Monthly Archives: November 2010

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.


Filed under The Search

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?


Filed under The Search

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?


Filed under The Search

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?


Filed under The Search

Friendship, Decaffeinated

I am detoxing.

One of the studios where I practice yoga leads a seasonal wellness cleanse. I’ve always been both intrigued and skeptical of the cleansing practice, but as it turns out this one isn’t so crazy. It’s mostly clean eating—vegetables, fruit, lean protein, nothing with more than five ingredients—and cuts out dairy, gluten, soy and caffeine. Definitely a change to my diet, but no lemon-maple syrup-cayenne pepper elixirs.

I was on the fence about signing up until I learned that there is a hefty community component to the studio-run wellness program. The two weeks are designed around a support system. We come together for three lectures, plus three yoga classes and a movie night. Ample time to find another BFF contender.

And not that this is a diet program (though maybe it should be), but there’s plenty of research that shows weight loss programs are more successful when you have group support. I figure the same must be true of cleanses. Plus, you have no choice but to be a bit vulnerable in these kinds of programs, which can help foster trust and connection.

So yay! Finally, yoga friends. I’ve wanted to meet fellow yogis—and I do have some new chataranga-loving pals—but actual yoga class is a hard place for picking up chicks. Everyone’s all zen and centered. So this community cleanse is the perfect plan.

Except for one thing. Without caffeine, I’m kind of the worst. I’ve had a headache since Saturday afternoon. I’m tired. My brain is fuzzy and jumbled like a static TV. I’m grumpy.

This is no way to make friends.

There are two personal circumstances that I must always have in control when meeting new people: Hunger and energy.

I’m someone who has been known to cry when she is too hungry. Like actual tears. I know, it’s juvenile and obnoxious. I’m not proud. But when I am starving, I lose some rationale. When I start whimpering, Matt and my mother both know there’s only one thing to say: “We need to get you some food.”

Shove some Chipotle in me and I’m good to go.

And when I’m too tired or haven’t allowed myself a caffeinated beverage in two days, then I can’t focus on anything other than the little man hammering inside my head.

Neither are good first impressions to make with PBFFs.

I know that this headache/exhaustion phase will pass, but for now it has me thinking about circumstances in which it is never good to meet new friends. Situations in which you may act out of character and perhaps turn off a promising pal, so instead you cocoon until your crazy-phase passes.

For me it’s hunger and caffeine-deprivation. For others it’s cramp-filled PMS. I know some people from whom, the minute they get overwhelmed at work, I politely step back until they turn back into Dr. Jekyll.

What about you? Are there times in your life when you know you’re in no shape to meet anyone?


Filed under The Search

If I Lived In The Interwebs

When you do a lot of Internet surfing (which, ok, maybe I do), you come across various strangers who you might be keen on turning into friends. People write blogs or post videos that make you think, “If we knew each other, we’d totally be BFFing it up at brunch.”

For example, there’s this girl. You’ve likely already seen this video (in viral video years, it’s ancient) but it never gets less amazing. I could use this little one’s go get ‘em attitude in my life, pronto. Also, her hair is the envy of every curly girl in America.

Then there is the author of this amazing blog post. In “My Son is Gay,” the writer defends her 5-year-old son’s right to wear whatever Halloween costume he chooses—in this case Daphne from Scooby Doo—without be subjected to the ridicule of his classmates. Or, really, their mothers.  “If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot,” she says. “Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off.”

Um, I think I love you. I certainly want to mother like you one day. Won’t you be my best friend forever?

And finally, there is Harris. I’m not posting the video here as it’s a little lower on the self-affirmation scale and higher on the Not Suitable For Work-o-meter. But let me just say that while comedian Aziz Ansari is hilarious (and this is one of my most favorite stand-up clips of all time) it’s his little cousin Harris—who he lovingly skewers in this bit—who has stolen my heart. Harris loves Burn Notice. And Cinnabon. And AP World History. What a doll.

Have any Internet sensations earned virtual BFF status in your life? Please do share. That’s the good thing about an imaginary online friendship circle. There’s always room for more.

Happy Friday everyone.


Filed under The Search

The Club Scene

Last night was one of my favorite evenings of the month: Book Club. As the night drew to a close, I polled the crowd for today’s blog topic.

“You should write an ode to book club,” one fellow member said.

No joke, I’ve actually had plans in the works to do just that.

So, here, a limerick for your enjoyment.

There once was a girl who loved reading
New people she had trouble meeting
She joined a new book group
They drank wine and ate soup
Their friendships were not even fleeting

Can you believe I composed the entire thing during the cab ride home? That’s some poetic prowess. Watch out Shel Silverstein Billy Collins.

But the reality is that book clubs do deserve an ode. As do cooking clubs or knitting clubs or any other club you might form (um, Babysitters?) that provide some consistency of meeting.

I formed my first book club when I lived in New York. Matt and I had broken up for a few months and I was looking for a social outlet to meet new friends and take my mind off the boy troubles. We ended up gathering a group of about 10 people, and over the next few years the members—the majority of whom I didn’t know previously—became some of my closest friends. (A quick search of old emails tells me that the very first book club meeting of that group was on 11/10/2004. Six years old in one week!)

I’ve since moved, of course (as have almost all the original members), but I’ve found two book clubs in Chicago that provide similar female bonding time. And I’ve inadvertently formed a cooking club.

If you’re on a BFF search but pressed for time, forming groups like this—centered around whatever you might be passionate about—is probably your best option. There are a few important reasons why:

1) You meet new people. When I started my book club, I invited two friends to form it with me. Each of us then invited two people the others didn’t know.

2) There’s consistency. It’s impossible to forge a true friendship without it. Recall Shasta Nelson’s rule: You need to see someone twice a month for three months before you will call them a friend. I buy it, but I’d amend it to say that the math here works: 2x/month for 3 months=1x/month for 6 months=4x/month for 1.5 months. So while once-a-month clubs take a little bit to pick up in the friendship department, they work.

3) In the early days when no one knows each other, you’ll have something—The Help, grilled cheese, the scarf you’re making for your niece—to discuss.

So if there are other seekers out there, I urge you to pick your passion and form your group. Who knows, it could even turn you into a modern-day Longfellow.

Have you ever formed a club of any sort? Do you want to? Share success stories—and any questions!—here.


Filed under The Search

First Impressions Count

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

Within just 10 minutes of meeting, people decide what kind of relationship they want with a new acquaintance.” (“Study: First Ten Minutes After Meeting May Guide Future of Relationship,” Ohio State University Research News)

Face it. We’re a judgmental bunch. We’d all like to believe otherwise—it’s more in keeping with our moral code to assert that we’re open to everything, that we could befriend anyone. And maybe some of you can. But if science is accurate, we decide who deserves our time pretty quickly out of the gate.

According to research conducted at Ohio State and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships a few years back, we have a ten minute window in which to win over—or repel—a friend. It’s not so short that we’re going on looks alone, but it’s hardly long enough to get deep into the core of someone’s personality.

And once you’ve made the snap decision of where you want the relationship to go—BFFs, frenemies, civil acquaintances—you can’t help but lead it there.

“If I think we could become friends, I’ll communicate more, tell you more about myself and do things that will help ensure a friendship does develop. If I have a more negative prediction about a future relationship, then I will restrict communication and make it harder for a friendship to develop,” study co-author Artemio Ramirez, Jr. told the Ohio State Research News.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been guilty of this. It can be an especially alluring trap when you’re meeting people one-on-one for the sole purpose of assessing potential friendship. Take my improv class. I have to do scenes with a person regardless of whether I like him, so there’s less pressure on sizing up where I want our personal relationship to go. But when it’s just me and a PBFF sitting across the table on a first girl-date, we’re obviously feeling each other out, mapping our entire future together.

It’d be more fun if we could speak this aloud, at least the positive reactions. I have new friends to whom, upon first meeting, I would have very much liked to say “You seem like the kind of pal I could have a slumber party with.” ‘Cause that doesn’t reek of creepy predator.

Of course, knowing me as you all do, I’m sure you’ve already figured that, sometimes, I do say this.

In fact, reaction to a slumber party invite might be the very thing to make this judgment even more quickly (and accurately?). Cowering in horror? Maybe we’re not the best fit. Clapping wildly with excitement? This could go somewhere.

Have you been guilty of the 10-minute judgment? Was your initial assessment accurate? Do you have a trick for avoiding the 10-minute trap?


Filed under The Search

Friend By Day, Wife By Night

I’m leading a double life.

There’s friend-making Rachel and married Rachel. Two separate but equally important people.

When I first started this search I consciously chose to do it on my own. The quest was—and is—about being a woman in a new city and how hard and hilariously awkward it can be to try and make new friends. I happened to be married at the time, but it was something I’d been thinking about since I moved here three and a half years ago.

So while Matt and I already had a few couple friends, and I figured more might emerge, he wasn’t included in the friending process. The ladies who passed muster would meet him eventually.

But now a lot of women have not only passed the sniff test but have become actual friends. And they still haven’t met him. They haven’t even seen him. I’m pretty sure they think I made him up.

Last weekend Matt was out of town for a work conference. One of my new friends had a birthday party and another of our friends brought her husband. It would have been the perfect debut, but alas, lawyering called. When I hosted these same girls for my getting-to-know-you pizza party months ago, he escaped to watch basketball elsewhere. People in my LEADS group seem genuinely surprised that I am doing it without my husband, and they always invite him (via me) to go to the bar with us afterwards. But it’s on weeknights and Matt gets up early for work, so partying at a bar doesn’t exactly fit in with his schedule.

Last week, after the birthday party, I was carving pumpkins with the same two girls and we were talking about the elusive Matthew. “He’s like Snuffleupagus,” one friend said.

When Matt got back from his trip I told him about the exchange.

“What does she mean, Snuffleupagus?” he asked.

“He was Big Bird’s imaginary friend at the beginning. Whenever the adults tried to meet him he disappeared.”

“This changes everything I ever thought about Sesame Street,” was all he could say.

I purposely kept these two aspects of my life separate at first. But I never really thought about how hard it might be to balance friends and marriage. When I spend too much time with friends, I miss QT with my husband. When I spend non-stop time with Matthew, I start craving girl talk. Other than a few double dates with other married friends, I haven’t yet figured out how to blend the two.

Have you ever struggled with the friendship-marriage balance? I can’t even imagine what happens when you have kids…

As for the Snuffleupagus thing… At least he’s not compared to Oscar.


Filed under BFFs and Marriage

I Saw the Sign

Yesterday at yoga class the teacher played a soundtrack full of songs I didn’t know. But my friend, who has much more sophisticated music tastes than I, told me afterwards that it was a fabulous playlist. Apparently our teacher had us downward dogging to a hidden track on an indie album that, again, I’d never heard of.

“I love that song! She’s my best friend and she doesn’t even know it,” my friend said.

When someone shares my favorite book (The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien) I think it means we are friendship soul mates. By this logic my two closest pals should be Amanda Peet and Matt’s ex-girlfriend.

Back in the early days of this blog’s life, a reader commented about her “major BFF chemistry” with her new hairstylist. The clincher? The same cult film changed both of their lives. Reader wrote, “I have yet to find another female—or person, really—whose approach to life was transformed by Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a punk-rock musical about a cheeky transsexual German immigrant.” That certainly does sound like a special bond.

It’s fascinating how we put such weight into arbitrary similarities. Although, really, they aren’t entirely arbitrary. If I met someone who loves Glee, I wouldn’t think it meant we were destined for BFFness. Everyone loves Glee. But of all the books in the world, for someone else to choose The Things They Carried as their single most favorite? The only reasonable explanation is that we must think alike, share values and thus, of course, be best friends.

Authors Ori and Rom Brafman write about “the seductive power of similarity” in their book Click. “When we discover a shared similarity with someone we’ve just met—and…it doesn’t matter in which areas the similarity occurs—we’re more likely to perceive the person as part of what psychologists call an in-group.” They go on to explain that we think of in-group members as more attractive and better people.

The authors say that it doesn’t matter what people have in common. “Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”

Is that really surprising? Sure, aversion to McDonalds tells you less about a person’s character than political affiliation does, but the chances of someone sharing your political party are pretty high. If I met someone who shared my political views (and almost everyone I meet in Chicago does) I wouldn’t assume we could be friends based on that alone. But if I met someone who hated mint and strawberries? That’d be too unusual. I’d have to befriend her.

I’m guessing my friend was right. I bet she and the yoga teacher—with their way-too-cool-for-me indie music tastes—would hit it off.

Do you think you can pinpoint a potential friend based on random shared tastes? Have you ever had that “we’re meant to be” moment, in which someone is as passionate about an obscure obsession as you are? Or is this an entirely silly notion perpetuated by romantic comedies and the like?


Filed under The Search