Monthly Archives: May 2011

Who Are Our Best Friends?

I have this theory about couples. I think they come in two varieties: Carbon copies or perfect complements.

Some romantic duos are pretty similar. They can seem like male and female (or male and male, female and female… you get it) versions of the same person. There are differences, obviously, but more or less they are pretty similar. Values, demeanor, all that.

Then there are couples who, individually, seem so different. She’s the responsible rock to his kooky joker. He’s the quiet homebody to her social butterfly. But they fit together like puzzle pieces, making one complete picture.

I’m told Matt and I are the former  variety. It’s true. Sure, we have distinct personalities, but in the end we’re pretty similar. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been together, more or less, since we were 19 (which is, um, completely insane when I think about it), and thus have grown up side-by-side. But I’d argue it’s always been the case. We’re just two peas in a pod…. or something less cheesy and Sesame Street sounding.

I’m wondering if BFFs follow the same pattern. In all the writing and researching I’ve done about best friends, I still haven’t figured out what it is that connects people in that we’re-in-it-for-the-long-haul sense. Sure, there are specific factors that contribute to two people clickingproximity, vulnerability, similarity, resonance, and safe place—but these are simply accelerators. They’re circumstances that help foster friendship. But what is it that makes two people perfect for each other? Do opposites attract or do birds of a feather flock together?

Social researchers believe in the birds of a feather theory. Similar backgrounds, careers, hobbies or interests bring people together. We favor the in-group. But I’m talking on a more personality-based level. Let’s say a group of us love The Biggest Loser and The Office,  singing showtunes, and Jeff Probst. Hypothetically. If those similarities are already established, which of us will still be friends in a few years? The two party animals? Or will the studious responsible one befriend the spontaneous adventure-seeker? That’s how it always happens in the movies right? (See: Something Borrowed, Now and Then, Beaches.)
I wish there were an easy answer. It would make this whole search much easier. In my experience of meeting new people, plenty of those I was sure would be BFFs ended up falling off the radar. While some who seemed nice-enough-but-nothing-special upon first meeting have become close pals. I know part of it is due to consistency and proximity, but what is there between us that makes us like each other? It’s the question of the ages, I guess.

Think about your BFFs. In which category do they fall: Carbon copy or perfect complement?

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BFF Bill of Rights: Part Two

Yesterday I put out a call for your nominations to the BFF Bill of Rights, inspired by a chapter in Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Some of Kaling’s “best friend rights and responsibilities” are: “I Must Be 100% Honest About How You Look, But Gentle,” “I Will Take Care of Your Kid If You Die,” and “We Will Trade Off Being Social Chair For Our Outings” (here’s my take on friendship social chairs).

I’m sort of obsessed with this concept. Plenty of people consider best friendship like porn: You know it when you see it. But Kaling’s chapter lays out the BFF requirements in a more tangible, what-do-we-expect-of-each-other sense.

Yesterday, I added my own additions to her list. Things like “When you are wasted, I’ll make sure you get home safely” and “I will be at your wedding. I will be excited about it. And if I’m not, you will never know.”

As usual, I asked for your input, and collected some goodies. And now? Now I want more! I am loving this list! The “rights and responsibilities” are so spot on. And I’ve been thinking of more all day. Like:

  • I will always tell you when something is in your teeth.
  • While you’re single, I will never hold “couples only” dinner parties.
  • On the morning after you get really drunk and make an ass of yourself, when you ask me “Did I make an ass of myself?” I will say “No! Of course not!”
  • If I meet anyone in your line of work, anyone who knows you in a work capacity, or anyone who should know you in a work capacity and could perhaps help your career in any way, I will rave unconditionally about your brilliance.

And here are some gems that came from readers:

  • When we’re at a soiree and someone has the identical outfit as you, I will tell you that you look hotter in it than she does (even if it may not be true.)
  • If you’re in J. Crew but forgot your wallet and see something you can wear for a 1st date, I will use my sacred J. Crew reward points plus card because I got you.
  • I will love/hate your family with you. Your mom’s being a bitch? Yes, I totally agree. Your mom is the most thoughtful human being on the planet? Of course she is, that’s why I love her!
  • I will watch your kids for you whenever I can just like I know you’ll watch mine for me. I will also treat them as if they’re my own–loving them unconditionally and screaming at them for tracking in mud on the carpet.
  • I will pick you up from a boy’s house when you realize you don’t want to be there any longer – no matter what the reasoning is or how late it is.
  • If you move to a new city and get homesick, I will fly in for a visit, even if it means maxing out my credit card and flying all by myself.

How great are these? We are in the business of defining friendship here people! Check out Mindy Kaling’s excerpt (the BFF section is on page 15) and add your own rules below. You’ve got a whole long weekend to think about it.

Happy Memorial Day folks!

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The Best Friend Bill of Rights

A while back I mentioned how excited I am for Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)Yesterday, as if someone up there was looking out for me, a hearty excerpt of the book was posted online.

Also, because perhaps I needed further proof that Mindy Kaling and I should be besties (she and I have both cried to Paul Simon’s Graceland!), there is a chapter entitled “The Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities.” Basically it’s a list of everything that is expected of a BFF, and everything best friends deserve. Said rights include “I Can Borrow All Your Clothes,” “We Sleep in the Same Bed” and “I Can Ditch You, Within Reason.”

My personal favorite, though, is “I Will Hate and Re-Like People For You.” Kaling writes: “But don’t get mad if I can’t keep track. Robby? Don’t we hate him? No, we love him. Okay, okay. Sorry.”

This is real. Yes, of course, we all form our own opinions about the people in our lives. But if my best friend tells me that we love her coworker, and then one day tells me we hate her because she stole a promotion, and then we love her again because she was responsible for a raise? Sounds good to me. I can praise her or talk smack, just tell me how we feel today.

You can read the full excerpt here. The BFF section starts on page 15.

I’ve been thinking about it, and here are a few other best friend rights and responsibilities I would add to the list. You know, in case Mindy is asking:

  • When you are wasted, I will make sure you get home safely.
  • I will be at your wedding. I will do all the bridal activities I possibly can, and I will be excited about it. And if I’m not, you will never know.
  • I’ll try to help you see when you are being unreasonable, but I won’t call you unreasonable.
  • We might hold hands sometimes or walk arm in arm, but I am not so into that thing where BFFs kiss on the lips. Just seems unnecessary.
  • I will dig into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s/french fries/bottle of wine with you whenever you need to vent/wallow/celebrate/gossip.
What else? Take a look at Mindy Kaling’s list, then let me know. What do you think are the most important best friend rights and responsibilities?

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The Hard Facts: Is Twitter Chatter Ruining Friendships?

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

“The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation … The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.” (New York Times, “The Twitter Trap” by Bill Keller)

This isn’t so much the latest in the science of friendship as it is the latest in the journalism of friendship, but when the executive editor of The New York Times writes a piece on how Twitter and Facebook are ending real-life friendship, it’s worth noting.

“I’m not even sure these new instruments are genuinely ‘social,’” he writes. “There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter. Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant. Following an argument among the Twits is like listening to preschoolers quarreling: You did! Did not! Did too! Did not!”

There is certainly some truth to this. There are undoubtedly people who use Facebook interaction as a substitute (albeit a poor one) for the real-life kind. I know some of these people. It’s no joke. They delude themselves into believe that wishing someone a happy birthday on Facebook is equal to a a live phone call.  Or that messaging each other on Twitter is akin to sharing a breakfast burrito over brunch. It’s not.

But there is an opposite argument. In a response to Keller’s essay, Jenna Wortham of the New York Times wrote this: “For me, the exact opposite has happened. The stream of pleasantries, links and comments that I exchange online have only served to heighten my craving for in-person interactions at the end of the day. Laughing and gossiping outside of a Google Chat box (even if things we’ve read in the Internet often fuel a large part of the conversation) feels like a necessary antidote after a long day of silently staring at a computer screen and monitoring news alerts on my phone.”

Wortham goes on to say that Twitter has in fact emboldened her to approach potential new friends in person. She explains a recent experience when she met–in real life!–two people to whom she is virtually connected. “After following them both online for months and exchanging good-natured messages on Twitter, I was beside myself with excitement to finally meet them offline. I can’t imagine I would have been bold enough to introduce myself or strike up a conversation had we not built up a kind of camaraderie on Twitter in the weeks before.”

Clearly it can go both ways. If I had to make a personal call, I’d say social networking has amped up my social life. I never stay in so I can peruse Facebook or update my Twitter feed. I do, however, sometimes meet people I’ve only spoken to on those sites. That said, I see both sides of the argument.

Where do you fall? Think online conversation is displacing face-to-face contact? Think we are unlearning social graces? Or does the constant glare of online networking make you crave real-life interaction?

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Growing Our Separate Ways

Ok. Now that we’ve all seen Bridesmaids (more or less) can we commence discussions? When I first wrote about the movie I had seen a sneak preview, and was happy to give a glimpse into the competition between the Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne characters.

As I mentioned back then, and now maybe you agree, I was surprised by just how much of the movie had real weight to it. Relatable situations. At its core, Bridesmaids was a movie about friendship more than it was about ladies pooping in the bridal salon and getting drunk on planes (though that whole airplane scene had me doubled over. “What kind of name is Stove, anyway? Are you an appliance?” “It’s called civil rights. This is the ’90s.”)

The relationship between Kristen Wiig’s Annie and Maya Rudolph’s Lillian is another one that deserves some analysis. They’re in that “we’ve been BFFs for life but now one of us is moving on and forcing the other to miserably re-examine her life” phase of the relationship that movies and TV shows (*cough* Private Practice) love to highlight. There is this sense in entertainment that whenever a woman gets engaged or pregnant, somewhere in the world one of her friends dies inside. I think that’s silly. 10 percent true and 90 percent silly.

I do think there’s truth to the distress that both Annie and Lillian feel as they see their lives moving in different directions. They adore each other, they want to still be close , and yet there’s no denying that one of them is about to be living a fancy country club life and one is unemployed and living with freaky British brother-sister roommates.

I’m happy to say I haven’t encountered this friendship conundrum. Yes, I’ve grown apart from friends. But not because one of us got married or because of any underlying jealousies. My faded friendships have been the result of living in separate cities and both parties becoming less and less interested in making the phone call effort. Suddenly you realize you haven’t spoken to one of your “good friends” in approximately six months.

That said, I’m young. When I see my mom-friends I don’t ooze with envy.  I’m not there yet. My reaction is more of the thank-god-I-can-still-sleep-in-on-a-Sunday variety. And when I got married, I was young enough that none of my single friends had those “she’s getting married and I’m going to die alone” thoughts. I don’t think.

As my friends and I get older and pass the ages at which we’ve arbitrarily decided we should be getting married or having kids, perhaps then this jealousy, or hostility, will kick in. I don’t know. I mean, I hope not, but what do you think? Do friendships get hostile and tense as we grow in different directions and develop separate lives?

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What’s a Little Secret Between Friends?

As much as I embrace teeny bopper culture (and considering I have a lifesize High School Musical poster in my cubicle—which, I repeat, was not put there by me—we can probably agree that I embrace it very much), I actually don’t read too many Young Adult books. Sure, I’ll always give in to a fad like Twilight or The Hunger Games, but I rarely read a one-off YA novel.

This weekend I made an exception and devoured Before I Fall, a Groundhog Day-esque story about a high school girl who lives her last day over and over again. Let me tell you, it was goooood. I couldn’t put it down.

Of course, as with any book about—or for—teens, there was a large focus on the main character’s friendships. All the usual concerns, frustrations, giggles and moments of elation were there. It was true to what a teenage friendship is, at least from what I remember.

There’s one quote from the book that has branded itself in my brain, probably because of my already heightened interest in friendship and also because of last week’s post about infidelity:

“A good friend keeps your secrets for you. A best friend helps you keep your own secrets.”

A best friend, or so says author Lauren Oliver, is someone who can tell your secrets by reading your face and watching your actions. She knows when a subject matter is off-limits, and doesn’t pry. A BFF can tell which topics are too touchy to broach, and she’ll let you be the keeper of your secrets, rather than forcing you to dish.

I think the quote is spot-one. Best friends help you keep your own secrets. They’re not interested in outing your insecurities, just protecting you from them.

Right? Isn’t that how friendship works?

What about you? Do you believe there’s truth to that quote? Have you ever experienced this difference between a good friend and a best friend?

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Going Off The Friendship Deep End

You know those guys (ahem, Barney Stinson) who see every girl as a possible conquest? Who forget that sometimes a friendly conversation is just a friendly conversation?

I think I’m becoming one of them.

Last night I had one of those “You know you’ve been blogging about making new friends for too long when…” moments.

(Not that I’m stopping. You can’t get rid of me that easy.)

I was in line at the grocery store across the street from my office. I was getting some tuna salad because I was meeting a potential new friend for a blind girl-date, and I got the sense from our emails that this date was just a drink. My gym bag was on my arm because I’d just endured 45 minutes on the stair-master. The girl behind me suddenly started talking to me.

“Do you go to yoga upstairs?”

This grocery store is one of those bizarre places that carries tofu shirataki noodles but not, you know, milk. And yes, it has a yoga studio on the second floor. And my gym bag gave this girl the impression I went there.

“Oh no, I’ve never been there actually,” I said. “Do you?”

She’d never been there either, she was just curious if it had good classes. Instead, she told me about her studio—”it’s, like, amazing. And when I say amazing I mean, like, seriously amazing”—only three and a half years too late. My last day at work is fast approaching.

She was really friendly. Not overly friendly in an annoying way or anything (I took care of that), but cool, calm and collected. And she was clearly a yogi. Um, BFF much?

As I paid for my dinner, she said “Have a great night!” And then I stood there, awkwardly, trying to decide if I wanted to ask her on a friend-date. Because I CAN’T BE FRIENDLY WITHOUT TRYING TO PICK A GIRL UP! I mean, seriously. What is wrong with me?

Not that there would have been anything wrong with asking her on a friend-date. A bit bold, maybe, but I’ve done crazier. The thing is, I didn’t actually want to invite her to be my new pal—as my job winds to a close, my schedule’s a bit hectic so I’m focusing on nurturing the friendships I’ve already made rather than picking up new ladies, for now. I just couldn’t help myself at first. My brain has become so wired for picking up friends that I forget sometimes that the whole world isn’t living the same friend quest I am.

You’ll be happy (or maybe sad, as I’m sure the resulting ask-out would have provided plenty of awkward banter for this blog) to know that I was able to bite my tongue. I stood there, looking at my would-be BFF for approximately one second too long, and then said, “You have a great night, too.”

Like a normal person.

You’d think that would be easier.

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When Infidelity Strikes…

Infidelity is front and center these days. Ahnold has made sure of that.

It seems that every six months or so, another story like this hits the news. Eliot. Tiger. John. Arnold.

At book club last night, the question came up of whether Maria could have known about this love-child. And if she didn’t (and for what it’s worth, I’m guessing she didn’t), someone must have, right? There were probably people in the inner circle who knew and didn’t tell her, don’t you think?

What about her friends? Did any of them know? Did they keep it from her? We’ll probably never have an answer, but it’s a question I always find myself pondering in the wake of these scandals.

One of the hardest lessons in friendship I ever learned came some years ago, when I found out my friend’s boyfriend was cheating on her. The boyfriends was a classmate and friend, too, though not as dear to me as my pal. But I was young and stupid. I didn’t want to rock the boat, or upset the guy. I didn’t want to be involved, period. So I kept my mouth shut, just as all my classmates did. It seemed most everyone knew, except my friend.

And when she found out (and all these years later I can’t remember how she found out), she said to me: “I know you must not have known, because you would have told me.”

Ouch.

Never have I felt like a worse friend than in that moment. Two years later, when I was led to believe another’s friend boyfriend was cheating, I told her. Turns out I was wrong—or so he claimed—but I earned that friend’s unending trust and loyalty in the moment I shared that difficult news.

I will never forget my friend telling me that she knew I would have been honest with her. That I was such a good friend I wouldn’t have let her suffer the pain and humiliation that she did. And I do regret not telling her. But I also know that I was young and stupid and scared of the wrath of those I would be outing.

My friend was not Maria Shriver and her boyfriend was no Arnold SchwarzeneggerBut I bet the fear of being the whistle-blower was the same in the former first couple’s circle as it was with my friends, if only on a grander scale. It’s hard to deliver bad, life-changing news. Especially when being the honest one could come back to bite you in the ass.

From what I’ve heard from readers, the ethics of this issue are a gray area. I once wrote that telling a friend when a significant other is cheating is a must, but you didn’t all agree. I thought it was black and white, you all thought not. There’s always the concern that she won’t believe you or think you are spreading  “lies” for selfish reasons. If she finds out and decides to stay with him anyway, she may be too humiliated around you to maintain the friendship. There are circumstances to consider.

So I ask now, if you know a friend is getting cheated on, do you tell? Always? Sometimes? Never? Discuss.

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The Hard Facts: The Pain of Rejection

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

“New research suggests that the same areas in the brain that signify physical pain are activated at the moments of intense social loss.”  (“Rejection May Hurt More Than Feelings,” New York Times, 5/6/2011)

Love hurts. So can friendship. This latest study proves it.

One quote, from the study’s lead author Ethan F. Kross, really stuck with me: “When we sat around and thought about the most difficult emotional experiences, we all agreed that it doesn’t get any worse than social rejection.”

It’s not that I don’t agree—I absolutely do. I guess the image of five scientists sitting around and talking about what hurts the most, and agreeing that feeling left out is The Worst, just surprises me. Admitting to social rejection calls for a certain amount of vulnerability that I don’t equate with the science lab.

It’s also interesting—might I say, nice?—to hear that men feel the same sting of social rejection that women do. It hurts! Bad! Good to know we’re all on the same page.

Previous research had found the opposite, that “while social rejection hurt, it did not activate parts of the brain associated with physical distress.” Turns out, though, that not all social rejection is created equal. “According to the authors, the emotional pain simulated in previous experiments (being told a stranger dislikes them, looking at rejection-themed paintings) wasn’t powerful to elicit a true-to-life response.”

I’m kind of surprised that any scientist, ever, wouldn’t realize that thinking a stranger dislikes you is far less painful that getting dumped by a friend, mocked by a colleague, or left out by your group of besties. I mean, really. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. (Get it? Get it? ‘Cause these people are actual scientists!)

Most women have been through this kind of painful physical rejection before. Even if the official science wasn’t out there, I wonder if we all knew, in some small way, that this pain was legit. That might explain why we have such horrible guilt when we break up with friends. If we know, however subconsciously, that we’re inflicting genuine pain on someone? Well, that’s just not in our nature. I hope.

I don’t know. This is all just hypothesizing.

But regarding the pain aspect, apparently the part of the brain that is affected by spilling hot coffee on yourself is the same as the part affected by social rejection. Ouch.

Personally, my social rejection pain seems to manifest in my stomach. Just thinking about my worst moments of feeling rejected starts to tie my stomach in knots. Blurgh.

Have you experienced the physical pain of social rejection? Does this research surprise you, or is it a bit of a duh moment? Think this is why we ladies feel so guilty about breaking up with friends?

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Friend Flirting

It’s not really a thing, friend flirting. Not yet, at least.

But here’s the definition of flirting, according to my laptop dictionary: “Behaving as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.” I would take issue with the second half of that definition— plenty of people flirt with romantic interests with every intention of eventually making it serious—but that first section seems spot on.

And if that is correct, if flirting is simply a way of behaving to attract someone and show your interest in them, then the word really can be used for the friendly smiles and nods we use to endear ourselves to potential BFFs.

One thing I’ve come to believe, lately? As a woman, it’s easier to “flirt” with a guy than a girl.

I’m always on the lookout for new friends. I’ve trained my eye, so now I can spot an inviting smile anywhere. If a potential friend seems to be expressing “interest” in me (strictly platonic interest, but you can see why the issue of having no vocabulary for making friends can be tough. These quotation marks around the generally romantic words are just annoying), I reciprocate or even initiate the contact. And as I’ve always said, the people I’ve reached out to are generally responsive.

But what if it’s friendliness with no agenda? What if, say, I’m interacting with someone in an airport, and there’s pretty much no way we are ever going to see each other again, so any type of real BFFship is out of the question? In that case, it can be really hard to strike up conversations with women.

Yesterday I was at LaGuardia Airport, killing time before my flight from New York City back to Chicago. I wasn’t looking for a best friend (I’d just seen all my lifers so was feeling nostalgic for those specific ladies), but I’m always on the lookout for someone to chat with. The woman across the aisle from me at the gate seemed friendly. But every time I thought I might say something, just to chat, I chickened out.

Meanwhile the guy at Five Guys, the guys at the security line, the guys at the gate, they were talkative and friendly. I think we’ve all been trained in charming the opposite sex, even for a moment. But winning over a new buddy? No one’s gone to class for that.

Am I crazy? Have you found that it can be easier to strike up small-talk conversations with men than with women? Is it because we’ve been trained to flirt? Or because men are less judgmental, and thus less intimidating, than women?

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