Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Hard Facts: Ten Is the Friendliest Number

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

“The midlife wellbeing of both men and women seems to depend on having a wide circle of friends whom they see regularly, finds research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.” (“Wide Circle of Friends Key to Mid-Life Well-Being For Both Sexes” ; Science Daily 8/22/2012)

I’m never surprised anymore by just how influential friends are to a person’s health. But I am still fascinated by how much more  important friendship is than other relationships.

In this study, the authors found that having a network of relatives is also important for mid-life well-being…but only for men. For the ladies, it’s friends, friends, friends. “For women, lack of friends had an even greater impact on wellbeing. [Psychological wellbeing] was 4 points lower if they had no friends. But a lack of relatives had no emotional impact.”

I wonder what that’s about? I mean, I adore my friends–obvi–but I like having close relatives, too. I really do get the impression that having a close family makes me happy, though now I wonder if that happiness boost is statistically significant.

I’m also interested in the fact that this study gives actual numbers. So often these bits of research just refer to more friends or fewer friends, bigger social networks or smaller ones. What does that mean? What constitutes a lot of friends? What constitutes low-levels of social integration?. Come on folks. Specifics. Please.

Here’s how these researchers define it: “Compared with those with 10 or more regular contacts, smaller networks of friends at the age of 45 were associated with significantly lower levels of psychological wellbeing for both sexes.”

This is fairly serious. Ten regular contacts is a lot. Isn’t it? I don’t have a good gauge of what life at 45 is like, but it seems to me that regular contact with 10 people—especially at a time where you are likely to be juggling a family and a job on top of those social contacts—is a lot to shoot for.

But, still, it’s doable. And I like inspiring tangible goals. So for those of you wondering how many friends you need to be happy, I have your answer: TEN.

Now go schedule a playdate.

Do you have ten or more regular social contacts? Does that seem like a reasonable number, or too ambitious?

 

 

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The Evolution of a Duck Feast

A month(ish) ago I wrote about my new life as Gwyneth Paltrow, and how I wanted to cook with friends. Well, this weekend I did the next best thing — I cooked for friends. And it is now official — I love dinner parties. I don’t know if this means I’m officially a grown up (blech) but I was so much happier eating duck and drinking wine and chatting for some hours with new(ish) friends than I have ever been trying to get the bartender’s attention while screaming over the music so my pals can hear me in a crowded bar. Well maybe not ever. I really liked that screaming and drinking exactly ten years ago. (Again, grown up. Gross.)

I guess this is what married and 30 looks like.

Dinner parties are the new pub crawl. Quote me.

You can’t see friends here because they had to take the pics. But trust me. They were there. This is not a Snuffleupagus situation.

Tell me: What is your single favorite way to hang with friends? Dinner parties? Girls Nights? Book Club? Dance party?

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The Hard Facts: Friendly Kids Make Happy Adults

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

“Good social relationships in your youth might translate to happiness as an adult, while doing well in school seems to have little influence on well-being later in life, new research suggests.” (“Why Being Social In Youth Is Linked To Adult Happiness”; LiveScience.com 8/2/2012)

Let me start by saying one thing: I don’t have kids.

That seems a necessary disclaimer for a post like this. Because I want to be very clear that I’m not telling you how to raise your kids. I don’t have kids, so who am I to give advice?

Right? Right.

Ok. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about this study. “The study is based on 32 years’ worth of data for 804 people who participated in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) in New Zealand. … The researchers reported a strong ‘pathway’ from child and adolescent social connectedness to adult well-being and happiness.” In fact, the pathway from childhood sociability to adult happiness is stronger than the link between academic achievement or early language development and happiness. Interesting. That’s not to say that academic achievement isn’t important — but it isn’t everything.

There’s a lot of pressure on kids these days to do it all–school, sports, arts, volunteer, other things that I probably haven’t even heard of. They’re scheduled down to the minute, with parents spending their weekends chauffeuring from one practice to another. When I was in high school, much of this “doing” was to guarantee a strong college application. I’d like to think that’s not the reason for second graders who spend Saturdays running from gymnastics to swim practice to piano lessons to dance class, but who knows. Still, if this research says anything, it’s that it’s just as important to allow for childhood socializing. In the long run, apparently, that’s what counts.

This research shouldn’t come as a surprise really. We already know that strong adult relationships are a major key to happiness, so why wouldn’t strong childhood relationships correlate in the same way? After all, those who learn young to be social are more likely to continue that behavior into adulthood.

So, all this to say, what’s wrong with letting kids hang out with other kids just for the sake of being social? When I have kids, will I be a horrible mom for putting a greater emphasis on friendship and socializing than, I don’t know, learning to speak German at age 2?

What do you think? Should helping kids socialize be priority numero uno?

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Are You Two, Like, BFFs?

This weekend I had one of those rare but perfect Saturdays where the day is completely your own and there is nothing on the schedule and you can just hang out. I actually can’t remember the last time this happened — it was so glorious. I ended up meeting a newish* friend for brunch, and we decided to do some shopping in the neighborhood. One of our stops was at MAC, the makeup store. I legit can’t remember the last time I went makeup shopping. Long enough that I had to admit to the saleslady that I don’t currently own a lipstick or an eyeshadow. I’ve been a blush and mascara kind of girl. So the salesgirl was doing my makeup to show me, you know, how lipstick works, and of course I couldn’t stop talking to my friend long enough for the poor lady to apply a simply Viva Glam II. It was driving her crazy.

And then the saleslady says to us: “Are you two, like, BFFs?”

My friend and I looked at each other, shared a silent laugh, and I declared a definitive “Yes.” I mean, we’re good friends. We haven’t known each other forever, and we each have people we see more often than each other, but for the purposes of this saleslady, the answer would surely be positive.

My friend laughed again and the saleslady said, “I thought so. I could totally tell.”

OMG! It’s so intense to ask two people that, don’t you think? What am I going to say “No, we’re FFs but not yet BFFs, but this lazy Saturday is certainly moving us in the right direction”? Or, “Eh, the jury’s still out”? Afterwards my friend and I agreed on the awkwardness of the question. What if it was our first date? What if one of us thought we were BFFs and the other didn’t? It’s like asking a guy and a girl if they are a couple. which basically never turns out well.

Luckily for m,e my friend and I are close enough that it wasn’t awkward, just silly. But it definitely reminded me of how far I’ve come on this search. Had the nice MAC saleslady said the same thing two years ago, I likely would have run home crying to Matt about how I have no friends. But Saturday, having that last-minute brunch and hang out day with a friend, I was reminded that I am continuing on the right path. BFFdom here I come!

Ever had one of those moments where a stranger asks a supposedly harmless question (“Oh, are you two dating?”) that feels totally intense and loaded when you try to answer? Ever had that moment with a friend?

* “Newish” is defined, for the purposes of this blog, as anyone I have met since starting this blog and my search for a local BFF. Since we’ve known each other for more than two years now, this specific friendship isn’t really that new, but it bears pointing out that we met though my quest.

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Friendship With Benefits

A friend of mine started a blog recently and I just have to share it. This lady is one of those friends that is more Facebook than real-life. I adore her, but we met through a mutual bestie and we’re not really in contact one-on-one. But we’re Facebook friends, and that was enough to alert me to her blog: Friendships With Benefits. Here’s the gist, as blog creator and friend Fallyn explains it:

Friendships With Benefits was created to share, learn and connect.  I’ve asked all my friends to teach me something.  It can be anything and while you teach me, I’ll be recording with my IPhone.  The point is everyone has something to teach.  Everyone has value and something to give.  You don’t have to be an expert or even do it that well.  You just need to know the steps and be able to communicate it to another human.  Friendships with Benefits allows me to hang out with my friends, learn new skills and share it with the world.  Some lessons have been planned and some are very impromptu.   I’m super excited you’re here.  Stay awhile and learn something new from the special people in my life.

So far Fallyn’s friends have taught her how to make a mean sangria, how to juggle, how to create just-from-the-beach hair, how to clarify her career and more. I think it’s a fabulous idea, and is a great reminder that even our oldest friends have new things to teach us. Fallyn’s blog makes me want to do the same with my own friends–I know that Julia could teach me how to fold a shirt J. Crew-style, Jordan could teach me how to make a sock bun, and Mia could teach me how to make my own sushi. Suddenly you’re seeing your old friends in a new light! Who needs new friends when you could have new old friends?

So check out Fallyn’s blog, or like it on Facebook. And Fallyn — call me! I’ll teach you how to do a roundoff and a cartwheel! What could you teach Fallyn? Ever realized an old friend had something new to teach you?

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The Hard Facts: Sweet Charity

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

“New research suggests the more friends we have on Facebook, the less likely we are to share information about charitable causes. … When we have larger online social networks, we rely on other people to pass on information about opportunities to give. This phenomenon is called ‘free riding’. [The researcher] also suggests we may even rely on others to donate.” (“Too Many Facebook Friends Bad News For Charities, Research Suggests”; Science Daily 8/6/2011)

This is not good people. More friends should mean more giving – more friends running marathons for charities, volunteering with do-gooder organizations, and raising awareness of worthy causes. But alas, it’s a bit of Kitty Genovese bystander effect (remember social psych class?) — we all think others are spreading the word and donating, so we don’t make an effort ourselves.

Well, wrong. Huge social networks are actually having the opposite effect.  The work of Kimberly Scharf, the professor behind this study, found that, in the long run, “there is more giving in smaller, closer-knit groups of individuals who share common interests.”

We all know that social networks hold a lot of power—one post on a Facebook wall and you can speak to hundreds (thousands!) of followers—and usually when that power is harnessed for good, that’s when it gets lots of press. I love checking out the  Twitter Stories site to find tweets that changed the world. It’s less interesting to talk about when social networks prevent good from getting done. But if Scharf is right, that’s sometimes the case.

So for now, I’m using this social media platform to encourage you to do good. You could donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters, the organization that set me up with the 11-year-old Little Bro that Matt and I mentor. Or you could donate to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, where my BFF Callie is the development director. Or give to Be The Match and the National Marrow Donor Program, the organization that my dear friend Ann has volunteered with for years. She’s even heading their Tribute to 25 Years and 50,000 Transplants in Minneapolis in September.

Friends and giving should go hand — even if those friends are just the Facebook kind.

Admit it: Have you ever fallen prey to this “free riding” effect? Feeling inspired to give today?

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My Brother’s Getting Married!

I’m very excited today because tomorrow is my brother’s wedding. I know I’ve often said that siblings can’t be best friends, but if they could he would be mine. We’ve always been close–you know, minus the years he beat me up and made me cry–so I can’t wait to celebrate him all weekend.

See this pic? Pals since we were mini-people.

 

You tell me: Do you think siblings can be best friends? Or are the two roles totally different?

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The Hard Facts: The Obligational Friendship

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

“19.5% [of women] have a friend they hang out with strictly out of obligation .” (“Girl Bonding”; Women’s Health, September 2012)

Women’s Health conducted some research about female friendship in this month’s issue, and they found some pretty interesting stuff. 53 % of women have been dumped by a friend. 63% have done the breaking up. 66 % are still friends with an ex.

But in my opinion, the stat above about friendships out of obligation is the most interesting. It made me wonder: Are these 19.5 % of women the ones making the plans, or are they just accepting invitations because they feel they have no other choice?

I’m guessing the latter. According to the same Women’s Health information, of the 63% who have broken up with a friend, 55% say they slowly cut the pal out of their life. Slowly cutting a friend out sounds to me like they just stopped issuing invitations. But actively cutting ties with a friend–choosing to reject invitations and not answer phone calls–takes initiative that I’m guessing feels too mean for some women. So they accept invitations out of obligation, and nothing else.

Truth be told, I’m surprised at that 19.5 number. I actually thought it would be more. From what I can tell, a good amount of women have someone they hang out with because they feel like they should, or they must. It’s amazing to think about, really–friendship is supposed to be this very active relationship. Two people who enjoy each other, choosing to make time to spend together. But so much of friendships come from other influences–families, offices, spouses that force you together.

So I’m wondering, how many of you have friends you hang out with out of obligation? Are there pals you wouldn’t see if it weren’t for their invitations?

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New Friends 2.0

It’s been a while since I wrote a post that speaks to the origins of this blog. After BFF searching for more than two years, I’ve been lucky enough to make a  lot of new friends. A life that was once filled with wine-sipping TV-watching solo evenings is now filled with wine-sipping TV watching friend evenings!  It’s an ongoing effort, finding Your Person, but I feel like my journey thus far has been a success. 

Still, now that I’ve become accustomed to hitting on ladies, or throwing myself at them if the friendship potential dictates, I can’t stop. I continue to meet and pursue new pals, never knowing where the next Callie or Sara might emerge. So I thought I’d take today’s post to update you on some of my new, post-2010 pals. For all of you on your own BFF search and looking for inspiration, here’s how I met the latest additions to my roster. [Names changed to protect the innocent.]

Michael: My newest man friend. If the question is “can men and women be just friends,” the answer is apparently yes. We are great buds. We met at the gym where I was working a couple of shifts a week, and, though I thought he was intimidating at first, eventually started chatting whenever I was in. He’s a single guy, I’m a married girl, so I became a go-to for dating and girl advice. We don’t hang out a ton outside the gym, but the friendship has graduated to phone chats.

Gabby: Stay with me here: Gabby’s boyfriend’s mom is one of my mom’s new BFFs. Got that? As some of you might remember from MWF Seeking BFF, my mom was on a BFF search of her own during my year of friending. She found a winner in a woman who moved into her building that year. One night, my mom and I went to dinner with Janie and her son’s girlfriend. After that night, the two younger ladies made a dinner date for just us. The rest is history. Now we’re fast friends.

Missy: Like so many couples, we met at a wedding. After hanging out plenty over the weekend (this was a destination affair), we got together for study dates upon our return to Chicago. The fact that we both work from home helps. We haven’t spent as much time together as I would likd, but considering she is in the midst of planning a wedding and prepping for a new baby, she’s a bit busy. Still, there’s a future there.

Molly (real name): Blogger friends! Molly is a fellow author and we are in the Class of 2012 together over at The Debutante Ball, a blog for debut authors. There are only five authors per class, but luckily enough the two of us are both in Chicago. Which means we’re not only Internet friends, but now real-life friends. It’s great to have a fellow author friend to talk shop with–especially since we’re both so new at it–and Molly’s also a writing teacher, so she’s kinda brilliant. Also, you should all read her YA book The Princesses of Iowa.

McKayla: Another fellow writer. This one of the freelance variety. We met through some mutual friends and had a few dinner dates. But our real friendship has blossomed as work-from-home buddies. We meet at a local cafe once a week or so to do our solitary work with some company. We bounce ideas off each other, share editorial contacts. She’s the closest thing I have right now to a coworker.  Oh, and I introduced her to my gym and part-time job, and she got one too! So we’re kinda the same person. It’s awesome.

Kerri: A friend of a friend, now just a friend. My wonderful new pal Jackie brought Kerri into our new(ish) cooking club, which is now not a cooking club at all but a group of friends, about a year ago. She’s fantastic, and of course fit right in. Now she’s an integral member of the gang. I’ve talked here about it can be tough to bring someone new into a group, but not Kerri.

So that’s it — friends of friends, work pals… looking back I guess we met the usual ways, but it’s fun to see how they’ve evolved. How did you meet your most recent new friend?

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It’s Wedding Season

I’m leaving tomorrow to fly to Philly for a wedding. And next weekend to Cleveland. And two weekends ago to Colorado. And two weeks from now I’ll celebrate a friend’s nuptials here in Chicago.

It’s wedding season, and it slows down for no one.

I read an interesting editorial recently that asked the question, “What is it about friends getting hitched that leaves us so unhinged?”

The author Maggie Shipstead writes:

I’m 29, squarely in the middle of that heady span of years when the tempo driving the game of conjugal musical chairs has suddenly accelerated and summer weekends are spent zipping around the country watching friend after friend tie the knot. There is something numbing about all this marrying. The thrill of the first friends’ weddings, when everybody was young and lifelong commitment seemed wild and transgressive, has worn off, and a jaded peanut gallery has sprung up: guests with finicky expertise on food and venues and fine points of policy, like whether bridesmaids should wear matching dresses or whether there should be bridesmaids at all.

I’ll admit, I love weddings. I must, or I wouldn’t attend so many. (Anyone who has seen me commit to the dance floor knows how much I enjoy myself.)

But I know there are people who don’t. People who find them depressing (“half of these will end in divorce!“) or obnoxious (“Another speech? Really?“) or just plain boring. And I know there are some women who only half-mean it when they congratulate another friend on an engagement. Sometimes it’s because one side is jealous. Remember this perfect scene from Friends?

Rachel: Isn’t it incredible?! Monica and Chandler, gettin’ married.

Phoebe: I know, they’re gonna be so happy together.

Rachel: Ohh… I mean two best friends falling in love, how often does that happen?

Phoebe: Not that often!

Rachel: No! I’m so happy for them!

Phoebe: Me too! So happy for them!

Rachel: I’m so happy and not at all jealous.

Phoebe: Oh no! No God, definitely not jealous!

Rachel: I mean I’m probably 98% happy, maybe 2% jealous. And I mean what’s 2%? That’s nothing.

Phoebe: Totally. I’m like 90/10.

Rachel: Yeah me too.

Other times it’s because friends suspect that the marriage might be the end of the friendship. According to Sandy Malone, author of the June Huffington Post story “Why Getting Married Means You Might Lose Some Friends,” “most of the women I know who have been married for five or more years aren’t friends with at least half of the people featured in the pics on their walls, including me.”

Harsh.

There are a zillion reasons why friends getting married stirs up emotion . Just google “friends getting married” and you’ll find all sorts of help for the emotional roller coaster BFF nuptials can send you on. Man, friendship is so complicated.

How do you feel when you hear a friend is getting married? Happy? Sad? Jealous? Regretful?

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