Monthly Archives: July 2012

Best Friends, Best Competitors

Just like a gazillion Americans out there, I’m obsessed with The Olympics. Swimming? Check. Gymnastics? Check. Canoe Slalom? Fine.

In the light of all the gymnastics drama (Poor Jordyn, that rule blows!) I’ve been thinking a lot about what it must be like to compete against your BFFs. Some of these gymnasts have known each other since they were six years old. Have you seen this decade-old pic of U.S gymnasts Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney at the gym together? It’s amazing.

A lot has been made of the fact that two other gymnasts, Jordyn Weiber and Aly Raisman, are best friends, but the latter knocked the former out of the gymastics all-around finals. Also of the friendship-slash-rivalry between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be best friends and teammates, but also competitors. I know they do a good job of saying the right thing, but it seems that all of these athletes have actually mastered the art of being friends off the clock, and bitter rivals when competition starts.

You have to have a pretty serious emotional maturity to be able to compartmentalize a relationship so well. I’ve rarely been in any real competition with best friends, let alone of the Olympic-sized variety. But competing with a high school bestie for a spot on a team or a role in a play, or a college BFF for a job, or a work BFF for a promotion– it’s uncomfortable. You have to decide at the outset of how you want to approach it. Will you discuss it outright, or each do your own thing? Can you avoid letting competition taint the friendship?

Ever been in this situation yourself? You and your best pal are a pair, except when you want to kick each other’s butts?

 

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The Hard Facts: Friends Make Your Weight

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

“A Loyola study of high school students provides new evidence that a person’s circle of friends may influence his or her weight. Students were more likely to gain weight if they had friends who were heavier than they were. Conversely, students were more likely to get trimmer — or gain weight at a slower pace — if their friends were leaner than they were.” (“Obesity Linked to Circle of Friends” ; ScienceDaily.com, 7/9/2012)

A study like this comes out about every six months, each time with a small twist. This time the study is of high school students, but the upshot is the same: If your friends are overweight, you’re more likely to be overweight too.

For high school students, the outside weight influences are even stronger than they might be in adults. For example, “a student’s social network also influences how active he or she is in sports,” and conversely, a student whose best friends would rather sit and play video games is likely to do the same.

It should be noted that there is an element of self-selection here, meaning sometimes leaner students choose leaner friends and vice versa. But the study authors say that even after accounting for said selection, the effect still stands. The bad news? A borderline overweight student is more likely to gain weight if her friends are overweight than she is to lose weight if her friends are lean. No shocker, I guess. But so annoying. Gaining weight is always easier than losing.

The takeaway here, according to the authors, is that obesity prevention should be geared toward groups, rather than one person at a time.

Even though this is a study of high schoolers, I know it to be true of adults. When it comes to my most active friend, she is always suggesting we go for a walk when we get together. When I was in Colorado over the weekend with a group of super-active pals, we spent the day hiking rather than shopping or watching TV, as I might normally. And if a friend suggests we stay home and do nothing, I’m the first to jump on the couch.

But like I said, this isn’t new. The whole “obesity is contagious” spiel has been making headlines for three years. So tell me, does this surprise you? Do you ever notice your friends’ weights affecting your own?

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The Wife-Driven Friendship

Over the weekend I finished reading Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, a funny novel about a family sitting shiva for their recently deceased father. It’s really a book about familial relationships–marriage, siblings, parents–but this passage, about the friends the narrator shared with his wife, from whom he is now separated, really stood out to me:

It’s a sad moment when you come to understand how truly replaceable you are. Friendship in the suburbs is wife-driven, and my friends were essentially those husbands of Jen’s friends that I could most tolerate. Now that I’d been sidelined, Wade had stepped in for me like an understudy, a small note was inserted into the program, and the show went on without missing a beat.

This is an interesting idea, that friendship between men might be driven by wives. I wonder if what Tropper writes is true—if married men have their wives to thank for many of their friendships, or that “wife-driven friendships” are actually more common in the suburbs than a city.

I do believe that wife-driven friendships happen. Husband-driven friendships too. And I’m sure that when a couple breaks up, those friendships fade quickly. I’ve often heard women tell me they lost friends in their divorce, and as a city-dweller myself, I see it happen in Chicago all the time. But I can imagine how it might be more prevalent in the suburbs, where maybe it’s tougher to meet new people. I don’t know, I haven’t lived in a suburb since I was 18.

So you tell me: Are friendships of married men often wife-driven? What about husband-driven friendships? Are they less common? And does it happen more often in the suburbs? Chime in!

I’m so excited about this MWF Seeking BFF mention in last week’s New York Times! Check it out!

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The Hard Facts: Paying the Price… For Friends

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

A new survey from CouponCabin.com revealed that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults spend an average of $500 or more on gifts for friends in a typical year. In addition, nearly one-third of adults spend more money on their friends than their friends spend on them.” (“How Much Does Friendship Cost?”; LiveScience.com 7/18/2012)

Five hundred dollars in gifts seems a bit extreme, no? Or maybe I’m just a crappy gift giver. I’ve spent that much on weddings over the course of a year for sure (collectively, not on an individual wedding gift, obvs), but just regular birthday or thinking-of-you gifts? No. Does that mean I’m one of those people whose friends are spending more money on her than she in on them? Ugh. Another thing to worry about.

Oh, wait. Weddings count. Phew. Because they seem to be my largest financial investment lately. Finds CouponCabin: “Weddings are one area in particular that can cost friends a fortune, according to the study. Sixteen percent of those surveyed anticipate spending more than $100 for friends’ weddings this year, on purchases like gifts, travel, parties and new clothing, with 7 percent shelling out more than $500.”

And there’s more: “More than one in five has felt pressured to keep up with friends on how much they spend on dining out, fashion and homes, while 20 percent have had a ‘friend breakup’ over a money dispute.”

This is the worst. But I believe it. Keeping up friendships is costly– dinners out, mani-pedis, movies. These things aren’t free. Now add in this “keeping up with the Joneses” type of pressure.  The idea that one might feel they need to measure up to friends regarding what they spend on their home? That’s crazytown. No wonder it has led to breakups. Who can handle that kind of pressure?

There’s a silver lining people. “Rather than money, the study found that the most important part of friendship is quality time spent together. Thirty-five percent said they spend more than 15 hours a month with friends, with just 7 percent not spending any time with them.” Time trumps cash! A free walk along the lakefront is just as valuable as a pricey dinner at the latest five-star restaurant. Remember that the next time you feel the need to buy a Michael Kors purse on a girl shopping outing just to keep up.

What do you think? Does that $500 number seem high, or accurate? Ever ended up friendship over financial differences?

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The One-Topic Friend

I have this friend. And we only talk about one topic.

In this case, the topic is her love life. Specifically the ongoing saga of a would-be relationship she’s been pursuing with a guy I sort of know, but not well.

But the specific topic isn’t the issue. The issue is that this is our only topic of discussion. Ever. We never discuss our lack of discussion topics (we’re too busy talking about her love life), but it’s most definitely understood. On the phone, when the love-life conversation has run out, we both just say, ‘Ok, I’ll talk to you later,’ and that’s ok. Sometimes she’ll say “what’s up with you?” and I’ll say, maybe, “I went to the farmer’s market today.” And then she, or I, or both, will end with a quick “So, I’ll talk to you later?”

I should be quite clear: I don’t mind this. I’m interested in the romance saga, and I don’t have anything nearly as juicy going on in my life. But I’m intrigued by this type of friendship. The one-topic friendship.

I’ve had others like this. Friends with whom I talk exclusively about a mutual friend, or friends with whom I talk books and nothing else. Sometimes it seems easier to give into our one and only topic than to try and force chatter about the weather or some such.

The worst is when you have a friend and your sole topic if conversation is related to a specific event– a wedding, an interview, a pregnancy. Because once those events have come and gone, you’re left with nothing. And then the real test comes in. Can you find something else to talk about? Can you be real friends, the kind who talk about all sorts of randomness, rather than be relegated to a single point of discussion?

I wonder if this genre of friend should be added to the big list of friend types — there’s lifers, close friends, casual friends, acquaintances…. and one-topic friends?

You tell me. Anyone have any one-topic friends? Does it bother you? What’s your topic of choice?

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Food, Gwyneth Style.

In an effort to model my life after fabulous celebrities–and thus perfect my existence all around–I’ve been researching a certain Paltrow hard core. I’m planning to empty my shelves and restock with Goop-approved ingredients , cook some My Father’s Daughter recipes, and maybe one day get to a place where cooking is a regular off-the-cuff endeavor filled with farmer’s market ingredients, instead of the rarified stick-to-the-recipe-or-else undertaking it is currently.

In reading through Gwynnie’s cookbook, I’ll admit I’ve become quite inspired. I want to be slow-roasting tomatoes. Right. Now.

But the food her cookbook inspires me to try definitely has me longing for company. What fun is it to make homemade pasta or seafood paella or perfect roasted Chinese duck for one? Or even for two? (I guess I’ll let Matt have some. ) In fact, it doesn’t just make me want to cook for others.. it makes me want to cook with others.

I’ve never really felt this way before. As a recipe stickler (not so much because I believe in recipe rules as because I don’t trust myself to not ruin something if I make personal adjustment), one who usually cooks more for the end result than for the pleasure of the task, I’m usually alone in the kitchen. (Unless you count make-your-own pizza, a fab mission for potential BFFs.) But after reading a chapter or two of My Father’s Daughter I emailed a couple of friends, asking if they had any interest in turning our dinner-and-a-movie Saturday night plans into let’s-cook-a-feast-and-have-an-impromptu-dinner-party plans. It does sound like a pretty fabulous Gwynethish Saturday night: Cooking a feast. Drinking while we cook. Laughing around the table as if life were a Nancy Meyers movie.

This latest life-as-a-celebrity venture is quite different than my BFF venture, because it’s a much more internal journey. I thought the cooking/kitchen part would be the most solitary. I’d have to spend hours in the kitchen, cooking instead of socializing. But something about reading a cookbook that boasts seasonal, healthy, real ingredients makes me want to bring friends into the mix. Cooking and socializing, who’d have thought?

Or maybe I just need someone across the table from to agree that “we are sooo Gwyneth right now.”

At-home chefs and foodies alike, what say you? Do you love cooking for its “me time” or are the best meals the ones cooked with friends?

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The Hard Facts: Getting Busy

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

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.'” (The Busy Trap“; NYTimes.com 6/30/2012)

This story was hard to miss. Not only was it the paper’s most emailed story for a couple of days, but it seemed to be plastered on everyone’s Facebook feeds. Overall, the piece is about our current culture of busy. It’s about how everyone is so supposedly swamped that they don’t have time for anything–fun, friends, relaxation–and how the author is trying to live the exact opposite life. One where, as he says, “on the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?”

It’s a lovely, if rare, attitude. Most people cannot blow off work for cocktails, of course. But even if they could, most probably wouldn’t. Because, yup, they’d be too busy. And, as author Tim Kreider so aptly points out, people love to talk about how busy they are–it makes them feel, or at least appear, important and purposeful.

The problem with all this busyness, though, is that it’s keeping us from forming and nurturing friendships. How can a person see her BFFs as much as she’d like if she’s buried under a mountain of work/errands/family responsibilities? I know that’s what has made my search such a long one. It’s not like in middle school, when it seemed like the majority of our to-dos revolved around hanging with friends.

I love this example from the article: “I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.”

This happens all the time! I’ll say to someone, “we should get together.” She’ll respond with “totally.” And then we’ll stare at each other for a second, me not understanding if her response was an agreement to take out our calendars and plan something or a polite brush off. Then she’ll say “I’m going to be out of town but then we should totally make it happen.” And then I’m left thinking, so am I supposed to call you? Or will you email me? Or should we both just text each other?

Busyness, it seems to me, is often just an excuse for non-committalness.

What do you think? Do people wear their “busyness” as a badge of honor? Is it keeping friends from truly connecting? Or do we just live in a world where people truly are busier than ever before?

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It Wasn’t Me

The Biography Channel has very serious programming.

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“I Have Plenty of Friends I Don’t Like”

I just started watching Downton Abbey (I know, late to the party much?) and I’m on episode two. The brilliant Maggie Smith (I’ve always loved her — loved her as McGonagall, loved her as Mother Superior, loved her as Granny Wendy and now love her as Violet Crawley) just delivered a brilliant, laugh-out-loud line:

Lord Grantham[About Matthew Crawley, Lord Grantham's new heir] I thought you didn’t like him?

Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess: So what? I have plenty of friends I don’t like.

I think it’s true of most of us, don’t you? Or else, it has been. I remember years ago being with my mother and my mother-in-law, telling a story about some people I went to school with. I forget the story I was telling, only that I must have been complaining about someone because eventually my mother-in-law said “I thought you two were friends?” And I responded, “Oh yeah, we’re friends. But we don’t really like each other.”

My mother-in-law, who has two sons, looked horribly confused, and my mother turned to her to explain: “This is what it’s like with daughters.”

These days I can honestly say I don’t have any friends I don’t like. While it was a joke on Downton…it wasn’t. Not really. And when I was in college there were plenty of us who were forced to interact enough that we smiled at each other, played nice, but didn’t especially consider ourselves true friends. Now it seems we’re all so busy we hardly have time to see the friends we adore, let alone waste time on the ones we secretly can’t tolerate.

But still, I laughed in recognition when that brilliant Maggie Smith delivered the line. She’s pretty awesome, no?

What about you? Admit it — haven’t you felt like Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham? Ever had friends you don’t like?

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A Word From Our Sponsor

That’s me. The sponsor, I mean.

I’m away on holiday this week (no, I’m not British, I just think “on holiday” sounds so much classier than “on vacation”) so I won’t be posting until Friday. In the meantime, a bit of MWF news to share:

MWF Seeking BFF just went to its 8th printing! If you’re looking for a fun, light summer read, pick up a copy—for you, your newest pal, or the old BFF to whom you want to send a gift “just because.” (If you’d rather a creepy, dark read—but total page-turner—might I suggest Gone Girl?) This month, Ladies Home Journal named MWF one of their favorite reads for the summer (check out other reviews here). For all of you new friends out there (if you are reading this, rest assured you are my new friend) I’d be so indebted if you might add MWF Seeking BFF to your summer reading list!

Happy 4th!

 

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