Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Hard Facts: Living Single

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

“One of the most remarkable facts to emerge from [the 2000] census is that one out of every four households consists of one person only. The number of one-person households has been increasing steadily since 1940, when they accounted for roughly 7 percent of households; today, there are more people living alone than at any point in U.S. history.” (The Lonely American, by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz)

I’ve never lived alone. I went straight from rooming with a friend in NYC to living with my now-husband. I’ve heard some people posit that you’re never truly ready to marry until you’ve lived alone—that’s how you find yourself, they’ll say—so maybe I missed an important step.

There are certainly days where I wish I had tried it out. I would have enjoyed hodgepodge meals of peanut butter and half an avocado and some toast (that’s the kind of feast I create when left to my own devices) and hours-long Law and Order: SVU marathons on my couch. But it never really made sense for me.  New York City rents weren’t worth shouldering alone. And my roommate—aside from being one of my closest friends—was always up for an SVU marathon. Elliot Stabler? Yes, please.

These days many of my single friends live alone. They’re sick of sharing bathrooms and bills, and they’ve built up successful careers that afford them the means of shacking up solo.

Olds and Schwartz present their data in The Lonely American as evidence that people are taking independence to a place of loneliness.

“One-person households are most likely to be found in major metropolitan centers. Manhattan leads the pack. 48 percent of all households on the island are one-person households”

I’m a huge fan of Olds and Schwartz, but I don’t find the fact that almost half the residents of Manhattan live alone as that shocking or depressing. People get married later these days, so they don’t wait to be whisked away to a palace. They find a place they love and move in. At, let’s say, 28, some women feel they’ve outgrown labeling their food in the fridge.

On the flip side, people live longer too. So they might inhabit a one-person household after they’ve lost a spouse.

And obviously there are plenty more women now who choose not to marry or who’ve gotten divorced than there were back in 1940.

In my experience, people who live alone are often more social than those who live with one roommate. If you’re solo at home and want friendly contact, you’ve got no choice but to call a pal and get out into the world. When you live with a roommate, it’s easy to rely on that one person and not socialize outside your twosome.

What do you think? Does this statistic further the argument that we’ve become lonelier as a people? Or is it merely a sign of independence and taking care of yourself? And who do you think is more social, someone who lives alone or with a roommate?

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A Man’s World

In all the time I’ve written about having work BFFs, I’ve taken for granted one vital piece of information: I work with almost all women.

Every job I’ve held has been in an office inhabited predominantly by females. Such is the blessing (and, sometimes, curse) of working in editorial. Well, maybe not if you work at Popular Mechanics. Or Esquire. Or Field & Stream. Or Playboy. But if you hope to make your living at a women’s magazine or website, you better not have a girl-hate-girl complex.

In a largely female environment, finding a work BFF—or at least an office ally—is almost inevitable. Us women, we like to team up. Our business styles are historically embodied by collaboration and consultation. This style lends itself towards establishing relationships.

But what happens when you work primarily with men? Such is the case for many of my friends in business and finance. They want a work BFF—recall that those who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job and those with three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives—but find it tougher to connect on a personal level with their male colleagues.

I haven’t experienced this firsthand. But one friend told me her problems befriending her male coworkers are twofold:

{Side note: Over the weekend I watched the Friends episode where Chandler is in a box. This is just now occurring to me because the reasons he is in there are “threefold.” I really do love that show.}

1. Her coworkers love to talk about sports and cars. When they aren’t talking about work, it’s the local football team or some fancy new car thing that I can’t even specify here because that’s how little I know about cars.

2. Whenever she does start having friendly banter with her male colleagues, it toes the line of flirtation.

Of course, not all men talk solely about sports and cars. And, again of course, some women would love to talk about sports and cars. It just so happens that my friend is not one of them.

It should also go without saying, even though I’m about to say it, that not all conversations between men and women have a flirtatious undertone. But certainly in some cases the flirty repartee can develop and quickly become problematic.

My friend finds both of these factors—the guy-talk and the flirting—frustrating, but she deals with it. (To be quite clear, there is no sexual harassment here, just chatter that some might classify as flirtatious.) When she can, my 28-year-old friend chooses to hang out with her one female coworker, a 22-year-old with whom she has more in common than her 30-something male counterparts.

I’m not sure how I’d handle making work friends in a predominantly male workplace. Do you work with mostly men? How do you navigate office friendships?

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The Wedding Gift Question

I got married over a year ago. Which means, in theory, I should have received gifts from everyone on our guest list. I have not.

This isn’t a huge surprise. With every wedding there are some guests who don’t deliver. I don’t know if they don’t think they have to, or it slips their minds, or what. I assume that it’s usually a case of forgetfulness—either they think they’ve already given you something or they planned to do it just after the wedding and then they totally spaced.

I’ve been thinking about this because a friend of mine—let’s call her Phoebe—was in town this weekend. Phoebe wasn’t able to attend our wedding and hasn’t gotten us a gift yet. She is horrified at this fact. Much moreso than I am. She actually tried to buy us a gift when she visited last time but there was a credit card mixup and the charge didn’t end up going through (long and not-that-interesting story).

While we were hanging out (read: making cleanse-approved broth), we got to talking about the gift thing. The “rule” is that you should get a couple a present within a year of their wedding.

“I’ve actually seen a friendship fall apart because one guy didn’t get the other a wedding gift,” Phoebe said.

It seems a silly thing to lose a BFF over. But one small misstep snowballs into bigger drama, until suddenly there’s built-up resentment rotting the whole relationship. (To be clear, my friendship with Phoebe is not falling apart. In fact, she told me what she’s getting me. Fun!)

With Phoebe, I really don’t mind. (As to the handful of guests who fall in the no-gift category, I have varying degrees of annoyance. It’s case by case.) She knows, she’s apologetic, whatever. Her friendship is more important than her gift. And it’s not like I invited people to the wedding just for presents. You invite people because you want to celebrate with them and because you want them to witness your special day.

So the question is, does traditional etiquette apply when it comes to close friends?

Take the thank you note. Personally, I couldn’t care less about receiving them. When I do, I read and throw away. The best gift I can give a close friend (along with the actual gift) is to let her off the thank-you-note-writing hook. “Part of my gift is that you don’t have to write me a note,” I told my new-mommy friend earlier this year. “You saw me, you said thank you, that’s enough.” She looked as if I’d given her a pot of gold.

When I send a friend a gift, all I need is a quick email or a text saying, “I got it! I love it!” Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. A thank you note seems so formal, and close friendship is about comfort and informality.

Phoebe totally disagreed. “If I go to the trouble of buying a gift, I want them to take the time to write a note.”

It comes down to where you fall on Emily Post-style manners line.

For me, when it comes to close friends, traditional thank-you notes are unnecessary. I don’t need ’em. As for wedding gifts, I say people should follow the one-year rule. Will I end the friendship if they don’t? No. Will I notice? Yes.

What do you think? Should close friends adhere to old-school etiquette? What are the exceptions?

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Baby Talk

Yesterday was a big-time baby day. First, my coworker announced she was pregnant (congrats!!). Then I met one of my closest new friends for lunch, with her husband and ridiculously cute 2-year-old twins.

In response to the first coworker’s pregnancy, another coworker told me she and her BFFs have a pregnancy pact (another set of my friends have a non-pregnancy pact, but that’s another story). At a designated time they will all get pregnant so they can go through the nine months together. She was kidding. But not really.

When I started this quest I had exactly one friend with a baby. She lives in New York so I don’t get to see her (the friend or the baby) much. But it is fascinating to watch a close friend become a mother. Even in the limited time we’ve spent together, I can see that she’s changed. Of course she has. She’s all pink bows and tummy time. She has a daughter now, a new center of her world.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned while conducting this search—both from women I know and from commenters on this blog—it’s that relationships change as friends start spawning offspring.

This knowledge makes me think my co-worker and her pregnancy pact isn’t all that crazy. One way to maintain status quo when a BFF gets knocked up? Get knocked up too! Ta-dah!

Yes, I know this sounds crazy. Except for the part that sounds brilliant.

Just think, your little ones could be BFFs, and their little ones after that could be BFFs…. A friendship to span the generations!

In all seriousness, I do wonder how my close friendships will change once kids enter the picture. Will we be unable to connect because one can’t understand the other? Will it be exactly the same, with breastmilk and diapers where wine and boytalk once were?

I know that above all else, despite whatever changes come, I’ll be excited for my besties. If I love them, I’ll certainly adore their mini-versions. It’ll be just like being an aunt—all the fun and cuteness of a baby without the late-night crying fits.

But still… please tell. What’s it like to watch friends become mothers? How does the relationship change? And how awesome would it be to go through it together?

And before you start speculating, let me assure you, I’m not trying to tell you anything. If I could down a glass of virtual vino to prove it, I would.

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Who Needs Yearbooks?

Yesterday my friend-slash-coworker (don’t know why I feel the need to point out that we work together, but it feels dishonest otherwise) introduced me to a new Facebook feature: Friendship Pages.

Apparently these pages were rolled out at the end of last month, so I guess I’m a little slow on the social networking uptake. In case you’re even slower than I, here’s a quick debriefing. (Side note: I’m sort of obsessed with it.) (And yes, I know it’s super cool to hate on all of Facebook’s additions lately, but I’m sorry, I’m into this.)

Basically, Friendship Pages aggregate all the correspondence and mutual content between two friends into one place. Just go to a friend’s profile page and click on where it says “View You and X” under X’s profile picture. You’ll be taken to a page that covers the entire history of your virtual friendship. Any photos you’ve been tagged in together, any wall posts you’ve exchanged, any mutual friends or likes, will all be there, staring you in the face like a high school yearbook page.

You can also see Friendship Pages between other people. If one of your friends posts on another friend’s wall, you’ll see a link that reads, “see friendship.” Click it.

And you can browse for friendships from any Friendship Page. In the upper righthand corner of the page you’ll see two search fields. Type in any two friends and you can see the history of their Facebook relationship.

There’s some debate out there as to whether or not this is a good feature. Here’s why I like it:

1) It really is a glorified yearbook page. It feels sort of old school, like a BFF scrapbook. Facebook even “picks” a profile pic for the page—a photo you and your pal are both tagged in. Right now many of my Friendship Pages are pretty bare since I do most of my communicating through other means. But imagine what the page would look like for a teenager? Or even for me in ten years? It’s another forum to track, however loosely, your history.

2) I’m just going to say it… Don’t judge.. This is great for Facebook stalking (or creeping, as the kids say). Want to know how your ex’s new relationship is going? Pull up their page. Wondering if those inseparable BFFs from college are still a twosome? Easy breezy.

The ease of stalkage is, of course, why some people don’t love this new feature. While all of this same information was available before,  it now takes less work to find. Though, to be clear, you almost always have to be friends with both parties in order to see their Friendship Page (the exception is based on a person’s privacy settings). So they are a tad bit regulated, even if there is a hefty element of Big Brother to the whole thing.

So, yeah. I’m a fan. Friendship Pages have all the addictive qualities of Facebook in general. It’s not like anyone is hanging out on the site to find out what someone’s favorite movie or “about me” quote is. We want to be a voyeur into someone else’s life. We want to see relationships.

And also food.

What do you think of Friendship Pages? Fascinating or creepy?

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The Hard Facts: It’s Not What You Know

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

“If you are a typical American, the probability that any two of your social contacts know each other is about 52 percent.” (Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler)

Quite often the first thing I do when meeting someone new is play the name game.

“You went to Skidmore? Do you know Emily?”

“Oh, you’re from Montclair, you must know my cousins.”

It’s an easy icebreaker, a way to get the conversation started.

It’s also sort of comforting. A quick way to vet someone—to assure yourself she isn’t a serial killer. This is even more helpful in romantic dating, as knowing someone in common can help confirm he’s not a creep before getting too heavily involved. But it holds true for friendship as well.

In fact, one of the most fascinating things about Facebook these days is when I make a new connection and can check out all our common “friends.” So often we’ll have a few mutual contacts, and they’ll be people who I never would have expected to see grouped together. It’s a fun reminder of how small the world is.

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin talks about the psychological phenomenon of triadic closure. “People tend to befriend the friends of their friends,” she writes. “Friendships thrive on inter-connection, and it’s both energizing and comforting to feel that you’re building not just friendships, but a social network.”

This is why set-ups are such a good way to go about friend-dating, at least in the beginning. Instead of establishing a number of one-on-one relationships, you can insert yourself into a community.

But I have to say, throughout this year I have found a lot of satisfaction in relationships where we didn’t know anyone in common. Part of the reason for this BFF search was that I wanted to establish a life for myself in my new city. I knew a good number of people in Chicago prior to the quest, but I always felt like very few friends were really mine. Many of my social connections were through my cousins or through Matt, and I craved some pals who weren’t connected to those other parts of my life.

Once I made those friends—either through my online “want ad” or by signing up for various activities—not only did I feel more socially connected, I felt more at home in Chicago. Forming independent local bonds was exactly what I needed to stop feeling like a visitor in my new home.

Of course, it does get hard to keep up a handful of isolated friendships. It means separate friend-dates all the time, which can fill up a calendar but quick. My solution was to start introducing people. That way I could hang out with a bunch of my new friends at once.

Which, of course, brings us back to triadic closure and Christakis and Fowler’s 52%.

When it comes to meeting new people, which do you prefer? Do you tend to befriend your friends’ friends, or would you rather establish relationships all on your own?

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A Case of the Larry Lingertons

I’ve been in LA for work the past couple of days. The best part about taking a trip out to California—aside from the weather, which has been only ok and apparently Chicago’s been glorious, of course—is getting to see the West Coast branch of my family.

We went to dinner last night and spent a good amount of time discussing the friendship discoveries I’ve made during my search. It was an enlightening chat. In fact, the whole affair was so much fun that I announced I was going to do whatever I could to make the meal last longer. In the end this merely meant ordering tea.

I was so determined to drag out the meal that my lingering became one of the most heated topics of dinner conversation. On a date (friend or romantic), lingering is both your best friend and your enemy. In a situation like last night, the option to linger was necessary. We needed ample catch-up time.

But then there are those not-so-great dates when all you want to do is go home and your potential friend wants to take a look at the dessert menu and maybe order a frappucino.

My aunt told the story of a friend who used to give her a ride home every week after PTA. Each time they arrived at my aunt’s house, she sat with her hand on the door handle trying to escape while her friend went on and on about nothing. It was all she could do not to stop, drop and roll right out the passenger side door.

I’ve had the same experience after my own girl-dates. We’ll stand on the corner finishing up a chat, and even though I’m ready to go home I can’t figure out a delicate way to say so. “I need to get home to catch up on Desperate Housewives,” just doesn’t seem good enough.

On a friend-date, there are three ways to handle the Larry Lingertons of the world (term coined by my cousin, clearly):

1. Indulge her, because isn’t that all anyone’s looking for? A little company?

2. Explain that you have to be somewhere at a certain time so you can use the watch glance as your getaway route.

3. Take the Chandler Bing approach. “We should do this again sometime!” says the date is over, even when you’d rather shoot yourself than do it again. (Not the classiest approach, but effective.)

The linger really can go both ways. When I’m out with a PBFF who I think could be the one, I want to hug the waiters for letting us sit and chat long after the plates are cleared. But when I’m on a bad girl-date…Oh my gosh it’s like watching water boil. It’s another one of those “I thought I stopped dating when I got married” moments.

Are you a Larry Lingerton? Have you ever been out with someone who was? Any tricks for squashing the linger and cutting a friend-date short when you know there’s no future?

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