Monthly Archives: September 2010

I’m Fluent in Friendship

A few weeks ago I attended a speed-friending event hosted by GirlfriendCircles.com. It was surprisingly fun. Maybe I shouldn’t have been shocked—I signed up didn’t I?—but just the word “speed-friending” (or is that two words?) sounds awkward, right? I thought so at least.

It turned out to be great. One of the most interesting parts of the evening was listening to GFC CEO Shasta Nelson—a former pastor and life coach, and thus a practiced and engaging public speaker—expound on the importance of friendship. Not just why we need it, but how we can create it, and what just doesn’t count. (“If you meet someone tonight, and then never talk to her again, that is not a friend.”) One thing that really stuck with me—and I’ve heard Shasta say this before—is that there’s no vocabulary for making new friends. There are no platonic words for flirting, picking someone up, having a girl-crush.

When I talk about my search, I have no doubt that an outsider would think I was ranting about a romantic relationship. My sheer excitement about a great new prospect, the references to “going on a date” and “picking a girl up”? The vocab screams lovers. Never mind the fact that in my home, date has become a totally platonic term.

“What are you doing tonight?” Matt says.

“I’ve got a date,” I say.

“Cool.”

The latest romantic term I’ve brought into my friending is “the honeymoon stage.” You know that point with a new friendship when you’re so excited about this person, you think she could be your new best friend forever, and every time she reaches out, you get all giddy? I’ve had that with some friends for sure. I’ll get a text and immediately shove my iPhone under Matt’s nose so he can read it himself. It’s the part of female friendship before you’re too aware of the other person’s flaws, and if you are aware they don’t bother you. They’re just “quirky.”

Recently, I was writing about a new friendship. No matter how I pieced the words together, it sounded like I was pursuing a budding romance. And while that can be funny, in this instance it was just frustrating. I could think only of Shasta, wishing there was a fix to this lexicon dilemma.

We could change the dialogue right here and now. If someone has insight into the language of friendship, I’m all ears. Is there a less misleading way to say “I asked out a girl I’ve had a crush on—we’ve been flirting for months—and now we’re going on a date?” See, just writing that feels awkward.

Mostly, I just want to understand. Why are there no platonic words for creating a new—and vital!—relationship?

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The Hard Facts: Paging Emily Post…

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

“According to [a new AOL study] more than half of children surveyed (54%) don’t personally know all the friends accepted into their social network.” (“AOL Launches New SAFE SOCIAL for Parents with Social Networking Teens” 8/24/2010)

There’s a new set of etiquette when it comes to friendship in the 21st century. Knowing not to hook up with your BFF’s ex, or that friends don’t let friends drunk dial, isn’t enough. You must also know that a friend who tags you in an unflattering photo is no friend at all.

I’m still navigating the world of social network protocol. Here are my most pressing dilemmas:

1) Should I accept friend requests from people I’ve never met? The answer to this question should be no (hello, Internet predators), and yet I have a good handful of these phantom friends in my newsfeed. You never know who could be The BFF, so I err on the side of “confirm.” The fact that teenagers accept strangers is entirely scary, but as an adult it’s less an issue of getting bullied by fake accounts and more just a general “how much am I willing to put out there” debate.

2) What if I want to unfriend someone? It’s a sticky situation, one so common that “unfriend” was named the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 Word of the Year. Real-life friend breakups come with all sorts of guilt, and Facebook has added a whole new element. The reasons for unfriending must be serious—you’re cutting this person off from all information about you—and yet the act of unfriending itself is pretty passive. A simple click of a button. “This absence of body language, and the single click immediacy of online sharing has created problems that have no ready parallel offline,” wrote Austin Considine in a recent piece in The New York Times.

3) How soon is too soon to friend someone? Today I got a request from a new friend, one with whom I’ve gone on two friend-dates, with this message: “How many friend dates before we can be Facebook friends?” I love that she called out the awkwardness of this protocol. Clearly I accepted. But I’ve had girl-date situations in which the potential BFF has friended me after we’ve scheduled the plan, but before it’s taken place. Meaning we’ve met over email but not face-to-face. I think that’s too soon. I wait to send the request (or not) until after we’ve hit it off (or not). But if the soon-to-be friend requests me? I always accept, despite sometimes wavering.

It seems worthwhile to mention here (last time, I swear!) that this blog now has a Facebook page. So if you’re a fan of the blog, perhaps you want to become fan of the page? So I can see your pretty face? Why thank you!

The jury is still out on these Facebook conundrums. Do you accept strangers? How do you defriend? And when is the appropriate time to send a friend request? Weigh in!

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At Least It’s Not The Skulls…

When you’re on a hunt for a new best friend, one of the key moves is to sign up for various activities. I wouldn’t say every activity—some perfectly glorious events just don’t lend themselves to socializing—but you’d be surprised how many different organizations base their entire evenings around ending up at a bar for a bonding session. Since January, I’ve signed up for mixer events ranging from straight mingling to volunteering to theater to running. This fall I’ll do my first religion-and-socializing group.

One of the most fascinating aspects of infiltrating all these worlds has been to see how passionate a subsociety exists within each one. They’re like fraternities with a twist. Special languages, internal politics, even their own forms of hazing. I kid you not.

Take last night. A new friend invited me to join her for a Hash House Harriers run in Chicago. I had no idea what I was getting into. Because I didn’t have time to do my own research, I said yes before I really knew what I was saying yes to. All I knew was that hashers (as they’re called) are self-proclaimed “drinkers with a running problem.” I took this to mean that there would be some running, and then later there’d be some drinking. Turns out the drinking—and socializing—happened before, during and after the run. Other things I didn’t know till I showed up: Everyone goes by a code name—my run included Bubbles, Corn Star, Horny, and Rumpspringa; there is a song—usually a dirty one—for every occasion, and there’s an entire hashing vocabulary, one that would take me six months, at the very least, to master.

Similar insider knowledge—vocab, politics, inter-org relationships—has emerged in other activities. At lunch after my One Brick outing, I listened in on a conversation about who got to be EM and EC, and who wanted the positions but were rejected (EC is event coordinator and EM is event manager, though none of the insiders used the full titles). Improv, which is definitely growing on me, comes with its own set of VIPs. And when I went to showtunes night at a gay bar last Sunday (totally my mother ship calling me home), I felt like an outsider since I wasn’t in on the call and response for each song.

There’s something fascinating—and reassuring—to the concept that no matter what you like to do, there is almost certainly a community out there dedicated to it. And that in each community there are die-hards, occasional members, and the people who fall everywhere in between.

In one sense these cultish subcultures are reminiscent of the college greek system. They include secret society hooplah that you must know in order to feel a part of the group. The non-sorority aspect of it though is that anyone can join. You don’t have to rush or be chosen. If you want to run around town with the Hash House Harriers (any town! It’s worldwide), you’ll be welcomed with open arms. They love Hash virgins. Believe me, I now know this to be true.

Inside jokes and knowledge, when you know them, are the fastest track to feeling included. Over these months I’ve learned that the organizations with all these “secrets” are almost always the same ones that people are most passionate about. Participants who are fluent in hashing, say, are super comfortable at the event. Then there’s me, the random girl in the corner who only understands every third word. But the more you feel a part of a society, the more loyalty you feel toward it. And suddenly you’re going back every week, and you have to fend of the potential BFFs with a stick.

Have you witnessed other subcultures—speechmaking, yoga, rollerblading—that have a subsociety of dedicated members? Were you put off by them, or were you eager to join in? I feel like these communities, once you find one you like and immerse yourself, make the BFF search easier by giving a sense of belonging. Do you agree or am I crazy?

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When Worlds Collide

First things first. Last week marked six months of this blog. As a bit of recognition of this half-birthday, MWF Seeking BFF now has a Facebook page. You can “like” the page for blog updates, discussions, or just to be friendly. Like it by clicking here, or on the little Facebook button on the right. Thanks! I really appreciate it.

One of the things that blows my mind when it comes to Facebook is when two people I know in entirely different contexts—one from camp, say, and another from a work project—are somehow connected. Maybe I’ll notice them in a photo together, or one will comment on the other’s wall. I can think of three times in the last month that this has happened. Every time my first reaction is “Whaaaaa???”

It’s always funny when worlds collide. I think of the different phases of my life—elementary and middle school, high school, college, camp, work—as totally separate. When they start to mix, however it is that they might meet, my mind gets all boggled. But why? If I get along with all these people, it stands to reason that they might hit it off with each other.

This happens most at weddings. The happy couple’s different worlds collect in one place, and you just never know the connections that might emerge. This weekend, on my way back to the hotel after Callie’s wedding, one of her friends from college turned to me and said “There are so many worlds colliding right now my head is about to explode!”

There are two schools of thoughts on world collision. Some people are psyched, because suddenly all the friends and family they want to spend time with are friends themselves. You get two-for-one playdates. You are a connector.

Other people feel like this:

(Click through for the short video if you’re reading in an email or a feed.)

Which one are you?

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Filed under 21st Century Friendships, Everything I Know I Learned on TV

My Best Friend’s Wedding

It’s tomorrow! Callie’s going to be a wife!

And, for the first time, I’m going to be a bridesmaid.

Choosing a bridal party is the only time in adult life where it is totally acceptable—and expected—to publicly proclaim our best friends. It’s like the heart necklaces or friendship bracelets of our youth, but a totally bizarre and adult version that involves matching dresses.

No matter how adult we proclaim to be once we’re of the marrying age, selecting some people over others—saying “I feel closer to you than to you,” or even “I like you better than you”—is prickly. Of course, as any bride knows, there’s more that goes into bridesmaids than just who you like best. There’s also who’s related to you, and who’s going to cry if she isn’t asked even though you don’t really like her, and who do you need to invite because you were in her wedding.

[To be clear, such drama didn’t happen with Callie’s wedding party… she’s just the timely peg for this post.]

I only had two bridesmaids in my wedding. I asked Callie and Sara because 1) I wanted them and 2) I knew their inclusion wouldn’t leave anyone out. If I went bigger, my only option was to have at least nine girls. I couldn’t ask only some of my super-tight college friends, it’d be too hard (and possibly drama-inducing) to choose. And I’d want to invite a cousin or two, and my old roommate, and an ex-coworker. It would get out of hand.

I figured the whole “make your besties dress alike” thing must stem from something other than the need for someone to hold up a dress while the bride pees, so I investigated. Here’s what I found:

“In early Roman times, bridesmaids formed a kind of bridal infantry as they accompanied the bride to the groom’s village. This ‘protective shield’ of similarly outfitted bridesmaids was supposed to intervene if any wayward thugs or vengeful suitors tried to hurt the bride or steal her dowry. However, the Western bridesmaid tradition seems to have originated from later Roman law, which required ten witnesses at a wedding in order to outsmart evil spirits believed to attend marriage ceremonies. The bridesmaids and ushers dressed in identical clothing to the bride and groom, so that the evil spirits wouldn’t know who was getting married.”

If this reasoning still existed today, I’d screw picking my best friends and just go for women who looked like me and who could kick some wayward thug ass.

But no, today the bridesmaid thing is about being surrounded by your BFFs on your big day. To have your people stand up and support this giant step. It’s a nice thought, actually.

So I ask you this: Do you like the tradition, or think it’s bizarre? And are there other adult scenarios in which we’re asked to designate our best friends?

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That Magic Moment

Some friendships, without ample time for getting-to-know-you, never would have been.

Others happen in an instant.

It’s the love-at-first-sight of friendship. When two people just… work. You can’t put your finger on it, but you know the person you met will be in your life going forward. Perhaps you run towards each other in slow motion. In a field. With your arms extended. Maybe Chariots of Fire is playing. Maybe.

In Click: The Magic of Instant Connection, authors Ori and Rom Brafman dissect these seemingly magical moments. “In its simplest terms, clicking can be defined as an immediate, deep, and meaningful connection with another person or with the world around us. Typically, it takes weeks or months before most of us feel truly comfortable with a new person. … But sometimes this process is greatly accelerated, and the connection seems to form almost magically and instantaneously.”

I’ve had this connection a few times. Hopefully all of us have. I can think of two old friends where, the minute we met, I thought “Yes, please. You fit nicely.”

I’ve even had this moment with a friend I don’t see much anymore. I met Kate in the months after graduating college. She was my friend’s roommate, but the first night we met we got to talking about books and something just clicked. I knew we’d be friends. We ended up starting a book club together, a perfect way to see each other at least every month. Some six years later, she lives in San Francisco and I’m in Chicago, so we don’t talk as often as I’d like and we haven’t seen each other in years. But I still feel like we’re kindred spirits. When we do talk—usually via various technologies—it’s easy. We understand each other.

The Brafman brothers call this “quick-set intimacy.” The bonds of which “can be surprisingly strong and create a tenor in the relationship that may be lifelong.”

In the examples in the book (or at least what I’ve read so far) many of the clicks happen between two people who you might not otherwise expect to hit it off. But for whatever reason, they instantly form an alliance. And suddenly the team is stronger than the sum of its parts.

The book will go into the factors at work that make these instant connections happen. But I haven’t read that far. So for now, I want to hear from you. Have you ever had that magic click moment? Care to share the story? Is there anything specific that you think caused the two of you instantly hit it off?

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The Hard Facts: That’s Not How I Remember It

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

“As we view the past through the lens of the present, social memory—what’s shared and retold in groups—slides farther from reality, according to a report in Memory Studies. … We’re constantly remolding old situations to fit our present frame of mind.” (“The Good Old Days” Psychology Today, October 2010)

A lot of the motivation for this search comes from wanting to recreate the friendships of my youth. This isn’t new information. I want to dial up my friends and ask them to come out and play. I want someone on call for an I’m-bored-let’s-go-shopping trip. I want someone with whom I’ll talk so fast it’ll seem like we have a secret language. These are the cornerstones of childhood relationships, according to my recollection.

But what if the memory of my youth is completely separate than the reality?

The Memory Studies researchers say that recall is more influenced by our present and what we hope for the future than by what actually happened in our past. Perhaps that’s why I tend to “forget” about the time my fourth-grade BFF decided to not talk to me for a month. On two separate occasions. Or it could explain why the memories of my senior year of college are of 11 girls existing in constant bliss under one roof, which anyone who’s ever met a female knows is an impossibility.

I’m confident there were times back in the day when I dreamt of moving and starting over. I was always the type to romanticize change. A new life, a clean slate, the ability to repurpose yourself as whoever you wanted to be? Sign me up. But these days I have almost no memory of ever being less than perfectly content with my friendships (minus one minor screaming fight with a close friend senior year of college. We got over it quickly). My rose-colored glasses say everything was A-ok. My friendships were apparently all-around perfection, and I want that back.

Clearly the truth is a bit air-brushed in my mind’s eye. What it tells me is not what it was then, but what I believe now. “You remember your high school sweetheart as not-so-sweet if he’s now a cheating ex-husband. And as actual events grow fuzzier, we increasingly invoke stereotypes to help us make sense of old stories.” If I’ve decided to look for friendships modeled after my youth, then it serves me to remember my early relationships as perfecto.

I’ve always said that maybe the BFF I’m looking for doesn’t exist when you reach a certain age. But what if she never existed in the first place?

Do you think memory skews how happy we actually were in different relationships and scenarios? Is it possible that the childhood friendships we talk about actually really sucked, but we just can’t really remember that anymore?

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Meeting New Tweeple

I just watched an iPad commercial in which, by spotlighting different apps, Apple tries to prove that the gadget is delicious, current, playful, literary and so much more. Towards the middle of the commercial they show the Twitter app, because, they say, the iPad is also friendly.

I’ve become a big Twitter fan lately. (You can follow me here!) It feels more fleeting than Facebook, so I’m willing to post random thoughts as they come up. I find comfort in the fact that they’ll get shoved to the bottom of your feed before they become totally irrelevant. Also, Twitter’s a great source of fascinating links, people have no choice but to be concise, and, best of all, I love how easy it is to engage with others. Perfect strangers and I can exchange TV-on-DVD recommendations. Heaven.

But, ultimately, that’s what they are: strangers.

I get nervous when I see people, or companies, referring to using sites like Facebook or Twitter as being “friendly.” Sure, I’ve met some great people through blogging and meetups and other online communities. Social networking can be a fantastic way to add new people to your life. But updating an online status from the couch in your empty living room is not the same as being “friendly.” Is it?

From what I can tell, the biggest danger of these sites is people taking them as a replacement for face-to-face interaction rather than a supplement. (For the record, I have nothing against Twitter, or iPads. I use, and love, them both.) A social psychologist once told me that the loneliest people are often the ones with the most Facebook friends, because they spend all day behind a computer screen and no time connecting in the flesh. And according to current research, online friendships don’t have the same positive health and longevity effects that the in-person kind do.

We’ve got a careful balance to maintain. Going online can be ideal for keeping up with long-distance pals and checking in on old friends. But when you get so caught up in the virtual world that you forget to live in the real one, then we’ve got trouble. And delusion.

What do you think? Is Tweeting “friendly?” Is there a danger of people relying too much on social networks and losing the benefits of real live friendship? Or are the Facebooks of the world just another way to increase our social engagement?

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High Class Problems

Yesterday I was talking to someone about my blog when she told me,  “My problem is that I have too many friends. I have no time to see them all. One of my friends is moving away and I’m relieved because it’s one less person to fit in my calendar.”

My first response: Poor you. Perhaps you also have too much money and too much trouble gaining weight.

But actually, I get it. This woman is from Chicago. Her life and most of the people she loves are here. It’s similar to when I head back to NYC. Sometimes I withhold the fact that I’m in town from certain people, because trying to juggle seeing everyone in a two-day period is simply not possible. Then I feel totally guilty, and even a bit stressed—what if I “forgot” to tell someone that I’m back home, and then I run into her at a bar? (It’s more likely than you’d think.)  I’d feel like a total ass, when really it was that I want to spend quality time with her, but this trip was a high school affair, or for the college pals. Ugh, I want to poke my eye out just thinking about it.

So while having too many friends is a good problem to have, I can see where it might, in fact, be a real problem.

The other night I was at a speed-friending event—yes, you read that right! Speed-friending! Who knew, right? I shall expound on that adventure next week—and Shasta Nelson, CEO of GirlfriendCircles and our evening’s MC, said something about how women need at least 5 good friends, but once you surpass 10 friends personal satisfaction actually decreases. (I can’t find the research to back this up, but such was her claim.)

Maybe the woman with “too many friends” does, truly, have too many friends. Maybe she’s so busy making time for all her deep (and local) relationships that she doesn’t have the time for herself she needs. I really can’t say. (And clearly I’m not plagued with such troubles…)

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar says we can each handle about 150 friends, but not all of them of the BFF level. Trying to give that much of yourself to too many people would be just exhausting. Even someone searching for a BFF (or five) knows that the line must be drawn somewhere.

Do you think one can have too many friends? Do you agree with Shasta Nelson’s 5 to 10 suggestion? How many BFFs do you think one person can reasonably maintain?

{Today’s Month of Friendship post is from the ladies at GirlfriendCelebrations.com. Enjoy… And happy long weekend!}

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Ask and You Shall Receive…

Today is my turn to blog for The Month of Friendship. For those of you who are new to my search, let me give you the Twitter-ized version:

After two years of waiting for a local BFF to emerge in my new hometown of Chicago, I’ve decided to go out there and find her.

On Tuesday, I was reminded of exactly why I’ve been forcing myself to ask out potential friends, despite how desperate it can sometimes feel. I was at my favorite boutique, just a block away from my apartment, looking for a dress to wear to an upcoming rehearsal dinner. Well, that and I’ve been trying to befriend the manager since I moved here.

We’ve become friendly enough in the time that I’ve been frequenting her store. The weekend I went wedding dress shopping, I showed her a picture of my potential gown for an “objective” opinion. She’s told me about planning her sister’s bridal shower. She knows what clothes work best on my body and can perhaps get me a discount on said outfits. She’d most certainly fill my fashionable BFF opening.

For a while, before I threw caution to the wind and started asking every potential BFF to dinner, I was too embarrassed to invite her to hang out. What would I say? “Hello I have no friends! Will you take pity on me?” Uh, no thanks.

But now that I’ve been at this a while, I’ve gotten more comfortable in the art of the asking. Like anything, it gets exponentially easier with practice. And the breezier you are (Remember Monica on Richard’s answering machine? “I’m breezy!” I channel this often…) the less awkward the exchange. I promise!

So I went into the store in the middle of the day on Tuesday, and Manager and I were the only people there. After trying on a few dresses, I bought an adorable little black number.

“So do you work every Tuesday?” I asked her at the register.

“Yup.”

“I was wondering… I work from home on Mondays and Tuesdays, and it can get really quiet and isolating. Would you want to get lunch sometime? It’d be nice to get out of the house for a little.”

Manager was so excited. “I’d love to! I really would.” She went on to tell me that she always meets really great people at the store, but she feels like she has to wait for the other person to make the move. “Otherwise, you could be like ‘why’s the salesgirl asking me to lunch?’ It’s unprofessional.”

This had never occurred to me. She’s all 7-feet-tall and impossibly thin and pretty. The idea that maybe she wanted to be my friend too, that maybe something was holding her back never crossed my mind.

So we exchanged numbers and we’re going to have lunch. It could maybe even become a weekly-ish affair. I have a good feeling about this one.

The small-but-significant exchange was an important reminder of why, when we meet someone with BFF potential, we should just go for it. Everyone wants pals. We’re constantly worried that people will think we’re weird for making the first overture toward friendship, but more often than not the other person is flattered. Thrilled, even.

And there could be a million reasons why she hasn’t tried befriending you. Once Manager explained it to me, it made perfect sense that she’d have professional concerns about trying to befriend a customer. But I never would have thought of it on my own.

So this month, why not resolve to finally say something to the would-be friend you’ve been eyeing in yoga class/the grocery store/the office. What’s the worst that could happen? No, seriously, what?

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