Monthly Archives: April 2010

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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV

To Find What You Want, Stop Looking?

Last week, my article on how to make new friends (a condensed version of this Friend Finding 101 post) was published on CNN.com. Though the comments were a bit less aggressive than last time (in which perfect strangers told me my marriage was falling apart) there were still some real gems. Now that I’ve learned to laugh at the craziness, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:

“Once you’ve found your potential new best friend, let them know your level of dedication. In a box, place a small dead animal and a note written in blood (preferably yours though the animal’s will do in a pinch). The note should read: You are my new best friend. Your friends are my friends. Your enemies my enemies. If anyone ever hurts you I will be the first to fling battery acid in their face.”

“Inevitable [sic] people change or don’t change over time as well as friendships. I’ve leaned [sic] the hard way over my life that people will almost always disappoint you at any chance they get and sometimes even stab you in the back for no reason. Why you ask, because people are human, they make bad decisions, they make mistakes, and they are inevitably self-centered. There are a few nice people in the world who will give 100%, but they always get walked all over in the end and taken advantage of by ‘Takers’. It helps to be a ‘Taker’ and a ‘Giver’. If you want a true friend, get a dog or a cat. They won’t steal your girlfriend, your job or your car, cheat on you, or spread nasty rumors about you on Facebook.”

“Lady needs help!”

“This is your classic story of a stalker case.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up. But amidst the references to me as “creepy” and “foolish,” there were a number of comments saying the fundamental theme of the article is flawed because you can’t consciously try to make a friend. Best friendships, they said, should emerge naturally.

“You can’t LOOK for a new best friend. Best friends just happen.”

“The few female friends that I have made have been those rare gems you find when you least expect it and aren’t even looking.”

True, no one you meet will immediately become your BFF—the ascent to “best” takes time—but I take issue with the argument that we shouldn’t actively take steps to make friends. Of course it’s fantastic when a friendship “just happens.” I figured that’s what would go down when I moved to Chicago. But it’s also great when romance just happens, and yet there are millions of people online dating, or speed dating, or going to singles mixers because they know what they want and are going after it.

When I first started this search I wondered if I came off as a pathetic nutcase, actively looking for new friends as if no one wanted to play with me. There’s something sort of sad, it seems, about announcing you want to forge new friendships. Like you never had any in the first place. But I’ve learned that there are plenty of women in my situation. Anything great is worth fighting for (did I just steal that line from Notting Hill? Or Love Actually? Perhaps) and getting what you want often takes work. There are steps one can take to maximize the potential for finding a spouse, a job, even happiness. The same is true for friendships, and I think—I hope—that if we keep talking about it, the creepy-stalker-foolish stigma will start to go away.

Do you think the notion of seeking out friendship is flawed? Pathetic? Do BFFs just appear when you stop looking? Or is friend-dating, like the romantic kind, a necessity in the over-scheduled, over-committed, mobile world we live in? Either way, chime in.

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Filed under The Search

A Family Affair?

Last night I went to see first-time novelist Kelly O’Connor McNees read from her new book The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott at Barnes and Noble. I’ve never actually been to one of these author events before, but I checked out the B&N website the other day because I thought readings might be a good place to pick up potential BFFs. (That’s right, I go trolling bookstores for women.) I was especially excited to see that McNees was reading because, first of all, Little Women is one of my favorite books so I get excited about any tangentially related novels (see: Geraldine Brooks’ March), and I’d actually just read a rave review of The Lost Summer on another blog so it was on my radar. Extra enthusiasm came when I saw that the 30-year-old author is from just outside Chicago, so perhaps she could be my friend (I’m in the market for a new-author BFF whose brain I can pick. Wait, that sounds gross.)

Thinking about Little Women from my new friendcentric perspective, it occurred to me that the four sisters are pretty much each other’s only BFFs. We hardly hear about any other female friends throughout the entire story. Louisa, like her literary counterpart Jo March, was the second of four girls (the youngest of whom was named May. Amy in the book. Really, Louisa? I love you but I’d think you could handle something more creative than swapping the first two letters…). It got me thinking about the family as BFF question: can they be one and the same?

Just as I generally believe that husbands and BFFs should fall under separate-but-equal, I think one has to distinguish family from friends. Yes, my brother and I are incredibly, perhaps unusually, close. I call him about pretty much anything and everything—Modern Family, professional dilemmas, complaints about family. Not that I’ve ever had any (Hi Mom!). Similarly, my mother and I talk every day. She lives only a few blocks away so I see her Quite. Often. Still, I guess I’m a compartmentalizer: I like to keep family in one box, husband in another, BFFs in the third. This doesn’t mean they can’t meet and mingle, but I think it’s helpful to have different people in each role.

Also, there’s a muy importante distinction between friends and family: Friends are people we choose.

In Joseph Epstein’s Friendship: An Expose, he writes, “A best friend is that person who gives you the most delight, support, and comfort, often in those realms where family cannot help. A best friend is perhaps the only person to whom you can complain about the difficulties presented by your family.” I tend to agree with this. If members of my family double as my best friend, then who do I complain to about my family? And, if ever necessary, to whom do I complain about my BFF?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I totally asked the author out. She had no cards with her but said it’s important for writers to stick together and I should email her via her website. (I know you’re thinking this was a classic brush off, but I really don’t think so. Perhaps that is classic denial.) She’s around my age and new to the biz too, so I think it might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Do you think a family member can be a BFF? Or is that akin to mixing business with pleasure? You know where I stand… Now you weigh in.

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Filed under Pickup Lines, The Search

Is Two Better Than One?

Since Matt and I moved to Chicago, we’ve made four sets of good couple-friends. When we arrived, the majority of the people we knew were paired off, so we often found ourselves in environments—dinner parties, weddings—that encouraged couple flirting.

Though I adore the duos—and I do!—at first I felt like couple-friending was an annoying side effect of moving in with a boy. I wanted a BFF just for me! Suddenly all my new friends had to come with a side of man for Matt?

The desire for couple-friends makes sense, of course. These days we’re all so busy, double dating is like killing two birds with one stone: you get to see friends and you get a date night. A twofer! Also, studies show that couples who have couple-friends have happier and longer relationships with each other.

As a pair, Matt and I have always had a relatively easy time befriending new twosomes. I want to say it’s because our whole is greater than the sum of our parts. We’re just such a dazzling duo. (You’re gagging. I know.) But as I write this in the same space I usually use to discuss the awkward hilarity of trying to date potential friends, it’s not lost on me that perhaps the key factor in our couple flirting is simply Matt. Maybe I’m just the silly sidekick, like Cockroach. Or Kimmy Gibbler.

Nope. I’m going with the dazzling duo theory.

Regardless, today I heard from two people who complained about the difficulties of making couple-friends. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it stands to reason it’d be harder to find a couple-BFF than just a single one. After all, to become BFFs two people have to hit it off. To become couple-friends, you need four people on board.  As psychologist Judith Sills told Ladies Home Journal: “Good friendships are a rare phenomena in any case. Good couple friendships are a rare phenomena squared.”

In meeting new women during my solo BFF quest, I’ve certainly toyed with the “but will Matt like her guy?” question. My usual conclusion is, doesn’t really matter. I’m in this to find my BFF. But still, it’d be stellar if the friendship and the marriage could intermingle.

I’ve only given this a whirl once thus far. A potential friend and I hit it off so we decided to have dinner again and this time we’d drag the boys along. Matt was a great sport about it, though I’m sure a part of him would’ve been thrilled to never get pulled into this project. Luckily, the evening was a hit. All was well.

Matt and I made two of our best couple-friends at a wedding of a couple we all had in common. (Side note: You may be asking why the female halves of these couples aren’t my BFFs. The truth is, in some of the cases I feel like we work best in the context of our foursome.) In case you aren’t on the wedding circuit but are looking for couple friends, there are—surprise!—websites for couple dating. For real. Couplets.com, Couplesworldwide.com and Kupple.com all serve to set up couples with common interests for friendships. Those looking to drop keys in punch bowls need not apply.

So here’s what I’m wondering. If you’re single, is it totally annoying when all your friends pair off and do the couple-friend thing? If you’re in a couple, do you think it’s easier to make one-on-one friends or couple friends? Do you think couple-friending is vital to the health of your own relationship? And any ideas for how to best meet couple friends? Would you use the Interweb? And, please, is there a better word I can use next time than couple-friend?

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Filed under BFFs and Marriage

I Think You’re Swell

Now that I’m spending so much time trying to make new friends, it’s  easy to get lazy when it comes to the old ones. This is not okay. The problem is that I’m not really a phone person, so when I do have a break between working, writing, seeking out new BFFs and, oh yeah, spending time with my husband during our first year of marriage, I want to be living my life rather than recapping it on a long-distance call. That said, no one I meet today will have been my friend in high school or college—as one commenter astutely put it, “It is difficult inserting yourself in someone else’s history”—so I need to give those relationships the attention they deserve.

So it was as if the friendship gods were sending me a message when I came across this statistic from the Gallup organization the other day: “Those who have told a friend how much they value a friendship in the past month are 48% more likely to be ‘extremely satisfied with the friendships’ in their lives.”

Not only will reaching out to my dearest buddies remind them that I think they’re the coolest, it’ll also make me feel better about the overall state of the friendships in my life, which—I don’t know if you’ve noticed—is something I think about sometimes.

So I decided to send out some quick e-cards. A small, easy gesture that could be executed from my cubicle and would deliver the message: “I’m thinking of you. Thanks for being awesome.”

A quick search in the friendship section of my favorite site, someecards.com, returned a card that screamed Sara: “Our effortless friendship fits perfectly with my laziness.” Extra special because yes, our friendship is effortless and yes, I can be lazy, but so is she. I typed up a quick note: “Since we’re both lazy, it’s even better… love you!” and sent it her way. She loved it.

Then I came across another site, Hipster Cards, which has fun vintagey greetings. I sent one that said “Gossip Louder, I Can’t Hear You!” to my friend Emily since it reminded me of the first time she and two other friends came to visit me in Chicago and, because I had to sleep in the other room, I asked them to not talk without me. True story.

The website for the book Friend or Frenemy also has a collection of non-cheesy ecards. Fair warning though, they double as plugs for the book, and look a little more like advertisements than I’d like. Still, when I saw one that said “You’re the Serena to my Blair,” I knew it had to go to Danielle, since 1) I was sure she’s a Gossip Girl fan and 2) she calls me B.

So, in all of 10 minutes, I told three friends how much I value their friendship. I may not have written long odes, but I think the message was delivered.

What do you think of the Gallup statistic? Make sense? And what do you do to tell your BFFs that they’re rock stars?

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Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, The Hard Facts, The Old Days

The Frenemy Within

In focusing on what makes a BFF, it might also be helpful to consider what most certainly does not. Last month, I wrote about a dilemma involving my bikini waxer—specifically, the conflict between my desire to befriend her and my fear that our professional “closeness” might preclude a real friendship.  In the comments on that post, I was particularly struck by something Jackie wrote about befriending her personal trainer: “Although when we hung out the convo was still great, she really kept me in check about what I was eating and drinking in relation to my fitness goals. Unsolicited! On girls nights! It got to be too much after a while. Who wants to be told they have to do 100 sit-ups for each G&T they have?”

The truth behind this statement made me laugh. No one wants to be reminded of everything she shouldn’t be doing. It’s impossible to embrace the devil on your shoulder when the angel is staring you in the face.  And isn’t one of the unwritten rules of friendship that you won’t make a BFF feel guilty when she’s knee-deep in Ben and Jerry’s?

It got me thinking about the sentences that should never escape the mouth of a BFF. Because any friend who says the following is no friend at all:

“Are you really going to eat that?”

“You look tired.”

“I’m so glad you broke up with that asshole. I never liked him.” (If you speak these words, know that it is a virtual guarantee they will get back together. And I assure you: She. Will. Not. Forget.)

“It’s so cute how you take [insert your passion here] so seriously.”

“You wouldn’t understand.” (Um, ok. Explain it to me.)

“Don’t try on mine, you’ll stretch it out.”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d be more considerate next time. :)” (This would be fine, sans smiley face. Emoticons  = passive aggressive = are you kidding me??)

“He’s totally not my type but you might like him.”

“I’d kill myself if I had your job, but I’m so glad you’re happy.”

“Your son’s not reading yet? Little Betsy’s already on The Prisoner of Azkaban and has memorized the Gettysburg address… but he’ll catch up. It’s not a race.” (This isn’t one I know from personal experience, obviously, but I’m confident it’s been uttered in Mommy & Me’s around the world.)

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been on the delivery end of some of these (I learned the “never tell a friend you never liked her ex” lesson the hard way), and I’ve certainly been the recipient (most recently in the form of “wow! You really take the blogging thing seriously…”). But I know there are more frenemy-identifiers out there… What did I miss?

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Filed under The Search

Missed Connections

Every year, Matt and I host a party in honor of the NCAA tournament. It’s one of our favorite nights of the year, and Saturday’s extravaganza was no exception (despite the fact that West Virginia lost, which booted my bracket out of the running in my office pool). The best part of the weekend was that Jill, one my best friends from high school, came in town from New York. Everything’s more fun with an old friend, and Jill’s uber-supportive of my quest to find a new BFF. She’s also pretty supportive of my shopping habits, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself in J. Crew, and then Club Monaco, in search of the perfect hostess-with-the-mostess outfit.

While I was waiting in line to buy a shirt that may or may not have made me look like the Hamburglar, the woman in front of me complimented my curls and asked about my products of choice. If there’s one topic strangers talk to me about most, it’s my hair. I spent the majority of my life wearing my frizzy mop in a ponytail or half-up, but on my 24th birthday I found a curly hair specialty salon that taught me how to finally keep the corkscrews under control. Life changing.

So I told the register woman about Devachan, she told me that her seemingly straight hair is actually a mess of curls she blow dries straight every day, and I told her that the products I swear by (Devachan’s OneCondition and Set it Free) can be purchased at Ulta.

That was the entire exchange. But considering that she was chatty and I could talk about curl control all day, she had friend potential. I racked my brain for a sentence that would elevate our relationship.  “I could show you a thing or two about curls,” sounds like some sick come-on from a B-movie. “Wanna come to my party???” makes me think of a 5-year-old blindly extending invitations to a clown-and-pony birthday show. I went with, “They have a green and white label. Look out for them.” She left. I totally botched it. Damn.

Two seconds later, the guy working the cash register asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. I said I was throwing a party. “What kind of party?”

“Oh, it’s a beer pong tournament.”

It’s true. Once a year we throw a college throwback fiesta (though the grown-up reincarnation involves protecting newly-painted walls and pregnant women playing with water). This fascinated Mr. Club Monaco. He asked my team name (“The Situation”) and how many teams there would be (about 15). He wished me luck in the big game; I accepted his good wishes. Only after I was halfway to the door did I realize that I’d had the perfect opening to extend an invitation. The second missed opportunity in a 5-minute span.

Jill says I need to work on closing the deal. She’s right, but how? Is there anything, for real, that I could have said to Curl Lady that wouldn’t have made me seem psycho? Or desperate? How could I have asked her out? And should I have extended an invitation to Mr. Club Monaco? Or is inviting a perfect stranger into your living room for drinking games the first stop on the crazy train?

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Filed under The Search