Monthly Archives: December 2010

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Once upon a time, being neighborly meant stopping by the house next door and popping in for a cup of coffee or a quick chat. Showing up unannounced? No problem, we’re neighbors!

Nowadays the rules have changed. The modern-day definition of a good neighbor is someone who keeps to herself. She’ll drop off your mail if it’s delivered to the wrong house, but she won’t ask questions or pass judgment when she notices you subscribe to US Weekly and Star.

I’ll be honest, when one of my neighbors comes unexpectedly a knockin’ I’m usually not thrilled. It always seems to come at the wrong time, like when I’m sitting around in my PJs and not feeling especially fit for company. But as part of this search I’ve made it a goal to befriend—or at least become acquaintances with—someone who lives in my building.

I live in a mid-rise apartment building—we have four floors with about six to eight units per floor. It’s big enough that I don’t know most of the other residents, but small enough that it feels like a little community. So when I saw one of my neighbors at the grocery store recently, I ignored my initial urge to put my head down and gun for the produce. Instead, I approached her.

I introduced myself and we started chatting. And then I mentioned that I’d love to get lunch sometime, that I’d been wanting to meet some of the other residents in my building. So we made plans.

I’m excited about this potential relationship because while I’m not anxious to go back to the random neighborly pop-in, it would be nice to have someone close by to watch TV with or borrow an egg from.

In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam points to the decrease in neighborly visits as evidence that there’s been an overall decline in “social capital” in the U.S. But I think the old idea that you should automatically be pals with your neighbors doesn’t make much sense. After all, you moved there for the home, not for the company.

Neighbors play a very specific role. Sure, they might become friends of yours, but it’s not necessary. To me, neighbors are like freshman year roommates. They don’t need to be your BFF, they just need to be someone you can live with. Someone who you trust to keep an eye on your house while you’re away, or who you’d be willing to leave a key with in case you lock yourself out.

What do you think? Do you miss the old days, when Mr. Rogers made neighbors into friends? Or are you happier with today’s expectations of privacy, no matter whom you live next door to?

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I Guess I Should Start Watching The Big Bang Theory

Do you have a formula for friendship? You gotta admit, Sheldon’s is pretty on point.

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An Order of Friends, With a Side of Adventure

When I set out on this quest my sole purpose was to make new friends. Now that I’ve been at it a while, there have been some side effects. I’ve become friendlier. I’ve grown more self-aware regarding my own relationship shortcomings. I’m more appreciative of my alone time and of time spent with my husband.

And I’ve become more adventurous.

If a person is serious about making new friends, she has to look outside her comfort zone. She has to put herself in situations that lend themselves to bonding. Situations that make her uncomfortable. Situations that make her so uncomfortable that she wants to crawl into a hole and hide in embarrassment because she has no idea what the hell she is doing.

Situations like improv.

I’ve mentioned my improv class before, but it really is the best example of how this search has changed me. A year ago I would have laughed in your face if you suggested I do something that involved performing in front of other people. I signed up because I knew it would force to me to connect with potential BFFs, and since I repeatedly said I’d do anything in pursuit of friends, I had no choice. If I was going to talk the friendship talk, I wanted to walk the walk.

After my first day I had thoughts of never returning. “I’m so awwwwkkkward,” I told Matt.

The awkwardness continued. But as I got to know my classmates I cared less and less. Six months later, we’ve met once a week for 24 weeks. I’ve made some real friends. We’re kind of like a dysfunctional family.

And tonight? Tonight I will actually do improv. On a stage. In front of strangers. Who will pay for tickets. (Only $2, but still.)

That’s right. It’s my first show. Er, demonstration.

I’m totally nervous and excited and terrified. But I’m also impressed with myself for having the courage to do it. Let’s be clear, I’m no comedian.

There was a time (like, yesterday) when I would flat out refuse to make a fool of myself in public. If I wasn’t good at something, I wouldn’t do it. Period.

But things have changed. I forced myself to do whatever it took to make friends. And when those new friends said “You should take the second level of classes with us! And the third!” I couldn’t resist. And now I’m performing on a Second City stage.

And that, my friends, is the power of a BFF search.

Have friendships ever forced you out of your comfort zone? New Years Resolutions are around the corner, anyone thinking of launching a search of their own? You never know what the side effects will be!

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The Friendship I Covet

I added a new show to my weekly rotation. This is a big deal since my weeks are already at capacity with How I Met Your Mother, Glee, Law & Order: SVU, Modern Family, Survivor, Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, 30 Rock, The League, Private Practice, and Desperate Housewives. And those are just the shows in season right now (forget about Biggest Loser and Friday Night Lights, two more faves).

Wow, that’s a little embarrassing. Please don’t judge.

But anyway. The latest series to steal my heart is a reality show on The Sundance Channel. Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys. According the website, the show is about “celebrating the special relationship between straight women and gay men.” The series documents the lives of four straight-girl/gay-guy couples. In some cases their friendship dramas are universal—one girl is clearly jealous that her BFF is getting married before her. Others, like the guy who asked his best friend to be his surrogate, are more specific to the gay-guy/straight-girl thing.

No matter. It’s all equally fascinating.

I’ve always wanted a gay BFF. I can promise that this dream came out of more than just Will & Grace (though it obviously perpetuated the yearning). In the opening credits, one of the women in Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys says that “there’s something about my relationship with a gay man that I cannot get in a relationship with a girlfriend.”

I think she’s right, but I want to know what that “something” actually is.

It’s tough to pinpoint, but after my recent four-episode marathon, I think I may be onto something.

Here’s my hypothesis: A woman isn’t always completely honest with a female friend because she worries about offending her. (No matter how much you love your BFF, will you tell her the jeans she paid top dollar for make her look fat?) For that same reason, friendly teasing can be a minefield.

With guys, you can jab and speak up and be completely honest and the chances of them getting offended are scientifically proven to be lower. To that end, they’ll likely be honest with you in ways females wouldn’t dare.

With gay BFFs you get the best of both worlds: The platonic intimacy of female friendships, and the tolerance for offensive behavior—and thus more honest communication—of men.

Doesn’t it sound dreamy?

So yeah, I need a gay BFF, stat.

Do you have a gay best friend? What do you think makes the straight-girl/gay-guy relationship so special?

And if you’re going to tune in to Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, please note that I am obsessed with Sahil. His dry wit! His Justin Bieber hair! I’m not so into his straight-girl BFF, but he’s a keeper. {Watch clips of the show here and here}

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I’m Sorry, So Sorry

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

“Researchers analyzed the number of self-reported offenses and apologies made by 66 subjects over a 12-day period. And yes, they confirmed women consistently apologized more times than men did. But they also found that women report more offenses than men. So the issue is not female over-apology. Instead, there may be a gender difference in what is considered offensive in the first place.” (“Women Apologize More Frequently Than Men Do,” Scientific American; 9/25/2010)

I’ve always been big on apologizing. At least with friends. Well, specifically with friends. If I’m snippy with a pal, I’ll express my regret pretty quickly. I get embarrassed by my bad behavior, and scared said friend might get angry with me. And I’m someone who hates, absolutely hates, when someone is mad at me. I’ve mentioned this before. I always think of this Office quote from Pam: “I hate the idea that someone out there hates me. I even hate thinking that Al-Qaeda hates me. I think if they got to know me, they wouldn’t hate me.”

Yes! Exactly!

In order to avoid tiffs with friends I’ll almost always bite the bullet. Though it’s probably worth pointing out that this hasn’t come up in a while. But in middle school? I was an “I’m sorry” machine.

Let’s face it, I probably did something worth being sorry for. (Except in the evil letter incident. That was all her.)

I’ve never observed anything similar in male friendships. I’ll witness an exchange between two guys and think, “Woah, someone better apologize but quick or this friendship’s kaput.” And minutes later they’re all buddy-buddy again, laughing and drinking beers.

Um, don’t you remember him calling you a douchebag ten minutes ago? Aren’t you, at least, peeved?

Turns out that the answer, often, is no. These men are not peeved. They have a “higher threshold” for bad behavior. Something that might be grounds for friendship dismissal to a woman may be a non-factor to a guy.

This research, though not shocking, provides a good context for why female friendships might be plagued with more petty fights than male relationships (bromances, if you will). We find more behavior offensive. While we apologize more, we probably also get mad more.

Drama drama drama.

There’s insight to be had here into romantic relationships too. You know that moment when you demand—or at least strongly request—an apology, and he says “I’d apologize if I thought I did something wrong”? That moment you want to ring his neck a little bit? Turns out he’s not trying to be difficult. Just honest. (Still, that line is the worst.)

Have you noticed that women apologize more than men? If women get mad more, and apologize more, does that mean that men have it easier friendship-wise? I don’t want to believe it, but this round might go to the guys.

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More Than Friends?

As part of yesterday’s discussion of celebrity friendships, I mentioned that when famous BFFs are uberclose, people sometimes think they’re gay.

In response, a reader commented that because she hangs out a lot with her best friend, people joke all the time about them being “together.”

Apparently this kind of speculation isn’t limited to celebrities at all. Any two women who spend a good amount of time in each other’s company might automatically be deemed more-than-friends.

What is with that?

Strong female friendships are about providing support systems and cheering squads, and if you’re really lucky you might find your other half. The person who understands you in a way that other women don’t and other men can’t.

But what part of that says “We’re having naked pillow fights and snuggling into bed together every night”? Because you know that’s what some guys are thinking… or praying for.

The speculation about the “nature” of specific female friendships is likely due to a lack of understanding. To start, men just don’t get it. They may have close friends, but the level of intimacy is different. Men are happy enough just hanging out, while women provide each other with so much talk time that they’re basically in therapy.

As for the ladies who assume any strong female friendships must be lesbian relationships, well that’s likely a case of misunderstanding too. Plenty of women have never had that one best friend who does it all, so it can be hard to fully understand the lets-do-everything-togetherness of some BFFships.

Wait, I just had a thought. Could it be that women have a specific amount of true friend-love to give, and that affection can either be entirely directed at one person (a la Lucy and Ethel), resulting in a super-tight friendship, or at a small group of people (the ladies of Sex and the City or The Babysitter’s Club), forging a number of close relationships, or to a much larger group in smaller amounts, leaving someone with a ton of pals but few truly intimate friendships? I don’t know. But it does seem that I’ve heard from plenty of people who fall neatly into those categories.

I can see this happening even in my own life. As I make more and more local friends with this search, it becomes harder to keep up with all my old friends across the country. There is only so much time and energy to give.

Ok, I got sidetracked. The question of the day is, why do people think extremely close female friendships must actually be lesbian relationships? Is it simply lack of understanding? Or do people who haven’t had a similar friendship need to believe there’s a reason why they’ve never been there? Or do people just like labels, and BFF doesn’t seem strong enough?

{And ok, fine, does my friendship distribution theory hold water?}

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When Your Friendship Is In The Spotlight

There was an interesting profile in yesterday’s New York Times about the friendship between legal analyst Dan Abrams and Men’s Health Editor-in-Chief (and Eat This, Not That titan) Dave Zincenko. In many ways, theirs seems the kind of friendship that anyone would envy. In Zincenko’s own words, “it’s very authentic.” They “challenge each other, and help each other thrive in this strange and occasionally wicked…world.”

The two have recently gone into business together, and at the end of the article, Dan Abrams comments on how many people would love to see them fail. Perhaps he’s talking about their joint venture going under, or perhaps he’s talking about their individual careers tanking.

Or perhaps the failure he’s talking about is the undoing of their friendship.

These days, famous friendships are subject to the same kind of media and tabloid scrutiny as are celebrity romances. If you’re super close, people assume you are gay. If you hang out with other pals, you must be frenemies.

US Weekly reports on BFF breakups—Lauren and Heidi, Paris and Nicole, Denise and Heather—just as they do the split of Christina and Jordan or Courteney and David…. And what do we do?

Eat. It. Up.

I wrote once about how it might feel to have a celebrity BFF. But what if you are both celebrities? Or, in the case of Abrams and Zincenko, just really high profile? I would imagine that maintaining a friendship in such an environment would be tough. It might lend itself to competition or jealousy. Or mistrust and fear that everyone just wants a piece of you.

But the biggest obstacle to the friendship, I’d imagine, would be the fact that any tiny disagreement could become fodder for tomorrow’s tabloid. And there’s nothing the masses like more than to read about a relationship on the outs.

Of course, it also might be really nice to have a pal and confidante who understands the crazy paparazzi-laden public life you lead.

All I can do is speculate since the closest thing to fame I’ve ever had was a mention on Howard Stern when I wrote a piece about vibrators in college. True story.

Why is it that us regular folk love to track famous friendships? Is it a desire to have what they have? Or just a fascination with anything celebrity? And why, so often, do people root for them to fail?

{Side note: Speaking of famous friends, my friend and his blog are in The New York Times today! Check out the article, and then wander over to the NYC Nomad. Though his project is different from mine, we’re both ultimately about reaching out and connecting with people. You’ll like! You will!}

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