Monthly Archives: December 2010

What I’ve Learned From Friending So Far…

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone! I’m thrilled because I will be ringing in 2011 at a dear friend’s wedding. She was my roommate for almost three years in New York City, and we worked together, so you might say being spoiled with her friendship is part of the reason I got such a shock to the system when I moved to Chicago. I even spoke at her rehearsal dinner last night. Telling an old pal how special she is seemed a really fitting way for me to close out 2010.

This has been a momentous year for me. Friend searching can teach you as much about yourself as it does other about other people.

So first, what I’ve learned about myself:

1. I am a social being. In my earlier Chicago days I would have described myself as a homebody, but that might have been due to the fact that I didn’t have that many locals to hang out with. These days I’ve realized I get a lot of energy and happiness from being out with new friends. I’m not trying to go out drinking till 1 am, but a girls’ dinner will put me in a great mood.

2. I enjoy alone time. It seems like a contradiction of the aforementioned point #1, but now that I am not alone all the time, I appreciate the time that I am. It used to feel lonely, now it feels relaxing.

3. I’m braver than I thought. Once upon a time I would have said “Oh I could never do that!” to a hearty percentage of the things I’ve tackled this year. Write a note to a waitress after a meal? Ask an established author to have lunch with me? At her reading no less? But now I’ve learned that the worst that can happen is I’ll be embarrassed for a minute. Then I move on. There are worse things.

What I’ve learned about other people:

1. Everyone wants friends. I was so so so so so worried that the people I approached this year would find me annoying or burdensome or strange. But across the board people have been thrilled when I asked them on a friend-date. People are busy and aren’t always willing to do the work it takes to make friends, but if you carry the load—at least in the beginning—others will happily come along.

2. People don’t analyze your every move the way you think they do. I constantly hear from readers that they are scared to approach someone because they don’t want to seem weird. I felt that way at the beginning. Now I know, no one is thinking about me enough to think I’m weird. If I approach someone, they usually just respond. They don’t analyze my crazy. At least not yet.

3. You never know what someone else is thinking. When I asked out the girl who works at the boutique on my corner, she said that she can never be the asker because it’s unprofessional for the salesgirl to invite a customer out for coffee. Until that moment it had never occurred to me that maybe she wanted to be friends with me but something was holding her back. The point is, you’ll never know what someone else is thinking. So just ask. It’s the only way to find out.

Three things I’ve learned about making friends:

1. Friends don’t come knocking at your door. If making new friends is important to you, you absolutely must be willing to do the work. You have to reach out and follow up and plan outings. You have to call back and write back and facebook message back. You have to show up.

2. Consistency is key. I see the people in my improv class once a week. We’ve become fast friends. Some of my new friends are in my book club which guarantees I’ll see them at least once a month. Some new friends I liked so much that I created consistency with them—I formed a dinner club. Now I see them once a month too. Seeing someone twice and never again is not friendship.

3. Friendships take time. I thought I would meet someone and we would have this friend-love at first sight business, but—surprise!—it hasn’t happened like that. Sure there have been some I have clicked with more than others, but even those relationships need time to become true friendships. Patience has never been my strong suit.

I hope these notes will help some of you make friends in the new year! What did you learn in 2010?

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My Hopes for a Friendly New Year

I should jump on the year-end post bandwagon. It’s that time I guess…

I’ll start, today, with my friendship-related resolutions for next year. Tomorrow, I’ll recap what I’ve learned this year. In the comments, I’d love for you to do the same.

So here goes…

My friendship resolutions for 2011:

1. No more icebreaker games! Wearing a nametag and playing “Fun Fact Bingo” or “I Like People Who…” was a common occurrence this year. Next year I hope to do a bit less of these activities and focus more on developing the potential friendships I’ve already found.

2. Meet the parents. It’s a relationship milestone, and I’m hoping I’ll get there with a bunch of my new pals. Actually, I want them to meet my mom. She’s local and she’s on call for a brunch date with any new friendship that gets serious. Has this become dating or what???

3.Put renewed energy into keeping up old friendships. Given all the research I’ve read—telling friends how much you value their friendship will make you 48% more likely to be “extremely satisfied” with the friendships in your life, friendships without face-to-face contact decrease in closeness by 15% each year—I’ve learned it’s difficult but rewarding to keep old relationships strong. This search was never meant as a replacement, just a complement, so I must do the work to keep both types of bonds in place.

4. Read more friendship memoirs. I’m currently reading Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home. Also on my list are Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship, Autobiography of a Face and Truth & Beauty (they’re a package deal) and Mentor: A Memoir. (Anyone have anything I must add to this list?)

5. Continue to step out of my comfort zone for friendly adventures. Being open to activities with friends has led me to perform in public, seek out a psychic, take a gong bath, and almost get my brains knocked out of my skull. And nothing brings two people together like creating a memory. Next year I really want to keep this up. Plus, friendly adventures have the added bonus of making me feel like a tourist my hometown. Love that.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Friend-related or not, please do share. I can use a bit of inspiration.

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The Hard Facts: Friendships Fade With Distance

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

“Emotional closeness declines by around 15 percent a year in the absence of face-to-face contact, so that in five years someone can go from being an intimate acquaintance to the most distant outer layer of your 150 friends.” (Robin Dunbar, “You’ve Got to Have (150) Friends,” New York Times, 12/25/2010)

This was the first piece of friendship research I’ve read that legitimately upset me. And on Christmas no less! ‘Tis the season for old acquaintance and good tidings and all that. We’re supposed to be celebrating lifelong BFFs, not calling attention to the fact that, if they live far away, they won’t hold the title for long.

I am well aware of how hard it can be to keep up friendships from afar. I talked to Sara this weekend for the first time in I don’t know how long. Too long. I don’t talk to any of my besties as often as I’d like. I still feel close to them—our shared history has made it so—but of course I feel less close than when I went out with them weekly.

I hate seeing the dissipation of our relationships quantified. None of my best friends are going to find themselves in “the most distant outer layer” of my social network. I’m confident of that. But still, it’s disconcerting. I’ve been in Chicago three and a half years. That translates to friendships that are 52.5% less close. Yuck.

Of course, these relationships don’t have total absence of face-to-face contact. Between weddings and travel, I’ve seen most of my old friends at least once this year. Next year will be filled with even more old pals. The wedding circuit is really picking up—we have six or seven nuptials to attend in 2011—and I already have trips planned in January and February for some much needed girl time.

So why did I have such a strong reaction to this seemingly innocuous statistic? I think because it confirms all the fears I had when I first moved to Chicago. I remember preparing to leave New York and joking with the friends who so lovingly gathered at my going away party that they would probably forget me. And you know what they say about jokes and truth.

(Side note: Yes, Callie threw me a going away party. There were old photos and pictures of my favorite TV stars. Jill made a cake. My friends all showed up. Now you see why I was sad to leave?)

I feared important relationships would fade away. Friends told me I was crazy. I chose to believe them. This, I tell you, is why I find this little nugget of Dunbar’s op-ed to be such a bummer. I wasn’t as crazy as I’d hoped.

Have you watched intimate acquaintances balloon out to the most peripheral layer of friends after a move? Fifteen percent per year seems pretty high to me, what about you? And how do you combat it?

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When Your Friends Are in a Fight…

The new year is quickly approaching and my wish for everyone is a year free of friendship drama. Because while female friendships provide emotional nourishment that relationships with men cannot, they can also be plenty complicated.

The emotional intimacy involved in best friendship leaves a lot of room for hurt or misunderstanding or fights. But even worse than fighting with a friend can be standing by as two friends fight with each other.

You’ve probably been there. I certainly have. You have a great group of friends when, suddenly, two of said friends have a falling out. You can be all Switzerlandy, staying away from the conflict entirely, but it affects you nonetheless.

There’s really no good position to be in as the non-fighting party. Here are your options:

1)    Stay out of it. You’ll need to tell both friends not to even mention their spat in your presence—making it, of course, a taboo topic. You’ll have to see them each separately. Your “group” will be no longer.

2)    Try to fix things. Like some sort of relationship repairman, you can talk to each friend about how she might forgive the other. But be warned, while you may see it as helping, your friend might see it as meddling. If you’re telling each friend how great the other one is, how they must forgive her, it may come off as taking sides. Speaking of which…

3)    Take sides. Maybe you’re better friends with one of the fighters, so you default to her. You don’t intentionally declare an allegiance, but suddenly you haven’t spoken to friend #2 in weeks.

4)    Be the go-between. While your friends are in a fight, they come to you to find out what the other one did last weekend or where she’s getting her hair cut. You’re more like a messenger than a friend, and you are very much in the fight even though you aren’t in the fight.

See what I mean? There’s no good place to be.

Personally, I’d go with option one. It’s the lesser of four evils. It’s what I would recommend to you too.

But I’ve seen each situation play out and it’s never easy. Fights always seem to be harder on the mutual friend than either of the sparring parties. Most recently, two members of my monthly poker game had a falling out. We handled it the only we knew how—disbanded the game. Ugh.

How do you handle it when two of your friends are in a fight? Do you stay out of it, take sides, or try to make amends? What’s your advice for friends in the same situation?

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Do You Avoid Taboo Topics With Friends?

Over the holiday weekend I was catching up with an old friend. I asked about some of her friends and how they were doing. Everyone was well, she said. But when I asked for specific updates on one pal’s love life and another one’s family, I was told, “Oh, I don’t ask them about that stuff anymore.”

These are sore subjects. One friend-of-my-friend is devastated about being single, the other has a newly strained relationship with her sister. They’re issues that have been brewing for a while now, and my friend has checked in on both topics plenty of times. But nothing seems to change, and it started to feel as if she was upsetting her BFFs rather than supporting them by asking the same question over and over. So she stopped.

And now the subjects have become taboo territory.

People say the measure of a best friendship is that you can talk about everything. Usually I think this is true. I generally don’t approve of having topics that are off-limits in a close relationship. How can you show you care about the important stuff if you’re not allowed to bring it up?

But maybe that’s the journalist in me. When I’m curious about something, I ask. Often to others’ disapproval.

I do think it is important to respect someone’s boundaries.  Sometimes it’s more rewarding to have a friend you don’t have to talk about the big stuff with. Someone with whom you can escape your troubles, if only for a moment.

I have trouble toeing this line. I always want to show my concern if a friend is going through hard times, but I don’t want to be another person firing off the same questions, especially when the answer hasn’t changed. It can start to sound an awful lot like nagging.

Are there any taboo topics in your close friendships? What are they? How do you show you care without beating a dead horse?

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A Very Friendy Christmas

One of the biggest differences between this year and last has been the significant increase in holiday parties this time around. With new friends comes invitations, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a full social calendar this holiday season.

Last night was the seasonal gathering with my work BFFs. Five of us got together for dinner and a gift exchange.

The night went something like this:

5:45-6:45: Drive around Chicago with our host, picking everyone up so no one had to drive home and so everyone could drink.

7-8 PM: Appetizers, dinner, gossip.

8-9: Champagne and gift exchange. We did Secret Santas. It’s so much fun buying gifts for friends—when you know someone as well as we know each other (you learn a few things spending eight hours a day with people in a small space for three years) you can get them something you know they’ll really love. I got my Secret Santa a Young Adult book we’d been talking about recently, plus the debut album from Mark Salling aka Puck. (We really love Glee.)

I got three books I cannot wait to read (Room, Half a Life and Matched) plus a pinecone ball necklace (an inside joke referencing my general confusion regarding pinecone balls. A question for another day. But seriously, why would someone want a ball made out of pinecone?) Another friend got a collection of princess paraphernalia for our much-anticipated royal wedding viewing party. Another got a homemade calendar, and another got earrings and a jewelry holder from her favorite store.

“Why is it so much more fun to exchange gifts with friends than with family?” one coworker asked.

“Because friends actually know you!” said another. Amen.

9-11 PM: Glee Karaoke for Wii. That’s right. My voice is shot today because I sang Don’t Stop Believin’, Somebody to Love, My Life Would Suck Without You, No Air, Imagine, Leaving on a Jet Plane, True Colors, Say a Little Prayer For You, Hate on Me, Golddigger and Don’t Rain on My Parade at top volume.

“It’s really amazing you found people just like you,” my mom said when I told her about the holiday party plan. It’s true. Have a mentioned they put a lifesize High School Musical poster in my cubicle after I got married? It’s silly, ridiculous even, but it made me laugh.

And thus began my Christmas long weekend. How do you plan on celebrating the holidays with your friends? Any great gift ideas for your BFFs? (If you’re stumped may I suggest Glee Karaoke for Wii? It’s, like, seriously amazing.)

Happy Holidays to all… I’ll be taking Christmas Eve off, so see you Monday!

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The Hard Facts: Why Women Are Scared of Other Women

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

“Roughly 60 percent of respondents [to a survey of 3,020 women ages 15 to 86] say they still find themselves feeling uncomfortable, anxious, wary, awkward, cautious, intimidated, or even distrustful of other females as a result of past experiences.” (The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships by Kelly Valen)

I imagine that every woman has been subjected to a mean girl at least once in her life. Even if you were the mean girl, chances are your minions turned on you at some point, if only for a moment. Think Regina George and the weight-gain bars.

Just yesterday I told Matt about the night I wasn’t invited to a big slumber party in eighth grade (a party thrown and attended by my close friends) because I didn’t drink. I didn’t care if others drank, it’s not like I was trying to preach sobriety (though maybe at 14 I should have), I just didn’t want to do it myself. I was, I guess, the goody-two-shoes buzzkill.

It’s now fourteen years later and I bet the party-throwers don’t even remember this incident. But I certainly do.

With all that said, looking back on my lifetime of interactions with women, the majority have been positive. Yes, there were girls who were mean in eighth grade, and later in high school and college and the office, but overall I’ve been lucky.

I haven’t read all of Twisted Sisterhood yet, but it seems that author Kelly Valen makes clear that plenty of women have positive experiences with other women. As a lead-in to the research quoted above, Valen writes: “I don’t want to overstate anything; most of our interactions are undoubtedly pleasant, well intended, even sweet. At least on the surface.”

But if 60 percent of women are feeling suspicious and nervous around other women, that surface picture isn’t all that reliable.

When I started this search I thought the takeaway would be that people are closed off to the advances of new friends. That when people learned I was actively trying to make new friends, they’d laugh in my face. But the opposite has been true. It’s a rare occasion when a would-be friend gives me the stink eye. The women I’ve met, even if our girl-date has been a total bust, have certainly seemed open to the idea of new people and new friendships.

My past experiences have not taught me to be uncomfortable, intimidated or distrustful. Instead I’ve learned to be confident, chatty, and encouraging. Which is why I find Valen’s research to be such a bummer.

Are you one of the nervous, awkward and wary 60 percent (and if so how do you deal with that)? Has your personal history tainted female friendships forever? Or does Valen’s research surprise you?

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