Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Hard Facts: The Job-Search Social

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

“When it comes to finding a job, who you know is as important as what you know. Work experience generally helps people foster the kinds of personal contacts that can lead someone to new career opportunities, but a study from North Carolina State University shows that this is really only true for men. The study finds that work experience doesn’t improve women’s chances of finding a job through social contacts..” (“In Job Market, Social Contacts Help Men, Not Women” ; Science Daily 8/17/2011)

I find this research curious. Maybe even ridiculous. Every job I’ve been offered has started with knowing someone. I like to believe I’ve earned the positions I’ve received, through my charming (translation: shaky voice, hand-wringing, obvious nerves) interview and jaw-dropping (read: font small enough to still fit on one page) resume. And I think it’s true. But the introduction to each office job–the alert of the opening, or the passing of my resume, etc–has been through a social contact. (This doesn’t include my summer internships, which I most definitely approached with the go-get-‘em attitude of an eager beaver and tracked down all by myself. Woohoo.)

I heard about my very first job out of college, a short-lived freelance editorial assistant position at an over-40 women’s magazine, through a girl I’d done an internship program with the summer before. She held the job currently, was leaving, and was looking for someone to replace her. I got connected with my next job, as an editorial assistant at another women’s magazine, through a friend’s mom. She was an editor at Glamour and had friends all over magazine publishing. She passed my resume to a pal who said “sorry, no openings!” until two days later when her assistant quit and she emailed back with “send that resume again?” I once got a job offer because my rabbi knew I was looking and he passed my resume to a congregant who was also a big-time Editor-in-Chief. When I moved to Chicago and switched over to web, someone at my magazine job made a call for me, sent my resume, and I was able to get a meeting with an HR person at my Chicago gig. You see? These introductions started with social contacts. Friends, or at least people I was friendly with.

(I’m realizing now that there was one gig I got blindly. Though you might say that the HR person was a friend, considering I called and harassed her about the status of the position more often than I call my besties.)

Anyway, the point of this trip down Rachel’s resume is to say that, personally, I see no support for this research in my own life. According to these researchers, “The study finds that work experience is important, in large part because it helps us develop social connections that can help people learn about future job opportunities. … However, while men reap the social benefits of work experience, women do not.”

The piece goes on to say: “Women…were no more likely to find a job through informal recruitment than they were through a formal job search.”

I don’t particularly care for this research in that I think the social game of work is important. You put all this effort into meshing well and being civilized to people, it’d be nice to think that the extra work might pay off one day (obviously, the simple act of being a decent human being pays off, but you know what I mean.) To think that despite making those connections, you’ll have to face the job market with no social support is crummy. Though, if you’re someone who hates socializing in the office or hasn’t had luck with your co-workers, maybe this is good news? At least it puts you on a level playing field with all other women? (Even though men have a huge leg up with their social contacts? Gross.)

But research is not to be liked nor disliked, but discussed and debated until it provokes another set of research to contradict its findings. So go ahead: discuss, debate, contradict. Have you found that social contacts help me in the job market more than women?

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Best Friendship: High School Style

As I mentioned on Thursday, my friend Callie was here over the weekend (until this morning in fact, as Irene kept her in Chicago an extra two days). As I also mentioned, we spent some quality time with our high school yearbook. Which was really a lesson in teenage angst. It all seemed so intense and important back then, didn’t it? Relationships, sports, parties? They all carried the weight of the world. And yes, so did friendships.

Instead of writing in each others’ yearbooks, seniors at my high school instead bought “personals,” printed classified ads for all the world to read. For the first time in ten years, Callie and I went back and read ours. Turns out I was musing about friendship long before this here book idea came to be. Here’s an excerpt:

“I can’t even fathom how our friendship came to be what it is today. Was it when I basically moved into your house in 9th grade? When I first realized my obsession with Chuckie? Was it when you decided that every time I was on the phone you should put on all of my clothing at once to get the attention you deserve? I think I knew that we had a friendship that was different from all others when I realized that we could finish each other’s sentences, read each other’s thoughts, understand our frustrations and fears, laugh at each other’s jokes. When we get into those moods together when we CANNOT stop laughing, those will always be my favorite memories. I can’t go a night without hearing your voice on the phone, I don’t know how I am supposed to survive not going to school together. But no matter what Cal, you will forever be my best friend and I mean that.”

Of course, there are some things to note here. 1) Why was it that in high school, even when we had friends over, we thought it ok to sit on the phone with other friends? Likely boys? That’s just rude and no wonder she put all my clothes on to distract me. And I wonder if this problem is solved today since kids don’t talk on the phone. Or do they just sit side by side texting other people all day? 2) There are moments where this sounds more like a co-dependent relationship than a friendship. “How am I supposed to survive”? Cut the melodrama, teenage Rachel.

But still, it’s kind of sweet that we are in fact still so close, isn’t it? That I had some knowledge back then that this was a keeper?

Here’s an excerpt of Callie’s to me:

“In eighth grade I saw you at our placement tests and I think that at that moment I knew that there was something special between us. Of course, I was too nervous to say anything so my parents had to introduce themselves. … After one little sleepover, the epic story of Callie and Rachel began. (I think I read a story about that once…) I don’t know how ‘best friends’ happen, I can’t recall when we made the decision, but it seems to me that after just one night we both knew what was in store. You mean more to me than it is possible for me to express, but never forget that I love you now and I will love you forever.”

These messages are exactly who we all were in high school, aren’t they? A little intense, more than a tad dramatic, but filled with an innocence and wonderment at what “forever” will bring. And these aren’t feelings easily expressed as an adult. It feels cheesy and melodramatic and just plain silly. When I read them, I’m half-embarrassed at our uber-sentimentality, and half-heartened by the fact that we were willing to so publicly ooh and ahh over our BFFship. Oh, high school. I wouldn’t go back for the world…. but some days, I would.

What do you think of our little notes? Were your high school friendships filled with this kind of intensity and drama? When you think back to your high school BFFships, what sticks out?

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Being Alone to Make Friends

Last Friday, through the cloud of my sinusy, phlegmy sickness-from-hell, I mentioned that I recently had a bit of a making friends aha moment.

Well, the clouds have parted, I can finally breathe through my noise and swallow without wincing, so I’m focused and ready to discuss.

Gretchen Rubin, in her Secrets of Adulthood, says that “the opposite of a great truth is also true.” (As it turns out, she borrowed this from physicist Niels Bohr, but let us not pretend that I am caught up on the work of physicists. In fact, I opted out of physics in high school.) Examples, for Rubin, include: “Control and mastery are key elements of happiness; so are novelty and challenge“; “The days are long, but the years are short“; “Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happier.”

I’ve always loved these truthful contradictions, because I believe in this “secret” wholeheartedly. I’ve gotten in many a tiff with my husband where he will say “You’re contradicting yourself!” and I’ll say “But I’m telling the truth!” It may not be logical, but it’s real.

When it comes to friend-making here’s my revelatory discovery, two truisms that contradict: “To make friends, you must be okay with being alone.”

Did I just blow your mind?

There are many reasons why this is true. First, back when I wasn’t as comfortable being alone, I often stayed in because I didn’t have anyone to go out with. So instead of going out, exploring, and talking to new people, I’d stay at home, peruse Facebook, and watch Friday Night Lights (R.I.P Riggins). As you can imagine, this exercise in TV watching didn’t bring me any new BFFs.

Also, when I wasn’t as cozy in the world of solo adventuring, I would see a sign for a class or an activity–say, a dance class or a flash mob– and I’d think: That looks like fun, I wish I had a friend to do it with. Now, my thought process has flipped. The new reaction to a posting for said class or flash mob is: That looks like fun. Maybe I’ll make a friend when I do it. See the difference? The first is restrictive–since I didn’t have a friend, I didn’t do it. The second offers possibility–do it anyway, and maybe (bonus!) make a new pal.

People often think they want friends because they hate being alone, when really you should want friends because you love company. There’s a difference. People who fear time with themselves, and thus find company in the arms of The Kardashians or even a good book (and I’m not knocking either one), will likely find themselves alone for far longer than those who embrace the solo lifestyle. Aside from the reasons above, people who are comfortable with themselves and don’t need a companion for every little thing, exude a confidence that attracts new friends. The opposite attitude can potentially project a neediness that turns others off. Something to think about…

Do you agree with this friend-making contradiction? Have you found that the more comfy you are by yourself, the easier it is to meet potential BFFs? Do you have an other friend-making Secrets of Adulthood you are ready to share?

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Besties are the Best Medicine

I wanted to write a post today about my latest friend-making aha! moment, but that will have to wait till next week. (I know, the suspense is so intense that you’ll hardly make it through the weekend. Try to contain yourselves. Please.) Today, my head feels so fogged with jet-lag and some crazy cough I can’t shake that trying to whip up some thoughtful post is just silly. I might be on a Robitussin high, and a normal night’s sleep is starting to seem a distant memory.  In short, I’m a bit of a train wreck.

Ok. Got that out. Enough complaining. Seriously. Who whines this much on a Friday morning?

It’s on a day like this that we want old friends around. People who make us laugh, love us no matter how frizzy and unwashed our hair (mine = very), and are perfectly content to sit on the couch and not talk while we watch Seinfeld reruns or Mean Girls on TBS (both of which were on yesterday). How lucky for me, then, that my BFF is here. She’s seen me in worse shape than this. Hanging with her is effortless, so it doesn’t take the energy it might to be “on” for a newbie, and, of course, if there are any people I’ll suck up a hacking cough and burning desire to crawl under the covers and wallow in germs for, it’s my besties.

Maybe that’s just another great influence best friends have on us. Not only will they bring us chicken soup if necessary, but they’re the people for whom we will get out of bed, into a shower and then a cute outfit, and rejoin the human race when all we’d want to do otherwise is have a pity party. And, really, the best medicine for this kind of day is just sucking it up.

And maybe brushing this hair.

What do you want from your friends on a sick day? Someone to bring you chicken soup and old Friends DVDs? Or someone to say “Buck up girl! We’re going out!” Or is there a nice middle ground?

 

 

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When Best Friends Stray

Hold the phone. Stop the press. This quest is being momentarily put on hold. Why? Because it’s not necessary to search for a new BFF when my current BFF is visiting!

That’s right, dear readers. Callie, my high school bestie, is in Chicago until Sunday. Yay. She got here last night and we have already gone back and dissected our senior yearbook (much to our husbands’ amusement), because that’s what old friends do: revert back.

One really interesting thing about Callie being here is that while my local friendships have blossomed in the last year and a half, she is starting to find herself in a similar position that I was way back when. To be clear, she has a thriving network in New York and will never be on a true BFF search. And one of her closest pals lives down the block from her. But there was a time when all her best friends lived nearby. She was never going to leave NYC because everyone she loved was there. Then I left. Then another of our high school besties. Then, this week, she threw a going away party for another.

That’s the thing about New York. After college, it seems that everyone is there (at least if you are an East Coast native like me). But as time passes and the big 3-0 inches closer, people start to leave for greener (cheaper, more spacious) pastures.

When you arrive at a friend search like I did, you can kind of see it coming. Before I made the move to Chicago–back when moving day was a month or two away–I spent time thinking (obsessing?) about this. How would I make friends? Where would I find them? Was it kosher to approach the girl at yoga class? But when you stay in one place while everyone around you leaves–for other states, or the suburbs–it’s tougher to prepare. You may not know what hit you.

Let us all just pray that of this ragtag gang of Chicago friends I’ve found, some stay put. ‘Cause I’m not going anywhere. I couldn’t do this again.

Have you been there? Sticking in one place while everyone else seemed to jet off to the ‘burbs or other cities? How did you handle it? What do you do when you’re smacked with a local BFFlessness you didn’t see coming?

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The Hard Facts: To Have Friends Or Be Skinny

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

“A new study about personality and weight confirms what anyone who has tried to balance eating well and living well knows: the people who are most likely to get invited to a last-minute luau are the same people who will have the hardest time resisting the pineapple upside-down cake.” (“How To Be Impulsive Without Gaining Weight” ; Oprah.com 8/19/2011)

This is something I have always known to be true. And this is why making friends and staying trim are at odds.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog, while my quest added friends, it also added pounds. This is because we tend to eat more–as much as 96 percent more!–when eating with other people. (Refresher: We consume 35 percent more when eating with one other person [besides a spouse], a table for four equals 75 percent more, and a party of at least seven translates to 96 percent. No joke.) But it’s not just about eating with people. It’s also about wanting to the be the light-hearted, so-much-fun-to-hang-out-with, lets-invite-her-along friend. This type of pal, like it or not, is usually the person happy to sip a drink or indulge in some nachos at your barbecue. Not the person who refuses to eat carbs, and, though unintentionally, makes you feel guilty about your indulgence. Or the person who takes 45 minutes to order her meal because she’s making up her own dish.

According to researchers, of all personality traits, it’s impulsitivity that best indicates likelihood to be overweight. (Impulsivity = that friend who’ll accept an invitation on a whim. To brunch, a road trip, what have you.)

“Participants who scored in the top 10 percent on [impulsivity] weighed an average of 22 pounds more than those in the bottom 10 percent. Compared to participants of normal weight, the overweight and obese participants were more impulsive—and warm, and assertive. They were also more likely to seek out excitement and prefer to be around others. Alternatively, those people who scored high on conscientiousness (aka, the task-focused, efficient, dutiful and organized) tended to be leaner.”

I’m a fairly average weight for my height, a product of much working out in response to my constant friend-seeking food intake. My average-ness is also a product of sometimes being the un-fun one–the girl who might not join in for a weeknight beer, or go on an spontaneous trip to the wine bar because she’s been planning to cook a turkey meatloaf. On an impulsivity scale, I probably rank fairly low.

It seems an unfair tradeoff, but one that I’m not sure has a solution. On the days I get frustrated about having put on a few LBs, I try to remind myself that better friendships will most definitely make me happier than being a few inches smaller. That one’s scientifically proven too–40% of a person’s happiness is dictated by relationships. Weight loss has no such effect.

What say you? Have you had to make the sociability for weight trade-off before? Is it a fair one? Or do you think a strict diet and a fun and friendly lifestyle can coexist?

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Which Came First? The Chicken or The Book?

In yesterday’s jet laggy haze, I forgot to mention/thank/obsess over the guest posts from my new friends last week. Aren’t they great? Didn’t I luck out? Sure, in a year of 52 dates there were some uncomfortable silences and awkward run-ins, but if those six ladies were the end result (and there are plenty more new friends where that came from–I could only host six!), I’m feeling pretty good about the turnout.

First, let me just say, if you are ever feeling all down in the dumps, see if you can find an excuse to have a friend write a blog post about you. Or a note about your friendship. I’m not sure how to go about that if you don’t have a blog–“Please write 500 words about me. Go.”–but there’s got to be a way. Maybe just start a blog so that two years later you can ask your pals to write about your relationship. I’m just saying, those posts made me blush and got me all new-friend crushy like it was the first day we met. A comparison to Orphan Annie? (Who I may or may not have played in a summer camp play when I was a 19-year-old counselor. Just saying.) Why, thank you! The realization that I’m not the only one who thought a mutual love of Harry Potter was a sign from God? Downright fabulous.

I appreciated the words of my new friends, and also the honesty. Especially Taylor, who admitted being taken aback when she learned about my 52-date quest. “I wanted to think that she wanted to have dinner with me…for me,” she wrote. To which I’d say, of course, that I did. While I looked to fill a certain amount of dates, it was more important to me to fill those slots with women who might actually turn out to be my friends. And thank God I kept going until 52–Taylor’s a dream, and, aside from friendship, our connection helped her get a job and me get a brain to pick about the publishing world. Hooray.

After Taylor’s post, one commenter posted this question, a curiosity that others have echoed: “Did the book deal come first or the adventure?” The answer, sort of, is both. Or, I should say, what came very first was a two-and-a-half year run in Chicago of feeling locally friendless and frustrated. I wanted the last-minute brunch call, the Friday night wine buddy, someone nearby whose house I could drop by. As an aspiring author, when I decided to try to my hand at writing a book, this friendship conundrum seemed the only possible topic. The need for a nearby BFF was a longing I couldn’t shake, one I’d spoken with other women about, all of whom felt my pain. The question of how to make new friends as an adult was one that no one spoke of–how embarrassing!–yet no one had figured out. So when I finally decided to put a proposal together, it was born of my very real need for new pals. I wanted it to be a document of my own attempts at new friendship, because I wanted a project to push me out of my comfort zone and force me to do the scary work of meeting new people. Asking out a nice-seeming waitress or renting a friend is something I knew I’d be too chicken to do unless I made it a challenge, something I had to do. (Two years ago, I was not the new-friend approacher I have become. I was a skeptic.) So I crafted a book proposal, kicked off my quest, and a few months later, I sold my book.

That’s the trajectory. The short answer to the commenter’s question is the adventure started first, the book deal came during the quest. My hope is that once people read the book, they’ll see how much success can come of a friend quest and set out on one of their own–book deal or no book deal. But truth is that when I started, with no model to go on, I truly thought the end of the story would be me saying, “People are not open to new pals. Friendliness is a thing of the past. This was the hardest year of my life.” So I was scared to put myself out there and, ultimately, I thought, humiliate myself. (Spoiler alert! That’s not how the book ends! Phew. That would be a downer read.)

How wonderful it is to be wrong.

Would you have thought a friend-quest would result in repeated rejections? Have you ever started a “project” just to force yourself to do something you knew you deep-down wanted to try but were too scared? And, seriously, aren’t my new friends dreamy?

 

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The Universal Language of Friendship

Home sweet home. After a glorious eight days in Hong Kong, China and Macau, I’m back on American soil. Fighting jet lag, re-adjusting to not eating noodle soup for breakfast (boo), and remembering what it’s like to live somewhere that isn’t 100 percent humidity every day (yay).

And of course, back to my new friends.

As usual, I spent a good chunk of time thinking about the act of making new friends while in Hong Kong. Our hosts, one of whom is American and the other from Honduras, have lived in HK for two years and have carved out great lives for themselves. They have friends–a tight-knit group of friends, in fact–and a whole social scene. Which, it seems, would be really hard to do when one of them speaks no Cantonese.

Of course, there’s a pretty large international population in HK, and their friends are made up of Americans, Canadians, Koreans, and French. At least. But I noticed that there’s another way that foreigners in a foreign land can make casual friends, if not besties. And that’s through the universal languages.

Hear me out. On the second morning of our trip, Matt and I headed to the local park to hang with the locals and get some exercise in. Matt jumped in a full court pick-up basketball game with nine other local residents. He couldn’t communicate with any of them in words, barring the little English some of his teammates spoke, but by the time we left he was laughing and high-fiving with these guys. They may not have had language in common, but the rules (and the fun) of basketball is universal, and that’s how they connected.

When I travel, it never ceases to amaze me how certain activities transcend spoken language or country lines. Sports are sports. No matter your native tongue, you can communicate with others when you play. Matt had so much fun he returned the next day. I think the same is true of music. Also, art. And there are others, I know it, though I can’t think of them right now. Which is frustrating.

It’s fascinating to see how well and how quickly we adapt to our surroundings. Companionship is as basic and essential a need as water, so if we can’t get it through spoken words, we find another way. We’re survivors, after all .

Have you ever made a friend with whom you didn’t speak a common language? How? Are there other universal languages that make pals of people who can’t communicate otherwise? How do different speakers connect despite the language barrier?

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Guest Post: On Being Part of a Project

I’m on vacation! Ehile I’m away, I thought it would be fun to hear from some of the products of this search firsthand. Here, my new friend Taylor reflects on being my last, but certainly not my least, girl date.

Final friend-date #52 here! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little proud to hold that title and to be contributing to Rachel’s beloved blog while she’s out exploring the world.

Rachel’s suggestion for us “new friend guest bloggers” was to reflect on the experience of her approaching us as a way of seeing things from the eyes of the potential BFF. If you’re up on your MWFSeekingBFF facts, you’ll remember me as the non-Christmas-sweater-wearing girl Rachel met back in December. I, the inappropriately dressed guest starving for a job lead; she, the bubbly soon-to-be debut author looking for her final friend date and some long-awaited publishing chitchat. Helping ourselves to jungle juice next to a beer pong table, we instantly hit it off. She was hilarious, insightful and had the charm of orphan Annie, not to mention pitch-perfect sarcasm to match mine: It was a platonic match made in heaven. So when she asked me to dinner the next day, I didn’t know Rachel was courting me for the project…I figured she just wanted to pick my brain about the book world and maybe meet a new friend.

After helping me get an interview with her company (and then later helping me get the job), Rachel and I gradually became work buddies. She’d keep me up to speed with her manuscript progress and book publishing worries, and I, in turn, would look to her for dating advice, work gossip and Entertainment Weekly-related banter. {Editor’s Note: This is the second reference to EW in these guest posts. Recognizing the problem is the first step…} When I realized that our dinner date was part of her whole search for a BFF, I admittedly was a little taken aback. I wanted to think that she wanted to have dinner with me…for me. But the more I thought about it, I realized she was killing two birds with one stone. Would she really make me her last-but-not-least friend-date if she genuinely thought I was a weirdo and didn’t hope that maybe we could at least be new friends, if not, dare I say it, best friends?

The net-net of the situation is that—whatever her motive—I’m glad Rachel made a concerted effort to befriend me. As someone who’s admittedly shy in new social situations, I probably wouldn’t have reached out to Rachel after the party. I thought she was equal parts funny, witty and adorable, but our encounter was brief(ish), and she seemed to know everyone (I only knew our one mutual friend); it wouldn’t have been in my character to go out on a limb and ask for her number, as much as I would have beat myself up for it after the fact.

So, what have we learned? Whether you’re on a year-long search to find the perfect friend or are simply open to expanding your friend circle when the right person comes along, you can’t lose anything by putting yourself out there and asking for a potential new friend’s digits. What’s the worst that can happen?

There are so many factors that go into finding that one perfect BFF—it’s so much like dating—and sometimes it’s a matter of luck and timing. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. Even though we don’t work together anymore, we still make time to see each other and catch up. And I think I speak for both of us when I say we couldn’t be happier to call each other new friends, even if we’re not {Editors note: yet?} best friends.

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Guest Post: Friending Outside My Comfort Zone

I’m on vacation! While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to hear from some of the products of this search firsthand. Here, my new friend Veronica on our unconventional meeting.

When people ask how Rachel and I know each other, I joke that she picked me up online. But it’s true.

Being close to 30 (if I say it enough it loses its power, right?), and having been in a relationship for the last seven years, I have never had experience with online dating sites. I know that relationships originating from match.com and the like are way more common these days, but when it came to making new friends, it never occurred to me that the Internet would be a useful tool. I’m at the age (30! 30! 30!) where I straddle that line between being pretty well connected online but remembering the days before the Internet was such a pervasive aspect of daily communication. Most of my friends were made sitting outside a coffee shop. I know. How 90’s.

But by chance I noticed a blog post on Jezebel.com addressing the difficulty of meeting new friends in a new city as a married adult, and as I had been struggling with that very thing since moving to Chicago from North Carolina, where I had lived my whole life and developed a large network of friends, I read on and into the comments. That’s where I saw Rachel’s comment about her search and a link to this blog, and commented myself about my own situation. She then contacted me, and long story short, after some email back and forth, we set a date to meet for drinks.

We had similar stats – same age, married about the same length of time, no kids, both in the media industry with a love of brunch and The Soup. And obviously I wouldn’t be writing here if, when we met, we didn’t hit it off pretty immediately. We sat drinking wine and talking smack (pretty much my two favorite things to do) for several hours and it never really felt awkward.

And this is the part I didn’t tell her before now. I seriously felt the same giddiness I would have after a successful first date. I came home to my husband and gushed to him that I had met such a smart, funny and interesting woman and I really thought we’d made a great connection. And over the next couple days that “wait two days before calling her” scene from Swingers (again, I know, how 90’s) kept playing in my head. I fretted a little about whether or not I should be the one to make the next move, if maybe she didn’t like me as much as I liked her, {Editor’s note: I did!} and why hadn’t I heard from her a few days later.  I felt like a silly teenager. Then of course, after some business travel and a whopping sinus infection, I ovaried up and sent an email asking her to brunch.

After that brunch date, I joined her cooking club and developed great friendships with that group of ladies, and even went on another blind friend date with my husband and another couple via a mutual friend, which has also since turned into a fulfilling friendship. I credit Rachel and her search with not only introducing me to a new group of friends, but also for inspiring me to put myself out there.  Meeting a potential friend via a chance blog comment isn’t what I’d call conventional, but I’m glad I said yes.

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