Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Hard Facts: Friends and Money Do Mix

“A study of 10,000 U.S. students over a period of 35 years suggests the wealthiest people are those that had the most friends at school. Each extra schoolfriend added 2% to the salary.” (BBC New Magazine, March 3, 2009)

There has been much discussion in the comments of this blog about how it is the quality of friendships, rather than the quantity, that is important. Yes. I think this is true. But I also can’t ignore the research I keep finding about how, when it comes to friends, more is more.

That there is actual evidence pointing to the concept that more friends in high school equals more money down the line is pretty remarkable. I know there are a lot of people who will take issue with it (Good! I love dialogue!), but before anyone gets too upset, it’s important to think about what “friend” means in this case.

Discussion about friendships often gets heated because we all define “friend” differently. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says: “One attached to another by affection or esteem.” That’s kind of broad. Then, it gives a synonym: Acquaintance. What?? Friend and acquaintance are entirely different! And this is the problem. You might think the friend title should only be bestowed upon those you would make dinner plans with, while I might think the label applies to anyone I would stop and chat with if I ran into them on the street. In both cases, I think the “attached by affection or esteem” definition would hold true.

Social psychologists often talk about three tiers of friendship: Let’s call them the BFFs, the friends, and the acquaintances. You might be able to maintain 100 acquaintances, but if you have 5 BFFs, you’re mighty lucky.

As for this study, I would argue it’s not really about friendship at all. It’s about popularity. Very different. Each student in the study (all of whom were male, I don’t know why) was asked to name his three best friends from his senior class. Those people whose names were listed the most  were considered the ones with the most friends.  Per the study, “One additional friendship nomination in high school is associated with a 2 percent higher wage 35 years later. This is roughly equivalent to almost half the gain from an extra year of education. Shifting somebody from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of the school popularity distribution – in other words, turning a social reject into a star – would be predicted to yield him a 10 percent wage advantage.”

It’s kind of crazy. What about the whole “the nerds will run the world” thing? But then, it’s not shocking that someone with good social skills—someone who more people consider a best friend—would make more money. To be in management positions, you need to be a bit of a people person. At least in theory.

The moral of the story: If you have kids, teach them good social skills now. Their bank accounts will thank you later.

How do you define “friend”? What makes one person deserving of friend title and another one not? Does this study seem bogus or totally logical? Surprising?

26 Comments

Filed under The Hard Facts

A Blog Eat Blog World? Not Really

When I first started this blog, I figured it would be a solitary endeavor—just little ol’ me, typing away behind a computer screen, hoping that some reader in cyberland might happen across my site. I was blogging to chronicle my search for a new BFF, but I never dreamed it would be a means of actually finding her. You see where this is going. If this were a movie the scene now cuts to Rachel, surrounded by blog buddies, laughing over drinks while we balance laptops in our, well, laps.

Turns out blogging is a surefire way to meet friends. They may not live locally, but it’s a pretty crazy cybercommunity. I’m still kind of flabbergasted by its inclusiveness. “Sure! I’ll take you under my wing little baby blog. Stick with me, and you can’t go wrong.” I comment on your blog, you comment on mine, and suddenly we’re email pals. In fact, just this weekend I had a pseudo-study date with Lauren of Embrace the Detour (pseudo as in, we gchatted then both went about our writing, then gchatted again. But knowing I’d have to report my progress held me accountable and actually spurred productivity) and connected Julie of Fox and Bird with a brilliant designer friend in children’s publishing, Julie’s dream job (or so she wrote in this awesome post).

My very first blog friends were the ladies of Big Girls, Small Kitchen. They’re also the only blog friends I know in real life. Their site is a self-described guide for quarter-life cooks, and I absolutely adore it because it combines my two favorite things: food and friendship (the cooks have been BFFs since high school, and they write about keeping the bond strong over their love of all things culinary). Cara, one half of the Big Girls, is my friend Jill’s little sister, and, dare I say, now a friend of mine in her own right. She was instrumental in helping me launch this project. And what do we do when we make new friends? Support them, of course. And when supporting them means supporting a good cause, even better.

The quarter-life cooks are currently collaborating with Baking For Good, a gifting site for sweet treats that donates 15% of every purchase to a cause of the customer’s choosing. Cara and Phoebe baked in support of The Valerie Fund, an organization in the tri-state area that provides comprehensive health care for children with cancer and blood disorders. BGSK Peanut M&M Blondies are available on the site, now through Mother’s Day, as part of a blog-wide Virtual Bake Sale. You should probably go and buy a package now. Why? Because 1) blondie’s make a delish Mom’s Day gift, 2) you’re helping kids with cancer, and  3) I’ve been eating Cara’s treats since she was a wee lass (or a middle-schooler) and she’s a damn good baker.

But back to me. (Kidding! Sort of!) Blogging’s not the only supposedly solitary endeavor that has led me to unexpected buddies. Reading, certainly an activity for one, has been the catalyst for many a close friendship. I’ve always considered cooking a me-time activity, but for Cara and Phoebe it’s a great way to connect.

Have you forged friendships over solitary endeavors? Which ones? How did the friendships come about? And is there a way I can turn TV-watching into a friend-making activity? Because then life would be complete.

Oh, and don’t forget to buy some blondies!

24 Comments

Filed under The Search

Working Hard or Hardly Working

Last month, I wrote about how important it is to have friends at work. If you missed that post, and don’t feel like going back to check it out, let me sum it up: Very. But once we understand that, then what?

When I first started this blog, a few people mentioned their struggle with asking out a coworker. Taking the office friendship out of its natural habitat is tricky business.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered from my own experiences, and those of my friends:

1)    Start on a weekday. Weekends are precious, and people like to keep them free of workplace reminders. Until you’re a friend, not just a coworker, don’t infringe on the all-mighty Saturday.

2)    A few drinks helps. I know I’ll get flack for this, but the truth is that a glass of wine says “we’re not at work anymore.” It also helps part the looming clouds of professionalism. Loosens you up. This is not to say, obviously, that if you don’t drink you can’t have work friends outside of the office, or that your relationship will be based on alcohol. I’m just saying, throwing back a Miller Lite can help.

3) If there are a few of you that get along, plan a group outing. I’m lucky. I have four best work friends. And they’re not just co-workers I chat with. They’re, like, real-life BFF material. But it took us two years to get there. How did it start? With a group activity. We joined a fitness challenge and started taking Booty Beat classes together after work. Jealous? I know. A friend of mine told me her co-workers do a brunch outing every couple of months. Group activities lack the intensity of one-on-one time.

4) Text message. If you’re calling an officemate during off-hours, there’s a high likelihood your phone call will be screened. On a  Saturday night, the last thing a potential office BFF wants to do is to work, or talk about work, or think about work. If you text, “What are you up to? Want to meet up?” She’ll know you’re in the play hard stage.

5) Don’t talk shop. When you get together with a coworker, it’s natural that you’d discuss work. It’s the tie that binds you after all. But when you’re beyond Big Brother’s walls, try to avoid it if you can. At least keep it to a minimum. A little workplace gossip can be fun, but you’ll never build an independent relationship if you can’t get past office politics.

That’s all I got for now. What do you think? Anything I missed? Or that I got completely wrong?  Do you have a surefire way to transition from work-friend to life-friend?

17 Comments

Filed under BFFs and Work

The Pick-Up Artist

Yesterday I heard a woman say that one of the worst things a guy can do on a date is spend the whole time checking out the other women in the restaurant/bar/community theater production of Fiddler. I nodded in agreement: “Oh, it’s so true. Wandering eyes have got to go.” And then it hit me. I was that guy! Er, girl! Just a few weeks ago, I went to an event with a semi-friend (on her way to full-fledged friend, mind you), and though we had a really nice time together,  I definitely spent a moment early on eyeing the other BFF prospects.  Because what if she was there? My mythical BFF, the girl I’ll go on Sunday shopping trips with and who’ll talk me into buying the dress I don’t need because it looks that amazing.  I’m not saying the current date couldn’t necessarily fill that role, but it was early in the relationship, so I’ve got to keep my options open, right?

This is not to say I didn’t pay attention to my friend—I did! I swear!—but in preparation for the girl-date,  I spent some time trying to decipher the friendship code of conduct. If I thought I saw The One, could I approach her and just introduce myself? Would my girl-date be offended? Is that, like, cheating??

On the one hand, you never want to feel like someone you’re spending time with is only half-paying attention to you. That’s just rude. On the other hand, friendship is not romance, no matter how similar friend-dating and the romantic kind are.  There is no exclusivity. We don’t have to have The Talk. (“What are we?” “Why do we have to give it a label?” “But do you like me? Or do you like like me?” “I just want to be friends! Not best friends. It’s too much too soon.”) And adding a third to the mix doesn’t bring up any porn imagery.

I was looking for friends, and my soon-to-be friend was looking for friends, so the more the merrier?  We could be each others wingwomen! She could say to Imaginary Potential BFF “Have you met Rachel?” And we’d all three live happily ever after in Bestieville.

Needless to say I didn’t approach anyone. No new prospects jumped out at me, and I thought it would be weird to say to my semi-new friend “she looks good, I’m going to introduce myself.” And, who am I kidding, I haven’t yet worked up the nerve for a total “Come here often?” move. Without some connection—we’re both writers, we’re both new in town, we’re both in curly hair hell—I don’t know how to approach someone new. I’m a girl who’s been with her husband since freshman year of college. I’m not well-versed in the art of the pickup. But that doesn’t means it won’t happen. Never say never.

17 Comments

Filed under Pickup Lines

Man vs. Friend: A Matchup for the Ages

A wonderful gentleman named Dave commented on my blog last week, looking for some answers. For the record, I don’t know Dave—I say he’s wonderful solely because he’s a male and he commented. There have been only a few such men, so I appreciate it. (Thanks to you too, Zach.) His question:

“For a few years, I dated a girl with four sisters, and I constantly felt that I was being interviewed by a sorority, or listening in on an all-female pajama party. Those sisters were in each others’ minds so much that it was as if there was no room for anyone else. … So here’s my question for all you female BFF-wannabes: Do you ever find that the guy in your life is feeling cast aside by the BFFs? Is that just a sign of the male’s natural immaturity and insecurity — or do you think your actions perhaps contribute to the problem? What about when the two [parties] — your guy and your BFFs — actually don’t like each other at all? How do you solve it?”

For some reason this question brings to mind My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I’m picturing Dave surrounded by hair-teased, smirking women shooting you’re-not-good-enough rays out their eyes. At which point he starts taking shots of ouzo.

I don’t have sisters, but I do have best friends who, when we all get together, have been known to act something like a mini-sorority or teenagers at a slumber party. And when there’s a lone man present in the pool of estrogen, I find myself wondering if he’s secretly plotting ways to throw himself off a cliff. But feeling cast aside? I’ve always figured men expect this behavior from women, that it comes with the territory. Especially from sisters. When it comes to one of their own, they’re like lions protecting their young.

Dave, if you felt shut out, you’re probably not the first guy who has. I bet the girl is well aware—and none too happy—about her sisters’ effect on the men in her life.

Are you immature and insecure? Not necessarily. Sisters and BFFs play a pretty vital role in a woman’s life, so if you feel like you’re being judged, you probably are. But if your girlfriend is bringing you in front of the tribunal, it’s probably because she thinks you can hack it. If you think you notice the scrutiny, know that she sees it times a thousand. And she’s the one who’ll hear about it later.

As for the BFFs and the man not liking each other? Eek. Nightmare. And the answer is I don’t know. Since Matt and I met in college and were in the same group of friends I haven’t encountered this problem. (Or, I have really really good friends who never let on they hated my boyfriend and vice versa.) I’d say, for both BFF and man, if you don’t like the opposing party but care about the mutual one, suck it up. Slap on your best fake smile and pretend.

What do you people think? Give Dave a little help, please.

11 Comments

Filed under The Gender Gap

The Hard Facts: A Time For Friends

When I tell people I’m blogging about friendship, they often picture a web page in which I dot my i’s with little hearts and put smiley faces in my o’s. But this blog is not meant to be an earnest celebration of the sisterhood of women. It’s also not intended as a forum for venting about toxic friendships. So much of friend-related writing falls into those categories: sentimental or snarky. My hope is to initiate a discussion that falls somewhere in the middle: honest and optimistic. Navigating the BFF waters is tricky and I want this to be a space to discuss the real issues surrounding adult friendships, as well as somewhere for me to share my sometimes-painfully awkward adventures in friend-making. If it somehow changes the notion that women rarely talk about friendship intelligently, or it inspires you to think about your own friendships, so much the better.

The science of friendship is fascinating—like how having plenty of close friends can drastically improve your chances of surviving breast cancer, or the fact that having an office BFF makes you roughly a billion (or exactly seven) times more engaged in your job. So I’ve decided to officially deem Wednesdays “Research Day.” I’d been adhering to this in my head already, but if there are readers who are only interested in the science, now you know. Come back every Hump Day and I’ll to provide you with a study or finding that’ll make you say “Huh.”

For the official kickoff (it’s kind of like a grand opening, when a store’s already been open for weeks, or a play’s opening night even though it’s been showing in previews—I’ve never really understood that), I want to call your attention to a statistic that I found striking, if not entirely surprising: During our teenage years, we spend nearly one-third of our time with friends. For the rest of our lives, the average time spent with friends is less than 10%.

In the crazybusy adult world we live in—one with time necessarily allocated to work, family, relationships/dating, and errands—we can’t dedicate a third of our time to friends. But less than a tenth? In 2000, Robert Putnam reported on the drastic decline in people either having friends over or going out to see them. “Visits with friends are now on the social capital endangered species list,” he wrote in his book Bowling Alone.

I get this. I really do. Because while I’m enjoying meeting and mingling with potential BFFs, I have a confession to make: It’s exhausting. After a long day of work, faced with the knowledge that I have more work to do at home, compounded with my desire to actually spend some time with my husband and the nagging knowledge of errands undone, the prospect of grabbing drinks with someone I hardly know—just the idea of having to be “on”—can sometimes feel like I’m being asked to strap on a weighted vest and sprint the steps of the Eiffel Tower.

When we’re wiped out and feel like the couch is the only place we belong, what’s the first layer of fat to be trimmed? Friends. It’s not like we can bail on our jobs, or kids, or partners. But we can always call our friends and explain our dilemma and get off the hook, right? If she’s my friend, she’ll understand. Or so we tell ourselves.

And because as good friends we want to behave like good friends, we say “Of course I understand, it’s no problem at all,” when someone cancels. We might even be secretly relieved. But here’s one thing I’ve learned from experience: No matter how exhausted I am, spending real engaged time with a friend—even a potential one—is a pick-me-up. In fact, according to one study, 85% of adults feel less stressed and more energized after they’ve spent time with friends.

Think of friend-dating like exercise. You may not always be in the mood, but you’ll feel so much better afterwards.

Have you found yourself canceling on friends because you’re busy and overwhelmed? Do you find yourself feeling better when you do have get-togethers? And why do women so often feel it’s ok to cancel on friend time?

29 Comments

Filed under The Hard Facts

My Reality TV Dreams, Crushed

Because I tend to ponder Life’s Big Questions, I always wonder if I could make it to the merge on Survivor.

I was reminded yesterday that the answer is no.

One of my favorite YouTube videos of the last few years is the “I’m not here to make friends” montage—a collection of various reality TV stars (I use that term loosely) reminding their fellow contestants, or the at-home viewer via confessional, that they are by no means on a BFF search.

The “I’m not here to make friends” mantra is generally used in one of two scenarios: an excuse for back-stabbing or, oddly enough, as an excuse for being nice to someone (as in, “no, I’m not here to make friends, but if we butter her up now she’ll join our alliance later”).

Luckily, this blog is entirely unrelated to Paris Hilton’s reality show, My New BFF, though I recognize the thematic similarities. There will be no reward challenges or elimination rounds. Because if this video taught me anything, it’s that I am not made for TV. And that reality show contestants are insane.

As an attempt to extract a serious question out of a ridiculous video, I ask you this: Are competition and friendship mutually exclusive? Can you be up against someone else for a $1 million, or the love of a Bachelor, and simultaneously forge a bond? Clearly we know what they think, but what about you? Also, does anyone other than me think this video is amazingly hilarious?

5 Comments

Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV