Monthly Archives: June 2011

When Friends Move Closer

Today I got some exciting news. An old, dear friend of mine will be coming to Chicago next month to interview for a job.

I’ve been in this situation before. I have two friends, in particular, who have more than once gotten me excited about their potential moves to Chicago. I was sure my friending problems were over. “You can stay in my second bedroom until you find a place,” I told them. “And then you should rent an apartment  in my building, so we can watch Chelsea Lately/Drop Dead Diva/The Office/Whatever together.” I started to plan our new life, only to soon be disappointed.

For whatever reason, Chicago is often a second choice.

When I first moved here, I spent plenty of time trying to recruit old friends to Chicago. The rents alone should lure a NYC dweller. Once you’ve lived in a six-floor walk-up with bed bugs and mites and a mouse-rat (I still choose to believe it was a mouse, but I know deep down….) and paid about $1200 a month for the privilege, Chicago prices are pretty appealing. (It’s all relative, I know.)

I’ve since moved on. I don’t get my hopes up anymore. This friend with the interview, her sister applied to business school out here, but chose to go to Boston instead. Like I said, always a bridesmaid…

Still, I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if one of my high school besties moved into my zip code. I picture many Friday night drinks and Saturday afternoon shopping trips and Sunday morning brunches. My vision also includes late nights on the phone and finally being the go-to for a friend who needs a wing-woman. She’d meet all my new friends, and we’d be like one of those fearsome twosomes, a la Kate and Allie or Thelma and Louise.

Matt says I romanticize this fantasy. Even if one of my best friends moved here, he says, we’ll still have jobs and lives and commitments. It’s not like we’d be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice. My friend and I still might see each other only once a month.

That’s one of the greatest dangers of friend-searching. You spend so much time envisioning the perfect end result that even a really awesome reality has a hard time living up to it.

I’m crossing my fingers, of course. If my pal were to move to Chicago, it would certainly be a game changer. A happy one. But I’m not going to hold by breath, given my luck with friends’ moves in the past.

What do you think? Do I romanticize what could happen if a friend moves to Chicago? Have any of your old friends ever moved to your adopted hometown? How’d it go?

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The Hard Facts: Shyness and Introversion

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

“The overall incidence of shyness and introversion is…40 percent of the population for shyness, according to the psychology professor Jonathan Cheek, and 50 percent for introversion.” (NY Times, “Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic” by Susan Cain 6/26/2011)

I am not an introvert. And yet I’ve found that introverts often enjoy this blog because their very nature is keep to themselves, thus making it tough to find friends.

So I was especially excited to read this piece on how shyness and introversion differ. “Shy people fear negative judgment; introverts simply prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments,” author Susan Cain writes. Given this definition, I would imagine that a friend search is much harder for a shy gal than it is for an introvert. The fear of negative judgments can be pretty substantial, after all.

According to this article, there are plenty advantages to being an introvert. However, public perception is not of them. “Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable and even smarter than slow ones. “

So my question on this unusually short Research Wednesday: Have you introverts ever felt your friend-search struggling simply because you weren’t stimulated by loud, people-filled environments? Do you feel you “lose out” to the fast and frequent talkers? And do any of you self-identify as shy rather than introverted? How has that affected your friending?

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Does Locally Friendless Equal Awkward?

An actual conversation from the bachelorette party I attended this weekend:

New Friend: Rachel, I’ve never really hung out with you before. You are so different than I thought you’d be.

Me: Why, what did you think I would be?

New Friend: I don’t know, when I heard about your book and how it was about new friends…

Me: You thought I’d be weird and awkward?

New Friend: Well, I thought you might be awkward since you had so much trouble making friends. But you’re great! You could make lots of friends!

I loved everything about this conversation. I especially loved how honest she was. She thought my difficulty with making new BFFs meant I was socially awkward, and who can blame her. I don’t hold the assumption that I was some weirdo against her at all. There was a time that I, too, would have thought some friendless blogger must be a sad sack. To be honest, I found the fact that my new friend admitted as much to be totally hilarious and awesome. I couldn’t stop laughing. “Nope, I’m pretty normal!”

Author Allison Winn Scotch wrote an interesting blog post yesterday about the line between personal and too personal, in writing. She’d recently published an essay she wasn’t sure about, because it revealed personal information about her past. I admitted, in the comments section of her blog, that I was originally embarrassed to make my search public, for fear of making myself too vulnerable.

I remember the day I first thought about writing my book proposal. It occurred to me that if I wanted to write a friendship memoir,  I would have to come out with my “secret”: I was short on local friends. I was totally humiliated. Who wants to go public with a big sign, “Will Work For Friends”? Would writing that I didn’t know how to find that special someone make me look pathetic? Did I want to advertise the fact that I was feeling bestfriendless? I was sure  people would laugh at me, and I really didn’t want to be a different kind of biggest loser.

We know how this story ends: I decided to write the proposal, and then later the book and blog, and I eventually realized that my worst fears were totally off-base. The people I heard from weren’t writing to say I was lame (except for when they were), they were writing to say “I’ve been there!” and “I thought I was the only one.”

If the above conversation had taken place a year and a half ago, my reaction would have been one of embarrassment and frustration. But now that I have a year of friending under my belt, and a year and a half of connecting with others (online and off) in my same circumstances, I’ve actually developed a lot of pride in my situation. I’m not socially awkward, I’m just honest. And determined. (And maybe, fine, awkward in those uncomfortable girl-date moments, but who’s keeping track?)

Have you ever been embarrassed to admit you were on a friend search? Or (be honest! I don’t mind!) did you think, at first, that maybe there was something wrong with me that I was admitting trouble making friends? And, have things changed?

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How Different is Too Different

A conversation emerged on this blog recently about friendships between people who have different belief systems or values. In one instance, the commenter considered herself a liberal while the friend was extremely conservative. In another, the commenter was Jewish but worried a new friend, a Christian, was trying to “save” her. Similar comments have come up about political opinions.

The question, of course, is simple: Can you be friends with someone who has different beliefs?

My response: Mostly.

Having different religious affiliations or political leanings, on their own, certainly shouldn’t make or break a relationship. I have plenty of friends who are not Jewish, and fewer–but still some–who don’t share my political leanings. The problems come when our differences start to delve deeper, shaping our moral code and informing our standards of conduct.

Here’s how I see it: Our value systems guide how we behave and how we treat others, while beliefs are more editorialized.  While having different beliefs might actually enhance a friendship (stimulating conversation!), values, well, not so much. If you and a PBFF have moral compasses that are out of sync, that will probably make friendship difficult.

If, for example, the idea that everyone deserves the same rights and equal treatment is fundamental to your values, and someone else feels differently, it will probably be hard for you to have a future together. That core value will just inform too much of your behavior and outlook.

The tricky part, I think, is being sure that it is indeed your core value system (not just religion or political party or some other surface trait) that’s different when you decide to give up on a budding friendship. Many of us have a tendency to assume a specific political affiliation, for example, corresponds with a specific value system, and those kinds of assumptions are the ones that can get in the way of potentially great relationships.

That said, if one writes off a friendship with someone who clearly has different values, it’s not always, necessarily, judgmental. It might just be that after years of friendships and of meeting new people, you know what works and what doesn’t. As reader wrote: “You are not judging this new friend as a person, but you are trying to discern whether or not there’s potential for a close friendship.”

Does she have a point? And what do you think, are some differences just too different, making friendship impossible?

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The Last-Minute Dilemma

As anyone who’s been reading this blog for a bit knows, I started out with the intention of finding a friend I could call for a last-minute brunch on a Saturday morning or glass of wine on a Friday night.

At the time, the last-minute-ness was very important. It was the vital piece of the puzzle. The comfort of calling to say “what are you up to?” was exactly what I was coveting.

Lately, I’ve become aware of one crucial fact that makes this original intention a total impossibility.

I am horrible at making last minute plans.

Last night, my phone rang as I was walking home from a yoga class. It was my friend and neighbor, inviting me to dinner with her husband and another mutual friend. They were on their way out, did I want to join?

“I’d love to,” I said. “But I’m walking back now, I’m a sweaty mess, and I was planning to make turkey meat loaf tonight.”

Two nights ago, this same friend invited me over for drinks on her roof, but I had to decline because I was en route to a meeting (for my new ‘swiping cards at a fitness class so I can get free workouts’ shifts. Four hours a week, unlimited free training sessions and I get to work the cash register! Score.)

Last Friday, she invited Matt and me over for some happy hour wine, but we were on our way to a dinner reservation.

You get the point.

I love getting a last-minute invitation. It means that someone, somewhere, was lying on the couch, craving girl time, and thought of me. There are some people, I know, who take offense at the last-minute invite. They think it means they were an afterthought. Doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is having to say no so often. I wanted last-minute friends, and now that I have some, I’m never available at the last minute. If it were me, I’d probably stop inviting me. Which doesn’t bode well for the future of these invitations.

For my year of friending, I went on 52 first friend-dates. Which means I went out with 52 different people. I can honestly say that embarking upon that year was the best and most life-changing decision I’ve ever made. Pre-2010, I had many a quiet, friendless Friday night. Not anymore.

The flip side, though, is that my schedule is packed. I’m thrilled and grateful that it is, but it rarely allows for the last-minute plans I crave.

Of course, on the quiet weekends when I’m ready and eager for those spontaneous plans, everyone else is busy or away. It’s the nature of our overscheduled lives.

What do you think? Are last-minute plans a reality or a pipe dream? And do you get annoyed at the friend who is never available for a spontaneous outing? (For what it’s worth, I’m always thrilled to schedule plans, and I don’t bail! So I may not be last-minute, but I’m not a flake either.)

{On an unrelated note, I’m writing an article and could use your help! I’m looking for people who have fun, quirky weekend traditions. Preferably, but not necessarily, things they do with their families. Stuff like “We collect all our cell phones on Friday night and don’t get them back until Sunday morning” or “We take turns picking a brunch spot by throwing a dart at a neighborhood map” or “We play cards on Friday and whoever wins gets to be king for the weekend and pick all the TV.” A tradition that is maybe a bit weird, but has helped revamp–and maybe even streamline–your weekend. Do you have one? Or know someone who does? If so I’d be forever grateful if you’d email me, or comment below.}

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The Friending Calendar

I’ve come to believe that friending has seasons.

Summer, my friends, is not one of them.

You’d think the warm weather would do wonders for a BFF search—fair weather friends and all that—but from what I can tell, all that sunny sunshine does is drive people away. Inspires them to take vacations and attend faraway weddings.

Seems to me that friending is like school. Breaks for summer and Christmas are necessary. It’s not that it’s hard to meet people during the summer— I’ve struck up friendly conversations with more people than ever since the beginning of June—it’s just that people travel so much, or so it seems, that consistency is out of the question.

One great new friend leaves today for a trip to Thailand. She’s had weddings the past two weeks, and the week she before that traveled back home to see family. Which means I haven’t seen her in a month, if not more.

Another friend has weekend weddings, a bachelorette party, and plans to visit her family.

Another spends the summer playing on soccer and kickball teams, taking advantage of the weather but leaving no time for other pals.

Notice a pattern?

To be clear, I am most certainly part of the problem. I have six weddings to attend between July and November, and only one of them is in Chicago. And I also have two–two!– vacations planned.  (This is what happens when you realize you can work from anywhere, anytime. You start going anywhere, anytime.)

Summer is exciting for all its promise of fun getaways and quieter days, but its tough for making plans with potential BFFs. Today I heard myself on the phone with my Thailand-bound friend, saying something like “And then, in September, life will calm down and we’ll get together.” Three months from now?  Yikes. That’s no good.

To everything there is a season…And summer is not that time.

Some might argue that I’ve got it totally wrong. That winter weather is the kind that makes us horrible and grumpy and isolated. But I don’t think so. Only a day or so into the official season and I can already tell my potential BFFships are being put on hold.

Am I crazy? Or do you agree that friend-making has a calendar of its own? (The academic calendar, perhaps?)

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The Hard Facts: Can Your Phone Find You Friends?

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

“Based on a new patent application published today, it seems Apple has been exploring far more ambitious attempts [at delving into the social networking market] using the iPhone, location-based services and interest matching. The result is the possibility that your iPhone could find you your next friend, business partner or date.” (“Apple Researching How the iPhone Can Help You Make Friends,” Macrumors.com, 6/16/2011)

Perhaps this falls under the technology of friendship, rather than the science of it, but I think it qualifies for Research Wednesday.

This full article explains the concept behind a potential iPhone friend-finder quite well—with a picture!—but for those who want the 60-second version, here it is: Apple is proposing that it might be able to use information from your phone, stuff like what songs or books you’ve downloaded, or where you’ve traveled, to find like-minded potential friends in your neighborhood. Explains Macrumors.com: “You will be able to find others in your immediate vicinity that might match your interests and introduce yourself to them through your iPhone. … For example, GPS tracking could identify people who have traveled to the same locations. Phone numbers and contacts can be compared, as well as common bookmarks or games played on device.”

Before you call out the privacy police, let me be clear that, according to this site, if the technology became available it would be an opt-in affair. You would have to “allow” other phones to find you and mine your information.

My favorite part of this whole concept is the wording of Apple’s patent application. Here’s my favorite bit: “Identifying like-minded people, however, often requires a substantial amount of and time and effort because identifying new persons with common interests for friendships is difficult. For example, when two strangers meet, it may take a long and awkward conversation to discover their common interests or experiences.” There’s something strangely satisfying about a company like Apple publicly recognizing, on the record, to the government, that making friends is difficult and awkward.

Thank you Steve Jobs. I feel validated.

Slightly creepy? Sure. Uber Big Brother? Of course. But oh how I wish this technology came out in 2010, when I was at the height of my friending guinea pig days. I would have gone all stalker on some potential BFF, showing up at Nookies while she was enjoying a nice brunch, because of course my phone would have alerted me to her whereabouts.”Good morning! You don’t know me but I see you also play Solitaire and have downloaded The Glass Castle to your phone. And according to my phone, which mined the data of your phone, which tracks your whereabouts with GPS, you’ve been to Croatia. So have I! Be my best friend?”

‘Cause that wouldn’t be weird.

Or maybe it would be a modern-day platonic You’ve Got Mail. Our phones would tell us to be BFFs, and when we finally met up—using iPhone user tracking systems, obvs—we would come face-to-face only to realize we’d known each other all along. Swoon.

Thoughts? Is this technology creepy? Or just the next step in social networking?

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Friend Dates Gone Wrong

I’m always ranting on this blog about how wonderful and productive friend-searching is. How people are more open to friendly advances then we think, or how the hardest part is making the first move, or how swimmingly a girl-date went.

By now, you probably want to hear about the bad stuff, right? The awkward, kill-me-now, what-am-I-ever-going-to-say-to-make-this-meal-go-faster crap dates?

Because let me be clear: I’ve had them.

Like the time we had so little to say to each other that I actually heard those movie crickets chirping. Over email we seemed like a good fit, so I don’t know what happened. You know how technology can be tricky? Someone who’s all friendly and clever over email can be quiet and shy in real life? In this particular case, it wasn’t that. There was no shyness on anyone’s part,  in person or over email. Instead it was just that sense of being totally out of sync. Have you ever told a joke—a forced, trying-to-fill-the-silence type joke—and noticed that you are very clearly the only one laughing? Yup. That was me. The pattern of the dinner went something like this: her angry rant, my trying-too-hard joke, awkward silence, repeat.

Fun stuff!

Then there was the time that I wasn’t sure if my friend-date was going to end in a hug. There’s that moment in a first date (the romantic kind) when you can’t quite tell if someone is leaning in for the kiss, and you have that awkward  head bobbing interaction. Picture the friend-date version of that. Yup. My solution, obviously, was to just go ahead and make the announcement. “I’m going to hug you now.” In the words of Modern Family‘s sagely Cam: “You know how awkward I get when things get awkward.”

I met one girl who hated Chicago, and spent the entire meal telling me why she was a real New Yorker. Awesome.

There were also the bad non-dates, the ladies who never even made it to first friend-date status because they weren’t so into my “lets get together” suggestion. Like the woman I met during my yoga cleanse who, when I suggested that, “maybe you guys would want to grab lunch after our next class,” actually just gave me a blank stare. A silent one. And then turned back to her friend. (I swear! This happened!) Or the woman who blatantly stood me up. I waited the requisite 30 minutes at our agreed upon meeting place, and when she was a no-show (no call, email, text, nothing!), I had to actually say to the waiter who’d been waiting to take my order, “I guess I’ve been stood up. I’ll just take the check.” I was a total rom-com cliche.

If you go on some 52 dates in year, and then some, you’re bound to have a few duds. All that stuff about what doesn’t kill you and all…

Have you ever had a friend-date gone bad? Share below!

 

 

 

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The Best Friendship Chain of Events

“I just don’t think we’re there yet.”

It’s one of my oft-uttered lines about new friends. I’ve said it to Matt when he’s encouraged me to ask a coworker out to a last-minute brunch on a Saturday morning. I’ve repeated it to my mom when she’s suggested I call a new friend on a quiet Friday night. I’ve thought it to myself when I’ve wanted to text someone about my four jars of pickles or call her to vent about a bad day. In each of those cases I’ve held back because I didn’t think my new friends and I were “there yet.”

For a long time I’ve maintained that I had to wait until I had a BFF in order to cry on her shoulder, call at the last minute, ask for a ride to the airport. But I’m starting to think I got the order wrong.

If I wait until someone local is my best friend forever before making that just-to-say-hi call, I might not be dialing for a good long while. I still remember being a freshman in high school when Callie, then just a friendly acquaintance, walked up to me in the hallway and declared “I’m going to call you tonight.” She did, we talked for hours (or maybe 30 minutes, but in my memory it was hours), and were BFF ever after. The call came first, the bestfriendship followed.

The lesson here: It’s not the relationship that warrants the call. It’s the call that establishes the relationship.

Likewise, I’ve always thought that someone needs to be my best friend before I would bother her with my tears after a bad day. Now I feel like it’s that kind of sobfest that would earn someone BFF status. In those moments—the phone call, the tears—you’re communicating that you trust this person, that you count on them and that they can do the same.

It dawned on me this weekend, when I was trying to think of someone I could ask to join me for a night out. I had Saturday night plans to go to a party where I wouldn’t know anyone. I mentioned it to a faraway friend, explaining that if this were NYC I would ask one of my BFFs to accompany me just to be nice. But here in Chicago? I didn’t feel like I could ask anyone to sacrifice their evening to come with me to a random party, just as a favor. That’s the kind of thing you request of a best friend. And then it dawned on me: I could have asked someone. I have new friends who may not be BFFs (yet!) but they are the type who are always up for something new and fun. And a party night out, just the two of us, could have been the perfect platform to elevate the friendship to BFFness.

So I had a lightbulb moment. I could wait (maybe forever) for someone to magically become my BFF, or I could do what was necessary to turn someone into my BFF. Instead of saying “we’re not there yet” about a friend, I could just, you know, get us there.

Somebody’s got to.

Do you ever do that? Avoid reaching out to someone because you think your friendship hasn’t reached “that level”? And has “that level” ever been reached without one of you making the first move? Telling a secret or making a phone call? Do you agree that the only way to get “there” is to make it happen ?

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The Plus Side of Stalking

What’s funny—or is it scary?—about technology is that even if you break up with someone (platonically or romantically), you can keep an eye on them. You may not speak, but with a little Twitter-Facebook-LinkedIn-GoodReads-Blogging reconnaissance, you can put the pieces of someone’s life together without ever contacting her.

Even funnier, though, is how we’re increasingly able to to figure out just who is checking us out online. An example: Two days ago, a brand-new blogger told me about a girl with whom she’d had a falling out. The circumstances of the falling out are irrelevant, but the two hadn’t spoken in some time. The blogger told me she’d been surprised that her old friend hadn’t reached out at all. She’d been going through an especially hard time and was hurt that the ex-friend didn’t seem to care. Until the blogger started analyzing her blog stats. Google Analytics and the like can often tell you exactly where on the map your clicks come from. Suddenly Blogger could tell that her so-called ex-friend was checking up on her multiple times a day. Via the blog.

Reading someone’s blog is no substitute for reaching out in person, obviously. But for this blogger, knowing that her friend was at least curious, it made her feel a bit better. Like the friend hadn’t completely stopped caring.

This happened once at my old job, too. A coworker would blog during the workday and, in turn, we would read her posts from our cubicles. Until one afternoon she Tweeted something about how fascinating it was to see that her coworkers were stalking her blog rather than doing their work.

Um, weren’t you the one blogging during work in the first place?

And back in the days of Friendster (anyone else out there have a page?) you could always check out who was viewing your page. More fascinating than stalking, let me tell you, is figuring out who is stalking you.

I bring this all up to say, these days, a relationship is never really over. You may not speak, but it’s entirely possible that you keep up in other, quieter, ways. It can be both a relief and a terror, depending on who you’re dealing with. But often even your online stalking isn’t secret. The object of your interest could know you’re checking in.

This is mostly nerve-wracking. If my old college classmate that I was hardly friends with knew how often I check out her yoga photos (seriously, she is a Bikram teacher and does some serious contorting), I’d be genuinely embarrassed. But I do think there’s something a bit reassuring as well, at least when it comes to friend-breakups. So often when we breakup with a friend there are lingering, loaded feelings and loyalties that don’t go away. We want to be able to check in on each other, and there are ways to do that. And to know we’re being checked in on.

It’s at once completely comforting and totally creepy. Huh.

What do you think? Ever caught an ex-friend checking up on you online? Do you appreciate technology for it’s ability for you to keep an eye on ex-BFFs?

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