Monthly Archives: August 2010

In My Opinionation…

It’s Friday, it’s been a long week, and I think we all just need a little break from the friendship analysis.

Instead, let’s take a trip back in time. Let’s visit a pair of BFFs who had a profound impact on my youth.

My childhood BFF Katie and I used to go to the mall and buy hats with big flowers so we could be like Blossom and Six. We fought over who got to be Six… she was so super cool wasn’t she?

I remember wishing back then that I had a friend who would show up at the front door unannounced. (Remember when the spontaneous pop-in was considered a welcome surprise rather than an annoyance? A post for another day.) Katie lived a car ride away, so she never just appeared at my house. She called, asked if it was ok to visit, and then got a ride. The surprise visit from a pal always sounded so exciting, as did Six’s crazyfast speech pattern. Basically, Katie and I wanted to be them.

Since I started writing this blog I’ve come to realize how much pop culture friendships—especially in books and TV shows—have influenced what I want from my own relationships. I’m not saying I want to mimic the content of the exchange below (no thanks!) but it gives me a bit of nostalgia: For teenage friendships, high-speed talking and a TV favorite of my youth.

See for yourself. (If you’re reading this in an email or feed you may need to click through to watch the video.)

Happy Friday!

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

It’s All About Timing

It’s brilliant because it’s true. How many times have you spoken these words? “We probably wouldn’t be friends if we met today but…”

It’s a phrase oft uttered when one friend introduces a new pal to an old one. A diplomatic way of saying “Don’t judge me based on the company I keep, we lived next door and shared a blankie when we were 5. Her crazy ways/lack of personality/nasty humor are no reflection on me.” You know, without actually having to come out and say it, because you’d never speak ill of your lifelong buddy, right?

Maybe that’s why making friends as an adult is so much harder. Suddenly we’re in full control of who’s awarded our precious time. We’re not thrown into a relationship because our mothers are best friends or we grew up on the same block or we were randomly assigned a shared dorm room. Hectic schedules keep us from making plans with ladies who don’t fit our perceived BFF mold, because that would seem unproductive. A waste.

But here’s the catch. The most satisfying friendships are often with people who are totally different from us. The very souls we could never see ourselves clicking with. They’re the ladies we couldn’t get rid of because our mothers were best friends or we lived on the same block or in the same dorm room. Since we couldn’t shake them, we learned to love them. What other choice did we have?

I read recently that adults decide within 10 minutes of meeting someone what kind of relationship they want with that person. Once our grown-up minds are made up, we have a hard time changing them. Maybe if we did a bit more forcing, the people we meet who seem crazy or stand-offish or juvenile would in fact become the BFFs we’re (I’m?) looking for.

Or maybe meeting each other today would be a disaster.

Thoughts? Do you have an old friend you don’t think you’d mesh with if you met today? Or is that a cop-out line? Is adult friending hard because we simply don’t give people a chance to grow on us?

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The Hard Facts: You Talk Too Much

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

“Female friendships and girl talk, particularly among adolescents, has drawn growing interest from psychologists and researchers examining the question of how much talking is too much talking. Some studies have found that excessive talking about problems can contribute to emotional difficulties, including anxiety and depression. The term researchers use is ‘co-rumination’ to describe frequently or obsessively discussing the same problem. … And, psychologists say, it has intensified significantly with email, text messaging and Facebook.” (“Girl Talk Has Its Limits”, New York Times, 9/10/2008)

Matt is going to love this. Finally, science to back him up when he begs me to stop obsessing about the subtext of a friend’s email or the stress of looming deadlines. He’s plenty supportive the first time, maybe even the second, but he can’t stand to talk things to death. I might hypothesize that the majority of our fights have included the phrases, “I can’t keep repeating myself” and “You’re my husband, you’re supposed to listen and let me talk through things.”

When it comes to overanalyzing, I am classic girl. I could—and do—dissect my personal dilemmas with anyone who will listen. I want to get everyone’s input, but also to voice my thoughts aloud, again and again, in hopes that a new solution might spout from my brain via my mouth.

One of the primary reasons I want to find a new local BFF is to have a sounding board for some hard-core girl talk. It’s better for my marriage, and my sanity, to have a lady-friend to listen to me vent. Also, she can unload her baggage on me. As much as I enjoy scrutinizing my issues, I equally adore evaluating a friend’s. Turns out, though, that time with my new BFF could be better spent. Too much analysis will only lead to more emotional angst. Like when friends get together to complain about work or a mutual friend who’s getting  on their nerves.  When the bitchfest is over, you rarely feel better, just reinvigorated with whichever negative emotion you had to begin with. But there’s a better way! “With co-rumination, psychologists studying it say, one way for parents, and friends, to avoid the negative consequences is to focus on problem-solving, rather than on problem-dwelling.” In other words, instead of complaining to a friend about deadlines, I should be asking her advice on how to realistically meet them.

One important point: This research does not mean you should stop opening up to pals. “The research distinguished between sharing or ‘self-disclosure,’ which is associated with positive friendships and positive feelings, and dwelling on problems, concerns, and frustrations.” Telling secrets? Yes. Never shutting up about how much you can’t stand an in-law? Probably not.

Do you feel better or worse when you have a venting session with a friend?

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The Group Mentality

Lately, whenever I tell someone from my past about my current search, they reply with a bit of surprise. “I thought you had a group of friends in Chicago,” they’ll say.

I usually explain that no, “a group of friends” is not how I would explain my social situation. Yes, there are four ladies from my Northwestern days that I have dinner with every month or so. And I most definitely have a pack of work BFFs. But I don’t have a gang the way I did in high school or college or post-grad NYC, where any combination of a set clique (it’s a bad word, but we should call a spade a spade) could get drinks together on any given Saturday.

In Chicago I have individual friends. There’s the girl I met at a mutual friend’s wedding, a fellow student from a cooking class, old college acquaintances, girlfriends of Matt’s buddies and so on. “I have lots of separate individual friends,” I’ll explain, “but they don’t know each other. There’s no group.”

I’ve always found this sort of disappointing. Groups of friends are the dream, right? The Sex and the City model is so prevalent in books and TV that it’s hard not to feel like something’s missing when we don’t have it.

My search has presented me with a number of one-on-one budding friendships, but the next step will (hopefully) be to introduce said friends and create a small social network as opposed to a plethora of distinct relationships. Then, like on TV, we can each fill a niche: The idealist, the sass, the cynic, etc. (Yours truly will be starring in the role of the neurotic. Please hold your applause.) Not an easy feat, single-handedly creating a group of friends, but you never know. Activities like my Ladies Pizza Night might be the first step. Sushi is up next!

The group versus individual friendships is one of the largest differences between school BFFs and adult ones. In the novel Commencement, author J. Courtney Sullivan perfectly sums up the distinction. The story follows the relationships of four Smith College graduates who met freshman year, and reminds me of the BFF novels I loved as a kid: Among Friends, Just as Long as We’re Together and The Babysitter’s Club. Sullivan writes, “Although she had made plenty of friends in the city, it still felt like each of them was alone, their lives running parallel but never quite touching. With the Smithies, it was different. There was sometimes no telling where one of them began and the others left off.”

Do you think group friendships, like those in Friends or How I Met Your Mother are even possible in adulthood? Would you categorize your friendships as group or individual? Is there one you’d rather have, or that’s easier to maintain? Why?

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My Superpower: Time Travel

One of my primary goals for this blog has always been to ground it in reality. I want to bring up issues of friendship as they affect us everyday and not get too involved with cheesy clichés or sentimental celebrations of the sisterhood of women. But it’s hard to write about my weekend without veering into sappy territory.

I spent the majority of the last three days in the company of 500 former Tripp Lakers at the camp’s 100-year reunion. More immediately, I spent the time with 13 women—both my age and one year older—whom I’ve known since I was approximately 8 years old. What struck me about the weekend (other than how much we used to do in a day—sailing and singing and enameling, oh my!) was how incredibly natural it was. Staying up late whispering, laughing at Michelle’s rants, pretending to be asleep when our next door neighbor asked us to be quiet. I hadn’t seen some of these ladies in over 10 years, and once we all rolled out our sleeping bags it was as if we picked up where we left off. We didn’t skip a beat.

There is something special about old friends. Not best friends, necessarily, but friends who knew you when your hair was so short that people thought you were a boy (Thanks Mom!). They understand the jokes you make about Tara Gordon, the uber-cool older camper whose long hair you envied (and hasn’t changed!) when you rocked the boy bowl cut.

The only way to describe my weekend is to say I felt like I’d travelled back in time. The taste of the lake water in my mouth, the walk up the hill, and the goosebumps when a moth flew through my shower all made me feel like 12-year-old again. But ultimately the getaway was about the enduring nature of old friendships. If I hadn’t rock climbed or played field hockey, I’d still have left with a sense of unusual satisfaction. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was with my people. We don’t need to talk on the phone, or even see each other once a year. The summers we shared will always be there, and there’s something about people who knew you in your formative years. They know who you were and watched you become who you are.

The point of all this yammering on is that we all have these friends. People we don’t talk to that often—maybe hardly ever—but with whom, when we do see each other, it seems as if no time has passed. What I’m trying to make sense of is what makes for this kind of relationship. Why is it sometimes so awkward when you run into an old pal, and other times it’s frighteningly easy? (I do think there’s something to be said for environment. If I’d seen these ladies on the streets of Chicago, would conversation have come as easily as it did in the place where our friendships originally formed? I think not.) Thoughts?

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Filed under The Old Days

A Happy Camper

Today is a day I’ve been anticipating for months. This morning, Sara and I will load a car with sleeping bags and towels and overstuffed suitcases and we, along with two other friends from our summer camp days, will head up to Maine.

It’s the alumnae celebration of camp’s 100 year anniversary. My first summer at Tripp Lake came to a close almost exactly 20 years ago today. I was 8, it was 1990, and my parents had shipped me off eight weeks prior for the first of the nine seasons I would spend there as a camper. (That’s not entirely true. The “shipping off” part, I mean. I begged to go. After seeing how much fun my brother had at his camp I just had to try it.)

If I were forced to pinpoint one occurrence in my childhood that has led to my perhaps unreasonably high expectations of friends, camp would be it.

I grew up going to coed schools. When my mother suggested I attend the all-girl’s academy where she taught I shuddered at the thought. But camp was all girls, and I loved it. I was the one in my age group who got made fun of for worshiping camp so much. (I am not exaggerating. Any ex-camper reading this can attest to the making fun. And yes, I used the word “worship” back then, which now seems a tad melodramatic. But I probably was.)

In retrospect, what I adored about summer camp was how easy everything felt. It wasn’t about boys or clothes or anything other than singing songs (lots and lots of songs) and being with friends. You could just, as Matt might say, “do you.” At least, that’s my memory. Another former camper might tell a different tale.

When you live with other girls for two months, you get pretty comfortable with them. They get to know every part of you– the good, the bad, the crazy– and either they love you for it or they don’t. I mean, it was a girl’s summer camp not a hippie peacefest. There were plenty of fights. But once someone’s seen you have a meltdown because you had last choice signups, your esteem can only go up in their eyes.

For nine summers I lived with approximately six other girls, and each year they became like sisters. Bonding time was never turned off and I got spoiled. My friends were the cream of the crop. And now, 20 years later, I’m wandering the streets of Chicago looking for the same thing.

It’s not a fair request. The level of intimacy that builds between friends in the camp environment has remained unrivaled anywhere else in my life. Hence, why–despite loving it–camp might have screwed with my head: I’m looking for camp-like friendships in a severely un-campy space.

Is there anything or anyone who set your friendship expectations very, if not too, high? Were you a summer camper? Do you think some people’s adoration of camp is just plain creepy?

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Filed under The Old Days

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Dump Him

The question of today: What do you do when you can’t stand a friend’s significant other?

I should probably leave it at that. A 16 word blog post.

I won’t be offering any stories from my own life, that’s for sure. This blog is about making friends, not losing them, so no personal examples here. No siree.

But it’s happened to everyone hasn’t it? Someone you adore inexplicably pairs up with someone you just don’t get, and what you don’t get even more is how they could be together. Because she’s so friendly, and he’s so….arrogant. Or he’s so funny and she’s such…a dud.

There are two different ways this scenario can come to pass. Scenario A: Longtime friend starts dating someone new and he makes your skin crawl. Or scenario B: New friend introduces you—finally!—to his longtime partner, and she offends you each time she opens her mouth. Afterwards you just want to thank him for keeping her away from you this long.

Now I’m not talking about a bad person. Your friend’s new guy isn’t abusive—physically or emotionally—and he’s not cheating on her. There’s no basis for you to tell her to end it. You’re just not really feeling him.

In the tales I’ve been told, there are only two courses of action. 1) Try to make this a one-on-one friendship. Don’t focus on the couple aspect. Every now and then you’ll have to suck it up and go to dinner with both of them, but mostly it’s about you and her. Girl’s night! OMG! 2) Let the friendship slink away. It often seems that when BFFs don’t like each other’s partners, the friendship starts to fade. It’s not necessarily a conscious decision, unless you’re Lauren and Heidi and then it goes down for our viewing pleasure. But mostly, I think it’s a sad but quiet dissolution.

I know you people out there—yes, you—have been through this. What’s your coping mechanism? Is there a way to make her more tolerable? A trick to avoiding him altogether? You can be anonymous. Now…go!

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Filed under The Search