Monthly Archives: May 2010

I’ve Bin Thinking About Your Ignerince

I’ve been blessed with a stellar memory. I’ve been cursed with a stellar memory.

It’s true. My memory is a weird beast. When I worked at a magazine, colleagues used me as a human table of contents. (“When did we run that story about the mommy wars?” “Who edited the piece about hormone replacement therapy?”  May 2006. Liz. Duh.) While road tripping to Chicago with my mom when I first moved out here, I got bored and thought a great project would be to see if I could name every winner of Survivor thus far. Easy.

But for as many wonderful stories and useless bits of trivia afforded by ridiculous powers of recall, you remember the less-than-happy times too. Oftentimes more clearly.

Last month, I wrote a post about new research on friendship breakups (the gist: dumping a friend is harder for women than dumping a lover is). The comments were fascinating—it’s a loaded issue—and brought to mind the only BFF breakup I’ve been through. I promised to tell the story one day. Here it is.

It was the summer before eighth grade. I was dumped. Hard.

I still remember sitting in my summer camp cabin reading the letter from Amanda, one of my closest friends. Well, apparently not. “I’ve bin thinking about this a long time,” she wrote. Yes, she wrote “bin.” And I’m allowed to make fun of that because the rest of the letter was about how everyone in our class hated me and I was going to have no friends that year because I was “ignerint.” Even at 13 I understood the irony of that spelling. And to this day, I still feel some sweet satisfaction at those errors. Because that’s the other thing about having a good memory. It transports you. So even while I’m writing this, those feelings of hurt and shock and confusion and, yes, superiority are bubbling up all over again, though dulled by the distance of 15 years.

When I read the letter I cried and cried and cried. And then I laughed a little at her poor spelling and then I cried some more. (You might now be thinking I am harping on the spelling thing, but I was 13 and in fear of utter friendlessness. I took what I could get.) I had no idea—I still don’t—what I’d done to deserve this. I believed Amanda when she said nobody liked me anymore and I shouldn’t come back to school. I sent my parents the letter, with a note of my own telling them that I must transfer. Immediately.

Of course, the best thing about being 13 and at summer camp is how quickly the clouds part. Because by the time my mom got the letter and called up, demanding to speak to me, I was all, “Hi Mom! What’s up?” By then, I’d made a friend—more like a big sister—because of the letter. An older girl saw me crying, took me under her wing, told me Amanda was a moron, and is still a dear friend today. (She might even be reading this. Thanks Sarah!)

I did not switch schools. I got home from camp. I still had friends, even if the gang I’d once shared with Amanda was a bit splintered. I survived the end of middle school. But I never forgot.

I asked my mom about the letter the other day (she’d inexplicably kept it for years afterwards) and she said, “Don’t you remember? You told me you eventually asked Amanda about it. She said she wrote it when she was drunk.”

Um, no. That’s kind of amazing-slash-horrifying. And news to me.

I guess I don’t remember everything.

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Filed under The Old Days

Frosted. Corn. Bran. Flakes Come in All Varieties.

There are certain types of friends we all have. The Drama Queen. The Beauty Queen. The Chats With Everyone and Kind of Embarrasses You But Really You’re Just Jealous and In Awe Of Her Queen.

But this post is not about any of those friends. This is about The Flake.

You know who I’m talking about. The friend who bails on your dinner date. And then does it twice more. And then you find yourself trying to schedule plans with a new friend, and saying things like “Well, I technically have a dinner next Thursday, but she always cancels so I doubt it will actually happen.”

I wrote that very sentence to a new friend today and she said something that really struck a chord. She described this flaking species as “People who have the potential to be very dear friends but you just don’t trust them to actually follow through. … And if they don’t care enough to stick with our date (or at least give ample notice when stuff comes up) then how do I feel valued enough to tell them my deepest darkest secrets or ask them to help me move?”

And yet, flaking has become more and more acceptable. Even expected.

Last Sunday, I had plans with a newish friend. At 10 that morning I called her. An hour later I texted. (I am not a stalker, really. But given the current state of phone calls I wasn’t sure she’d get the voicemail.) She called back soon enough and told me that since we hadn’t spoken to confirm she didn’t think we were still on. I told her not to worry, that once I make a plan I put it in the calendar and stick to it. “Ooooh, that’s good to know,” she said. She seemed surprised. We ended up going on a glorious walk.

As someone who assumes we’re on unless told otherwise, I couldn’t believe I was the one who had to give the disclaimer.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the bailer be the one wearing a warning sign?

There are plenty of common courtesy elements I need to work on—namely, returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner. And canceling plans isn’t the worst thing in the world. Sometimes there’s absolutely nothing better than having someone bail on you at the last minute. The gift of a free evening is no small thing.

But it’s worth noting that, as my friend pointed out, when you become The Flake, people often stop trusting you to show up. Even when it counts.

Do you have a Flake in your life? Do you mind it? Do you agree that if someone continuously cancels at the last minute, she probably doesn’t value your friendship as much as you’d like? Or is flaking nothing more than the product of the crazybusy world we live in? And, is the “just confirming we’re on for tomorrow” email just standard operating procedure nowadays? If you are The Flake, speak your piece below!

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Filed under The Search

The Hard Facts: Keep Talkin’ Happy Talk

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

“Higher well-being was associated with less small talk and having more substantive conversations. Compared with the unhappiest participants [in this study], the happiest participants … had roughly one third as much small talk and twice as many substantive conversations.” (Psychological Science, “Eavesdropping on Happiness,” Feb. 18, 2010)

When I started this girl-dating journey, I believed in the whole “don’t talk about religion or politics around the dinner table” thing. I didn’t want to stop a potential friendship in its tracks just because I went to Obama’s Grant Park election night rally while she might have spent that glorious evening mourning the fall of Sarah Palin.

I’ll keep it light and friendly, I thought. All Chicagoans can bond over the weather—seriously, Sun, it’s May—and I can talk about tabloid headlines all night if necessary.

But I’ve found the girl-dates that inspire me to skip home are the ones where we do, in fact, get serious. During one particularly promising dinner, my maybe-friend and I traded stories about our vastly different upbringings and debated the Man Upstairs and the existence of soul mates. (Her: “Do you believe in soul mates?” Me: “You mean, like us?” No, I didn’t really say that. But almost.)

Science backs up my anecdotal research, and to be honest, I’m a bit surprised. If you’d asked me a few months ago who I thought was happier, those who ponder life’s big questions or those who don’t sweat the (big or) small stuff, I’d have said the latter.

“It could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’” one of the authors of the study told the New York Times. I get that. The big thinkers so often seem the most somber, dragged down by the weight of the world.

But “substantive conversation” in this case isn’t limited to dissecting the meaning of life. A profound social encounter was defined as “an involved conversation of a substantive nature (i.e., meaningful information was exchanged, e.g., ‘She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?’)” Talking about TV even counts, if you’re analyzing characters and motivations. This is good for me. My Survivor strategy sessions are officially considered profound discussion. I knew it.

Needless to say, I no longer shy away from serious talks on the first girl-date. If it will make us both happier, then we’ll want to hang out again. And again. As long as we both shall live.

The study concludes that, “the happy life is social rather than solitary, and conversationally deep rather than superficial.” What it doesn’t venture is which came first. Are happier people more likely to have deep conversations? Or do deep conversations increase a person’s well-being?

What do you think? Which came first—the happiness or the depth? Do you tend to keep it light when you meet new people, or delve into more meaningful discussion?

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Filed under Pickup Lines, The Hard Facts

The Home of the Brave? Not My House.

A few weeks ago, a fellow book-clubber asked me how my friend search was going. I told her I’d been busier than ever, meeting every potential BFF that would have me. Then she said something that totally caught me by surprise.

She said, “You’re so brave.”

I think my actual reaction was to laugh out loud. Me? Brave? No. What I am, really, is the type of person who will spend Friday night on the couch lamenting my lack of local best friends while doing nothing about it. The type of person who will continue along that road, complaining about something while taking few steps to fix it, until I make a promise to The Internets that I am going to make a change. Because once it’s out there in cyberspace, there’s no taking it back (at least in theory).

Courageous is not a word people use to describe me. Silly, maybe. Friendly, I hope (at least by now). Snippy when she’s tired or hungry, for sure. But the only other time in my life I can remember being called brave was when my father was dying. A high school friend emailed me. He, too, said, “You’re so brave,” which I recall only because I remember thinking “I am? What did I do other than curl up on a hospital couch for three days, smelly and unshowered and unspeakably sad? I’m not brave, I just have no choice.”

But anyway, this isn’t about that. This is about how someone called me courageous for doing something little kids do every day.  And I don’t even really do what they do. They walk up to strangers and say, “Hello, I’m Rachel, will you be my friend? You can come over my house. My mom makes good cookies.”

I say something more like “Um, hey, would you, um, maybe want to grab a bite sometime? Or a drink? I can work around your schedule, but, yeah, it’s totally cool if you’re too busy.” I’ll show you courage.

(I hope to one day work up to the kid version. My mom does make good cookies.)

Still, I know there are people who think some of the things I do—going to dinner with total strangers, asking a novelist out, not attacking Joan Rivers in a fit of Oscar hysteria—show some level of bravery. Because putting myself out there means I could be rejected. People might—and sometimes do—think I’m crazy. I’ve gotten enough emails from readers that start with “I can’t believe I’m writing you, this is really weird,” to know that for many of us, blindly reaching out to a potential new friend is scarier than asking out a potential mate.

And it’s too bad, isn’t it? Shouldn’t extending friendship be standard? It’s hardly Purple Heart worthy.  Yet sometimes these little gestures—these moments of vulnerability—feel much more courageous than going skydiving or speaking in public. (I said sometimes. I would never skydive and I get all awkward and shaky when speaking in public… but for some people…)

What is it about reaching out to potential friends that scares us? Why are kids so good at it, but adults sometimes so awkward or uncomfortable? And do you think the cookie pickup line would work?

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Filed under The Search

An Age Old Question

Well, cooking class was a success. As you may know, Matt and I made Italian food on Friday night—we got a gift certificate to the nearby cooking school for our wedding, and since I was able to bundle it up with birthday celebrations, Matt couldn’t say no. Sneaky Brilliant, I know. In anticipation of class, I was plenty anxious about who our cooking partners would be—it was four chefs to a station—so I tried to plan our arrival just right. I wanted to have our pick of the cooking partner litter.

In the end the teacher paired us up, so I needn’t have worried.

We got a great couple. Let’s call them Jerry and Elaine. They were smart, friendly and every time Jerry gave directions, Elaine responded with “Yes, Chef!” a la Gordon Ramsey.

Over the course of the cooking, and then—even better—the eating, we got to know our partners. We traded work stories (they’re both in advertising), travel plans (Matt and I are booking a trip to Croatia!) and Jerry tried to convince Matt of the wonders of the iPad (I was especially grateful on this front since I am totally coveting the new gadget and would like for Matt to be on board with the purchase).

There was only one hiccup, if you can even call it that. Jerry and Elaine have about two decades on us. They have a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old and live in the suburbs. Not that any of that should disqualify our friendship, but obviously it wouldn’t be the same kind of relationship we might have with non-parents who lived around the corner.

I’ve wondered recently about the relationship between age and friendship. Is there one? Part of me loves the idea of having a close friend who’s a bit older and wiser. There’s something poetic about it. (I’m talking more than a decade difference, not a few years.) She could be a mentor, an older sister type, except with no investment in the rest of my family. On the other hand, I could be the tie to her former life, before the children and the suburbs and the 16-hour workdays.

Once we graduate college, does age have any bearing on who our best friends will be? Or, more specifically, can be?

In Friendship: An Expose, author Joseph Epstein talks about his dearest friend, who was 27 years older. “As one grows older, a relatively small difference in age—four years in adolescence, say, ten or twelve in early adulthood—once providing an unpassable obstacle to friendship, seems to matter less and less and then not matter at all. … And yet there remains something to the obvious fact that one’s closest friends are likely to be drawn, at least for many years, from among one’s contemporaries.”

I think Elaine and I could be great friends. Maybe not the call-you-up-to-chat type, but certainly the mutual-fondness-let’s-look-out-for-each-other variety. And Matt took to Jerry too. There could definitely be a couple friendship in our future.

As we gathered our things to leave, I slipped my business card out of my wallet, ready with my big move. But before I could even offer it, Elaine asked for my email. “Oh, here’s my card,” I said. “I’d love to stay in touch!”

Jerry said they loved cooking with us. We traded “lets do it again sometime” farewells, but we didn’t get their contact info, so we shall see if she writes. I hope so.

Do you think age and friendship are related? Have you ever had a close friend who was at least 10 years older or younger than you? How did the friendship come to be? Like I said, I think there’s something romantic—something Good Will Hunting—to the notion of having a confidant who’s not your contemporary, but is it realistic?

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Someone’s in the Kitchen with Rachel

Tonight Matt and I are taking a cooking class. My husband’s  not much one for cooking—though he makes a mean smoothie and should probably patent his granola concoctions—but we got a gift certificate for our wedding and this session is Italian food (Pasta with clam sauce! Cannolis!), so I was able to twist his arm.  These classes call for four chefs to a station, which means we’ll be paired with another couple. I’ve already warned Matt that we need to time our arrival perfectly—we don’t want to be too late because I want to scope out the couple we’re paired with, but we don’t want to be too early either, lest we be the scopees rather than scopers.

If we do end up spotting a really promising-looking couple, I’m a little scared my enthusiasm for the potential new friends might turn us into the Heffernans in this King of Queens clip—I, of course, being the Kevin James of our duo (if you’re reading this in an email or RSS feed you’ll have to click through to see this video… Do it! It’s worth it):

Yes, I would be the one all “Hi, I’m Rachel. You like to cook? I have a stove! Come over! We’ve got enough aprons for everyone!” Matt would be the one hiding. Inside the oven.

So as to save me from embarassment and divorce, let’s decide now what I should do. I’m thinking perhaps save the movie and Olive Garden invitations for another time. Start small, perhaps go business card again. I’ll do the number exchanging with the female half of the couple. Guys seem to think friendship advances are creepier than women do. Unless he’s a Red Sox fan, in which case he and Matt will be bonded for life. And we’ll all live happily ever after.

Got any advice for what I should say tonight to avoid turning into Kevin James? And what should he have done in this scene, anyway? Was there any way to make the move without prompting a restraining order? Please rescript this trip to Home Depot, or let me know if you have any brilliant ideas for tonight. I promise to keep you posted on the flip side.

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

The Mutual Friend Conundrum

Yesterday I included a someecard along with my post, mostly because it was funny and fitting for the subject matter. The card said: “Happy birthday to a friend of a friend who I now like more than the original friend.”

Like so many things I love, it’s funny because it’s true.

Or, in this case, could be true. I didn’t send the card to anyone specific, but I’d be lying if I pretended a specific friend and friend of a friend didn’t come to mind when I first saw it.

Haven’t we all seen this scenario play out? I’ve been the friend of a friend before… but I’ve also been the original friend. No matter what your role in this threesome, it’s dicey.

Dicey scenario 1: Mutual Friend introduces you to New Friend. You and New Friend get along famously. You are meant to be. But going forward, don’t you always feel like you have to invite Mutual Friend along? I do. If Mutual Friend introduced us, it’s because she thought we’d hit if off, but I would never want her to feel left out. And it’s plenty likely that part of the reason she introduced us was for her own benefit—if we can hang out three strong, then suddenly she can use her time more efficiently. See both of us at once. A twofer!

Dicey scenario 2: You are Mutual Friend. Suddenly you notice that your friends are hanging out without you. They have inside jokes and secret handshakes you know nothing about. On Facebook they both post about going to a matinee of The Back-Up Plan (you never know, there could be people seeing that). You check your phone for a missed call, your invite to the last-minute movie. Nothing. You remind yourself that even though you introduced them doesn’t mean you always have to be around for their playdates. But still, you kinda want to scream “Uhh hello? Remember me? The reason you two know each other in the first place??”

It’d be nice to think that we’re all mature adults, and once we grow up (ha!) we stop feeling left out. That we no longer need to worry about friends feeling slighted or ignored. (Ask any new bride how that “not worrying” plan worked out with her wedding party.) But like I said, I’ve been in both dicey scenarios. Here are my general solutions:

Dicey scenario 1: I always at least invite Mutual Friend along, unless I find something I have in common with New Friend (say, cooking) that Mutual Friend isn’t into. In that case, I’m usually ok inviting just the New Friend.

Dicey scenario 2: When friends who I introduced are hitting it off and suddenly seem to like each other better than they like me… well, I try to remind myself that it’s good to be a connector. Bringing people together, good karma, all of that. And then sometimes, I will admit, I say something passive aggressive like, “Isn’t it funny that I introduced you guys and now you’re, like, totally BFF?” I try not to, but we might as well lay it all on the table. This is a safe space, right?

Have you ever found yourself in either of these dicey scenarios? How’d you handle them?

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The Hard Facts: It’s Your Birthday? Mine Too!

“The Birthday Problem asks how many people you need to have at a party so that there is a better-than-even chance that two of them will share the same birthday. Most people think the answer is 183, the smallest whole number larger than 365/2. In fact, you need just 23.” (NPR, “The Math Guy: The Birthday Problem” March 19, 2005)

 

Yes, it is my birthday. Yay! I am all of 28. I find this tidbit of research—that in a room of 23 people there’s a more than 50% chance two will share a bday—kind of awesome. A good nugget to have in your back pocket. I know from my research that this doesn’t mean the chances are better than even that someone reading this has my birthday—the chances that a random two people in the 23 will share a birthday are much greater than the odds that someone in that group will share your specific birthday—but I happen to know that one person reading this does, in fact, have the same special day as I (Happy Birthday Mom!).

However, if it is your birthday, please email me and tell me what you’d like, because I’m about to do the same.

What do I want for my birthday? So glad you asked. I feel like you readers out there have become my friends. From your comments and emails, or just your willingness to click back over to this corner of the blogosphere every now and then, I feel like we’ve forged a special bond. Like we could be BFFs perhaps. And since friends do nice things for each other on their birthdays (and because I’m not too proud to ask for help) I’m just going to put it out there.

If you would like to give me a birthday present, here’s what I would love more than anything else: For you to tell two (or more, if you are so inclined) friends—or, really, two people who might be interested—about this blog.

Maybe you have two BFFs who live in other cities, and you want to say “This blog makes me think of how much I miss you.” Or maybe your BFFs live next door, and you can send this with a note: “This crazy lady’s escapades make me grateful I have you.” Or maybe you know two people fascinated with social psychology. Or obsessed with Neil Patrick Harris and Friends and Glee.

Since I started this blog, the most exciting thing has been to watch readership grow and, more importantly, the dialogue expand. I love reading the comments and the replies to comments and then replying to the replyers. Suddenly I’m part of a much bigger conversation.  It’s pretty mind-boggling, really.

So that’s it. I won’t be bombarding you with requests like this often. But I feel like on your birthday, you get a free pass. So, if you’re so inclined, that’s my birthday wish.

Do you feel weird asking for things on your birthday? Are you the yell-it-from the-rooftops or keep-it-top-secret birthday type? Clearly you know where I fall. But hey, that’s what friends are for, right?

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It’s a Ya-Ya Sisterhood Thing

I have a confession to make.

I was in a sorority.

I’m not ashamed, but it’s not something I brag about either. To be clear, there was no hazing at my school. I didn’t have to get up on a table in my underwear and let upperclassmen circle my fat. Instead they bought me teddy bears and candy and sent frat boys to do G-rated strip teases to “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

Still, by the time I was a senior, my interest in being a sorority girl had waned. Significantly. And when I first graduated I was downright embarrassed by it. That personal tidbit would slip out and people would say “You? Really? You don’t seem the sorority type.” To which I would say thank you, because it was clear from their tone that what they meant was “you don’t seem the bitchy exclusive Mean Girls type.”

Now that I’m far enough removed from college, I kinda think the whole thing was just silly. The memories make me laugh, but you wont find me writing checks to the alumni organizations that seem entirely unable to lose my home address.

Last week a woman my age told me that, in effort to make new friends, she joined the Junior League. Everything I know about the Junior League comes from The Help, in which their portrayal is, let’s just say, less than stellar. However, according to their mission, The Junior League is about “women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.” The new member I was talking to couldn’t stop raving—she’d met tons of people and had a social event every night of the week. It was an adult sorority.

And what about the Red Hat Society? Damon Wayans (yes, that Damon Wayans) has a novel out today, Red Hats, about a woman who joined the “enormous nurturing network of women approaching 50 or beyond, who are joining red-gloved hands and spreading the joy and companionship we find within and among the chapters.”

Even though I was in a sorority then, I can’t imagine joining one now. The Junior League—despite its noble aims—kind of gives me the creeps. Maybe because of The Help, or maybe because the thought of going through anything like rush again makes me want to gouge my eye out. And The Red Hat Society makes me think of someone’s kooky Aunt Sylvia. But they both sound like pretty surefire ways to make friends. Likely the lifelong kind.

What are your thoughts on these types of organizations? Would you ever join one? Do you already belong? Do you have similar reservations, or am I being too judgy?

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Filed under The Old Days

Talk on the Phone? That’s So 2005.

My husband was out of town this weekend so I had plans Friday night to leave the cubicle, come home and settle into a different computer at a different desk—this time in my living room—and write all night. But when 5 o’clock rolled around, I couldn’t do it. I needed a break, some brief respite between the PC and the Mac—preferably one that involved a glass of wine—so I would feel like I did something with my day other than work. So I grabbed my cell and did what any self-respecting 27-year-old needing to kick back would do. I called Mom.

When I complained that, even after having met so many potential new friends, I still didn’t have someone to call after work on a Friday just to see what they were up to, Mom asked me why I didn’t just buck up and phone one of them.

And then it hit me: “I don’t have their numbers!”

It’s true. Most of my new friends are still email and Facebook only. We write back and forth to set up a date, then we meet, then we email to say what a nice time we had and lets do it again and when are you free? I imagine we’ll eventually exchange numbers and advance to texting, but I honestly don’t know if phone calls are in our future.

On Sunday, as if on cue, the New York Times published this article about how technology might be diminishing children’s friendships. They write, “Children used to actually talk to their friends…But now, even chatting on cellphones or via e-mail (through which you can at least converse in paragraphs) is passé. For today’s teenagers and preteens, the give and take of friendship seems to be conducted increasingly in the abbreviated snatches of cellphone texts and instant messages, or through the very public forum of Facebook walls…” The article goes on to say that two-thirds of teens are more likely to use their cell to text than to talk. And while 54% say they text friends at least once a day, only 33% talk to their friends in person that often.

It’s pretty staggering stuff. But I’m a decade older than the high end of the 12-17 group that qualified as teens in these studies, and I too have adapted to a text-only lifestyle. Yes, I email. But when it comes to friends, I really only talk on the phone with the ones who live in other cities. It’s a means of staying in touch. With local pals, text messages are exchanged to suggest and confirm plans. When the name of a Chicago-based friend pops up on my caller ID, my first thought is generally “I hope nothing’s wrong,” instead of “How nice that they’re calling.”

And though I think this is a problem, I don’t know if I’ll do anything about it. I feel like calling is an imposition. I picture New Friend cooking dinner or or doing work or watching TV, and I don’t want to be the name that provokes a “why is she calling me?” response. So for now I stick, regrettably, to making new friends via new technology.

Do you talk to local friends and make plans via phone calls or texts and emails? Do you think the teen technology takeover is trickling upward to adults? If a 16-year-old saw the “Telephone Hour” scene from Bye Bye Birdie she would even recognize those spiral wires as telephone cords? I doubt it.

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Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Hard Facts, The Search