Monthly Archives: December 2010

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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How Comfortable Is Too Comfortable?

Last night, while I was trying to come up with the perfect topic for today’s blog, I asked Matt what I should write about.

My brilliant, sophisticated, lawyerly husband responded: “Write about when you start farting in front of your friends.”

“Clever.”

“Seriously! Guys fart in front of each other all the time. Do girls? Do you fart in front of your friends?”

“My really close ones,” I said. “But no, usually not.”

When it comes to bodily functions, I’m not modest. Close friends know I’ll talk about toilets all day long. That said, I’m pretty sure no one comes to this blog to read about farts, so I don’t want to dwell on flatulence.

Yet there is something to the question of when, in a friendship, we get to a place where absolutely nothing is off limits.

In my own friendships, it doesn’t take long before I’ll say anything. My thoughts escape my mouth long before I have time to decide what’s appropriate.

When it comes to doing anything, that’s where I get shy. Back in the days when Truth or Dare was actually something we played at parties, I always always always picked truth. I had nothing to hide so I was willing to open up. (And besides, that Skeletons in the Closet 90210 episode with Kelly Taylor’s bulimic friend was totally awesome television.) But potentially taking on a dare and making a fool of myself? That was terrifying.

It’s funny. Like Matt said, guys will burp, fart, whatever, in front of each other without giving it a second thought. But when it comes to opening up emotionally, that’s where they get uncomfortable.

With girls it’s the reverse. We’ll tell someone our life story before we’ll feel comfortable getting all gassy in front of her.

I wonder why that is. I’d love to say it’s just because girls are classier, but there’s more to it I think.

Wait. No. Maybe there isn’t.

Given all the measurements of closeness I’ve toyed with throughout this blog—the last-minute-brunch-date comfort level, the why-do-I-have-four-jars-of-pickles phone calls, the would-I-ask-you-for-a-ride-to-the-airport scale—it seems that an am-I-willing-to-let-one-rip-in-front-of-you barometer is just wrong. And yet, at least for women, I do think it represents an entirely new level of intimacy.

As I get further along in this search I’m starting to feel like Barney Stinson, continually coming up with new theories that seem inane until, upon further review, they appear totally logical.

After all, admit it. You only fart in front of your most favorite friends.

On Monday, I will return to the classy stuff. But for now, for Friday, let’s open ourselves up to some toilet talk. Especially since my oh-so-mature husband might have had a point.

Tell the truth, do you fart in front of friends? Could feeling comfortable in a gassy situation be the ultimate sign of close friendship? Or should some lines never be crossed?

And then enjoy this bit from the master of random theories himself, Barney Stinson. Happy Friday!

 

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Nobody’s Perfect; Or, How I Could Be A Better Friend

Over the last nine months I’ve analyzed all types of friends—new and old, male and female, those who flake and those who disappear entirely. I’ve focused, overall, on the behavior of others and how they live up to my expectations of friendship.

What I haven’t done, really, is turn the magnifying glass on myself.

I try hard to be a good friend. If someone I love needs me, I do my very best to be there. But I’m hardly perfect.

I can be bad at returning phone calls.

I interrupt.

Worse yet, I often interrupt with stories about myself. Ugh. Obnoxious.

Sometimes I do this thing where I’ll show up at your birthday party, and, when you thank me, I’ll be like “Of course! I wouldn’t miss it, no need to thank me.” But then in the same breath I’ll be like “I hope you don’t mind I’m still in my work clothes, I’ve had such a long day that I haven’t had a chance to go home and change. And can you believe I had to wait in line outside to get into this bar? In the cold? Alone?”

Like, what do I want? A medal?

A better person says “Of course! I wouldn’t miss it, no need to thank me.” Period.

In college, I remember one of my roommates mentioning, in passing, that I sometimes snap at my friends. She said it so nonchalantly, as if I obviously knew that already.

I’m sure I have more shortcomings in the friendship department. I like to think I’ve grown out of the snapping thing, but the other faults? I’m a work in progress.

It would be impossible to spend almost a year examining friendship without discovering the places where you come up short. It’s my hope that my relationship strengths—I care deeply, I love to make my friends laugh, I’ll always show up and I hear what you have to say (despite the interrupting thing… like I said, I’m trying to fix it)—make up for the areas where I need work.

Now that I’ve become aware of these tendencies, I’ve been focused on catching myself in the act and changing my ways. They say the first step to recovery is recognizing the problem. If that’s true, I’m en route.

Have you ever taken a hard look at your friendship flaws? What are they? How did you/do you hope to make changes?

{Side note: Last night was the final night of Chanukkah. I got a Snuggie, that I am wearing as I type. I am OBSESSED with it. If you have any writers in your life, I highly recommend this comfy cozy Christmas gift.}

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The Hard Facts: Walking Can Help You Make Friends

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

“People who live in walkable communities are more civically involved and have greater levels of trust than those who live in less walkable neighborhoods. And this increase in so-called ‘social capital’ is associated with higher quality of life.” (“Walk Places, Meet People, and Build Social Capital” Science Daily, 12/7/2010)

I started thinking about the difficulty of modern-day friending as soon as I moved to Chicago. I worked from home and had a limited number of local contacts to help me build a social network. And the Midwest is friendly, sure, but I could easily be anonymous in this big city. Unless I actually walked up to a random stranger at yoga class, I had no idea where to start.

I figured a small town would be easier. Everyone would know everyone and neighbors would stop by with welcome-to-the-neighborhood bunt cakes.

Until my mom told me that the creepiest thing about moving to a small town was how empty the streets were. “There was no one else walking down the sidewalk,” she said. “It occurred to me that I could be abducted right there and no one would even notice.”

Well, that wouldn’t be good.

New research supports my mother’s take on the City Mouse vs. Country Mouse debate. People who live in walkable areas are more involved in their communities and thus more social.

The issue, from what I can surmise, is twofold. 1) If we must drive every time we want to see other humans, we’re not gonna. We’ll just look at people on our TV. We’re a lazy bunch.

2) If you’re driving everywhere, you’re automatically interacting with fewer people. You’re not going to meet someone while you’re crossing the street like my friend Jenna did. Or when he knocks you down and causes the contents of your purse to go flying. Wasn’t that the beginning of Carrie and Big?

Now that I think about it, the walkability of my neighborhood has indeed provided me with a few friends. There’s the salesgirl on my corner, whose store I frequent whenever I need a quick get-me-out-of-the-house walk around the block. Then there’s the girl (not yet a friend, but maybe one day! I’m working on it…) I met through my cleanse, which I only signed up for because it was at new yoga studio a quick walk from my house. And I have a friend who I met through my online essay, but the fact that she lives two blocks away means we have started to hang out for Friends marathons on lazy Sundays.

I guess walkability isn’t actually limited to cities, and non-walkability isn’t strictly small towns or suburbs. L.A. is the least walkable place on earth, isn’t it? Is it the hardest city for friending?

Have you found that being able to get somewhere on foot makes for an easier time of making friends?

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Battle Wounds

I was injured in the line of duty. Friending, as it turns out, can be dangerous work.

Remember my LEADS group? The program for young Chicago Jews I signed up for? I was hesitant about it at first, worried that I might be giving a false impression of myself considering I’m not especially religious. As it turns out, it’s been a pretty positive experience. Despite concerns that my lack of Jewish knowledge would make me a laughingstock, the only time I’ve been mocked was when I parted my hair down the middle to try to represent Jesus in a game of charades. The mockery was warranted.

I’ve made some new friends through the program. In fact, last Friday Matt and I were invited to a small Chanukah dinner hosted by a potential BFF I met through this venture.

It was a pretty uneventful evening, until one of the guests asked our hostess to show off her strength. You see, she had a pull up bar hanging next to her door, and said guest wasn’t convinced she could actually execute.

Of course, the child that I am, when I heard she was doing pull ups I wanted in on the action.

“I wanna try! I wanna!” I have no idea if I could do a pull up, so naturally I’d want to give it a whirl in front of a roomful of people. My turn never came, though, because when my friend grabbed for the bar it came crashing down. On my head.

“Man, that hurt,” I said, as my hand flew to my noggin. And then. “Um, there’s blood. Everywhere.” I ran to the bathroom to check out my war wound. It was only a small cut, nowhere near as big as all the blood on my hands and face warranted. The cut was surrounded by an egg-sized goiter protruding from my forehead. There was blood on her floor, in her kitchen, basically anywhere I’d stepped foot. Awesome.

In the end, I was fine. I iced my head for three hours, forced myself to stay awake to be sure I wasn’t concussed, and came out of it with only a scratch. No stitches necessary.

And the subsequent story was worth the pain. What better way to make a memory than to have a friend clobber you on the head. I can just see us in 50 years, drinking iced teas in our old person’s home, reminiscing about the day I almost bled out in her Lakeview apartment.

These are the kind of adventures that turn someone from potential to genuine BFF.

Friending. I tell ya. It’s not for the faint of heart.

{Do you have any friending war stories? Memories of a night gone wrong that elevated a friendship from sorta to for-real? Share below!}

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Watch Your Words

I wrote a post a while back about the quotes that make a frenemy. Things like “you look tired” and “are you really going to eat that?” Blech.

But recently a reader questioned my inclusion of this statement: “I’m so glad you broke up with that asshole. I never liked him.”

When I wrote this, I explained that “If you speak these words, know that it is a virtual guarantee they will get back together. And I assure you: She. Will. Not. Forget.”

I stand by this.

Reader, after seeing my frenemy post, wanted advice on what to say to a friend who she thinks is in an unproductive relationship. The friend isn’t getting what she wants and isn’t being treated as she should, Reader says.

But Reader doesn’t want to harm her friendship by telling truths her BFF might not want to hear.

It’s a sticky situation. We’ve all been there.

A good friend should indeed be honest if she’s worried about a bestie’s romance. The trick is figuring out how to share those concerns.

From my experience, saying, “He’s a jerk, you deserve better” never elicits a positive response. No woman wants to hear that her friend hates her boyfriend or disapproves of her choices. On top of that, the implication that we put up with bad treatment—we are empowered women!—can be humiliating. So instead of breaking off the romance, we sever the friendship.

This is a gross over-simplification of a falling out, but I’ve seen this kind of fight take place. It’s upsetting and uncomfortable and not entirely unusual.

So here’s what I wrote to Reader:

“If you think your friend is being treated badly, you’re right to want to talk to her about it. The trick is in how you tell your friend what you think. Rather than phrasing it in terms of what is wrong with her boyfriend, make it about how much you care about your friend. As in, ‘How are you feeling? From what I hear you saying, I worry that you aren’t getting what you want out of your relationship, and I just want you to be happy.’”

I realize how life-coach jargony this sounds. It sort of makes me want to puke up rainbows and butterflies.

But I think this is an instance when the self-help speak is spot-on.

Once you insult a friend’s boyfriend, she often shuts down and simply doesn’t acknowledge what else you have to say. So I told Reader to talk to her friend, but I steered her away from the “you deserve better” comments. In fact, I suggested not mentioning him at all. She will bring him up.

Make it about how she feels rather than what he’s doing wrong.”

Do you agree with this advice? Do you have anything other words of wisdom for Reader? (And if you’re ever looking for friendship advice, feel free to email me. I’ll respond with my two cents, and open it up for discussion, if you want.)

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Going on A Manhunt

Matt and I met when we were freshmen in college. I’ve become increasingly grateful for this fact, as I don’t think I could have hacked it in the world of romantic dating. Friend dating is hard enough.

There are moments, though, when I wonder if I missed out on some character building experiences. Crappy dates, bizarre suitors… it’s the stuff great stories are made of.

Coupling off so early also meant that I missed out on a BFF rite of passage: Trolling for men.

Going out on the town, sizing up the single guys, it’s as good a female bonding activity as any. And though I can try and scope out the man folk for my single friends, it’s often an activity better left to those in the trenches.

So you can imagine my excitement when I had a classic wingwoman experience earlier this week.

A new friend of mine has a crush on a boy. She’s been into him for a few weeks, but hasn’t yet done anything about it. So a few days ago, I offered to get things moving. With her approval, I wrote down her contact info and told said boy that my friend thought he was cute. I told him that, if he was single, he should get in touch with her.

The whole situation made me feel like I was in high school again. In a good way! Sure, I was legitimately nervous before approaching the boy in question (Why? Who knows. Probably because I’m a nut job) but I was downright giddy when I returned to my friend, whose smile took up her whole face. We giggled and analyzed and it was fun. And girly. And friendy.

My wingwoman performance wasn’t as impressive last night, when I joined another new single friend for a Chanukah party. Walking through the crowd, I watched as partygoers looked each other up and down. When guys approached my friend, I awkwardly stared at my wine glass—neither helping her hit it off nor saving her when I knew the conversation had probably turned painful. Like I said, I wouldn’t hack it in the dating scene. I get weird. (Do we not remember the hugging incident??)

But playing the wingwoman—even when I sucked at it—felt like a badge of honor. It can be goofy or uncomfortable or a great success, but it’s what friends do.

Got any great tales of being the wingwoman? Or want to weigh in on the dating scene (am I lucky to have skipped it or did I miss out on some life-changing stuff)? Whatever your comment, sound off below!

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