Monthly Archives: March 2010

MWF Seeking…Advice

Since I started writing this blog (that long week and a half ago), I’ve been going on about my search in the broadest sense—who can our friends be, how can we pick them up, when does the ease of establishing new relationships fade. I haven’t divulged any details of my actual quest. But let me be clear, I’m not all talk. I’ve been searching. Hard.

I’ve joined book clubs. Two of them. I’ve published an essay, complete with a want ad declaring my eligibility—Looking for friends? Consider me!—to the world. I’ve emailed everyone I’ve ever met in this town. If you and I have ever exchanged the requisite “We should get together!” then you’ve probably heard from me lately. I reached out to a stranger who wrote an essay like mine. I’ve introduced myself to fellow yogis, flashed my most winning smile to other Cardio Hip Hoppers, talked The Happiness Project with a mom at O’Hare and debated the merits of Loving Frank with a stranger via email. I’ve gone on plenty of friend dates—dinner, drinks, movies, brunch. I’ve met a good number of great women, and a few not-quite-right ones. But if there’s one facilitator of friendships, it’s time. My two closest friends have been in my life since I was 10 and 14. A month can’t compare to a decade, and even I, the world’s most impatient seeker, know that.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Making friends is a time-consuming endeavor, but as I told someone recently, I’ve found the perfect guy, now I need to find the perfect girl.

Am I missing anything? My initial research into friend-making told me to join, join, join, and I have. But that almost seems too obvious. Aren’t the best friendships those that have a great we’ll-laugh-about-it-later story?

Where have you met The One? In line at the grocery store, while shopping for shoes, through the long-lost art of—gasp!—letter writing? There’s something I should be doing that I haven’t, I think. I’m open to advice, any and all. Please? I’ll be your best friend!

(P.S. Today is my BFF Sara’s birthday. This seems an appropriate forum to celebrate her big day. Happy birthday Sar, you’ve ingrained in me such high standards for BFFship that I had to launch a blog to find someone in Chicago who might compare. Thanks.)

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Seinfeld’s Searching Too…

Men and women have different friendship needs.  This is not new information. The way psychologists explain it, men engage in side-to-side relationships—watching sports, playing video games—while women crave the face-to-face kind. According to these rules, my search—the hunt for a nearby BFF with whom I can share the minute details of my day-to-day and call every five minutes because I remembered just one more thing, but also someone I can cry to over french fries when I’m having a bad day and don’t even know why—is very female-centric. If I take the psychologists’ word for it, and I do, approaching friend-making as I might dating—Is this outfit ok? Should I call the next day? Did I drink one glass of Pinot too many and share embarrassing details of my crush on Jeff Probst?—is super girly.

A few nights ago I was having trouble sleeping (insomnia is a recent development I’m none too thrilled about), so I turned on an old Seinfeld episode. It was the one where Jerry meets Keith Hernandez (lets go Mets!). I’m lying down, half-asleep, when I hear this exchange:

Jerry: It’s been three days and he hasn’t called.
Elaine: Maybe you should call him
Jerry: I can’t…I cant.
Elaine:  Why not?
Jerry: I don’t know. I just feel he should call me.
Elaine: What’s the difference?
Jerry: You don’t understand, Elaine. I don’t want to be overanxious. If he wants to see me, he has my number. He should call.

I pop out of bed. This is me! The scene continues with the typical Seinfeldian banter, until Elaine finally tells Jerry that “he’s a GUY!” This making-friends-as-dating shtick continues throughout the episode—Jerry worries if his shirt looks ok and delivers a spot-on monologue about making friends in your 30s—and suddenly it occurs to me that maybe what I’m doing isn’t as girly as I thought.

A more recent pop culture example of man-dating is I Love You, Man. Paul Rudd’s character, who’s never had a male BFF, is getting married and goes on the hunt for a best man. He eventually makes a great choice, as I would befriend anyone played by Jason Segel, aka Marshall Erikson.

So here’s the question: Is the need for a BFF, and the difficulty of finding The One, actually gender-neutral? Or do TV and movies spotlight bromances because the fact that they’re womanly makes them funnier? I’d venture to guess that more men have found themselves in my shoes than would like to admit. The relationships may be side-to-side, but that still takes two. Larry David wrote that Seinfeld episode, after all, and  I’d bet he has plenty of trouble.

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Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, The Gender Gap

The Second City Factor

When I tell people, specifically women, about my search, they usually say one of two things: “That’s the story of my life!” or “That’s so funny!” The distinguishing trait between these two groups is what I’ve come to call the Second City Factor.

It was my friend Kate—who now lives in San Francisco, but who I met in New York during our first post-college summer—who first proposed this theory. It’s in the second city you move to after college, she explained, where people start to face the BFF conundrum. As soon as she said it, I knew she was right.

When young 20-somethings first leave college for the big city—be it New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, San Francisco, wherever—they’re surrounded by other post-grads in the same boat. Everyone’s new to the workforce, looking for buddies to drink, gossip, and go to the movies with. They’re all relatively new to the city (even if you’re back in your hometown, chances are you’ve been away the last four years). They’re first-timers in the full-time workforce, unfettered by college classes or midterm papers, in that doe-eyed conquer-the-world mindset. Making friends in this environment is easy, as everyone is more or less looking for the same thing. Even after moving to Chicago, I’m still in touch with plenty of friends who I met in Manhattan during that first crucial post-Northwestern year.

The decision to move to the second post-college city, however, is usually made independent of friends. Whenever it happens, and no matter if you do it for love, career, family, or school, the second move is on your own terms. You’re not guaranteed a sea of new-in-town friend prospects this time around. Plenty of the buddies you’re looking for have lived there for years and have already filled their BFF quota. So my friends, like Kate, who’ve found themselves in towns where they’d never imagined setting up shop tell me my story rings true. Suddenly, they’re floundering in the search for that certain someone, despite having been surrounded by plenty of perfect someones all their lives. (Two students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business created an adorable video about this, which stars a really sweet, nerdy-in-the-best-way, boy.  Oh, and MC Hammer’s in it too.)

Anyone who’s ever relocated can relate to my quest. But then there are the people who left college for New York or Chicago or what have you, and have stayed put. When I tell them my plan to actively seek out a BFF using whatever means necessary, they say “That’s hilarious,” with a tone that’s two parts pity, one part “atta boy!” and one part “you’re kind of a loser.”  They don’t know the awkward pain of leaving a friend-date unsure if you’re supposed to hug or handshake (hug!), the frustration of having no one to drag along to a wedding dress fitting at the very last minute, or just how not-the-same it is to talk on the phone once a week to the BFF with whom you used to grab a bite almost daily.

Now that I’ve indentified the Second City factor, it’s remarkable to see how dead-on a predictor it really is. Think of your own reaction to my search… do you prove the theory? Or do Kate and I have it all wrong? Is friend-finding more about age and life stage than how many zip codes you’ve called home? And should this alone be enough to scare people off from ever moving?

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Why Everyone Needs a Work BFF

In the past 24 hours, two people have suggested I address the always tricky issue of office friendships. There is so much to say about this: Do we even want office BFFs? How do you take a workplace friendship to the next level? What happens when you don’t work together anymore—can the friendship survive? I think about this a lot because (aside from the fact that I think about all BFF-related issues a lot) the office is the grown-up version of the sandbox or summer camp. It’s the only natural breeding ground for friends once you’re out of school, and given the sheer number of hours Americans spend at the office each week, our coworkers are like family, for better or for worse.

So, for now, I’ll start with question one: Do we even want office friendships?

“Don’t mix business with pleasure” used to be the way of the world.  Companies discouraged employees from “fraternizing” (such business jargon)… God forbid their water cooler talk take away from the number crunching. These days, however, I think most office workers have at least one on-the-job BFF. There are plenty of reasons why this could be the case. Clearly, as the amount of time we spend in the office increases, our exposure to potential friends outside the workplace decreases. Worker bees today (or the ones aged, perhaps, 20-50) are so plugged in to social networks that the lines distinguishing work from life have blurred quite a bit. Plus, there are so many more distractions these days – Perez, YouTube, Facebook – that we need someone to turn to, like now, when the breaking news of Jon and Kate’s split hits People.com.

But here’s what’s really fascinating: According to Tom Rath’s Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, people who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job. (This is based on more than 8 million responses to a Gallup poll about office friendships.) According to the book research, which was published in 2006, only 30% of employees reported having a work BFF, but those who didn’t basically had no chance of feeling engaged during the workday.

This is especially interesting to me because I have not one but four office BFFs. Ours is a merry little gang – we get lunch together everyday, gather around the coffeepot (me with Diet Coke in hand) every morning for TV recaps, and obnoxiously decorate cubicles when one of us gets married (I now sit in front of a life size High School Musical poster). I could—and likely will—write an entire ode to The Transformers (that’s what we call ourselves… a discussion for another time), as they are not just my work BFFs but probably my closest friends in Chicago. After all, I started at my office not long after I moved out here, so they are the people I know best and certainly the ones I spend the most time with. But does having four best friends at work mean I am 28 times more engaged in my job? Debatable.

Rath’s research does say that people with at least three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives. It’s hard for me to say whether or not this applies to me, since I’ve never experienced my job without the work friends. But if someone were to ask me if I’m extremely satisfied with my life, the answer would be yes, BFF not withstanding. When this search is over and I have a new BFF or four, then I will be super-extremely satisfied.

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Is Anyone Off Limits?

On last week’s Modern Family (also known as the best new show that isn’t Glee…if you aren’t watching, you should be), fabulous gay couple Cam and Mitchell invited their adopted daughter Lily’s pediatrician over for brunch. Cam thinks he’s made a bold move (“She said no patient had ever done it before”) whereas Mitch sees that she’s none too thrilled (“Yeah, subtext: ‘This is weird,’”). While watching, it occurred to me that there are limits to who I can consider for potential BFFship.

The whole Mitch-Cam-Doctor encounter brought to mind, specifically, an ongoing internal battle regarding my waxer. I really love Lagena. She’s funny and chatty and knows how to work a tweezer.  Every time I’m lying on the table (or is it a bed?) I wonder how I should go about asking her to lunch. And then I remember just how much of me she’s….seen. And then I don’t ask her to lunch at all. I think her intimate contact with… me… precludes her from BFF consideration.

And what if I looked past the nature of our “professional” relationship and we did go out and it was awkward? Lagena is a really, really good waxer. Would I have to find someone else? Would the new girl be as painless with the bikini line or conscious of my brow shape? These are important considerations, not to be taken lightly.

My aunt told me that once upon a time, it was customary for parents to invite their kids’ teachers over for dinner. This too seems like a boundary crosser, but perhaps that’s because I know enough teachers to believe that the last thing they want to see over wine and pasta are their crazy little terrors.

Does anyone have a hard-and-fast rule for this? Perhaps the safe bet is this: If you require a service from said person — the swine flu vaccine, a clean look in a bathing suit, a child’s literacy– then she’s off-limits.

But then again, some of the most fascinating relationships are those with people we weren’t “supposed to” be involved with in the first place. Like Angela and Rayanne. Or Tarra and Bella. Or even Edward and Bella, if we’re going to go there.

For the time being, I’m keeping Lagena on the “not now but maybe when things get desperate” list. But if things get desperate before bathing suit season is behind me? I’ll deal with that later.

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Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, The Search

Famous Friendships: Neil Patrick Harris and The Max

When I decided to start this blog, my coworker suggested I highlight some famous friendships every now and then. So I’ve decided to start with the celebrity I would most want as my own BFF: Neil Patrick Harris.

You probably know that NPH is awesome. He’s awesome as Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother’s legendary womanizer; he’s awesome at the Oscars and the Emmys and the Tonys; he’s super-awesome on talk shows, and in all things Harold and Kumar and on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and he certainly will be awesome on Glee. In fact he’s so awesome that I would be perfectly happy making this an all NPH, all the time blog.

What you probably don’t know (but my friend Kari found out) is the awesomest thing about NPH: His very best friend is…. Ed Alonzo. As in Max. As in The Max, the magician-slash-owner of the totally rockin’ hangout of the Saved By the Bell gang.

Apparently NPH and The Max (I’m sorry, I know his name is Ed but he’ll always be The Max to me) have been BFF since NPH’s Doogie Howser days and bonded over, obviously, magic. Because clearly on top of being an actor and singer and modern-day awards show staple, NPH also majored in pulling rabbits out of hats or whatever much fancier thing magicians do these days.

This pairing is so perfect. I can just see it: Two late 80’s/early ‘90s TV icons (yes, the man behind The Max gets icon status) getting together, cutting some woman in half while they throw back a beer and bash Screech. I’m so jealous. It only adds to how much I wish NPH were my (and only my) BFF.

If you could befriend one celebrity – or anyone, really – who would it be?

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Husbands vs. BFFs

I recently wrote an article about this search, first posted on Oprah.com and then on CNN.com, in which I argue that a husband cannot fulfill the role of a BFF.  He just can’t. As I explain in the essay, my husband Matt is wonderful, but he doesn’t want to talk with me for hours about the smallest details of my day. He’s not anxious to analyze my problems, small or large, and then do it again two hours later when a new thought occurs and needs to be factored into the equation. He wants to listen, offer support or advice, and move on. He’s a guy.

To say I was shocked when I first read the comments in response to my essay on CNN.com would be an understatement.  According to these cyber-dwellers, my marriage was going to devolve momentarily, which might be for the best because clearly Matt was cheating on me anyway.  It was my inaugural lesson in how the anonymity of the Internet gives people free reign to behave in ways they never would in person. But once the sting of the nasty notes turned into a detached amusement, I registered some surprise at how defensive people were of marriage. I’m not saying couples shouldn’t be close, or that Matt isn’t the most important person in my entire world. I’m saying that BFFs serve a different and equally necessary purpose. I stand by that.

So you can imagine my sense of I-told-you-so when, while reading Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project,  I came across these bits of research: “Both men and women find relationships with women to be more intimate and enjoyable than those with men. … In fact, for both men and women…the most reliable predictor of not being lonely is the amount of contact with women. Time spent with men doesn’t make a difference.” So, if we believe the studies, friendships are more necessary in order for me to stave off loneliness than is spending time with Matt. I think a nice balance of the two sounds ideal.

The angry mob (ok, there were like 15 of them), said my marriage was failing, but the opposite is true. In the two months since writing the essay, I’ve made a concerted effort to go on friend dates, which come with substantial doses of quality girl talk. Which means I don’t need to force long repetitive discussions on Matt. So we both get what we want: me, lengthy heart-to-hearts; matt, less lengthy heart-to-hearts. Everybody wins.

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Filed under BFFs and Marriage, Everything I Know I Learned on TV, The Hard Facts

Befriending the Fashion Police

Yesterday I flew to LA for work. For the Oscars. I know, who do I think I am? I’m not actually going to the ceremony, but being in Hollywood the weekend of the Academy Awards is like being in the Super Bowl host city the weekend of the big game. You can feel the excited energy, and if you can’t feel that you can certainly feel the tourists shoving you out of the way as they take pictures with the golden statuettes lining the street.

My Oscar experience started before I even left Chicago when I spotted Joan Rivers at my gate in O’Hare. The Queen Mother of the fashion police was on my flight! Let me tell you, I wasn’t even wearing my glasses—translation:  I was blind—and even I could see how plastic she looked. Amazing.

Two hours into the flight I had to use the restroom but I was sitting in the first row of coach and the soda cart was blocking the aisle. Even though I know it poses some threat to security that I don’t entirely understand, I was granted permission to use the very glamorous first class bathroom. The toilet is not made of gold as it turns out, but waiting for the fancypants restroom meant I got to stare at Joan. I tried to use my peripherals, as my husband always reminds me when I gawk at people, but I saw enough to see that she was reading – of course—The House of Versace. Again, amazing.

I love seeing what other people are reading. In the world of friend-making, I think “How are you liking that book?” is akin to Joey’s “How you doin’?” Are there any other potential-BFF pick-up lines that invite conversation without being totally privacy-invading? If so, please share.

Just the other day I was reading The Space Between Us at the salon and the woman next to me started talking about how she’d read it too, and what did I think? We began chatting, recommending titles, discussing favorites and not-so-favorites. And even though she asked me if non-fiction was the true or made up one, I thought she was great.  She was probably in her mid-to-late 40s and was there with her 16-year-old daughter, so she didn’t really seem to be in the market for a new BFF. Still, it was good practice in talking to strangers. In my past life I would have told her I was enjoying it and buried my head back in the book—“I’m reading, leave me alone!”—but I definitely think my search will eventually lead me to Barnes & Nobles to approach a girl reading a book I loved. I’ll ask her how she likes it, we’ll gab about Harry Potter and The Help, exchange numbers, and live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read the House of Versace. I had no BFF in with Joanie. So no gossiping about Donatella or what she’ll be wearing on the red carpet or if she and Melissa really get along. But still, we’ll always have O’Hare.

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And So It Begins…

I am a Married White Female searching for a Best Friend Forever.

I already have two lifelong BFFs, Sara and Callie, who I met when I was 10 and 14, at camp and high school respectively. I have seven best friends from college, who I lived with in various combinations from sophomore until senior year.  I have dear friends from high school whose weddings I would never miss and babies (well, so far there’s only one baby) I’m dying to meet. This is all to say, I have no shortage of shoulders to cry on. Here’s the catch though: I live in Chicago.  Sara and Callie live in New York City. My Northwestern roommates live in Boston, San Francisco, New York, and St. Louis. The high schoolers are in D.C. and (you guessed it), Manhattan. Basically, my closest friends are everywhere but here.

I moved to Chicago with my now-husband after we both decided a long-distance relationship (he was at law school in Philly, I was working in New York) just wouldn’t do. We’ve been here for nearly three years and in that time have made a few friends. Primarily couples, with whom we catch up over dinner or at mutual acquaintance’s birthday party. I’ve befriended some women—female halves of couples, co-workers—and grown closer to some fellow Northwestern grads who I was merely friendly with at school. But on a Sunday morning when I want to grab an omelette over girl talk, I’m at a loss. My Chicago friends are the let’s-get-dinner-on-the-books-a-month-in-advance type. We email, trading dates until we find an open calendar slot amidst our tight schedules of workout classes, volunteer obligations (no false pretenses here, the volunteers are my friends, not me, sadly), work events, concert tickets and other dinners scheduled with other girls. I’m looking for someone to invite to watch The Biggest Loser with me at the last minute or to text “pedicure in half an hour?” on a Saturday morning. To me, that’s what BFFs are. They’re not just those who know your innermost secrets but they’re the ones up for grabbing a bite on a whim because they love being with you just that much, and getting together feels easy and natural rather than a chore you need to pencil in.

So I’m on the hunt for Miss Right. A person who can fill the one void in the otherwise pretty great life I’ve set up in the Windy City. I always thought friendships blossom naturally, like they did at summer camp and in school. In the post-college world, though, I’ve learned this isn’t the case. So I’m taking matters in my own hands.

This blog will chronicle my quest.

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