Monthly Archives: February 2011

When You’re Mad at a Friend

It’s rare that I get angry at my friends. I’m lucky in that I’ve mostly outgrown the girl-fights stage of my life. In the rare instances I do get annoyed with a bestie, my thought process—and subsequent—behavior,  usually follows these steps:

1. Silently fume and overanalyze in my head. Decide that I am not going to be confrontational this time because it’s not worth it and this too shall pass.

2. Confront the very friend I promised myself I wouldn’t be confrontational with. Sometimes in the form of A Talk and sometimes an email. Sure, I resolved to let it go, but I can’t help myself. I want to discuss. To fix. (For a long time this was how I dealt with my romantic relationships too, for better or worse.)

3. Regret bringing it up. Confrontation, I’ve found, often results in tension and bad blood, even when everything has supposedly been worked out. With emails, I often feel better after writing said message—but worse after sending it. The issue that has me all riled up is usually something small, something I could have gotten off my chest with a simple yoga class rather than starting a whole Big Thing. (There are times when talking it out really is the best option, but usually my frustrations with friends are so minor that a confrontation isn’t necessary. Even if it is, a yoga class is still a good idea. Get zen and level-headed. If you’re still upset after you leave the mat, you know your emotions are for real.)

4. Apologize for making a bigger deal of something than necessary. Even if I was legitimately upset, I often decide to take the hit and just say I’m sorry for bringing it up because I hate being in a fight.

I realize that this general plan of attack might seem a bit crazy. I’m upset, I bring it up, I regret bringing it up, I apologize and take all blame. It’s not the best conflict resolution mechanism.

But like I said, these days I’m older, wiser, and fight much less. When I am annoyed at someone, I make a concerted effort to stop myself at step number 1. Silently fume, and then jump to 3b, the part about going to yoga to work out my frustration.

I know many of you out there might say that talking things out is always the way to go. Women love a good talk. And I think that’s true for bigger issues, things that 1) could actually be solved and 2) could ruin the friendship if not worked out. But I’ve done enough talking in my relationships—both the platonic and romantic ones—to know that discussion is not always the best course of action for me. Probably because I tend to be impatient, so I decide to have The Talk when I’m all worked up, instead of waiting until I’ve cooled down to see if confrontation is really the best route.

What are your conflict resolution strategies when it comes to your pals?

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Are You a Connector?

Ever since moving to Chicago I’ve been fascinated by stories of how good friends met. It was on my mind long before the ideas for this search and blog were hatched. Probably because the moment I realized how hard meeting friends is, I wanted to be inspired by others. Or more accurately, I wanted to steal their tactics.

Some friends met at work, some bonded when they became across-the-hall neighbors, others connected at bachelerotte parties for mutual friends. I’ve heard everything from “we were set up” to “we bumped into each other at a grocery store.” The stories are as varied as the people who tell them, but they all used to make me  jealous. That could have been me.

Last night I made two girls in my book club tell me the entire story of how they met. I didn’t want to hear their usual “we have a mutual friend” info. I wanted the nitty gritty rundown of the friend of a friend of a friend who brought them together.

One of the interesting things about these stories is they always involve a Connector. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his fascinating book The Tipping Point, a Connector is one of those people who seems to know everyone and is often responsible for two other people getting together (for friendship or otherwise.)

You’d think that a Connector should be the really friendly type, the person who prides herself on being BFFs with everyone she’s ever met. But I’ve found that a connector isn’t necessarily the life of the party. She can be the quiet one, as long as she’s interested in the people she meets. She collects new acquaintances like your son collects baseball cards.

As my fellow book clubber was telling me the story of how she met one of her BFFs, I watched her suddenly realize that a certain old friend was almost always responsible for the new friends she made.

“It’s so weird,” she says. “’Cause she’s not especially social.”

When I first read The Tipping Point I was definitely not a connector. I knew some people, but not enough to qualify me as a girl who brings people together. These days, after a year spent meeting all the potential friends I could, my Connector rating has gone up significantly.

And this isn’t all just in my head. Gladwell has a really fun exercise that allows you to assess whether or not you are a connector.

So? Are you usually the connector or the connectee?

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Where Do You Find These Friends, Anyway?

There are always articles in Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire on the best places to meet guys. Never have I read one on the best places to pick up friends. And yet, it seems that would be pretty helpful.

Long before I started this blog I would talk to family members or close friends in other cities about my idea for a “search” and it always ended with me asking, “Where am I supposed to find these friends anyway? At yoga? The bookstore? Awkward.”

It was from that kernel of an idea that this blog was born. And since then I’ve made some discoveries. Like that yoga isn’t the best place for friending (people go to the mat for quiet internal reflection or for a get-in-get-out workout), and that meeting someone at a bookstore is plain impossible (try going on a Tuesday morning when every female customer is attending storytime with her kid. You’ll make it one lap around the children’s section before you book it for fear of being mistaken for a child predator. Or maybe that was just me.)

Places that work better:

1) Volunteer work. I did One Brick, a fabulous no commitment volunteer organization. That worked best for my busy schedule, and there’s a social outing after each project. You might want to sign up for something that involves more commitment to ensure more consistency with your potential friend—your call.

2) The Internet. Online dating caught on, online friending must not be far behind. My Internet classified came in the form of an online essay. Perhaps yours would be on Facebook or Twitter or Craigslist (I’ve heard quite a few Craigslist friendship success stories, but be careful, please). When I wrote my essay I got emails from tons of women in the same boat, and just last night I had a girls’ night dinner with 7 of them. Success.

3) Classes that meet often and require you to be vulnerable. This might be an acting class or an improv class or even a religious group. In my case it was improv.

4) Restaurants. I made a new friend because she was my waitress and I left her a note. She emailed me back and now we’re buddies. You can do like I did and leave her a “will you be my friend?” note, or, perhaps less terrifying (and more expensive), you can become a regular and chat her up each time you’re there. I’ve found that people in the food service industry are talkative and like to meet new people.

5) Running group. When you’re training for a race, there’s not much to do during those long runs other than talk to the folks running next to you. Those kinds of talks for miles at a time every week can add up to real friendship real fast. I haven’t done this personally, but I know plenty of people who’ve made new friends this way.

Your turn. What did I leave off?

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The Hard Facts: Friends Are the Ultimate Anti-Aging Secret

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

“Afraid of becoming disabled in old age, not being able to dress yourself or walk up and down the stairs? Staying physically active before symptoms set in could help. But so could going out to eat, playing bingo and taking overnight trips… A person who reported a high level of social activity was about twice as likely to remain free of a disability involving activities of daily living than a person with a low level of social activity, and about 1.5 times as likely to remain free of disability involving instrumental activities of daily living or mobility.” (“Higher Levels of Social Activity Decrease the Risk of Developing Disability in Old Age,” Science Daily, 2/17/2011)

I am continually amazed at how important being socially integrated is to one’s health. I launched my BFF search in order to find partners for playdates, but it seems I might have earned the added gift of extra years—healthy, physically able, mentally competent years—on my life.

Thank God, too, because this search did nothing good for my workout routine or healthy diet (damn those wine calories). Clearly the best plan is to do both—working out with friends is a long-life twofer—but at least my girls nights haven’t been for nothing.

This particular study looked at 954 adults with the average age of 82, none of whom had any disabilities to start. In this case, disability was defined as the ability to “perform six daily activities without help: feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring and walking across a small room. They were also asked whether they could perform three tasks that require mobility and strength: walking up and down a flight of stairs, walking a half mile and doing heavy housework. Finally, they were asked about their ability to perform what are referred to as ‘instrumental’ activities of daily living, such as using the telephone, preparing meals and managing medications.”

(Let’s just take a moment to recognize the ridiculousness and amazingness of the word “toileting.” Really??)

The results found that staying social doubled your chances of performing the bathing, feeding, toileting etc, and increased by one-and-a-half your ability to do the tougher stuff like walk a half-mile (not easy in your 80s!) and managing medication.

Personally, I’m pretty keen on the idea of toileting all by lonesome for as long as possible. I’m less interested in doing heavy housework into my 80s, but I guess we can’t have it all.

If you’re teetering on the brink of a friend search, what most motivates you to get out there and give it a shot? The research about the benefits to physical health and survival? Or the more personal stories of  successful friend-pickup attempts?

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Which is Harder to Find: Romantic Dates or Friend Dates?

Yesterday I started reading a book called The Science of Single. You may wonder why I’d read a dating book, considering the fact that I’m married.

Here’s why: The author’s project is incredibly similar to mine, save for two small details. 1) Her search takes place in Washington D.C., and 2) She’s looking for boyfriends rather than best friends.

The Science of Single author, also named Rachel, “committed a year of her dating life to trying every mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) method of meeting potential mates, from single’s events and dating coaches, to speed dating and online personals.” She spent a year romantic-dating, I spent a year friend-dating.

Rachel Machacek feels about dating exactly as I feel about searching for friends. She discusses how hard it can be to meet someone “naturally” but also that if you do the work and put yourself out there, dates aren’t that tough to find. First dates, that is. Connecting with someone who you want to see again, and maybe again and again, is a different story.

The premise of The Science of Single got me wondering: Which is harder for women—finding a spouse or finding a BFF? And who is easier to meet and date? Potential suitors or potential friends?

Now, I recognize that I lucked out in the romance department. Meeting your husband in college is totally the easy way out of the dating scene. But my personal experience aside, I’d still argue that if you are new to a city, romantic-dates would be easier to find then girl dates.

There is a protocol, a vocabulary, and a playbook for dating. Generally, people know the etiquette of meeting someone and going on a date. Singles aren’t embarrassed, from what I can tell, to be on the market for romantic dates. Also, there are a million services/websites/mixers geared toward daters. According to Machacek, dating is a $1.8 billion business, “and there are thousands of resources everywhere for the people who are looking to date.”

Looking for friends as an adult hasn’t reached the social acceptance that romantic dating has. To discuss my BFF search, I have to borrow lingo from the singles scene. There are some services—speed-friending, friendship matchmakers—but they are few and far between and only a couple of years old. From my own experience (and that of some readers who’ve been kind enough to share), starting a search for friends is embarrassing. I thought about my local friend dilemma for two-and-a-half-years before I decided to ignore the humiliation and mention it in public. Now I know that I had nothing to be embarrassed about, but I had to work up the nerve to discuss it on this blog in order to figure that out. And I’d venture to guess that the monetary value of the friending business is way lower than $1.8 billion, though I don’t think anyone has ever studied it.

This is not to say that dating is easy. I know that it’s not. But if you are starting at square one in both the romantic and friend dating arena, I still say you might have a harder time finding a best friend than a boyfriend… (I’d add to that argument that the best friend is the more vital relationship).

What do you think? Do you agree? Or is my head just clouded by all friends, all the time?

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The Green-Eyed Monster

Here’s a friendship cunundrum: While your BFFs are supposed to be the people you root for and help succeed, one of the most common sources of platonic breakups is jealousy. She lands a promotion or gets into a great school, or maybe she gets engaged or pregnant or meets the perfect guy, and instead of being genuinely happy for her, you’re about 80% happy and 20% jealous. And as things keep going her way, the jealousy festers and the 80/20 split is suddenly closer to 50/50.

This type of frenvy (different than the envy that arises when you see your BFF growing close to other friends) is present in many female friendships, according to social psychologists. And my question is, why?

The more I try to uncover the root of this particular relationship plague, the more I think it’s not that complicated. Yes, we love our friends, but when someone achieves something we want for ourselves—a raise, a gorgeous new sweater, a 10-pound weight loss—jealous feelings emerge. And when it comes to close friends, I propose that two factors contribute to our jealousy:

1)    The In-Your-Face factor: If you hear through the grapevine that an acquaintance got a fat raise, you may have a momentary flash of envy, but it dissipates quickly. You hardly see her, so you don’t think much about it. But if your BFF is suddenly bumped up a tax bracket, you’re probably confronted with this new reality pretty often. The more she (inadvertently or not) calls your attention to her new income, the more jealous—and perhaps bitter—you become.

2)    The It-Could-Have-Been-Me factor: You might dream of winning a Golden Globe one day, but you probably aren’t legitimately jealous of Natalie Portman because it doesn’t really feel like the statuette could have been yours. When it comes to close friends, we know their shortcomings. If something great happens to them, it’s easy to question how they got so “lucky,” as friends don’t seem as untouchable as Natalie Portman. If your BFF, with all her quirks, can find a man/job/little black dress on sale in the perfect size, then why can’t you?

I was thinking about this in the first place because a dear friend of mine was featured on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times Business Section! I am incredibly proud of him, as this is someone I’ve been friends with since I was an 18-year-old freshman roaming the dorm hallways looking for a late-night snack ten years ago. And now he’s being featured in the Sunday New York Times. I mean, really. Amazing. (Check out the article and then check out his dating website, Ignighter.com.)

In this case, I can say with 100 percent honesty that I am ecstatic and not jealous. It got me thinking: Why are we jealous of friends sometimes and not others? (In this instance: 1) This friendship goes so far back that I want nothing but success for him, but also 2) I am not an entrepreneur so being in the business section of any paper isn’t a dream of mine.)

I anticipate there are people out there who will say a true friend should never be jealous of her BFF. And maybe it’s true, but it’s not reality. Jealousy exists, unfortunately. The question is: When does it start to erode a relationship?

Why do you think friends often grow so jealous of each other? How do you suggest they keep the green-eyed monster at bay? And, in your own life, has frenvy ever been the culprit in a falling out?

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The Latest Movie BFFs: Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin

I’m posting the movie trailer below for a few reasons:

1)    I was perusing EW.com (as I do approximately 12 times a day) and the headline read “’Something Borrowed’: Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin Play BFFs In Love With The Same Man.”

2)    Every now and then this blog needs something light and frivolous.

3)    I’ve never read Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed, but I feel like I’m in the minority and I’ve been told time and again that it’s great, so I like getting the Cliffs Notes from the trailer. (Never mind that the 2:31 trailer seems to give the entire plotline away, that Kate Hudson seems to play the exact same person she did in Bride Wars, and that her character seems like no one anyone would ever be best friends with—who steals their BFFs crush??)

4)    I really really want to know: Has this ever happened to you? Not the romantic comedy happy ending part (I’ve never read the book but I do have a hunch how it ends), but the part about being into the same guy as your best friend? It has happened to me in the early stages—we both think he’s cute—but not in any serious manner. If you’ve been in this scenario please speak up—how did it play out? Are you still friends? Did anyone end up with the guy?

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