Monthly Archives: April 2011

Kate Middleton Could Be My BFF

I’m into the royal wedding. Not crazy into it, like superfans who bought tickets to London and have been camped out on the streets all week, but into it enough that I considered getting up at 5 a.m. to watch it live. I said considered.

I’ve long been a fan of Kate Middleton’s. I’m not sure why, exactly, as I don’t know that much about her. No one does, really, as she hardly grants interviews and hasn’t revealed much to the public. But she has always struck me as down-to-earth and normal. The kind of woman I could be friends with. You know, ’cause I’m always on the lookout for new friends. Perhaps you’ve heard…

Recently I did some research into the now-Princess Catherine. And so, in honor of today’s Royal Shinding, I present to you the five reasons why I’d totally be BFFs with Kate.

1) She’s a tomboy-turned-fashionista. Just like me! Minus the fashionista part. I’m a tomboy-turned-wannabe-fashionista. A young Kate played on the hockey, tennis, netball (apparently a British version of basketball played predominanty by females), rounders (British baseball?) and swimming teams.

2) Word is she can drink William under the table. I respect that.

3) According to ABC News, she once told a friend who said she was lucky to be with Prince William that, “He’s lucky to be with me.” Healthy self-confidence. Classy.

4) She worked as an accessories buyer. This would round out my Friends with Benefits quite well.

5) She met her new husband in college, they broke up briefly afterwards, and now they are married. I met my husband in college, we broke up briefly afterwards, and now we are married. Coincidence… or fate?

What’s most fascinating about Kate is the fact that she’s hardly ever spoken to the press, people know unbelievably little about her, and yet so many women, like me, get the sense that she’d be a great pal, an easy-going let’s-hang-out-and-drink-wine kind of BFF.

How is it that she silently gives off that impression? Her looks? Her clothes? Her apparent self-confidence? Whatever it is, I’ll have what she’s having.

What’s your take on the new princess? BFF material? Or royal snob?

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“She’s My BFF!” “No, She’s My BFF!”

Last night I was lucky enough to see a sneak preview of Bridesmaids. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that I loved it. I expected to enjoy the two hours fine, but the movie actually had more substance to it than I’d anticipated.

Don’t get me wrong. There is some serious toilet humor, and a scene or two had me covering my eyes and cringing with embarrassment. (Side note: It was fascinating to see a Judd Apatow film where the raunchy comedy comes from the ladies. Empowering, in a one-character-may-or-may-not-have-pooped-in-a-sink kind of way.) (Another side note: I fell in lurve with Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig’s goofy-yet-totally-endearing romantic interest. I want to hug him.) But at its core, the movie is about friendship. About the insecurities and competition that can creep in, the difficulty of connecting with other women as adults, and the importance of lifers.

One of the  biggest storylines is the competition between Kristen Wiig’s maid-of-honor and another bridesmaid, played by Rose Byrne. They’re both close friends with the bride, though Kristen Wiig’s Annie has known her since childhood, while Rose Byrne’s Helen is a new pal. The situation is exaggerated, obviously, but it’s rooted in something very real.

You know the inkling of jealousy you get when you meet a lifelong BFF’s new close friend? Mostly, you like her. Approximately 99 percent.  But that nagging 1 percent leaves you wanting to point out all the ways in which you know your best friend better than she ever will. Or that you have inside jokes that go back further than their entire friendship. It’s ridiculous and childish and you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve ever felt this way. But you have. We all have.

And clearly Kristen Wiig has, as she co-wrote the movie.

What is it about bestfriendship that can, every now and then, turn perfectly sane smart adults into possessive freaks? We get territorial about our friendships—at least internally—even though we’re well aware on a rational level that a woman can handle more than one close pal. The worst part about this jealousy is that we know it’s ridiculous. We know we shouldn’t be feeling this way, which just makes us feel worse, right? Maybe I can only speak for myself, but when I catch myself spiraling into this pit of friendship craziness, the worst part is realizing that I am too old for this. I am an adult, and shouldn’t be fighting the jealous instincts of a middle schooler.

You’ve been in this situation, yes? How did you handle it? Did you just behave until you snapped out of it, or did you have to go the confrontation route?

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The Hard Facts: The Cocooning Couple

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

“Once people get married, they seem to feel relieved of social obligations toward family and friends. Cocooning is the couples version of social isolation. It does increase closeness in marriages. It also increases the fragility of marriage, the burdens placed upon marriage and, over time, it increases the likelihood of both divorce and loneliness.” (The Lonely American by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz)

There has been an increase in spousal communication over the last two decades. The amount of people who include a spouse in their circle of closest confidants increased by 8 percent in the years between 1985 and 2004. It speaks well for the future of marriage. Long and happy relationships are made of trust. But while it’s great that more people can confide in their spouses, the number of people who reported that they can confide in only their spouses increased by almost half.

Confiding in your spouse: good. Confiding in no one but your spouse: bad. What if something happens to your hubby? Or if he’s the very person you want to vent about? Then who do you turn to?

This is where things get tricky. Alongside the increase in communication among spouses has come a tendency for couples to isolate themselves from the rest of their social network. In fact, married couples have fewer familial ties and are less likely than single folk to socialize with neighbors or friends. A 2010 study found that when the average person couples off, she drops two friends.

While maintaining a close friendship with your spouse is one of the key predictors of a long and happy marriage, making your spouse—or romantic partner—your only friend is a great way to end the relationship all together, according to the authors mentioned above.

I can’t tell you how often I hear from women in new cities that, sure, they’d love a new friend or two, but they don’t really need one, because they have their boyfriends/husbands/whatever. Now, I’m not one to go giving advice where it’s not wanted—at least, I try not to—but since this is my blog it seems an acceptable place to get on my soapbox and say:

You. Need. Friends.

An intimate romantic relationship is all sorts of great. I get it. But one day, you might want to talk to a lady friend about girl stuff. When you realize said lady friend doesn’t exist, you’ll try to chat about girl stuff with your husband. Believe me, he will not like this. There might be a fight. A long one.

I know this because I’ve been there. Pre-friend-dating, I was that girl trying to squeeze some semblance of girl time—the detailed analysis of every conversation and awkward run-in of the day—out of my husband. This friend search was a life saver in that capacity. Now I have girls for girl talk, and my husband for husband talk. Separate roles, both totally necessary.

If you’re reading this blog, you likely already give some weight to friendship. But that friend currently spending her days gazing into her significant other’s eyes? The one who you don’t see anymore because she’s constantly holed up with the man in her life? She might need a wake-up call.

Have you ever seen a couple isolate themselves to the point where it hurt their relationship? Have you even been in that situation? Have you seen friends diappear because they started dating someone?

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More Friends and Neighbors…

I didn’t intend to make this Love Thy Neighbors week, really I didn’t. I’m hardly one to go touting commandments. But yesterday’s post about befriending neighbors was a catalyst for a few stories I need to share.

I had lunch with a fairly new friend yesterday. As we settled in, she mentioned she had read the post and laughed in recognition as she had a similar experience with her upstairs neighbors. The one catch, though, is that in the time since she and her boyfriend met the neighbors and planned to invite them over for a drink, they’ve discovered their neighbors are loud. Really loud. Like, clomp around the apartment at 3 am and wake my friend up, loud.

“My boyfriend says he doesn’t want to befriend them anymore, as he won’t be able to resist asking them why they make so much noise.”

Noisy neighbors are one of those pet peeves that get people really riled up. I’ve lucked out in that department, as I live on the ground floor but rarely hear anyone walking above me. But just start to hint at your own neighbor-noise story, and people will inevitably chime in, trying to one-up you with their stories of sex noises, screaming fights, and indoor stilettos at 4 am.

Fast forward a few hours. I’m on a dinner girl-date with a brand-new friend. She starts to tell me about how she became best friends with her downstairs neighbor a few years ago. The friendship started because one day she arrived home to a bottle of wine at her doorstep. The vino was accompanied by a note: “Do you mind taking your shoes off when you come home? I can hear you downstairs when you come home late at night.”

Brilliant right? Win her over with some alcohol, then make your request. It seems so obvious—don’t we all know to butter someone up when we make a request?—and yet when it comes to noisy neighbors, people often wait to say anything until they are driven so insane that they cannot behave rationally. These stories so often end with banging on walls or angry notes, like this one:

Image: Passive Aggressive Notes

When my new friend received the bottle of wine and the kind request, she walked downstairs to apologize and invite her neighbor to share in the drink. They had a glass, or two,  and hit it off. The rest was history. (Well, until the neighbor moved. But that’s beside the point.)

See, friends can come from the unlikeliest of places. Like asking the upstairs neighbors to just shut the f** up already.

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The New Friend Expiration Date

On Saturday, Matt and I went to dinner with some couple-friends. In between samosas and chicken tikka masala (yum!) these friends shared a story about their botched attempt to befriend their next door neighbors.

The story goes something like this: The neighbors moved in, and my friends realized they seemed relatively normal. Cool, even. Sometimes that’s all you need. They talked about asking the neighbors over for a drink, but never really got around to it. They didn’t see much of each other, though with a bit of detective work my friend realized the female half of the couple works in web production, as does she. She still didn’t say anything.

Months turned into a year, and that year turned into two. There were nods in the hallway, friendly waves, but nothing more. During the big Chicago blizzard, they saw each other outside and exchanged those classic “we should get together!” pleasantries. And yet again, nothing.

Now three years have passed since the neighbors moved in, and my friends say they’ve missed their shot. The befriending window has closed. They’re perhaps a little regretful, but as my friend said, “The neighbors are equally at fault.”

I told my friends they should just bite the bullet and invite the neighbors over for a beer. “You probably both meant it when you talked about getting together,” I said. “It just sounds like one of those situations where no one ever got around—or everyone was too embarrassed—to do the asking.”

Oh, didn’t you hear? I’m a regular friendship therapist.

I get the sense that my friends and their neighbors will carry on as usual. That the moment has passed and the relationship won’t be pursued.

I know that I’ve been studying friendship for over a year now, so my take is different than the average Joe’s, but I say there’s no time stamp on friendly overtures. I completely understand where my pals are coming from—the invitation would probably require some recognition of the passage of time—but I hear plenty of great stories of people who went to school together for four years before becoming friends at the end of senior year, or ladies who lived in the same building for a decade before becoming BFFs.

I get the sense, through emails and the like, that many people who read this blog go through the same thought process as this couple. You have someone you’ve always wanted to befriend, but since you didn’t move on that friendship at the get-go, you feel like it would be awkward now. I’ve been there. During my year of (aggressive) friending, I emailed people I had met 12 months earlier but never had the guts to contact. And more often than not, the response came back like this: “It’s so great to hear from you!” Or this: “What a pleasant surprise” Or this: “I’m so glad you got in touch.”

Just saying, people like to feel liked, no matter how long it’s been.

Thoughts? Do you shy away from reaching out when you feel like you’ve missed your window?

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The Great Friendship Equalizer

It’s the rare get-together when men and women don’t take their separate corners. Unless I’m at a rager, I’ve found that more often than not, men gather around the TV while women convene in the kitchen. A stereotype? Yes. But still, it happens.

Last night I went to a low-key coed gathering during which the ladies and gents remained intermingled throughout. The trick? Poker.

It was the first of what I hope will be many poker nights. There were attendees of all skill levels—from casino regulars to first-timers. We played a tournament, so the night was heavy on friendly banter and, yes, some heated competition.

Poker, I’d argue, is the great equalizer. Sure there are some players who are better than others (and I’m not especially good) but everyone’s money is green, so everyone is taken seriously. And while sitting around a table, waiting for cards to come your way, you can’t help but chat with your neighbors. Playing cards might be the universal icebreaker.

It sort of reminds me of what I used to hear about cigarette breaks. You’re all outside smoking and you start talking just to pass the time. Without realizing it, you’ve suddenly learned everything about your fellow smoker. It’s in these small moments, when you’re not paying attention, that friendships are born.

I don’t smoke, though, so cigarette breaks offer me nothing. But hopefully a few more nights around the card table will work the same magic.

And, because the poker episode of Friends is one of my all-time favorites, I present to you this video of Rachel’s big victory. Not exactly illustrative of my evening, but a great clip:

Are there other pasttimes–other than poker and smoking (which I don’t condone!)–that forge friendships when you’re not paying attention?

Happy Friday everyone!

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Moody McGee: How To Deal With Grumpy Friends

Question: When a good friend is in a bad mood, what do you do? Ask what’s wrong and try to help? Or, steer clear until she busts out of her funk?

I have to admit, I usually go with option two.

I ask because I’ve recently encountered a number of generally jolly friends who have seemed out of sorts. Normally they’re laughing, but now they’re sulking. I honestly believe it might be the weather—it’s mid-April and here in Chicago it’s still in the low 40s. The never-ending cold is enough to make anyone a little pissy. But whatever the reason, it’s out there. An across-the-board grumpiness.

In these scenarios, when I can feel a frosty chill emanating from a friend’s very being, my MO is to back off and let her have her space. My only goal is to not piss her off even further, and to keep anything and anyone that might push her over the edge as far away as possible. If the door seems open, I’ll say “You okay?” but that’s the most I’ll pry uninvited. This is my attempt at helping, because when I’m in a bad mood myself I go right to my people-avoidance place. My bad moods are usually accompanied by a strong desire not to talk to anyone, because I’m not in the right mindspace for socializing and also because I worry I might snap at some poor innocent soul for merely talking to me.

I’m not proud of this, but it is what it is.

If a moody friend tells me she has had a bad day or is annoyed about something that she doesn’t want to talk about, my response is “OK. Changing the subject then…”

However, I know this isn’t everyone’s course of action, and it might not be the right one. I treat moody friends as my moody self would want to be treated. The problem, of course, is that not everyone wants the same treatment. Some people sulk just so someone—or multiple someones—will ask what’s wrong, allowing said sulker to open the floodgates of rage.

With some of my friends, I know their preference and cater to it. I am always happy to be the sounding board for a BFF’s mood if that what she needs.

But I’m talking about new friends. The ones whose needs you haven’t yet mastered.

I’ve seen plenty of women take a different approach than I. They’ll say “Is everything okay? What’s wrong? What can I do? Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?” and either really annoy or really support the bad mood bear.

The point is, I often try to honor what someone says. If a friend says “I want to be left alone,” I buy it. I leave her alone. But I now I’m worried I come off as uncaring.

Sigh. Drama. Sometimes you can’t win.

What do you guys think?

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The Hard Facts: The Friendship Life Cycle

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

“Our social connections change as a function of age, typically forming a U shape across the lifespan, [associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence Stephen S.] Hardi says. As kids, we make friends easily because we spend so much time with our peers. Then comes a dip in early adulthood and midlife, when careers, marriage, and kids send us into lockdown. As these obligations ease up in our older years, we become socially active once again.” (“Friends for Life,” Better Homes and Gardens; April, 2011)

I find this life cycle of friendship fascinating.

But also encouraging.

Here we have scientific proof that my difficulty making new local BFFs when I first moved wasn’t because I’m a social leper or totally awkward. It’s because I was, and am, at an age where meeting new people is hard, both because I’m so busy and because my peers are too.

Last summer, my mother wrote about why it’s so important to hold on to your friends during the “lockdown” years. “Girls, don’t let the building of your adult life get in the way of maintaining the friendships you’ve spent so much time and energy developing,” she wrote. “You’ll find that whatever effort it takes—going back to your home town for a wedding or reunion, taking time out of a family visit for lunch or dinner with pals—you’ll be glad you made it. Once you emerge from those years from twenty-five to forty, those long-time friendships will mean the world to you.”

I know that she’s right, but I also like the idea that I’ll be in good shape for new friend making when I’m older. That the hardest part is right now, so if I can get through this, um, decade, I’ll be in great shape.

It’s funny, too, because when I started this search I thought not being a mom was the single thing working working most against me. I figured having a little one would mean Mommy & Me and Gymboree classes that would guarantee my next best friend. I was under the impression that the late-20s, early-30s were prime BFF time, now I know it’s the Empty Nesters who’ve won the friendship jackpot.

Now that I think about this research, I can’t help picturing the movie In Her Shoes (I never read the book), when Cameron Diaz’s Maggie moves into her Grandmother’s retirement home. Suddenly, she’s got a ton of new BFFs—and shopping buddies. I’m not saying that I want to move into a retirement community… but I’m not saying that I don’t.

Sure, age and lifestage influence who you are friends with, but do you think they influence your ability to make friends in the first place? At what age have you found it easiest to make friends? And for those of you in the so-called “older years,” is it true that your social activity has increased as you’ve aged?

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How Long Does It Take to Make a BFF?

I think this search might be working.

Last Friday, Matt and I went to dinner with one of my new friends. She brought along another friend, who I’ve slowly been getting to know as well.

On Saturday, a friend from book club came over for a TV marathon. It was our first non-book club playdate, but felt as easy as if we’d been doing these weekend viewing sessions forever.

Low-key group dinners? Hours in front of the TV? This is just what I’ve been looking for.

Both of these friendships evolved slowly over time. They involved months of seeing each other on a scheduled basis—weekly or monthly—before the friendships graduated to girl-date status. A real lesson in patience.

Of course this doesn’t mean that I’ve found my BFF. Apparently there is more to being a best friend forever than simply having the same taste in television. (Though that’s a pretty good start.) Still, I realized over the weekend that I’m a long way from where I was when I started this blog: desperate to meet new people and begging for any help I could get.

I offer this piece of insight to anyone who might be discouraged as to how long the friend-making process takes. I hear from so many women regarding promising friendships that seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. They worry that time is keeping the friendship from moving to the “next level.” I say wait it out. Continue making other friends and moving on with your life, but don’t write off a potential BFF just because you didn’t immediately start making plans for every day of the week. Like anything, friend-making takes patience. A lesson I’ve learned the hard way considering I’m the least patient person in the world.

What about you? Think about your own local BFF: How long did you know her before you started considering her The One?

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The Unvitation

Last week, I wrote about the phenomenon of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. We’ve all been there—deep in the abyss of self-pity, nervous that all our friends are gathered without us, having the time of our lives.

The example in question was a quiet Friday night. You may choose to stay in and take a load off, but a barrage of Facebook status updates showing your BFFs having a grand ol’ time can make you regret that choice.

After I wrote this post, I got a call from a friend. “I don’t really care if I miss out,” she said. “I just want to be invited.”

And later: “I want my friends to want my company. It’s important to me to be included. But to actually have to go out on a Friday? Ugh. No thank you.”

This gets at something very real. The knowledge that my friends are at a concert doesn’t affect me if I’ve turned down said concert for a quiet night in. But when I hear, after the fact, that some pals went on an adventure without me—without even inviting me—that’s when my inner over-sensitive 4th grader comes out to pout.

Despite having felt the sting of the “unvitation” before, I have been guilty of imposing this feeling on others. A few years ago, I told a friend I was thinking of having a small birthday dinner on that Saturday night. She mentioned she’d be at a wedding. So when I sent the email invitation—it was a low-key affair—I left her off the list. I knew she couldn’t make it.

Fast forward a few days and you know what happened: My pal was mad at me for leaving her out.

“But I knew you couldn’t come!” I said.

“Still, it would have been nice if you included me.”

Rationally, I believe to this day that I didn’t do anything wrong. She told me she couldn’t come, so what was the point of inviting her? It was as if I was supposed to pretend she hadn’t already informed me the other plans. But I should have known better. The human brain isn’t always rational, and  when it comes to friends I’ve learned we must honor irrational emotions more than logic. I guess that’s part of the whole friendship gig. Not everything is based on reason.

After this incident, I got nervous planning wedding events. I had two showers—my mother-in-law threw one and my aunt the other—and didn’t want to invite my friends to both because I didn’t want them to feel guilty for not coming. Or obligated to buy gifts. But I also didn’t want them to feel left out. Ugh, being a girl can be so complicated.

My solution? A simple email. I wrote, “I’m having two showers, one in NYC and one in Boston. If any of you think you might come to either one, let me know as I’d love to have you there. But absolutely no pressure, and if you’re not local I wouldn’t want you to feel like you need to travel or buy a gift, so just let me know and I won’t even send an invite.”  There’s no perfect plan, but this worked for me.

So, what say you? Do you fear missing out? Or are you happy to miss out, as long as you get the invite? Or is all this hullabaloo just a product of adults being too sensitive and over-analytical? ‘Cause personally, I think that might be it.

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