Monthly Archives: September 2011

Unfriendship Identification

I should really thank Facebook.

Every time I think I might be out of blog post ideas, they go and change their format just in time to give me something new to talk about (see: friendship history feature).

And thanks, too, to Huffington Post, who alerted me to what, in my opinion, is the most scandalous Facebook change in recent history.

Apparently, on the new Facebook, the timeline feature allows you to see who has unfriended you.

Back in the day (as in, a week ago) if you couldn’t stand someone’s status updates, or you broke up with your boyfriend, or you and a friend had a falling out and you didn’t want to see the vacation pics with the boyfriend who came between you two, you could unfriend her without much fanfare. She got no notification. Sure, she could click on your profile and notice she had less access than before, but that required a fair amount of work. There was no easy way to conclusively verify that she’d been dropped, so you could extricate her from your virtual life smoothly, even if the real-life break up was a bit more rocky.

Well that day is gone my friends.

With the new Facebook timeline, you can peruse your friendship history by year. If you click on, say, 2008, you’ll see all the friends that were added during that 12-month span. If one of those people is no longer your Facebook friend, there will be an “Add Friend” button. It won’t say who dumped who, but if you didn’t dump her… well then, I think you have your answer.

This sleuthing method still takes a bit of click-work. You need to first find the year the “friendship” was established. Then you need to scroll through the who-kn0ws-how-many friends you made that year, in search of a button. And then you need to rack your brain to remember if you unfriended them. It’s not nothing.

But it’s easier than before, and easy enough that it might make me think twice before I did it.

Unfriending has always felt like an option (though I admit I’ve never done it) because it was so quiet. It didn’t involve the confrontation of a friend breakup. It seemed like no biggie, likely completely unnoticed by the other party. If there ever came a day when unfriend notifications were sent? Well that would completely nullify the option. The guilt of unfriending would start to equal the guilt of breakups, and honestly, just the thought makes my head hurt.

What do you think of this Facebook “enhancement” (for more details about how to ID an unfriender, check out this Huffington Post recap)? Would it make you less likely to unfriend someone? More likely to not friend someone in the first place? Or does it make no difference? And how would you feel about a straight “unfriend” notification?

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Would You Be Your Best Friend?

If you met yourself, would you want to be your BFF?

I think about this a lot. I heard somewhere that the usual answer is no–that we often don’t like people who are too much like us. Which I can imagine might be true. If we want to be the expert on something, maybe it’s annoying when someone else comes along with her know-it-all knowledge. Or maybe all the things we find frustrating about ourselves are uber-turn offs when it comes to someone else.

The other night I was at the library with my little brother reading a book from the kids series Judy Moody. In the book, Judy meets a girl who’s a bizarro version of her. Amy Namey’s name rhymes, so does Judy Moody’s. Amy idolizes Nelly Bly, “woman reporter,” while Judy’s hero is Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor. They both have funny speech ticks.

You get the point.

At first Judy can’t stand Amy. She finds her little quirks obnoxious, until her friends point out that Amy and Judy might as well be twins. Judy’s horrified by the fact that there’s another her walking around, when she thought she was special. Soon, though, she talks to Amy–who invites her into the My-Name-Is-A-Poem club–and Judy decides they should be BFFs.

Then Chapter 2 ends.

At this point, my little bro got bored so I don’t know what happened next. But the set up got me thinking.

That same night I was watching the season premiere of Glee, and a similar theme popped up. Rachel and Kurt show up to a mixer for a New York dramatic arts school, and meet a room full of people who might as well be them. They’re not thrilled.

I’d like to think that if I met the bizarro me I’d want to be friends with her. After all, I like myself, right? I think I’m a pretty decent friend. And when I meet women with whom I share similarities, I go ahead and claim them as my BFF like it’s nothing. (Well, claim is a strong word. They’re not baggage.) But I can totally see how it might not go that way. We like being individuals, right? We want friends who complement us, not who are us.

I’m not entirely sure why I think about this as often as I do. But I think it matters when it comes to looking for pals. Do you look for a BFF who seems to share your brain? Or for someone totally different than you? Or both?

Free Book Alert! Want to read MWF Seeking BFF early? Goodreads is hosting a giveaway. Enter by October 10 to win one of 15 advance copies.

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The Hard Facts: When Friendship Ruins Your Sex Life

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

“New research shows that a woman’s friendship with her partner’s friends ruins their sex life. … ‘Partner betweenness,’ the name the authors gave the phenomenon, means that when a man’s wife or girlfriend has stronger relationships with his friends than he does, she comes between the man and his friends. This may occur if the wife is a ‘domineering’ personality who acts as the gatekeeper for the household or with couples where the man socializes primarily with her friends.” (“Another Reason to Avoid His Friends”; New York Times 9/18/2011)

Just another reason why couples should make maintain independent friendships. Apparently, if your partner is only friends with your friends, or if, for some reason, you’re in better contact with his friends than he is, you’ll sense it in the bedroom.

My first question, when I read this study: In what world would a wife be better friends with her husband’s friends than the husband himself? But I guess it’s simply a matter of being in more contact–which can happen if you’re the kind of “domineering” woman who makes all the plans, I guess, or if the men only see each other during couples outings.

Some facts to note before I deliver the big news: This study, which is published in the American Journal of Sociology, looked at  sexual dysfunction in men 57-85 and the relationships between these men and partners. The authors say they chose this age group because that is when “social lives contract, male identity is challenged and erectile dysfunction often sets in.” The contention, however, seems to be that the effect translates to all ages.

So when they say this ‘partner betweeness’ ruins your sex life, what kind of ruin are we talking about, exactly? “A man whose wife or girlfriend has greater contact with some of his good friends than he does is about 92 percent more likely to have erectile dysfunction than a man who is closer to all his friends than his partner is. The younger men (57 to 64) were two and a half times more likely to have erectile dysfunction. The good news? As men enter their 70s, the negative impact wanes and disappears.”

I mean, I guess that last part is good news. Though I have a hunch the post-70 impact wanes because the sex wanes, not the sexual dysfunction. But what do I know? It’s entirely likely that the post-70 retirement crowd is one horny bunch. Like I said the other day: Assisted living! Sign me up!

So why the problems in bed? Researchers say it’s not jealousy, but issues of autonomy and privacy. Basically, he wants his friends all to himself and it turns him off when his woman is all up in his social life and emasculating him. Without even knowing it–I thought guys wanted us to be friends with their friends!–you could be challenging his male identity.

As men get older, they’re less likely to hang with their male friends one on one, according to research. We’ve talked about this. So take those fading relationships, couple them with a woman’s over-involvement with her husband’s friends, and you’ll feel it in the sack next time. Or, I guess, you won’t feel it.

The lesson here: It’s important to know and like your husband’s friends, but remember they are his friends. Both of you should keep independent relationships. Your sex life will appreciate it.

Has anyone out there noticed this effect? Does it seem logical to you? I think it makes sense–men need to feel like their life isn’t totally controlled by their wives. They need something for themselves. I know this is a tidbit I’ll be keeping in mind for the long haul.  It’s sort of fascinating, no?

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The Friendship Lesson Plan

It’s funny that yesterday’s post was all about age, because I ended up at lunch with three women who I believe were all in their 40s and 50s. Our discussion about MWF Seeking BFF and friendships in general was kind of amazing. As much as I love talking besties–and all the underlying issues that accompany social relationships–so many people steer away from the topic. They think it’s cheesy, or too sentimental. Which sometimes it is, sure. But there are ways to discuss friendship without getting into “I love my best friend she is so nice and pretty and I will always love her” territory. Believe me, those kind of sentimental rants, mostly witnessed at weddings, make my ears bleed.

One woman, who I believe was in her 50s, maybe late 40s, said she didn’t realize how much she needed her friends until she hit 40. In her 30s, she said, she wanted to prove she could do it all–the marriage, the family, the career. She didn’t want to ask for help. It wasn’t until she had a terrible health scare that she realized she wanted–no, needed–friends in her life to support her.

After hearing our lunch companion admit she didn’t want to ask for help, another woman volunteered a story that really struck me. She said her mother once had a lot of trouble with friendships. When she was younger, this woman’s mother didn’t realize that friends are the very people you should be real with. “Friends are the ones you can and should be vulnerable with. They are the people with whom you can just be yourself and let it all go,” my lunchmate said. “My mother spent the early years of her life trying to appear perfect, like she had it all together. She didn’t realize for a while that perfect isn’t interesting. No one wants to be friends with you because you’re perfect, they want to be friends with you because you’re you.”

In fact, I mentioned, some people don’t want to be friends with you when you’re perfect.

“I remember my mother sharing that with me when I was young. Warning me to not waste time trying to be perfect with my friends,” she says. “It really made an impression on me.”

It’s a good lesson to pass from mother to daughter.  If there’s anywhere to be real, it’s with your pals. Try to be perfect at work if you want. Present yourself as having the world figured out when you go out for errands or to a dinner party. But when you’re hanging with your friends, a facade won’t get you anywhere. So let pals do what they are supposed to do–accept you for being the real thing.

I was touched by this idea of mother-daughter friendship lessons. Or friendship lessons at all. What are the tidbits we pick up from other people, without even realizing it? I’ve learned so many over the past two years, but the first I can remember is from when I was in high school. I’d complain to my mom about a friend who did something selfish or manipulative. And then I’d say, “but whatever, that’s just how Friend is.” As if, because Friend was a generally selfish or manipulative person, that made it ok. Or acceptable. And then one day my mother told me that that’s not an excuse. You can’t get away with hooking up with your best friend’s crush, for example, because it’s “just the way you are.” Selfish or manipulative people shouldn’t be let off the hook, or not held to the same standard as the rest of us, just because they have established themselves as historically selfish and manipulative. That doesn’t make it ok.

This was a lightbulb moment. I suddenly realized that some people got away with being rude by always being rude. And I learned that those weren’t people I necessarily wanted to be friends with.

I find myself repeating that lesson in situations all the time: “‘That’s just how she is’ doesn’t make it ok. You can’t just say ‘Friend is a bitch, so whatever’ as if being a bitch is is no biggie.”

So, yeah. That’s my lesson, courtesy of Mom. Do you have any friendship lessons you explicitly remember being taught? I’d love to hear them below!

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Getting Better With Age

Over the weekend, I gave a number of women my 30-second book pitch, part of which goes: “It’s about how hard it is to make friends as an adult.”

Each person smiled knowingly. One girl a bit younger than me told me she totally got it. “I’ve been there. When I was 23 it was so easy to make friends, because everyone wants to be friends at 23. Now it’s so much harder.” She’s probably 27, so things changed pretty quickly.

I’ve heard similar stories from older women. Empty nesters with newfound free time tell me they long for new companionship, or retired women say they’re looking for pals to help take advantage of their new schedule.

And I’ve been wondering: Does age make a difference?

When I started my quest, I was sure my situation made it especially difficult to make friends. New city, work from home, no kids. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that women in all different life situations would be in the same boat. Most women have it easy, I thought. I’m just unlucky.

I was sure it would get easier when…

1) I had kids. Pregnancy classes! Mommy & Me! Preschool! All these organized activities would certainly mean new-mom BFFs, pronto.

2) I started working in an office. Coworkers = BFFs. Right??

3) I retired. Yes it’s a long way off but I figured the older I got, the easier it would be to meet new people. Something about being more confident in my old(er) age. And more friendly. It just seemed like older women were better at finding confidantes.

Don’t even get me started on when I’m 80 and in assisted living. I saw In Her Shoes. Retirement homes are like college dorms! Sign me up.

Almost two years after the conception of this search, though, I’m thinking I was wrong. Each life situation presents its own friend-making difficulties. Kids make it hard to go out and socialize. Office work can introduce you to people, but not necessarily the people with whom you’d choose to spend your free time. And retirement/empty nest can bring time for new friends, but not necessarily help you find the right people.

So now I’m wondering, does it get easier? Ever?? Is there a post-college age when making friends is simple and effortless? Do the passing decades–and the accompanying wisdom that age provides–help you find your “person,” as Meredith and Christina would say? What does age have to do with it?

Bottom line: Is there one age–your 50’s? your 30s? 80s?–that is especially easy for friend making? Or is it tough across the board once the college days are behind you?

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The Death of the Bromance

Thanks, Jezebel, but your latest post about the death of male friendships has me totally depressed.

Since I don’t like to wallow by my lonesome, here’s a quote. Maybe you all can get equally alarmed and bummed on a sunny Friday morning: “According to [author] Niobe Way, male friendships are in a state of crisis. … Way says that while boys are often viewed as unemotional loners, they actually need close friendships as badly as girls do. After conducting interviews with boys from the U.S. and China for two decades, she found that in early adolescence, they would often express that they valued having a best friend they could talk about their feelings with, not just a guy they occasionally exchange grunts with while playing Wii. Yet, when the boys got older they reported fewer intense friendships and seemed worried about being seen as girly or gay for having feelings for another guy.”

It’s nice to hear that, at least when boys are young, they are happy to admit–brag, even–that they have a best friend they can tell everything to. The unfortunate part comes later, when they are too old and macho to pursue friendships, and so, in some cases, they simply accept loneliness.

The simple fact that guys will let important friendships fade for fear of appearing gay, if true, is really quite sad. Perhaps not shocking, but sad. And I’m feeling extra bummed about it today, because for the past few days, I’ve gotten bonked over the head with the influence a true friendship can be in a guy’s life. You see, today I’m off to Matt’s best friend’s wedding. The value Matt puts on this relationship is incomparable to any thing else in his life (yes, including his wife. Not more important but different, and probably equally important). His BFFship, though he’d never call it that, means the world to him, and the fact that some guys choose to let that kind of relationship fade for reasons of appearance is just the worst.

The last couple of nights, I’ve come home after Matt’s usual 10 pm bedtime, shocked to see him still awake. Let me be clear, there’s pretty much nothing, aside from a Red Sox World Series run, that can keep him up. Except, apparently, his best friend. He’s been preparing his speech, trying to get it just right, to make sure his pal is happy and entertained on the big day. There are so few things a groom gets, really, but Matt at least wants to give him a laugh.

Watching–and listening to–the preparations, I keep thinking how glad I am that Matt has such close friendships. Even if they are long-distance. And even if the last time I tried to force him to make man-date instead of go to the casino he told me to “stop friendshiping me.” (Apparently I’ve become a pusher.) The friends he has mean everything to him.

If I were to have a son one day, I’d hope he’d feel the same. Not, as Way, whose new book is called Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, purports, that he has to choose between having a girlfriend and a best friend or that people would think he’s gay, as if that’s the worst thing in the world. With amazing timing, Jezebel author Margaret Hartmann writes, “Way makes boys’ teenage years sound pretty lonely, and without close friendships, those kids grow up to be be emotionally stunted men who will never know the joy of showing up late to a dude’s wedding and declaring that you love him.”

Exactly.

Do you think guys are afraid to admit how important their friends are? Has it always been like this? Is there a fix?

 

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Boy Friends

I watched that show The New Girl last night. Usually I have a rule about brand new TV shows. Which is: I don’t watch them. There are so many, and you never know which are going to last anyway. So I wait until other people have watched, judged, and told me I’m missing out. Then I jump on the bandwagon.

But last night it was late and I needed a 30 minute comedy. And I gotta tell you, I liked it. First of all, Zooey Deschanel’s character could totally be my BFF. She’s all dorky and silly and sings a lot and says nerdy things. She seemed like a made-for-television (translation: more cute, less dorky) version of me.

This post is not about Zooey, though. It’s about those three roomates. Male roomates. Who are quickly turning out to be her new BFFs.

I loved another show, once, that was also about a girl and her male best friends. My Boys. May it rest in peace.

In both shows, the guy-girl friendship looks both easy and totally desirable. According to TV, which is of course where I learn most of life’s most valuable lessons, guy friends will:

- Call you out when you are being crazy

- Always help you land the guy

- Be sweet when they need to be, but not overly so

- Play poker with you

- Eschew drama. No fights and cat clawing. This is not Real Housewives.

Both shows make a strong case for the female-male friendship. Like I said, they’re televised versions of reality, which means those relationships are glossier, funnier and all around more perfect. But they do remind me of my college days, when I would spend hours at Matt’s apartment, long after he’d gone to sleep, watching Elimidate with his roommates. That was the life.

These days, now that I think about it, I don’t really have many guy friends. In Chicago, I know plenty of men, but they are largely husbands or boyfriends of my friends, or buddies of Matt’s. I’m not sure how I would land that male PBFF even if I wanted to. Which, now that I think about it, kind of makes me sad.

I’ve written a lot about whether men and women can be friends. But today I’m deciding that sure, let’s say they can. Do those relationships really come with all the comfort of these TV BFFships? And, seriously, how do a man and woman even develop that sort of close relationship without there being any weirdness? Between themselves, their significant others, potential dates, and on and on? Thoughts?

 

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The Hard Facts: Peer Pressure Is Still In Effect

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

“A new USC study explains why people take stupid chances when all of their friends are watching that they would never take by themselves. According to the study, the human brain places more value on winning in a social setting than it does on winning when you’re alone.” (“Peer pressure? It’s Hardwired Into Our Brains, Study Finds”; ScienceDaily.com 9/11/2011)

Bottom line: If you thought peer pressure faded with adolescence, think again.

How does this translate to Friendship Challenge week? Easy. As the younger me might have said (cue whiney voice): Everybody’s doing it!

Of course we all like to think that we’re too mature to let our pals pressure us into doing something stupid, but this research shows that friends don’t necessarily need to purposefully egg you on. Their mere presence might be enough to give you that extra nudge.

And, according to researchers, activities feel less risky when we are surrounded by friends. “In private environments, losing can more easily be life-threatening. With no social support network in place, a bad gamble can spell doom.”

Now, you may have noticed in the quote up top that this study talks largely about “stupid chances.” Let me be clear about one thing: Asking out a new friend is not a stupid chance. It’s a great chance! The worst that can happen, if we want to go there, is that she says no. And maybe looks at you funny. Well, sure, that could be embarrassing for, like, a minute. But that passes. Quickly.

The best that can happen though is that she says yes, you totally hit it off, and you come back to this blog a year from now and you are someone who found your new BFF. That could happen.

I’d like to say I’m above peer pressure to encourage my readers to do something. But you can’t argue with science, folks.

So won’t you ask out that awesome potential BFF in your book club? At work? In the kid pick-up line after school?

Everybody’s doing it.

Have you found yourself doing things because you’re surrounded by friends that you wouldn’t do otherwise? Do you think peer pressure still exists? And did mine work??

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Friendship Challenge: Unexpected Success

Since this is Friendship Challenge week, and I’m really hoping people will take take on this mission and share their “ask her out” experiences, I thought I’d try to inspire you with a tale of one of my most embarrassing–but most rewarding–pick ups.

I was at dinner at a nearby restaurant with Matt (happy 30th birthday Matt!!), and two friends from out of town. We had the greatest waitress. She was spunky. She made us laugh, but without trying too hard. She seemed like absolute BFF material.

“She’s cute. She should be my BFF,” I said.

“Ask her out,” Matt said. “Leave a note.”

I knew it was a great suggestion–I’d been trying to test drive new ways of meeting people–but just the thought made me nervous. What if she thought I was crazy? Or trying to really pick her up? What if she thought I was a desperate pathetic social leper and I got too humiliated to ever return to that restaurant? It was our favorite!

After a meal full of pep talks, I decided to go for it. But, just in case it was a total disaster, I made my friend write the note for me. She had better handwriting anyway, and if our waitress saw the whole thing go down and decided the writer of the note was a nutcase, at least I could still eat dinner there. Jenny, my dinner companion, was from out of town so she didn’t stand to lose those delicious scallops.

And so Jenny wrote a note, dictated by me:

“Hi! I’m new(ish) in town and I live around the corner with my husband. You seem cool  and like we could be friends. Would you like to get lunch sometime? Let me know!”

For a four sentence email, let me tell you it took a lot of thought. Jenny wrote the note on the back of our receipt, and I was pretty confident I’d never hear from the waitress. She might not even turn the receipt over!

Except she did. And she wrote me back that night. And we went to lunch. And then to drinks. And then she gave me free food the next couples times I stopped into the restaurant.

Success.

The point of this story, of course, is that you never know. I thought leaving a note on a restaurant bill was a no-chance method. But I was wrong.

If you’re holding back, you could be surprised too.

What’s the craziest route you ever took to meet a potential friend? Anything totally unexpected? And did this story make you say, “Yes! Today I will totally ask that PBFF out to lunch”? Anybody? Bueller?

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A Friendship Challenge

I love a challenge. Or maybe I love a project.

Clear cut parameters–rules! regulations! tangible results!–propel me to tackle missions I would otherwise laugh off.

Take last week. I went off gluten. A friend told me that tennis superstar Novak Djokovic went from number 15 to number 1 in the world in only one year, and credits going gluten-free with his unstoppable rise. My friend said, “If you were off gluten, you’d have written five books already!”

Challenge accepted.

When it comes to food, I happen to enjoy changing it up. I’m a carb-lover all the way, and if I could eat anything in the world and health were no issue, I’d have chicken fingers and fries and mashed potatoes for every meal. Throw in some pad thai for good measure. But I’ll try any eating plan once. I like rules (all or nothing is always easier for me than moderation) and I like seeing how different diets (hate that word, but we should call a spade a spade) make me feel. Oh, and gluten free? After a week of it and a weekend back on gluten, I can tell you it made me feel good. Less bloated, more energetic. I’m going back for a little. Screw the glute.

And, of course, a project is what finally forced me to get off my tuchus and start making friends. When I used to sit around lamenting my lack of local pals, I couldn’t quite get myself to do anything about it. I’d think about it, or complain to Mom or my long-distance BFFs, but actually asking anyone out was too daunting. Until I made a challenge: 52 first friend-dates in a year. Suddenly it felt like I had no choice. I’d set for the challenge, so I had to deliver.

I talked to my BFF Callie over the weekend who said that reading an advance copy of MWF Seeking BFF inspired her to write an email to a “friendish person” to ask her to dinner. And, when she was doing some work for a local board she sits on, she suggested that a group of them go out for drinks. She undertook the friending mission.

So for this week, lovely readers, I’m extending a challenge to you: Ask one, just one, potential BFF on a friend date. Shoot the new-in-town girl an email to see if she wants coffee. Or suggest to another local mom that your kids get together so you can hang out, too. Or invite the girl in the next cube over for a drink after work. Or maybe a friend of a friend could come over to watch one of the 48,000 season premieres this week.

It’s not a crazy mission. I’m not suggesting you take on 52 dates. Or even 2 dates. Just one. Because for most of us, the asking is the hardest part. It’s awkward, it makes us feel desperate. But it’s easier than you think! I promise. Just go for it. If it makes you feel any better, I’m going to do it too. I’ve taken a new-date break, and it’s time to get back on the wagon.

So go forth and friend! And then share with us in the comments: success stories, questions, fears. As Sharpay would say, we’re all in this together.

So…. Challenge extended. Do you accept?

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