Monthly Archives: March 2011

Everyone’s All A-Twitter

Over the past few weeks or so, it has felt like Twitter is in the air. Obviously the 140-or-less service has been huge for some time now—duh—but lately it feels like every link I click takes me to an article or blog post about the best feeds, or exactly what to do, or, perhaps more importantly, what not to do.

First I read author Allison Winn Scotch’s blog post on how some authors annoy her with their self-promotion. Which led me to writer/blogger Nina Badzin’s list of Twitter do’s and don’ts. Then there was Time magazine’s recent list of the best Twitter feeds. Some of my favorites, including Mindy Kaling and Neil Patrick Harris were included…while others (ahem, R.L. Stine) had me sprinting to hit the Follow button.

When it comes to social media and connecting with other people, here’s my take: Facebook helps me connect with people I do know, Twitter helps me connect with people I don’t.

I am happy to “like” something or someone I don’t know on Facebook. I “like” authors and books and blogs and companies. But I am loath to “friend” a complete stranger. Something about it just feels, to me, a bit off. As if I’m creepily begging someone I don’t know to be my best buddy. (That said, when someone I don’t know friends me I almost always accept.) And even when I do become Facebook friends with someone I don’t know well, their status and photo updates rarely teach me about who they are, just what they did last weekend. I like Facebook for keeping track of my cross-country friends, who I can’t talk to every day or even every week, and for hunting down long-lost acquaintances. It lets me feel like I still know what’s new with them.

With Twitter, on the other hand, I feel like I can get to know someone. I may even go so far as to say I’ve made (virtual) friends through the service. A 140-character limit forces you to get to the heart of your message, and a personality often shines through more in a short quip than a long essay. Twitter feels conversational, and I have absolutely no qualms about following people I don’t know personally. That’s what it’s all about.

Lately, I’ve been focusing mostly on Twitter. (Follow me!) It seems a more acceptable forum for which to do the kind of social media connecting I’m interested in—namely to share links, comment on pop culture, follow interesting people and meet blog readers. I pretty much use Twitter as a place to share the random thoughts I’d reveal to my BFF if she were sitting right next to me while I’m watching TV. (Thus you may notice I do a large majority of tweeting at night, when TV commentary is overloading my brain and no one’s around to to share it with.)

For example, this tweet from Tuesday night when I was up too late and somehow found myself watching—stop judging me!—All About Aubrey  (it was late, I was desperate, I loved Making The Band…. I have no excuse): “Why does Aubrey O’Day keep saying on her show that she wants to be anorexic? Probably not the best choice of words.” No joke, I was watching that show and after the second time she referenced trying to act like “a good anorexic girl,” I looked around my living room for someone, anyone, to stare at in disbelief. Was this actually happening? Was Oxygen really airing it? But alas, there was no one to share in my horror, so I went to the Tweeple.

So that’s why I’m into Twitter these days. It’s most definitely no substitute for a BFF, but in the moments when you need to voice some snippeted pop culture outrage, or ask a question, or share your new favorite YouTube video, and your pals aren’t around, Twitter’s a decent ear.

Are you on Twitter? Which do you like better in the Twitter vs. Facebook debate? Which do you think is better for connecting?

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Filed under 21st Century Friendships

The Hard Facts: Eat Your Way Out of Loneliness

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

“Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf…they may be bad for your arteries, but according to an upcoming study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, they’re good for your heart and emotions.” (“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Comfort Food Fights Loneliness,” Science Daily, 3/23/2011)

This is both awesome and dangerous news.

It’s no surprise that we turn to food when we feel lonely… or sad, or angry, or frustrated, or happy, or celebratory.  We reward ourselves with food and sulk with food. But now the research is here: Eating comfort foods (for me: french fries!!) is helpful. It staves off loneliness, and makes us feel more connected on the days when we’re feeling uber-BFFless.

The truth is, I don’t need any more excuses to eat fries. Seriously. If given a reason why I should inhale them, I will take them down one handful at a time. So as soon as I finish this blog post I am going to erase this memory from my brain.

Obliviate!

But until then, it’s worth noting that on the days when you’re feeling isolated, eating your favorite warm-and-fuzzy dish could erase your sense of aloneness. “We have found that comfort foods are foods which are consistently associated with those close to us,” said one of the study’s authors. “Thinking about or consuming these foods later then serves as a reminder of those close others.” (Um, just thinking about the food does the same trick? Where’s the fun in that?)

Back pre-search, when I had moments of loneliness, I usually drowned my sorrows in a TV marathon rather than a food binge. But it’s the same concept really—I indulged in the activity that reminded me of my pals. As the authors of this study said regarding TV. I “bonded with a favorite TV show” rather than a favorite person.

What surprises me is that I figured this kind of behavior—basically wallowing in negative feelings—would make a person feel worse. Shouldn’t doing stuff that reminds you of loved ones make you miss them more? Feel more alone?

Nope. “Comfort food can serve as a ready-made, easy resource for remedying a sense of loneliness. Keeping in mind this new research, it seems humans can find a number of ways to feel like we’re connected with others.”

So next time you’re missing your cross-country BFFs, a burger or chicken nuggets or, yes, fries might be the pick-me-up you need.

I’ve admitted my vice, now it’s your turn. Which comfort food would pull you up from the dumps?

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Filed under The Search

The Tell-Tale Sign

One of the quickest ways to develop a potential BFFship? The next morning recap call.

There are few phone calls more fun and BFF-like than the day-after debriefing that follows an unexpected action-packed evening.

On Saturday night, Matt and I had some friends over to our apartment. The evening ran later than we had anticipated, and the next morning I smiled as my phone rang and the name of one of our guests popped up on my caller ID. I knew she was just calling to discuss the evening, to analyze different interactions, and to commiserate over our shared states of exhaustion. And I loved it.

This wasn’t a phone call to make plans or to ask any specific question. It was just a “how silly was last night? let’s go over what happened” chat. And I must admit, it felt like old times. These are the phone calls that kept me entertained most Sunday mornings when I lived in New York City. Like I mentioned last week, phone calls about nothing can oftentimes feel like the most meaningful. It’s that brief exchange–”I feel like poo, I’m ordering Thai food,” “Oh, good call, I’m not getting out of bed today”–that makes you think Wow, these are real friends.

In fact, about a year ago a reader left this very sentiment in the comments section of this blog: “There is nothing better to take things to the next level with a PBFF than a Sunday morning re-hash phone call about all the crazy things that happened the night before and/or calling to see if she’s alive.” In this case, said re-hash followed an alcohol-fueled evening, but the drinking part is optional, of course.

Inviting a handful of my new friends to meet and mingle really made me feel like this year has been a success. The thing about being on a friend search is that you end up meeting a lot of different people who don’t know each other. It’s not like high school, when you develop a group of pals. This year I’ve made a ton of independent friendships, and I was so thrilled to finally introduce some of the new ladies in my life. There was a lot of “X meet Y, she is from Boston and works at Chicago Public Schools. Y, meet X, she is a fellow Red Sox fan and a lawyer downtown. Discuss.” I’m not going to lie, it felt a bit like sorority rush. (So embarrassed that I just actually said that but I speak the truth.)

This BFF search has become such a regular part of my life that I don’t always see the progress. It’s like when you lose weight, the people who see you everyday don’t necessarily notice, but those you encounter only once a month are in awe. That’s just how I felt this weekend, when suddenly a number of my friends were in the same place and it hit me–it’s working! New friends, Sunday morning recap phone calls… Folks, we have lift-off.

What’s your surefire sign that a friendship is taking off? A phone call, a shared secret? We all ascribe meaning to different actions… share your this-is-it moments!

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Filed under The Search

Long-Lost Friends, Reunited

I love stories of missed connections, provided they turn out okay in the end. Like in Serendipity (you know that John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale movie right?) and Sleepless in Seattle. There was one such a story in yesterday’s New York Times, a really lovely tale of long-lost friends and  a 25-year overdue postcard. A real what-is-really-going-on-in-the-universe kind of coincidence. Though I’m not sure coincidence is even the right word.

(A special thanks to reader Leigh who passed the article along. I always love it when people send me interesting friendship articles or research via email or Twitter or Facebook!)

The story is worth reading, but here are the Cliffs Notes: A 34-year-old woman, Joanna, finds an old postcard in her mailbox, but quickly realizes it is not addressed to her but to a Caroline who shares her same last name and once lived in her apartment. Eventually she helps reunite the writer of the postcard and the intended recipient, who had lost touch in the 25 years since the postcard was sent. Now the once-BFFs are going to meet again and Joanna, the uniter, may travel across the country to meet them too.

The postcard, written from Rose to Caroline just after Caroline had gone through a breakup, read: “My dear friend, the thought of you inspired me to write. How are you getting along? The countryside is looking a lot like spring. The hillsides have a soft blanket of green grass, dotted with yellow and white flowers — beautiful. I guess I am just a simple girl at heart. What have you been doing for yourself? Have you met any interesting people? Life is a romantic adventure, remember, romance is everywhere! Love you.”

{Side note: How amazing is that postcard? I love me some email but to receive a note like that from a friend, in my mailbox no less, would be amazing. And unheard of. “I guess I am just a simple girl at heart.” I like this Rose lady.}

Twenty-five years later, Joanna returned home to this postcard at a time when she was also going through a breakup and contemplating moving from New York to California. As she told the New York Times: “I was inspired by these words and thought: ‘What is the meaning of all of this?’ Was it a coincidence? A sign to leave New York City? Who were Rose and Caroline? Why have the three of us been brought together like this?”

And now the old friends are reconnected thanks to a lost postcard that survived a quarter century, a New York City resident, and some people at The Times.

Sigh. It’s kinda dreamy, right?

Anyone else have similar stories of reconnections or fated friend meetings?

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Filed under The Search

Giving Back, Friendship-Style

I mentioned a while back that Matt and I were applying for a Big Brothers Big Sisters couples match, which would connect us with a Little Brother. Well, five months later…we’ve been matched! Last night, we met our “Little.” And I am so excited.

Obviously the type of friendship I am looking for on this blog is quite different than the type of friendship Matt and I will forge with our Little. But it is a friendship no less. And such an important one.

Right now you are thinking that I’m just doing this program to finally have an age-appropriate companion with whom to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter museum exhibits. You wouldn’t be all wrong. Being a kid-at-heart myself, this is a more appropriate volunteer opportunity than, say, working at The Humane Soceity. (Also a worthy organization, just not the right fit for someone mildly afraid of dogs.)

But a more important reason than even that (and how could there be anything more important than Harry Potter exhibits, really?) is that I’ve learned so much this year regarding the importance of friendship that I couldn’t resist being a friend to someone who really needs one.

Being a mentor, a Big Sister, is being a “special friend.” Or so says our match specialist. We aren’t there to parent or babysit. We are there to ensure a safe space to have fun and build a relationship of trust. (I know, I just used approximately 45 bits of stuffy corporate jargon. Who uses “safe space” unironically? My apologies.) The point is, I’m getting a new friend, and I’m going to be a new friend. And I have a feeling that had I not started this blog a year ago, I might not be a Big.

So yes, tonight I met my newest mini-pal. And I think it will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

If you’re interested in learning more about Big Brothers Big Sisters, check out their website at BBBS.org. I don’t normally tout organizations on this blog, but I really believe in what BBBS does, helping kids “realize their potential and build their futures.”  You’ll be a BFF of a different sort!

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Filed under The Search

When There’s Nothing To Talk About, What Do You Talk About?

After a year plus of friend-dating, I’ve found that when all else fails I can talk about books. Yell all you want about how TV and Facebook are ruining our attention spans and turning the human race into a bunch of morons, but I can attest that most of the women I have met this year—and I have met a lotare readers.

Last night I went to a really lovely dinner with a new friend and, as usual, talk turned to book clubs and what we are each currently reading. My PBFF was looking for some non-fiction recommendations, so I pulled out my trusty Goodreads app, scrolled through my virtual bookshelves and passed along some titles that might be a good fit. (In case you too are looking for non-fiction recs, my must-read, go-to-the-bookstore-right-now-do-not-pass-go suggestion was Dave Eggers’s  Zeitoun—my favorite book I’ve read in a long while. Others were In Cold Blood, Devil in the White City, and, of course, anything by AJ Jacobs, but especially The Year of Living Biblically.)

The wonderful thing about books—you know, besides the whole literacy, open-your-mind-to-whole-new-worlds, expand-your-creativity-and-flex-your-brain-muscles bit—is that they make wonderful conversation filler. I’ve had good luck this year, but not every date was easy chatter and instant BFF chemistry. And when all else failed, book talk saved the day. A simple “What are you reading now?” and you’re off to the races.

For me, television is another great conversation option, but I haven’t found it to be as foolproof as books. It’s less easy to recommend TV shows, because adding a new series to a viewing schedule is a pretty big investment. Also, for someone who watches a lot of TV, I often watch different shows than my potential friends. The absence of The Bachelor and True Blood and Dexter and Mad Men and any type of Real Housewife from my repertoire often turns TV talk into a dead end. With books, if you haven’t read each other’s favorites you can make to-read lists, and if you have, well, suddenly dinner is a mini-book club.

Obviously, talking books isn’t for everyone. When my husband meets a guy for the first time, if they have nothing else to talk about the conversation often falls to sports. For some of my friends around the country—those who aren’t particularly big into reading—sometimes silence filler comes in the way of foodie talk (new restaurants, food blogs, famous chefs), tabloid chatter, or anything Chelsea Handler. (These are all topics I’m more than happy to join in on myself. And speaking of foodie matters, and TV, last night was the third week in a row that I thought Top Chef was the finale and it wasn’t. Why so much Bahamas, people??)

What am I missing? When you find yourself in one of those painful, awkward-silence-filled conversations, what is your go-to conversation topic? And please don’t say the weather. That’s just a killer…

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The Hard Facts: The Benefits of Alone Time

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

“An emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them.” (“The Power of Lonely,” The Boston Globe 3/6/2011)

For someone who writes a daily blog about making friends, I actually quite enjoy—and am completely comfortable with—alone time. I learned to appreciate time by myself when I was 20 years old, doing an internship in San Francisco for a semester.

Forget having a local BFF. In San Fran I didn’t even have a local F.

These were the three months in which I fell in love with yoga, and the classes kept many of my weeknights busy. On weekends I would pick up my book-of-the-moment and make my way to the local make-your-own-salad place, settle in, eat alone, read, and people watch.

It was a definite time of growth for me, and the period during which I learned the difference between being lonely and being alone. As professor John Cacioppo says in this article, “People make this error, thinking that being alone means being lonely, and not being alone means being with other people. You need to be able to recharge on your own sometimes.”

According to the studies cited in this article, “people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone.” Solitude can also make people “more capable of empathy towards others,” and help “teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.” Researchers also found that people feel good about being alone more often than they feel bad about it, it’s just that most of the solitude spotlight is focused on loneliness.

These days, when I have a few hours to myself, I most definitely feel good about  it. But back in the days before this friend search, when I felt at a serious loss for local close friends to call for a playdate? I felt crummy. As is mentioned in this article, it’s a lot easier to handle being alone when it is a choice, rather than a state you’re forced into for lack of companions.

Solitude can also help us think more creatively. “When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.” For me, this is the kind of critical thinking that happens in the shower, the car, or on the treadmill. (Does that happen to you? I do all my best thinking in the shower. I come up with my most interesting ideas, I remember things I wanted to add to my to-do list, but by the time I make it to my computer… Poof! They’ve vanished. So frustrating!)

The moral of this story is nothing new. It’s the buzzword of the century: Balance. Carving out some alone time for yourself—and, again, this really only applies to solitude by choice—will help you reboot and be even more BFF-ready when you find her.

Thoughts? Do you see the benefits of alone time? And the difference between being alone and being lonely? Discuss.

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