Monthly Archives: November 2010

Remembering Where You Came From

Over the weekend I read a recent friendship best-seller, The Girls From Ames. It’s basically a biography of a forty-year friendship between 11 girls—who became 10 women—who’ve been besties since growing up together in Iowa. Every year, the ladies get together for a reunion, and the story of the book is anchored in their 2007 gathering.

The Ames girls reminded me of my group of friends from college. Granted we were 18, rather than 8, when we met. But we have a similarly tight knit gang, one that stays in touch collectively via “reply all” emails and annual reunion weekends.

Although, with a group of eight girls who are busy with burgeoning careers and relationships, keeping in touch as a group can be difficult. People forget to write back, or the annual reunion becomes bi-annual, and even then some can’t make it. According to author Jeffrey Zaslow, “When women are between the ages of twenty-five and forty, their friendships are most at risk, because those are the years when women are often consumed with marrying, raising children, and establishing careers.” (You might remember this bit of research from my mother’s oh-so-wise guest post.)

When I first moved to Chicago, I tried to call one(ish) friend a day. I had the time for that, considering my friendships locally were so few. Now that I’m constantly running from one outing to the next, it’s impossible to keep that phone schedule.

Inspired by the Ames girls, I wrote my college friends a group email yesterday morning. These days, when we email everyone at once, it’s usually to say, “Did you see his wedding announcement?” or “Did you see her baby pics on Facebook?” The notes are rarely the life updates we sent out until we were, um, 25.

The email I wrote was part life update, part journal entry. I’ve never kept a diary. Writing to friends I trust completely is the closest thing I’ve got. So, just as a diary entry might, my email covered everything from visiting my father’s gravesite over Thanksgiving to wearing my bright purple sunglasses at the Northwestern football game. Both utterly important topics.

My hope is that we’ll at least continue our “reply all” emails and reunions—even if they are few and far between—for the next twelve years, until our friendship is out of the danger zone. At which point, who knows where we’ll be.

Putting the gist of my life on (virtual) paper was cathartic, and receiving messages of support in return was a treat. And hearing my friends’ updates—stories of new boys and new jobs and career confusions and disappointments—reminded me why I conducted this search in the first place. Because let’s-grab-lunch friends eventually become let’s-talk-life friends. Both quite nourishing in their own way.

Have you found/did you find that the 25-40 years are/were the hardest for maintaining friendships?

16 Comments

November 30, 2010 · 6:00 am

Matchmaker, Matchmaker…

Welcome back from the turkey haze. My holiday involved bourbon-infused mashed sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows and two different types of apple pie. I hope you all were so lucky.

Matt and I stayed at his brother’s house, and, over a rousing game of Scrabble in which I was demolished, my sister-in-law and I played the usual catch up. When I inquired about one of her single friends, sis-in-law said, “She’s still looking. So if you know anyone…”

I don’t do set ups. I don’t outright refuse, but I avoid. There’s a lot of pressure in choosing who would make good mates.

The full weight of the responsibility hit me a few years ago. A friend who’d recently been set-up told me the girl he’d been matched with wasn’t hot enough. “Is that what they think of my looks?” my friend said of the set-uppers.

I learned that day that finding two people who’ll fall for each other isn’t the only goal of setting up friends. If you find someone who the other doesn’t deem “worthy,” you might find yourself the target of an inquisition.

“How could you think I’d like him? He was an ogre! Do you think I look like a troll?”

“She was a moron! Do you think I’m stupid too??”

No, thank you.

There’s also that fear that the set up will work out. At first. Until it doesn’t and you’re suddenly in the middle of a bad break up.  Again, I think I’ll pass.

I have heard plenty of successful set up stories, of course. In fact, the sister-in-law in question was set up with my brother-in-law by their mutual best friends. They’ve been married for 3.5 years.

The few friends I’ve tried to set up have been people I didn’t know very well. (None of my matchmaker attempts have taken. In fact, there’s never even been a second—or in some cases a first—date.) I know my close friends so well that it’s hard for me to think of someone who would complement their every quirk. It’s easier for a more objective party—Match.com, say, or The Millionaire Matchmaker—to come up with the perfect fit.

As I’ve conducted my search this year, I’ve fielded plenty of “know any single guys?” requests. My answer is always the same: “Only two.” It’s true. My rolodex is full of single women and has contains exactly two single men. And these two guys are best friends.

I told my sis-in-law that no, I didn’t know anyone to suggest for her friend. The only matches I can make are of the friendship or book variety. (In another life I must have been a librarian. For all the difficulty I have matching a woman with a man, I can always match a woman with a book.)

Do you avoid set ups like I do? Or do you love to play matchmaker? Have you been set up by a friend? Was it a match or a mess?

9 Comments

Filed under The Search

Muchas Gracias

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

“Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.” (“Thank You. No, Thank You,” Wall Street Journal, 11/23/2010)

Given the aforementioned research, it seems that gratitude is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon. Do people feel more grateful because they have energy, optimism and social connections, or do they have such fortune because they are so grateful?

A little bit of both, I’m sure. For today, let’s focus on the notion of attracting friendship and happiness by simply being grateful.

I certainly believe it. Who wants to be friends with the Debbie Downer who’s always talking about how much her life sucks? Not I.

My new BFF doesn’t need to spend her days gushing over how lucky she is to lead a charmed life. That might just get annoying. But a healthy awareness of what’s going well is refreshing. We live in such a complaint culture (guilty as charged!), so it’s refreshing to meet a friend who’s not constantly feeling resentful or pissy.

I can’t believe I’m about to write this, because I know it sounds totally sappy, and I’m not one to tout the Law of Attraction. But if you’re on a BFF search, now seems like a pretty good time to start flexing the gratitude muscle. Start at the Thanksgiving table, and see if you can bring the practice into your everyday life. Once you start saying thank you for the things you do have, maybe the things you don’t (a local bestie?) will fall into place. If not, at least you’ll sleep better, get richer, and lay off the sauce.

I’ll start.

Today I am grateful for yesterday’s good fortune: getting to hold my new baby cousin, pounding out another thousand words of my book, and eating a delish Chipotle dinner with two improv friends.

Most importantly, today and everyday I am grateful to you all for coming back to this blog, supporting my search for a new BFF, and sharing your stories. It really does mean so much to me. THANK YOU.

Have a wonderful holiday and long weekend, and I’ll see you after I’ve emerged from my tryptophan-induced slumber.

What are you grateful for this year? Anything BFF-specific?

15 Comments

Filed under The Search

The Future of Mortal Enemies

I am aware that I posted about an issue raised by my TV BFFs, the How I Met Your Mother gang, just last week. I tried to avoid the show’s grip today, I really did. But I can’t stop thinking about the big question of last night’s episode, especially in the wake of yesterday’s post about mending a broken friendship.

The question of the evening was this: Can mortal enemies ever become friends?

I tend to think the answer to this question is no. I’ve heard stories of girls who hated each other in middle or high school eventually growing up and becoming pals, but it’s hard for me to believe that this could be a friendship in the truest sense. You know, the kind that involves trust.

Yesterday I asked if it was possible to win back a BFF after a friend breakup. A few people commented that they have reestablished friendships with those who once dumped them (or who they once dumped themselves) but in each case they said the friendship isn’t the same now. Once there is some level of betrayal, it’s hard to get back to a place of unconditional belief in one another.

My personal experience with mortal enemies is limited. The few I’ve had are usually of the frenemy variety—pretend to be nice to each other’s faces, not-so-secretly abhor each other when we turn our backs. Yes, I know that this is worse, more juvenile behavior than just shooting death rays out of my eyes at someone directly to her face, but what can I say. It’s the truth, and I don’t lie to you people. My enemies are of the passive aggressive nature. (For what it’s worth, these frenemy relationships were established when I was younger and dumber.)

Not surprisingly, none of those frenemies ever became friends.

I don’t mean to be cynical when I give the unequivocal no, but I just don’t think two people can go from hating each other to loving each other, despite all the romantic comedies to the contrary. If you are enemies, it’s probably for a reason, and it can be hard to forget all that baggage. You can put it aside or decide to move past it, but it will always be there, hiding beneath the surface like the stank of a gym shoe. You can dump a whole tub of odor eaters in there but it will only mask the smell. Once the stink creeps in, it’s permanent. (Not sure how this became a post about foot odor, but I did five loads of laundry yesterday. That must have something to do with it.)

So I say no, enemies cannot become friends. Final answer. Too much underlying animosity and history that could rear its ugly head at any moment.

But what do I know? Do you have stories to prove me wrong? Or right?

5 Comments

November 23, 2010 · 6:00 am

How To Win Her Back

Last night a reader wrote a really heartbreaking comment on this blog post about best friend breakups. The topic pushes a lot of buttons. In fact, the post in question was one of the most popular on this blog. Everyone seems to have some experience with friend breakups, and it seems we can all agree that they are pretty traumatic.

The reader in question says she’s sick over how her BFF ended their relationship just a few days ago.  “My heart is breaking and I have physical pain through my neck and back and a migraine that would bring a linebacker to his knees.  As I sit and type this she is next door. I know this because her car is parked out front. I am praying she will come knock on my door so we can talk … This is way worse than when I caught my husband cheating on me, way way worse.” The circumstances of this breakup are complicated and more or less irrelevant to today’s post, but, if you’re curious, there is backstory here.

The question of the day, though, is what do you do when you want your BFF back? Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, who said what to who or who didn’t say something they should have, sometimes you just don’t want to be fighting anymore. You want to be besties.

I’m one of those people who absolutely hates being in fights. I get in a panic if I think someone I love is mad at me (I even hate it when someone I don’t like is mad at me). I’d always rather apologize and get things back to normal than have a long drawn out fight. Sometimes it’s not so easy and a come to Jesus meeting is necessary, but if I can avoid that, all the better.

I often wish women could take a cue from men. When guys get in fights, from what I can tell, they have a pretty easy time getting over it. One minute they’re going at it Alex-Karev-and-Jackson-Avery style (read: lots of punching, for you non-Grey’s Anatomy fans out there) and the next they are splitting pizza and beer in front of the football game. For women, and certainly myself included, it’s not nearly as cut and dry. When a friend wrongs us, there are days of brooding, conferring with friends, analyzing and re-analyzing and overanalyzing, and then, if we want to save the friendship, having “the talk.” It’s a production. But you already know this. You’ve been there.

If there’s one thing I can say with some confidence, it’s that this isn’t changing anytime soon. Fighting with friends will continue to take a wretched emotional toll on the ladies. So for now, all I can ask is, how do you win her back? When you and your BFF are in a fight, what do you do to fix the situation?

22 Comments

Filed under The Search

The Best Friend I Never Had

When I was in third grade, each kid in my class wrote to a student in China. We were trying to meet pen pals. I don’t remember if I ever heard back from my new Chinese BFF, but I can say that a true pen-palship was never formed.

I always wanted a pen pal. To this day it seems such a romantic notion, the idea of getting to know someone through letters. Entering the blogosphere has actually resulted in some friendships via email—I correspond with other writers and readers and get to know people I’ve never met—though I wouldn’t give them full pen pal status.

Still, I was pretty excited last weekend when I finally came face to face with one of my virtual friends.

Lauren is a fellow blogger and, from what I could tell online, kind of a rock star. We connected when I first started this site and over the last eight months have written back and forth, been virtual study buddies, and helped each other with writing projects. When she emailed that she’d be in Chicago and would I like to meet for coffee, the answer was obviously “well, duh.”

And meeting her felt like reuniting with an old friend. We definitely had to fill in some blanks, but conversation picked up pretty seamlessly. If not old friends than it was definitely, like, a fifth date.

It’s fun making long-distance, email-only friends as an adult. But imagine how integral a role pen pals can play for teenagers. When it feels like no one at home understands you, there’s this girl, seemingly worlds away, to whom you can say anything. And from what you can tell, she totally gets you. It’s the stuff of lifelong friendship.

I recently met a woman who has still never met her best friend. They connected some ten years ago on a Seventeen magazine message board. From there they started emailing and now they write back and forth on a blog. It’s a fascinating read really, a voyeuristic look into a real-life BFFship. Except, they’ve never even talked on the phone.

Part of me is totally confused by the whole thing—why not just dial her up or, if they have the means, buy a plane ticket? They’re both in the U.S.—while another, larger part is totally jealous. Here’s someone who doesn’t know the key players in your life and can act as unconditional support. As for not meeting, maybe it’s about not fixing what’s not broken.

I wonder if a teenager today would even know what a pen pal is. It’s such an outdated practice. Now everyone’s connected via Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare, writing letters—even emails!—is practically pre-historic.

And yet I think a pen pal could be the most valuable friendship I never had.

7 Comments

Filed under The Search

How I Met Your BFF

Who saw How I Met Your Mother this week? It was a veritable BFF gold mine. First, there was the Lily-Robin storyline, about the very motherhood-and-friendship conundrum we discussed last week. Then there was a side plot about Ted and his best friend from high school, who comes to visit New York from his hometown of Cleveland.

The Ted-and-Punchy storyline struck me for two reasons:

1) Marshall’s claim that they weren’t friends because, he says, nobody stays friends with kids from high school.
2) Ted and Punchy each have a completely skewed view of the other one’s adult life.

Let’s take this point-by-point. I know many people don’t keep in touch with high school friends after graduation. It’s largely an issue of someone wanting to put her teenage days behind her, but even more so a byproduct of friends growing up and figuring out who they really are. Sometimes the adult versions of two high school pals just aren’t compatible.

I’m actually still incredibly close with my high school friends. Eight of my former classmates were at my wedding. My husband’s best friends are almost all from his high school days. His little gang still takes a boys’ trip together every year.

I don’t know what it is exactly—maybe the fact that we went through those awkward hormonal years together, maybe just having been friends for so long—but my high school friends understand me in a way not everyone does, even if I go months at a time without seeing them.

When I posted about my high school reunion earlier this summer, plenty of you commented that you would never go back. But for me? It was a highlight.

Which brings me to point two. When Punchy came to visit Manhattan, he drove Ted crazy. His hyped-up high-school self didn’t work in the big city. But as we later learned, Punchy thought it was Ted who was struggling. He was trying to cheer up his old buddy using the juvenile jokes that first made them friends.

It was interesting how each thought the other was having a rough time. Ted saw Punchy as being stuck at home and going nowhere, while Punchy saw Ted as being miles away from friends and family and the people he loves. From each perspective, the other was in a bad spot.

We do that with friends a lot. We project however we’d feel in their situation onto them, whereas they might see their life from an entirely different viewpoint.

This might be more likely to happen with a high school friend, because we think we know how her mind works when in fact so much could have changed between then and now.

Are you still friends with your high school gang? What do you think it is that works—or doesn’t—about teenage friendships once we’re all grown up?

And in case you missed it, enjoy a little taste of HIMYM’s “The Beaver Song,” Robin Sparkles’s totally innocent ode to friendship.

6 Comments

Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, The Old Days

The Hard Facts: Living Single

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

“One of the most remarkable facts to emerge from [the 2000] census is that one out of every four households consists of one person only. The number of one-person households has been increasing steadily since 1940, when they accounted for roughly 7 percent of households; today, there are more people living alone than at any point in U.S. history.” (The Lonely American, by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz)

I’ve never lived alone. I went straight from rooming with a friend in NYC to living with my now-husband. I’ve heard some people posit that you’re never truly ready to marry until you’ve lived alone—that’s how you find yourself, they’ll say—so maybe I missed an important step.

There are certainly days where I wish I had tried it out. I would have enjoyed hodgepodge meals of peanut butter and half an avocado and some toast (that’s the kind of feast I create when left to my own devices) and hours-long Law and Order: SVU marathons on my couch. But it never really made sense for me.  New York City rents weren’t worth shouldering alone. And my roommate—aside from being one of my closest friends—was always up for an SVU marathon. Elliot Stabler? Yes, please.

These days many of my single friends live alone. They’re sick of sharing bathrooms and bills, and they’ve built up successful careers that afford them the means of shacking up solo.

Olds and Schwartz present their data in The Lonely American as evidence that people are taking independence to a place of loneliness.

“One-person households are most likely to be found in major metropolitan centers. Manhattan leads the pack. 48 percent of all households on the island are one-person households”

I’m a huge fan of Olds and Schwartz, but I don’t find the fact that almost half the residents of Manhattan live alone as that shocking or depressing. People get married later these days, so they don’t wait to be whisked away to a palace. They find a place they love and move in. At, let’s say, 28, some women feel they’ve outgrown labeling their food in the fridge.

On the flip side, people live longer too. So they might inhabit a one-person household after they’ve lost a spouse.

And obviously there are plenty more women now who choose not to marry or who’ve gotten divorced than there were back in 1940.

In my experience, people who live alone are often more social than those who live with one roommate. If you’re solo at home and want friendly contact, you’ve got no choice but to call a pal and get out into the world. When you live with a roommate, it’s easy to rely on that one person and not socialize outside your twosome.

What do you think? Does this statistic further the argument that we’ve become lonelier as a people? Or is it merely a sign of independence and taking care of yourself? And who do you think is more social, someone who lives alone or with a roommate?

9 Comments

Filed under The Search

A Man’s World

In all the time I’ve written about having work BFFs, I’ve taken for granted one vital piece of information: I work with almost all women.

Every job I’ve held has been in an office inhabited predominantly by females. Such is the blessing (and, sometimes, curse) of working in editorial. Well, maybe not if you work at Popular Mechanics. Or Esquire. Or Field & Stream. Or Playboy. But if you hope to make your living at a women’s magazine or website, you better not have a girl-hate-girl complex.

In a largely female environment, finding a work BFF—or at least an office ally—is almost inevitable. Us women, we like to team up. Our business styles are historically embodied by collaboration and consultation. This style lends itself towards establishing relationships.

But what happens when you work primarily with men? Such is the case for many of my friends in business and finance. They want a work BFF—recall that those who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job and those with three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives—but find it tougher to connect on a personal level with their male colleagues.

I haven’t experienced this firsthand. But one friend told me her problems befriending her male coworkers are twofold:

{Side note: Over the weekend I watched the Friends episode where Chandler is in a box. This is just now occurring to me because the reasons he is in there are “threefold.” I really do love that show.}

1. Her coworkers love to talk about sports and cars. When they aren’t talking about work, it’s the local football team or some fancy new car thing that I can’t even specify here because that’s how little I know about cars.

2. Whenever she does start having friendly banter with her male colleagues, it toes the line of flirtation.

Of course, not all men talk solely about sports and cars. And, again of course, some women would love to talk about sports and cars. It just so happens that my friend is not one of them.

It should also go without saying, even though I’m about to say it, that not all conversations between men and women have a flirtatious undertone. But certainly in some cases the flirty repartee can develop and quickly become problematic.

My friend finds both of these factors—the guy-talk and the flirting—frustrating, but she deals with it. (To be quite clear, there is no sexual harassment here, just chatter that some might classify as flirtatious.) When she can, my 28-year-old friend chooses to hang out with her one female coworker, a 22-year-old with whom she has more in common than her 30-something male counterparts.

I’m not sure how I’d handle making work friends in a predominantly male workplace. Do you work with mostly men? How do you navigate office friendships?

13 Comments

Filed under BFFs and Work, The Gender Gap

The Wedding Gift Question

I got married over a year ago. Which means, in theory, I should have received gifts from everyone on our guest list. I have not.

This isn’t a huge surprise. With every wedding there are some guests who don’t deliver. I don’t know if they don’t think they have to, or it slips their minds, or what. I assume that it’s usually a case of forgetfulness—either they think they’ve already given you something or they planned to do it just after the wedding and then they totally spaced.

I’ve been thinking about this because a friend of mine—let’s call her Phoebe—was in town this weekend. Phoebe wasn’t able to attend our wedding and hasn’t gotten us a gift yet. She is horrified at this fact. Much moreso than I am. She actually tried to buy us a gift when she visited last time but there was a credit card mixup and the charge didn’t end up going through (long and not-that-interesting story).

While we were hanging out (read: making cleanse-approved broth), we got to talking about the gift thing. The “rule” is that you should get a couple a present within a year of their wedding.

“I’ve actually seen a friendship fall apart because one guy didn’t get the other a wedding gift,” Phoebe said.

It seems a silly thing to lose a BFF over. But one small misstep snowballs into bigger drama, until suddenly there’s built-up resentment rotting the whole relationship. (To be clear, my friendship with Phoebe is not falling apart. In fact, she told me what she’s getting me. Fun!)

With Phoebe, I really don’t mind. (As to the handful of guests who fall in the no-gift category, I have varying degrees of annoyance. It’s case by case.) She knows, she’s apologetic, whatever. Her friendship is more important than her gift. And it’s not like I invited people to the wedding just for presents. You invite people because you want to celebrate with them and because you want them to witness your special day.

So the question is, does traditional etiquette apply when it comes to close friends?

Take the thank you note. Personally, I couldn’t care less about receiving them. When I do, I read and throw away. The best gift I can give a close friend (along with the actual gift) is to let her off the thank-you-note-writing hook. “Part of my gift is that you don’t have to write me a note,” I told my new-mommy friend earlier this year. “You saw me, you said thank you, that’s enough.” She looked as if I’d given her a pot of gold.

When I send a friend a gift, all I need is a quick email or a text saying, “I got it! I love it!” Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. A thank you note seems so formal, and close friendship is about comfort and informality.

Phoebe totally disagreed. “If I go to the trouble of buying a gift, I want them to take the time to write a note.”

It comes down to where you fall on Emily Post-style manners line.

For me, when it comes to close friends, traditional thank-you notes are unnecessary. I don’t need ‘em. As for wedding gifts, I say people should follow the one-year rule. Will I end the friendship if they don’t? No. Will I notice? Yes.

What do you think? Should close friends adhere to old-school etiquette? What are the exceptions?

44 Comments

Filed under 21st Century Friendships