”

Also, introverts benefit from close friendship as much as extraverts do. Everyone gets the same jolt of energy from hanging with people we connect with on a deep level.

It’s a vital tidbit. When I started this quest I thought my friendship frustration was the curse of extroversion. If only I didn’t crave the company of others, I thought, I’d be so much happier. Turns out there’s no escaping it. Introverts need friendship too, they’d just rather have a thoughtful one-on-one than a dinner with a million people talking at once.

This should also serve as a reminder that introversion is not an excuse for giving up on friendship. A reader once left a comment saying she always bails on plans with her friends—specifically female friends—because she is an introvert and finds being a part of the female group dynamic draining. She didn’t understand the “high” of spending time with pals.

Being that I don’t identify as an introvert, I can’t purport to know what’s going on inside this reader’s head. But I would venture to guess that it’s not friendship that exhausts her, it’s the large groups. All the research I’ve read, and the majority of the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard, says introverts do feel a “high” from socializing. It’s just that an introvert’s idea of fun “socializing” is different from an extravert’s.

If you’re an introvert, don’t hide behind your preference for intimate activity and quiet time. That doesn’t mean you don’t need strong relationships. We all do.

Are you extraverted or introverted? Does that trait define what you want out of friendship?

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Shhh! Don’t Tell Anyone…

“Can I tell you a secret?”

According to some experts, these six words will turn an acquaintanceship into a friendship. Self-disclosure, they say, is the defining trait of BFFs.

When a new friend trusts you with private information, it’s flattering. Clearly she thinks you are good stock. Reliable. Loyal. She sees a future in your relationship.

Sometimes I think I should spew out secrets to everyone I meet. It could speed up our bonding process. Except for one small problem: I don’t really have any secrets.

I’ve noticed, however, that when there’s a promising connection with a new friend, I’m more willing to mention my father’s death. I don’t go out of my way to bring it up, but I don’t avoid the topic either. When a girl-date is going just ok, I fear that kind of info might halt the already forced conversation.

Though the fact that my father died is clearly not a secret, it’s a personal memory that I only share when I’m comfortable with someone. That single piece of info doesn’t catapult us to capital F Friendship, but I think it makes clear to my friend-suitor that I feel like I can talk to her.

But there’s another side to this coin: When someone reveals the most intimate details of her life upon first meeting, there’s part of me that wonders, “Why are you telling me this? I hardly even know you.” Is there a too soon for self-disclosure?

I recently came across an old New York Times essay by Ann Patchett (whose friendship memoir Truth & Beauty is on my to-read list) about Sex and the City, and whether the ladies’ close friendships are realistic. She writes, “That’s my idea of real intimacy: It’s not the person who calls to say, ‘I’m having an affair'; it’s the friend who calls to say, ‘Why do I have four jars of pickles in my refrigerator?’” This sentence sums up what I am looking for in a local BFF better than anything I’ve ever written. I don’t need someone with whom to discuss the deep stuff—it’s the minutiae I’m interested in.

Sometimes it takes talking about everything to get to the place where we can talk about nothing.

What do you think? Is self-disclosure the fastest route to friendship? Or should we hold off from revealing too much until we’ve reached a certain level of intimacy – a three-date rule, perhaps? Also, do you agree with Ann Patchett’s definition of friendship intimacy?

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It’s All Relative

My brother moved to Chicago a week and a half ago. My mother moved here from New York a little over a year ago. I have four cousins, two aunt-and-uncles and a grandmother who live within city lines (Also a new, three-week-old first cousin once removed. Hi Samantha!) Clearly, there are a lot of us.

Alex, my brother, is an especially exciting addition to the local family. We’ve always been incredibly close. He is, as his girlfriend pointed out recently, the male version of me. Unclear as to whether she thinks this is a good thing.

I’ve heard people say they are so close with their family that they don’t need friends. Their siblings, or their parents, are their BFFs. In fact, the 2006 study “Social Isolation in America,” found that in the 20 years prior, the percentage of Americans who named at least one non-kin person as part of his inner circle went from 80% to 57%.

If I believed in the whole family-as-BFF thing, Alex would be mine. We understand each other, we have that I-know-what-you’re-thinking connection when we’re in big groups, and we’ve been through some pretty rough times together. Luckily, I’m able to put behind me the bullying-the-little-sister years.

But I don’t believe in family-as-friends. Just the other day I was telling my grandmother about this blog and, pointing to my mother, she said “Isn’t she your best friend?”

“No,” I said. “She’s my mom.”

I’m a proponent of separating family, friends and romance. They are different relationships, with different tenets. When I first moved to Chicago, I had few friends, so I spent a large portion of my time with my aunt and cousins. And while I love them and love spending time with them, I craved a world of my own. I wanted a group of friends who didn’t know the inner workings of my family and who, more importantly, didn’t care. I wanted friends who were all mine.

I don’t want to demean the importance of having wonderful family. When I’m in a bind, I go straight to Mom or Bro or Aunt or Cuz before I try friends. I’m certain they’d come through for me if necessary, and I don’t feel that same confidence in my new pals. Yet.

But I think everyone needs some non-familial friendships. For sanity’s sake. There’s something about being with relatives that brings out the crazy in us all. And when that happens, we need someone to escape to.

I wrote about this back when I was pondering the March sisters (and the response was fascinating!), but now that my big bro is my new neighbor, it’s on my mind again. I hope to hang with him a lot—and will always feel comfortable calling for a last-minute lunch date—but I still say he’s family, not friend. What do you think? Can relatives do double duty?

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She’s Just Not That Into Me

I talk a lot on this blog about my friend-making successes. I dish about a waitress, or a girl sitting next to me on a plane, or an improv class full of new friends.

I’ve written less about the BFFs that never were. Ladies who never called back or stopped responding to emails or who flat out told me they didn’t think we should be friends.

I do this because I want to encourage people to go out there, introduce themselves, and invite a new acquaintance for coffee.

But the truth is that for every three-to-five people who happily accept my invitations to brunch and the like, there is usually one who brushes me off. And I get that, because there was a time not so long ago when I would have thought it was plenty odd that some random girl was trying to platonically pick me up.

Commenters on this blog are often discouraged because they did what they were supposed to do—the asking out, the following up, the saying yes—but then the potential friend disappeared. So I’m here to say that this has happened to everyone. Or at least, this has happened to me.

A girl I genuinely thought I’d bonded with stopped acknowledging my emails. To this day I still don’t understand why. Another one told me outright that our friendship wasn’t going to work out. And there’s yet another who I think may currently be passive aggressively trying to end things.

I generally take this kind of brush-off personally. Who doesn’t? But these days, when a PBFF gives me the old heave ho, I’m usually able to laugh about it. Since so many people have been receptive to my friendship advances, I don’t get too bent out of shape about those who haven’t.

You know what your grandma said about kissing a lot of frogs? It’s true. But with friendship it’s even better, because you don’t have to limit yourself to one frog at a time. You can kiss all the frogs you want at once.

Ok, this metaphor is getting weird.

What I’m saying is, if you’ve tried to pursue a friendship with one or two people and it hasn’t worked out, you can’t just bail on the effort entirely. Remember, it’s not personal. As Jon Stewart says, we’re the busy majority. Some people don’t have time for new friends.

But other people do.

So take solace in my failures. We’ve all had the not-so-great friendship adventures. But I’ll guarantee that if you continue to introduce yourself and do the work, you’ll end up with more potential friends than rejections.

And then, when the inexplicable “We can’t be friends because I don’t like people who wear purple” happens, you’ll be able to laugh. If you’re me, you’ll just plan to write about it some day.

Have you had any less-than-stellar reactions from would-be friends? If you’re on a similar search, have you had discouraging moments? How did you get back on track?

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Parodies are The Sincerest Form of Flattery

You know you’ve reached cultural relevance when comedians start making fun of you. And Saturday Night Live is the mecca of mockery, yes? Which makes me think that getting parodied by a recently ousted SNL cast member gives a topic—one like, um, BFFness—even more street cred.

Imagine my excitement last week when the Internet took note of “Bestie x Bestie”, a new web series from former SNLer Jenny Slate and her comedy partner Gabe Liedman. I’m kind of in love with this video because, besides the sheer silliness, it reminds me of those laugh-at-anything-and-nothing fits that are the essence of friendship. Also, she says Merriweather.

(Click through to watch videos if you are reading in a feed or email.)

If you’re more interested in the Lorne Michaels sanctioned version of BFF hilarity, check out this Taylor Swift sketch. (Thanks for the heads up, Yamilette!) It’s not a bad re-creation of some best friends I’ve encountered in my day. (Perhaps I’ve even been one of them. But only at camp…)

Do either of these ring true for you? Isn’t it fun to laugh at ourselves sometimes? After all, it’s almost (so close!) Friday.

{If you’re having trouble seeing the videos you can watch them here and here}

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The Hard Facts: You’re Damned If You Do…

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

According to a new study, popular people tend to catch the flu first. When the flu is going around, people at the center of social networks—those who are named as a friend by others—come down with the virus about two weeks earlier than a randomly selected group of people, the study found.” (“Study: Popular People Get Flu First”, CNN.com)

There are approximately one billion reasons why maintaining friendships is good for your health. Don’t believe me? See here, here and here.

But, as author Gretchen Rubin always says, the opposite of a great truth is also true.

And so it is with that in mind that I alert you to this recent study, which basically says if you’ve got a lot of friends, you should expect to be the first to get sick. It makes sense of course—the more popular you are, the more people you interact with and the more germs you are exposed to.

In this particular study, researchers (the very same ones who alerted me to the genetic factors of popularity) tracked the spread of H1N1 flu (the Swine!) at Harvard. But scientists are now considering the implications of these findings on a much grander scale.

“Monitoring the health of…socially connected people could serve as an early warning system for flu epidemics and outbreaks of other infectious diseases,” the article says. After all, getting a two-week head start on a sickness is a mighty large lead. “Identifying a group of central individuals…would provide a simple way of tracking and fighting epidemics, especially in self-contained settings such as college campuses and military bases.”

You know those people who are always under the weather? The amount they call in sick has become an office inside joke? Now I need to pay special attention to who they are, because I always figured it was either the ones with young kids or the slackers, but maybe it’s the social butterflies. If I can watch their health patterns, perhaps I’ll know when to start taking preventative measures.

If we’re weighing the health pros and cons of friendship, I still say you’re better off with a lot of social connections. You don’t need a million BFFs, mind you, but the more effort you put into meeting new people, the healthier you’ll be in the long run.

Until you get so popular you catch the early onset Swine.

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