Monthly Archives: July 2011

Speak Up or Shut Up?

Let’s start this Friday with a question: When you feel strongly that a friend is making a mistake in her relationship—be it getting married, taking back a bad guy, moving in too soon, whatever—how much do you tell?

I don’t have an answer to this. I never know the right course of action. Generally, I feel like girls are going to do what they’re going to do. Telling a friend it’s a mistake to get back together with someone probably isn’t going to stop her. But it might stop her from seeing any more of you.That said, if you truly believe that she’s making a mistake, isn’t it your duty as a friend to be honest?

I’m grateful that I can say I’ve never been to a wedding and thought “uh oh, this is going to end in divorce.” Given the divorce rate in this country it’s likely that a good handful of the marriages I’ve witnessed won’t make it, but I’ve never had the hunch. Still, I’m sure plenty of people—plenty of best friends—have. If I did, I’d probably smile and cheer during first dance anyway because, well, what else is there to do?

As I think about this more, perhaps I’d look for an opening. If my friend made clear she was questioning her relationship, I might offer my opinion to nudge her in the “right” (and I realize this is a subjective term) direction. But to offer my unsolicited opinion, even to my bestest of friends, I just can’t see myself going there. And I don’t know if I should feel good or guilty about that.

Tell me, readers, what would you do? Share your honest opinion? Or keep your feelings to yourself for fear of screwing up your friendship?

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Showing Off Your Friends

I know my friends pretty well. The high school, camp and college pals that I write about? I feel like I could ace the quiz about their backgrounds. If we were on Survivor and we had to compete in one of those challenges where the pair who knows each other best gets to eat peanut butter and chocolate and helicopter to a remote island while the rest of the contestants have to go back to the shelter, make fire, and fight over uncooked rice, well, I think we’d dominate.

But there’s no better way to get a new perspective on your BFFs than to hear an outsider’s take. I’m not talking some random girl who talks smack because she’s still bitter your best friend beat her out for the captain of the cheerleading squad. I’m talking about the observers who have nothing personally invested.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I love getting new perspective from outsiders who adore my friends. If some random stranger hated one of my pals, I wouldn’t give her opinion much credit. But when someone random starts telling you why your BFF is the best–she’s so funny, she’s so smart, she’s so savvy–it’s fun to take a step back and say “Yes! You’re so right. She’s all those things.”

For example, one of my dearest friends is a girl that everyone loves. Why wouldn’t they? She’s silly and smart, caring and strong. My mother-in-law might like her more than she likes me. (I kid.) (Or not.) Guys are always asking her out, girls want to be her friend. Imagine my luck that I actually am her friend. Every single time I meet someone who knows her in any capacity we have a mutual love fest where they tell me about how funny she is, or hard working, or spunky. You get it: She’s adored.

The other day I started talking to a 23-year-old assistant at a business meeting. Turns out she’s from the same town as this bestie, though they didn’t go to the same high school. When I mentioned that my best friend was moving in with a guy who is also from their town, and actually went to the same high school as the 23-year-old, this girl freaked out. Apparently my friend is moving in with The Hot Senior From High School. “He drove a Jeep!” the 23-year-old told me, as if this single fact told me all I needed to know about his level of cool.

I called my friend immediately, so excited to tell her that her boyfriend is Super Dreamy, according to the girls six years younger. The whole thing made me giggle. The assistant’s smitten-ness, the fact that my friend is dating That Guy, and the idea that from where this assistant was standing, my friend is the coolest girl on the block for snagging him.

The point of this story, as it turns out, is that this couple is way too cute. But also that it’s fun to watch others get all lovey about our BFFs. Like a proud mama bear, we just want to show them off. To say “I know right?! She’s so cool. And she actually chose to be friends with me!”

Ever been there? Or am I totally loony?

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The Hard Facts: Fair Weather Friends

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

“A recent study suggests people are less likely to pick up on kindness and generosity when exposed to cold temperatures. … Turn up the heat before making new friends. Studies suggest warmer temperatures make people more trusting.” (“Want To Make Friends? Stay Out of The Cold,” Greatist.com, July 2011)

What are you waiting for, people? According to the weatherman, now is the time to make those BFFs. The sun is shining, the heat is no joke. Fair-weather friends? You betcha.

I like the idea of conceding the BFF cycle to Mother Nature. I could have guessed that warm weather temps might lend themselves to social connection, but not for the reasons science says. I figured, at least in Chicago, that people go out in the world, put down their heads, and barrel through the street before the wind takes them out. In the Windy City, it’s every man for himself when the temperature starts dropping. There’s no time to stop and chat. Save yourselves!

Here’s the actual science: “Researchers suggest a part of the brain called the insula processes both the body’s responses to temperature and feelings of trust. … people might simply not be able to help but associate warmth with positive memories and the cold with scarier, shivery moments we’d all love to forget.”

Now that you’ve got science behind you: Go forth! It’s easy to procrastinate a friend search. We all do it. But if you live somewhere like Chicago–you know, for example–that warm weather window is mighty short. If you don’t act fast you could be screwing yourself. Once winter hits, your friendly overtures might go unnoticed.

What do you think? Do you notice a change in friendability when the weather turns?

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Let’s Talk About Google Plus

Namely, how I don’t totally get it.

I mentioned this last week to a dear friend who has fallen for the social network. Her response was: “you’re a smart girl, you can figure it out.” That’s probably true, I thought, so I spent some time last night trying to ingrain myself in the site. Creating “circles,” choosing who belonged where, adding something to my “stream” and then immediately deleting it because I couldn’t tell if I sent it to the right group.

Of course, now it just becomes another online network that I have to keep up with. That shouldn’t be too tough considering I spend most of my life on Google–between my iGoogle page and my Gmail–but adding another social outlet that isn’t face-to-face contact is probably not necessary.

For those of you who haven’t checked it out, Google Plus is Google’s answer to Facebook. It aims to “make connecting with people on the web more like connecting with them in the real world.” To me, this mostly means the ability to set circles. On Facebook when you post a status update you’re pretty much sharing with everyone, barring some very specific privacy settings. On Google Plus, from what I understand (which, I can’t stress enough, isn’t much) it’s easier to control who sees what. If I want to write a note to work friends only or make plans for the weekend with some family, I have circles for both. Not everything has to be public.

So far, Google Plus is interesting–group video chat! hangouts! newsfeeds! oh my! I’m just not sure that adding another social network to my life is the way to make me more social.

Have any of you tried the new network? Love it? Hate it? Too exhausted by current social media to even check it out? If anyone has great Google Plus insight, please share!

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The Who-What-Where of Friendship

I have developed an inappropriate obsession with stories of how friends meet.

You know how some people love reading the wedding announcements in the New York Times Sunday wedding section? They flip through the lists of newlyweds, simultaneously rolling their eyes in disgust and acknowledging their deep-seeded jealousy of the seemingly-perfect pairs. I’m one of them, but only for platonic partnerships.

I never quite cared about reading the wedding announcements, save for scrolling through to see if any of my former high school classmates made the cut. Reading the same old tale of a college meet cute every Sunday gets boring after a while.

However, my fascination with how two BFFs found each other is off the charts. And it gets just plain weird.

Take a couple weeks back. I was leaving my Saturday morning dance class when I ran into a old college classmate of mine. About a year ago, said classmate  started working at the same company where I was a web producer. We were in different departments so  rarely interacted. When I saw her at dance, she was taking class with another former colleague, this one in an entirely different department than either of us. Ours is a pretty big company, so people in different departments don’t usually hang out much. So how, I wondered, had my ex-classmate become so buddy-buddy with this other girl? The fact that they were working out together on a weekend made clear that their relationship was more than a passing office courtesy.

I know it sounds like I was jealous. I wasn’t. I don’t know either of these girls that well, and I have my own set of “dance class friends.” But the fact of their friendship certainly sparked my curiosity. I harassed my old classmate for dish: How exactly did your paths cross? Did you hit it off right away? When did you start hanging out outside of the office? How was the invitation extended?

Being something of a friendship fanatic, this information intrigues me. I want to know the logistics of how it’s done. I’ve asked the same questions of women who met at the gym, or as neighbors, or through mutual friends. They all have one thing in common: They’re creeped out by my aggressive questioning.

Some people want to learn everything about dead presidents, or shooting stars, or the cast of Roseanne. I want to learn everything about real-life friendships. But let me tell you: it’s real hard not to come off as a personal-space invader when firing these questions.

Oh well. Such is the price I pay for my inquisitiveness (I feel like that word should be inquisitivity….)

If you’re on a friend search, are you constantly trying to figure out how other pairs made it happen? Ever ask for a rundown of the friendship history, or are you too shy/embarrassed/respectful of personal space to bother? And if you want to share the who-what-where of your BFF meet cute, take it away!

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Kate & Allie

First, a confession: I was up late last night working on an assignment, and I just don’t have it in me right now to write a full blog post.

That said, I’ve been meaning to address the Kate & Allie issue for a little while anyway. Because, apparently, plenty of you don’t know who they–or their corresponding sitcom–are. Could that possibly be right? Jane Curtin? Susan Saint James? BFFs who move in together?? Helloooo?

I love pop culture BFFs. This much we know. Kate and Allie are the best kind of TV friends–’80s friends! If and when you watch the clip below, note the hair. Or the sunglasses on a string. Things we don’t miss about the ’80s for one hundred, Alex.

But seriously, this clip from (I think) the pilot, should give you a good idea of the BFFness we’re talking about.

And if that doesn’t do it for you, here’s the theme song. It was a classic.

Don’t you miss the ’80s and those static end credits? Me too.

You’re welcome.

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Getting Cyber-Stood Up

Who read the story about unanswered email in The New York Times this weekend? Anyone? Bueller?

Well, I did. And let me tell you. I at once nodded in agreement and hung my head in shame.

Here’s the gist: “For every fiery screed or gushy, tear-streaked confession in the ethersphere, it seems there’s a big patch of grainy, unresolved black. Though it would comfort us to think that these long silences are the product of technical failure or mishap, the more likely culprits are lack of courtesy and passive aggression.”

There’s something so frustrating about writing an email that goes unanswered. In my professional life, I’ll pitch a story, follow up, and then… nothing. My most brilliant idea, lost in the ether. Or so it feels. In my social life, the non-response elicits fears that a friend is mad at me coupled with confusion about whether she received my note in the first place.

But then, I must admit: I’m totally guilty. I’ve got a backlog of starred emails in my inbox that I need to respond to. I’m going to, immediately, if I could just stop forgetting (slash procrastinating).

Shame on me. I know.

The problem with our culture of unresponsiveness, other than the fact that it’s rude, is that email and text is increasingly becoming the friendship communication method of choice. No longer are the days of two-hour phone calls. But if people aren’t responding to emails or texts, then what? What happens to plans with friends?

There are a million reasons why making friends feels harder and harder these days. People are so busy on Facebook they forget about in-person communication. They’re so overscheduled that they hardly have time for pre-existing friends, let along new ones. Plus, we’re scared potential BFFs will think we’re weird if we ask them out.

And then, if we conquer all these roadblocks, there’s still the question of how we’ll connect with our new friend. Phone? Email? Text? And no matter the method, will we ever hear back?

It does seem that the more methods of communication available to us–email, phone, text, IM, Gchat, Facebook chat, Twitter, Foursquare, on and on and on–the less likely we are to use any of them reliably. For me, the more communication methods that are aimed at me, the harder it is for me to be in touch in the first place. The barrage of messages, coupled with the necessity of keeping track of who chats which way and the sometimes simultaneous arrival of an email, voicemail and texts, can feel incredibly overwhelming. And eventually, paralyzing. Instead of making the plans with whatever potential BFF is willing to hang out with me that day, I just sit there, staring at the computer and the phone, wishing I had more energy.

This isn’t an excuse. Leaving messages unattended is unacceptable, and I can at least say I’m caught up with all blog-related emails from readers, as far as I know. What it is, I think, is an argument for how sometimes more choices make us less happy.

Bottom line, of course, is simple: Write back!

Have you found that corresponding with friends is harder these days? Do emails and text messages go unanswered for days? (Like I said, I’m plenty guilty, but am working on it…) Is this unresponsiveness responsible for the difficulty involved with friending?

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