Monthly Archives: March 2012

Will You Tune In To Best Friends Forever?

Next week NBC will premiere a show that was made for us, my friends.

It’s called, yes, Best Friends Forever. 

For your weekend enjoyment, I’ve posted the entire full-length premiere below. To be honest, the jury is still out for me. That said, I really enjoy the opening exchange via Skype. Me and my long-distance besties really need to be making better use of today’s video phone technology.

Give yourself an afternoon break and watch some BFF TV. Then weigh in: Will you be watching when Best Friends Forever hits airwaves?

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The Hard Facts: It’s All In Your Head

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

“Researchers are suggesting that there is a link between the number of friends you have and the size of the region of the brain — known as the orbital prefrontal cortex — that is found just above the eyes. A new study shows that this brain region is bigger in people who have a larger number of friendships.” (“Brain Size May Determine Whether You Are Good at Keeping Friends”;  Sciencedaily.com 2/24/2012)

We already knew that the size of the human brain is related to the size of our social networks. According to The Dunbar Number, humans can maintain about 150 relationships at one time. That’s relationships, not friendships. It includes the people you might see on the street, chat with, and know how they fit into your life.

This new research says that the size of an individual’s orbital prefrontal cortex is directly related to how many friends she can hold on to. I’m not going to lie, the brain research is sometimes over my head. (Aagh! Pun! Not intended!) But the gist is that to maintain a lot of pals we need to be able to understand how other people think, and the bigger the frontal lobe, the better we are at that mind-reading, or “mentalising” as the researchers call it.

Here’s how Robin Dunbar, who is also the brain behind this latest study, explains it: “‘Mentalising’ is where one individual is able to follow a natural hierarchy involving other individuals’ mind states. For example, in the play ‘Othello’, Shakespeare manages to keep track of five separate mental states: he intended that his audience believes that Iago wants Othello to suppose that Desdemona loves Cassio. Being able to maintain five separate individuals’ mental states is the natural upper limit for most adults.'”

Here’s what I’m wondering: Now that we know the specific social skill (mentalising) that contributes to someone having a lot of friends, can a person work on that skill? Can she strengthen it if she wants to be able to keep more pals? Or does the size of the frontal lobe determine your mentalising ability, and that’s that?

It’s unclear from the research. What we know is this: “The size of your brain determines your social skills, and it is these that allow you to have many friends,” or, as Dunbar said, “there is a link between the ability to read how other people think and social network size.”

All of which is to say one thing: Want more friends? Work on your mind-reading. Tall order.

 

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The Indefinite Hangout

Yesterday at brunch a friend mentioned that one of the biggest and toughest changes in friendship as we age has been the elimination of the “indefinite hangout.” Indefinite as in, we’ll hang until we’re done, without a specific time stamp because someone has to get home or to a workout class or to an appointment.

I’d never thought about it before, but she’s right. Spending time with a friend indefinitely, until you naturally go your separate ways, used to be the norm. When I was 23 and living in New York City, I might call Sara for brunch and when the meal was over, we’d see what was next. Maybe we’d each go home, or maybe we’d go to her house to hang, or maybe she’d say “Want to go look at shoes with me?” Whatever. Life was a little more open.

These days, though, that’s an incredible luxury. At a Sunday morning brunch, there’s almost always the next thing on your to-do list, and when you make brunch plans you might find yourself saying “11 sounds great, but I have to be home by 1:30 because…”

It’s not that two and a half hours isn’t enough for brunch. It is. You aren’t cutting your date short or fitting your friend into too tight a space. But the knowledge that there’s no set deadline on a get together is so freeing. It opens the meeting up to the question of “what’s next?” And some of the best times I’ve had with friends, and some of the best getting-to-know-you time with new friends, has taken place in those unplanned hours, after my playdate says “I have to stop off at this boutique on the corner to pick something up. Wanna come?”

It speaks to the difference between the BFF ideal I was looking for when I started this search, and the reality of best friendship today. The ideal was a BFF like I had when I was 16, when I would see someone all day during school and then talk for hours on the phone at night, and then do it all again the next day. The reality is that between family, job, and errands, I’m lucky to talk to someone once a week. In MWF Seeking BFFI write “I’m looking for someone with whom it is assumed I will spend the day or at least an hour” on the weekend. I was looking for an indefinite hangout. It’s a pretty tall order these days, but at least, now, when it happens it is all the sweeter.

When was the last time you had an indefinite hangout? Was it just the best? Or did it stress you out because it had no end point?

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It’s Hunger Games Day!

There are certain movies that seem to be made for groups of girls to go in droves. Twilight. Sex and the City. Any style of Traveling Pant.

The Hunger Games is the latest. I’m so excited to see it (Team Peeta!), and it seems that by the end of this weekend every single one of my friends will have made their way to watch the teenage death match.

Obviously I’m pro anything that inspires the ladies to make it a girl’s night. But here’s what’s funny: Katniss herself has no female friends.

What’s that about? I know she’s got Gale, but he’s no BFF. They kind of want to jump in the sack, after all. And Prim, too. She’s a little sister–such an adored one that Katniss will throw herself in a blood bath–but she’s no bestie.

The same was true of Twilight’s Bella Swan. Before she met Alice, Bella had no friends. (No, Jessica does not count.) I wonder if movie producers think it’s too much to throw in these “extra” characters. That friends don’t propel the narrative or something. Personally, I would have loved to listen in on the early chat between Bella and her BFF where she says “Edward’s super hot but why is he so pale???”

Or Katniss. If she had a best friend, she’d be able to get to the bottom of the whole “he loves me, he loves me not” drama with her hunting partner.

It’s not really believable that neither Katniss or Bella had any interest in having friends to kick back with. I mean, a girl can only handle so much drama. Or hunting. Sometimes we just want to chill.

Not that anyone is arguing The Hunger Games is realistic. And I still pre-ordered my ticket like the rest of the world. I mean who could resist this…

Will you be seeing The Hunger Games this weekend? With your besties? And why don’t you think Katniss has a single BFF?

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The Hard Facts: Free Time is Friend Time

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

“49 percent of women say they do not have enough free time. … Women who set aside regular free time are ultimately more satisfied with their lives – 50 percent report being satisfied versus 41 percent of those who regularly postpone their free time.” (“Women Need More Free Time Says Real Simple Study” ; Fishbowl NY, 3/9/2012)

The lack of free time is one of the biggest detractors from adult friendship, if you ask me. Because whether we feel we have free time or not, we make time for work and errands and family and fitness. But with friends, we wait until time opens up. On that rare occasion when, “wow! I have nothing going on this afternoon,” that’s when we call a buddy and invite them for a pedicure or to see The Hunger Games. 

Those other to-dos—work, exercise, family, chores—are priorities, but we treat friendship as a luxury. Something we get around to when we have an extra hour to spare. But, according to this study, almost half of us don’t have enough free time as it is! And so we miss our BFF time, those very important moments that helps us relax, laugh and connect.

If that’s all hanging with pals was—just an excuse to kick back—it might not be so bad that women continually postpone it. But keep in mind that time spent with friends also dramatically increases your odds of long-term survival, delays memory loss, lowers stress, improves sleep, and boosts your immune system. It is probably the best thing you could do for your health.

The Real Simple study quoted above found that much of the time pressure women feel is self-imposed. According to their research, the free-time deficit is often caused by poor delegating or not letting go of control. That’s not likely to change all too soon.  Sad, but true.

So I propose a mental shift. To fit in more time with friends, which really is as vital to our health and happiness as anything else, stop thinking of it as a luxury. Friendship shouldn’t be a free-time activity. It should be a make-time activity. Add “spend one hour with Sally” to your to-do list. Right after “schedule doctor appointment” and before “grocery shopping.” Fit it in there now, so you won’t forget about it later when ever elusive free-time disappears.

Added bonus: Suddenly there will be something on your to-do list you’re actually looking forward to doing. Ta-da! Magic.

Are you one of the 41% who doesn’t have enough free time? Does that lack of free time keep you from seeing friends? Do you think the “free-time” to “make-time” mental shift can work?

Chicago! I’ll be reading tomorrow night, 3/22, at 7 pm at Open Books. It will be a meet and mingle event, and you know what that means — new friends for all! I’d be so thrilled to see you there. 

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He Can’t Be My Girlfriend, He’s My Boyfriend

I was incredibly honored to be featured last week on the official WordPress blog, where I was asked to provide some tips for building a blog following. It was funny to see my face on a post like that, since I’m still learning so much about the blog world and how to conquer it. I constantly look to stars like Gretchen Rubin and Neil Pasricha for inspiration.

Since the post was published, a number of new readers have made their way over to this corner of the webs (thank you! and welcome!) and one recurring question that has come up is: “Isn’t your husband your best friend forever?”

The short answer? No. As I’ve wrote at the beginning of this blog, I don’t think a spouse should be a BFF. Or, you can’t complain to your husband about your husband (well, you can, but it does nothing good for the relationship.)

Let me clarify that I adore my husband. He’s the cream of the crop. He’s my most intimate companion and he makes me laugh and takes care of me and challenges me and will be with me for life. But if you try to get all your needs from one person, you may be dissapointed. And you’re probably putting too big a strain on your marriage.

That said, research says the most successful marriages are relationships that have strong friendships. I believe that. Matt and I enjoy each other’s company. We can sit and chat over dinner, making jokes that only we understand or discussing current events or our work days or whatever. A relationship that’s all passion and lovey-doveyness all the time probably can’t last either. You need a foundation to get through the hard parts.

It’s a delicate and tough balance. Which is probably why marriage is hard and some don’t work out. You have to be friends. You have to respect each other and get along. Wanting to jump each other all the time or exclusively calling each other “honey-poo” in public isn’t enough. But you also need to have other people. You can’t say “I don’t need friends because my husband is my best friend.”

Big mistake. Huge.

What do you think? Can your husband be your BFF?

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When Friends Snap

Fighting with friends is a pretty big rarity for me these days. I might make a snappy remark I’m not proud of every now and then (for which I totally blame Tired and Hungry), but a true fight doesn’t really happen. But back in the day, during the drama-filled elementary and middle school years, and even sometimes in high school or college, there were fights. Some that lasted a couple of hours, and a few that went on for months. (In fourth grade my BFF got made at me, twice, and didn’t speak to me for a full month at a time. Twice. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything…)

What’s interesting though is how different people have different fighting styles. Some girls are confrontational, others passive aggressive. Some are peacemakers, others instigators. I’ve known girls who’ve had all-out screaming matches, and others who’ve stopped talking to each other entirely. There is absolutely no part of me that wishes to be a teenager again.

In considering those fights, it strikes me that it was always hardest when the two “opponents” had different fighting styles. Like that fight in fourth grade. I was a talker. I wanted to have a conversation about our issues (and I use that term generously as we were 9 years old) and understand what I did wrong so that I could apologize. Or not. She was an “I am going to punish you for all your wrongdoings by never speaking to you again and never telling you why I’m never speaking to you” type.

And then, if memory serves, one day she started talking to me again and all was ok (until the next round, of course).

When you have different fighting styles, I imagine it’s  harder for BFFs to resolve problems. If one wants to scream and one marches off because she wants no part of it, how do you move forward? Pals with similar styles—whether they need to sit down and  hash it out,  separate to cool off, or just simply scream and get it out—probably have a better chance of getting past whatever’s going on.

I’m wondering if this is one of the great unspoken secrets of long-lasting friendship. If the besties who make it to the decade mark do so because they “fight right” or, really, fight right for each other.

What do you think? Do you and your BFF have similar fighting styles?

I’m so excited about this Reuters piece about MWF Seeking BFF. Some tips on finding the BFF of your dreams!

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The Hard Facts: We’re Not Moving

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

“The share of Americans who move their homes in a year has reached a record low. … From spring 2010 to spring 2011, just 11.6 percent of the people moved residences, the lowest rate since the government began keeping track of migration in 1948.” (“American Migration Reaches Record Low ; New York Times, 11/15/2011)

A natural assumption these days is that it’s getting harder and harder to make friends because people are moving more than ever. We’re a transient society, and with that transience comes the seemingly constant need to make new pals. But research says otherwise. We’re still moving, sure, but the census shows we’re moving less than ever before.

According to The Times, “The difference between [the 2010] rate and the 2009 rate of 12.5 percent was not statistically significant, but it was a far cry from its heights in the mid-20th century. From 1951-52, for example, 20.3 percent of Americans moved.”

And perhaps it’s that fact that’s making new friendships so hard. When I moved to Chicago, I felt like everyone who lived here was from here (according to the census, 59% of Americans live in the state where they were born). They already had social networks from growing up and from their Big Ten school, and didn’t seem anxious to grow those out. (I went to a Big Ten school myself, but for whatever reason my besties all moved to the coasts.) At least I wasn’t moving to Louisiana, where 78.8 percent of residents were born there, or Michigan (76.6 percent), Ohio (75.1 percent) or Pennsylvania (74 percent).

This doesn’t mean there aren’t other transplants in your city, even if you just relocated to New Orleans. Just fewer of them. For me, one of the most successful friend-making methods was tracking down other Chicago newbies. When I first moved here, I thought I wanted to find local friends to fold me into their clique and show me all the best restaurants and boutiques. But as soon as I started “officially” searching, I learned that transplants band together. We all want new friends, and are willing to do the work to maintain those friendships.

And if you’re a Californian moving to Texas, or a New Yorker retiring to sunny Florida, you’re in luck.Check out this list  of the most common migrations in that 2010-2011 time frame:

  • California to Texas (68,959 movers)
  • New York to Florida (55,011)
  • Florida to Georgia (49,901)
  • California to Arizona (47,164)
  • New Jersey to Pennsylvania (42,456)
  • New York to New Jersey (41,374)
  • California to Washington (39,468)
  • Texas to California (36,582)
  • Georgia to Florida (35,615)
  • California to Nevada (35,472)

Are you surprised to hear that people are moving less, not more? As a transplant, do you find it easier to befriend locals or other new kids?  Do you think the decreased moving rates is what makes it harder to make new pals?

Hey Chicago! I’ll be at Open Books in next Thursday, March 22 at 7 PM. It will be a reading from MWF Seeking BFF with an eye toward introducing local readers looking for new friends. Please come! I’d love to see you there. 

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When Friends Grow Up

Well, the weekend trip was a huge success. Road trips are F-U-N fun. And I totally got called out for all my nerdiness at hour 2.5 when we were all laughing about something that made no sense and I said, “Hey! We already have an inside joke!” I was teased, and it was warranted.

After two days of new friend time (translation: wine, catchphrase, Bethenny Ever After), I came back to Chicago where a high school friend was in town for work. She’d been here all weekend, but since she was busy with meetings, we didn’t get to hang out until Sunday night. It was, as always, great to see her. And it reminded me of something I’ve been thinking a lot about as I near 30: How fascinating it is to see the friends I grew up with turning into such impressive, successful, smart people.

Take yesterday’s pal. Emily lives in Washington D.C, where she works in politics. She has had a direct hand in creating social change that will truly make the world a better place, and recently took a job where she will continue that work on a larger scale. If you can’t tell, I’m incredibly proud of her. Plus, she’s super smart and one of those people who doesn’t make me feel stupid when I have a question. I’m the first to admit that I have lots to learn when it comes to politics, and I feel comfortable asking Em because I know she won’t make me feel bad about not already knowing the answer.

Emily is just one of my many friends who does work that wows me—lawyers, doctors, television producers, artists, magazine editors. People are starting business, raising money for incredible non-profits, launching crazy successful websites. It’s not that I haven’t always admired my besties. I wouldn’t be friends with them if I didn’t consider them interesting, kind people.

But now that we’ve hit an age where we’re not just working at jobs but building careers, it’s incredible to step back and try to look at these people objectively. I’m constantly thinking, “Wow, I used to play dress up in your closet after Friday night high school basketball games and now you are legit doing Important Work.”

An old friend from summer camp sent me an email expressing a similar sentiment recently. “When I’m out with my camp friends, I love it when we’re talking about our professional lives. It makes me nostalgic that these are the girls that I played with when we were kids, performing in musicals and cheering in team clothes, and now they are successful, smart, professional women.”

It can make you feel old and suddenly grown-up, sure, but also so proud to call these people your friends.

Do you know that feeling? The one where you suddenly take a step back and marvel that the girl you used to have playdates with is suddenly this big-time, awesome professional? How does it make you feel? Proud? Jealous? Old? Nostalgic?

Book clubs are reading MWF Seeking BFF, and the conversations have been fascinating! Read it with your book club and you can use these discussion questions. Or I’d be happy to Skype with your group if it meets in April or later. (March is all booked up!)

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Friendship Milestone #9: Road Trip!

Today I’m getting my Thelma and Louise on. Well, if Thelma and Louise had five other cohorts and the story ended a bit differently.

The point is, I’m going on a road trip.

The cooking club ladies (who really should get a new name because we never cook anymore) are taking a weekend trip to Northern Michigan, where one of the girls’ parents have a home. It’s a six-hour drive, and we’ve prepped with lots of chips and music and back-and-forth emails about where we’ll stop along the way. Then, once we get there, it will be a weekend of wine, board games, pizza and late-night pillow talk.

It’s pretty hard for me to believe that at this time two years ago, I didn’t know any of these ladies. Now we’re taking our first group getaway. It certainly feels like a milestone, for us as gang and for me as a BFF-searcher. Travel = friendship.

And considering these are women I’ve only ever spent a couple of hours with at a time, we will probably return even more friendy. Or we’ll hate each other. But I’m going with the former.

I’ve been thinking about what the other friendship milestones are. I think the list looks something like this:

Milestone 1: First meeting.

Milestone 2: Getting together (dinner, lunch, movie) just the two of you.

Milestone 3: First friendly text message. (This does not include informational texts like “I’m here. In the brown sweater.” Or “Be there in 5.” These are the just-for-fun-because-I-thought-of-you-texts like “The new bar near us just opened!”)

Milestone 4: Party invite (birthday, holiday, house, whatever).

Milestone 5: Ongoing emailing about nothing in particular.

Milestone 6: Talk on the phone. Woah. Big time.  

Milestone 7: Asking for a ride.

Milestone 8: Crying/Venting/Confiding.

Milestone 9: Travel.

Milestone 10: Daily or near-daily texting/phone-talking. See each other pretty much every weekend, or as close as possible.

And then you’re there. BFFship!

As you can see… The cooking club? We are on our way.

What do you think of my friendship milestone timeline? Is it accurate? Anything out of order? Did I miss anything?

Mark your calendars! New MWF Seeking BFF readings and signings are on the schedule. I’ll be traveling to Nashville, Miami, and Washington, DC in the coming months. But first, I’ll be at Open Books in Chicago next Thursday, March 22. It will be a reading with an eye toward introducing local readers looking for new friends. Please come! I’d love to see you there. 

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