Monthly Archives: January 2011

We’re Basically Harry, Ron and Hermione

As you’re reading this, if all has gone as planned, I am the owner of a brand new wand. Or a vat of butterbeer.

That’s right. I’m on a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I know. So nerdy right? It’s awesome!

For the long weekend, I’ve come to Orlando on a girls trip. I’m with two of my oldest and closest friends—both high school pals—and there are no words for how happy I am to be here.

I can’t remember the last time—was there a last time?—that I went on a mini-vacation with friends, just because. I’m at an age where there are lots of bachelorette parties and wedding weekends, so days off are usually reserved for those special occasions. But in this case, three of us decided it was time for a getaway. (In fact, I was so dedicated to really getting away that I wrote this post last Thursday. Part of being with friends is making sure you are not distracted by technology.)

Matt, my husband, is on a friendly trip of his own. He and his four best buddies from high school are in Vegas. When I told a coworker than on MLK day Matt would be gambling and I would be playing quidditch she replied, “Wow, you’re both living your dreams.” So true.

I’ll report back tomorrow. I’m guessing the weekend involved margaritas, the Hogsmeade gift shop, the Golden Globes, hopefully some sun, and mostly lots of laughter and talking ‘till our throats hurt. (And to answer your question… No. I won’t be wearing robes or a sporting a homemade lightning bolt scar. Though I do have a t-shirt that says Muggle. But how lucky am I to have friends that enjoy embracing their kid-at-heart as much as I do?)

Have you ever taken a just-because girls trip? Let’s hear it…

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Venting or Distracting? How Friends Can Help You Cope

I talk a lot on this blog about how local friends are especially necessary for venting. I’d always rather blow off steam with a pal in person than over the phone. And I’m the type who likes to vent. If something’s on my mind, I want to talk about it. Always.

Recently my mind has been working overtime. Which, in turn, means my vocal chords have been doing the same.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed. All the venting? It hasn’t been helping. It doesn’t make me feel better. In fact, it just exacerbates the problem. It gets me all worked up.

On her Happiness Project blog, author Gretchen Rubin addresses this exact issue. The idea that “venting anger relieves it” is one of her happiness myths.

“Contrary to popular notion, aggressive ‘venting’ doesn’t relieve bad feelings, but fuels them,” she writes. “Studies show that blowing up, punching a pillow, yelling, or slamming doors makes you feel worse, not better.”

That is not to say, however, that friends can’t make me feel better when I’m in a mood. In fact, good company is just the ticket. But instead of venting, I’ve found the best thing friends can do is talk with me about everything else. To take my mind off the supposed problem. It helps me to get perspective, take a breath, and get my bearings.

Now that I’m thinking (and writing) about this, I realize I must have already had this venting-is-destructive theory in the back of my head. Why? Because I think it was the cause of one of my most recent fights with a friend.

A few years ago a close friend was upset about an upcoming work situation. I thought, mistakenly, that she wouldn’t want to talk about it. I assumed distracting my friend would help her. It would take her mind off things and all that good stuff. So I started talking about something stupid and unrelated.

This was a bad idea. My friend felt I was being unsupportive, that I was changing the subject because I didn’t care. There was a fight. Blah, blah. We got over it.

It was a good reminder that it’s not my place to decide what will help someone else cope. I may be with Gretchen Rubin on the venting-as-coping-is-a-myth bandwagon, but imposing this view on a friend is probably not a good idea. At least, not when she is in the throws of a pissy mood.

So moral of this post: Venting may be bad, distracting may be better. But listening to a friend and giving her what she needs is most definitely best.

When you’re having a rough day, what do you need from friends: Someone you can sound off to? Or someone who’ll take your mind off things?

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Just When You Think The Search Could Be Over…

You find out your new friend is moving.

Argghh!

One of my most fabulous new pals is relocating. And I am bummed.

I’m genuinely happy for her. This is great news for my friend and her husband and their East Coast-based family. But still. Boooo.

Just yesterday I spoke about how you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. A romantic partner can’t be everything. You need some friends.

Similarly, having only one close friend can be risky. You need backup. A cushion in case she moves.

I learned this lesson early on. It came up at my very first dinner with this same friend. We were really hitting it off. Conversation was easy and we lingered at dinner long after our last piece of spicy tuna had disappeared. There was a moment during all that fun where I thought, “Problem solved! I found her. Done and done.”

And then she mentioned the possibility of moving. Not right away, but eventually. It was then that I realized no matter how much I liked this new potential BFF, I couldn’t call off the hounds. The One should probably be The Ones, I decided. Just in case.

This is not to say a person needs a million best friends. I believe friendship is about quality and quantity, but it’s not like each of those buddies is going to be your platonic soul mate. Some might just be a friendly neighbor or your steady date to yoga class.

Still, it’s important to invest in those relationships. Maybe not as you would with your best friend forever, but if you devote all your social energy to one person, you might find yourself back at square one when she leaves.

In 2008, a study found that 35.2 million Americans had changed residences in the last year. The majority of those people were in their 20s and 30s. If you’re in the making friends biz, and you fall in that age range, you’ve got to be smart. Don’t open yourself up to new people only to clam back up the minute you make your friend. Not to sound all Jillian Michaels, but it’s got to be a life change, not a quick fix. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

I’m sad my new friend is leaving. I feel determined to keep the relationship thriving across state lines. Luckily email and Facebook make it easier than ever. But I’m also incredibly grateful I did the work to make as many friends as I could over the last year. Makes me feel better about my long-term social odds.

(Obligatory Friends reference: Writing this post has launched a rerun in my head of when Rachel and Phoebe take on Ross and Joey as their “backups”—the people they will marry if they’re single at 40{ish}. When Rachel tells Phoebe she can’t claim both guys, Ms. Bouffay says, “Of course I can! It’s just good sense to backup your backup!” Wiser words have never been spoken.)

Do you invest in a new friendship if you know she might move? When it comes to friends do you believe that more is more?

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The Hard Facts: The Ethics of Disclosure

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

“Researchers say that women with close friends don’t burden their husbands with all of their emotional needs. [A] 2004 Harris survey found that 64 percent of women between ages twenty-five and fifty-five confess things to their friends that they wouldn’t tell their husbands.” (The Girls from Ames, Jeffrey Zaslow)

I haven’t been shy about my opinion that the roles of significant other and BFF should be kept separate.  I know that plenty of people say that your husband should be your best friend, but those people have obviously not tried gossiping with my husband about the royal wedding, or a backstabbing ex-friend, or my facebook discoveries regarding his old girlfriends. Let me tell you, it doesn’t work.

No one person—no matter how much you love him or her—can be everything. Different people fulfill different emotional needs. Research actually proves that women with strong friendships have closer marriages. (And the boys agree! Remember my husband’s take on this search and our relationship?)

That said, I do tell Matt pretty much everything. Well, to be fair, I tell everyone everything. I’m good at keeping other people’s secrets, but horrible at keeping my own. I like sharing too much. Hence, this blog.

But even the stuff I do keep private, I almost always tell my husband. So when I came across this research, it gave me pause. Are there things I tell my friends that I wouldn’t tell Matt?

I could think of only two categories in which these things might fall:

1) Things pertaining to the man himself. You can’t vent about your husband to your husband!

2) Things pertaining to girl parts. Just saying.

I’m trying to think of other topics that some women might tell friends and not husbands and everything I think of pertains to other men—affairs with them, dreams about them, pasts with them, etc.

People often define relationships—romances or friendships—by the level of self-disclosure involved. “I can tell him anything” or “She knows everything about me” are common ways of describing intimacy. But just because you can tell someone everything doesn’t always mean you should.

I’m not advocating keeping secrets and being shady. But sometimes the nice thing to do, for a friend or in a relationship, is to not tell. If you know something is going to upset your BFF, isn’t your BFFiest move to simply not go there?

Of course there’s a line here. Yes, it will upset your friend to find out her boyfriend is cheating, but she needs to know. Does she need to know that her boyfriend lost the wallet she gave him, but replaced it himself because he felt so awful about it? Not so sure.

What are the things you would tell your friends that you would never tell your significant other? And in what circumstances have you chosen NOT to share something with a BFF, for her own good?

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A Tale of a Girl-Date Gone Right

The thing about meeting new potential friends is that you never know who might stick. It’s like dating.

“The next guy you meet could be Prince Charming,” someone might say. And you may want to strangle that person, not just for the cliché but because more often than not he’s not Prince Charming. But it’s a cliché for a reason, and one day the PC himself really could walk through that door.

That’s how it is with friends. Take this encounter, which took place at an Ugly Sweater Party not long ago.

“Rachel, I want you to meet my friend,” an old college acquaintance said. “She just moved here from New York, where she worked in publishing.”

The friend—let’s call her Chelsea—and I got to talking. I picked her brain about the book world, she politely fielded my crazy. Eventually she mentioned she was in the job market.

“There may be a position at my office,” I told her. I knew a coworker was leaving but wasn’t sure if she’d been replaced yet.

“That’d be fantastic,” she said.

When I left, Chelsea told me to keep her posted about the job. This would prove difficult since she didn’t give me any of her contact information and I’d forgotten to ask.

On Monday morning a few days later, I was on the hunt for a new girl date (and I’d heard the job was still available) so I tracked Chelsea down on Facebook.  “The position’s still open, so if you’re interested definitely send me your resume,” I wrote. “Also, would you be up for getting dinner sometime soon?”

Here’s how the rest of the week went:

Tuesday: Email from Chelsea. “I got an interview! It’s on Thursday. Now I need to pick your brain at dinner.”

Wednesday: Girl date. Sushi. Work talk (mine and hers). Fun! Friend? I hope so.

Thursday afternoon: Email from Chelsea. “The interview went well! Fingers crossed.”

Thursday night: Another email.  “I got the job! See you tomorrow.”

Friday morning: I arrive at my desk to see Chelsea sitting across from me. “Hey neighbor!” I say. We get to work.

And that is the story of how two girls went from strangers to coworkers (and cubicle neighbors) in the course of a week.

I know that this is an unusual tale. A case of the stars aligning and all that. But it’s true. It happened. And I share it with you to say: All the botched girl-dates and awkward encounters are worth it. You can’t give up because, when you least expect it, sometimes things work out.

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Friends To Talk About Nothing With

I’m obsessed with this card. It speaks to my favorite types of friendships. Sure, it’s important to have pals with whom you can discuss the important things—career aspirations, romantic problems—but it can be even harder to find a friend with whom you want to talk about the unimportant stuff.

I’ve aspired to this kind of friendship throughout my search. It’s the theory of the four jars of pickles, remember?

Lately, I’ve realized I sort of have one.

You see, my coworkers have become my sounding board for my every random thought. We never call about pickles (or really almost anything else), and rarely text when we’re off the clock. But during the workday, it’s on.

“I’m thinking of buying Birkenstocks,” I’ll tell them.

Or, “NPH would make a great best friend, agree or no?”

My thought process might go like this: As I’m driving home, I’ll hear a song that New Directions covered on Glee. Which will make me think of Santana, who is one of the most underrated voices on the show. Which will remind me of Puck, since they’re sorta dating. I’ll ponder how, while the character is so tough, the actor, Mark Salling, seems like a real sweetheart. Like that ode to Glee he wrote that went viral on YouTube? Which of course makes me think of my new most favorite YouTube video, of the father and daughter singing “Home.” And then, I’ll remember that I haven’t even sent the YouTube link to my coworkers! What was I thinking?

When I realized I can hardly form an opinion during my workday without their two cents, I asked one of my work BFFs if she thought this was getting problematic.

“Sometimes it’s important to run things by a committee,” she said.

I may have needed the committee for the Birkenstocks debate, but I certainly don’t need a one to tell me the YouTube song is amazing. Still, it’s nice to have people to analyze it with. I mean I could talk about its cuteness forever.

I got lucky that I got such great officemates. Do you have someone you’d send this card to? And have you seen my favorite video? Don’t you love them???

Exciting news! MWF Seeking BFF was featured in this week’s In Touch Weekly. There’s an article covering my experience with Rent-a-Friend on page 56 of the Jan. 17 issue, with Kendra on the cover. Check it out! (I wish I could link to it here, but it’s not online. Sorry!)

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Bridesmaids (and Brides) Behaving Badly

Wedding etiquette is a divisive topic. I learned this when the comment section blew up after I wrote about gift-giving protocol. The ensuing conversation—about what is expected and what is courtesy—was really fascinating. I loved reading everyone’s opinions. (You can still chime in!)

I’ve got nuptials on the mind right now because a friend and coworker is getting married this summer. Today she showed me a five-page bachelorette party proposal that her bridesmaids put together for her. It was a collection of options at different price points and each listing had where to stay, what to do, and where to eat ideas. It was unbelievably thoughtful, and it clearly made my friend so happy that her BFFs would surprise her with such a project.

I’ve spoken before about the tradition of bridesmaids. It’s a fascinating ritual, as it’s the only time in adult life when a woman publicly names her best friends. If friendship bracelets were the BFF labels of childhood, inviting someone into your bridal party is the adult equivalent.

One would think—or at least, I always thought—the whole will-you-be-my-bridesmaid thing would be great for a friendship. Asking someone to be in your wedding is a way of telling them how important they are in your life.

And yet I’ve heard so many stories—in real life and on this blog—of bridesmaid drama ending relationships. In one case the bridesmaid hated the husband and bowed out of the wedding, in another a bridesmaid called a few days pre-ceremony to say she “couldn’t go through with it.”

On the flip side, some wedding attendants get fed up with their bride-to-be when she starts behaving like a high-maintenance bridezilla. See? It’s dicey.

Why do weddings get people so riled up? I think it’s partly that everyone has strong—and differing—opinions about what the celebration should entail. On top of that, if there are pre-existing issues in a friendship it certainly seems like the pressure of the “job”—especially the extra emphasis on how close and meaningful this relationship must be—forces them to the surface.

And yet I feel like being in someone’s wedding shouldn’t feel like “work.” Girls aren’t asked to be bridesmaids because they’re the most qualified applicant, they are asked because the bride wants to celebrate with them. She wants to stand next to these friends on her special day. Sure you may have to plan a bachelorette party or arrive extra early on the big day, but you’re happy to because she’s your BFF, right?

I’ve only been a bridesmaid once. I only had two bridesmaids of my own. I’m lucky in that both days went off without a hitch, so I’m just speculating here about the root of the bridesmaid drama. But man, it can get serious.

Have you ever seen a wedding end a friendship? What happened? Is this just a case of girls being crazy or are weddings the occasion where all underlying tensions come to a head?

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I’m Busy. You’re Busy. We’re All Busy. Now What?

Being busy is one of the biggest obstacles to making friends in the modern age. This isn’t really news. These days, if you ask someone how they’ve been I bet you’re more likely to hear “busy” than “good.”

Everyone is overscheduled. We all take on too much. I don’t know one person who, when I ask how they are, says, “You know, my life is really calm right now. I’m a little bored.”

But since we’re all in the same boat, being busy is not a good enough excuse to avoid being social. You make time for what’s important, and I think we all know by now that fostering friendships is on that list.

So here’s my problem. Right now I, like all of you, am busy. Even busier than usual because I have a manuscript deadline looming and out-of-town trips scheduled for the next two weekends. Because meeting my deadline is not optional, it has to be my priority. At least over the next few weeks. This means I have to be careful not to overschedule myself.

I might have to—gasp!—say no.

Last weekend a new pal invited me over for a Friends marathon. I said maybe, but when my work wasn’t done for the day I had to change that to a pass. Another friend asked me to join her for yoga. Same deal: Maybe first, no eventually.

I’ve trained myself so well in saying yes that I truly hate saying no. In fact, I think I’m scared to. After passing on my last two Friends marathon invitations, I fear that I won’t get invited again. Same goes for the yoga classes. It takes a while to build up to the lazy Sunday sitcom-marathon invitation, but little time to lose it. I don’t want to become one of those people who just stops receiving invitations because they always say no.

And yet, like I said, I currently have no choice. I can’t go to work, go on my weekend trips, finish a book and say yes to all potential social engagements. There just isn’t enough time.

So what I’ve chosen to do is be very clear. To say, “I would really love to but I’m on a deadline this month and am a bit out of commission. As soon as I deliver this manuscript, though, I would really love to quote Chandler/do chataranga/watch super-skinny Natalie Portman go psycho onscreen while she’s really falling in love with her choreographer and making his lovechild with you.”

I have not earned the right with any of my new connections to become a disappearing friend. It’s far too early in my search. So I accept that by allowing myself this month of saying no, I will probably need to work extra hard extending invitations of my own in February.

No one ever said relationships were easy.

Have you had similar fears of saying no to plans with friends? When you are in a super-busy phase, how do you juggle responsibilities with relationships?

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The Hard Facts: Is It Harder to Be Friends With Rich People?

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

“Are the upper classes really indifferent to the hopes, fears and miseries of ordinary folk? Or is it that they just don’t understand their less privileged peers? According to a paper by three psychological researchers…members of the upper class are less adept at reading emotions.” (“As For Empathy, The Haves Have Not” 12/30/2010)

Wealth and status have always been touchy subjects in friendship. It’s an uncomfortable moment when your BFF wants to order a seven course-meal at the fanciest restaurant in town and you have to say you can’t afford it.

I wrote about this situation last summer and commenters got riled up. Money—especially when it’s tight—is a sore spot. One reader said she recently lost a friend because of a split-the-bill situation gone wrong.

According to this new research, people with money to spare aren’t necessarily being selfish or inconsiderate when they act clueless about a friend’s financial circumstances. They just don’t have as strong a capacity for empathy.

“Here’s why: Earlier studies have suggested that those in the lower classes, unable to simply hire others, rely more on neighbors or relatives for things like a ride to work or child care. As a result, the authors propose, they have to develop more effective social skills — ones that will engender good will.”

If you’ve never had to ask for similar help, the authors’ logic goes, then you’ve never had to hone your people skills.

It’s an interesting argument, and it makes sense on the surface. But I have plenty of friends who grew up incredibly privileged, and many of those friends now use their advantages to help others. They may not be able to walk in the shoes of the “have-nots,” but they are certainly not “indifferent to the hopes, fears and miseries of ordinary folk” and I think they do understand their less privileged peers.

I don’t do the research, I just report it, but here’s what I think (for whatever it’s worth): Empathy can be taught. If you don’t have empathy, if you can’t bring yourself to understand where another person is coming from, it might be because it was never modeled for you. Not just because you have money.

Perhaps, if one is raised in a home of privilege, she is less likely  to get empathy exposure. And thus has less of it as an adult. Maybe that’s where the research comes from.

I don’t know. It’s just a theory.

What do you think? Have you found that people in the upper-class have a harder time relating to others? Are cross-class relationships impossible to maintain?

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Friendship Memoir: Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Yesterday I finished reading Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship. The book is the story of Caldwell’s relationship with writer Caroline Knapp, who died of lung cancer in 2002.

Caldwell, a Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, captures the intricacies of friendship with a striking poignancy. Looking at my copy I realize I’ve dogeared plenty of pages throughout, something I almost never do.

When I highlight passages, I never know exactly what to do with them. It’s not like I have someone to share these nuggets of wisdom or poetry with.

Until now.

So, here, few lines that gave me pause:

“Finding Caroline was like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend, then having her show up at your door funnier and better than you had conceived.”

“”We talked for the rest of the walk about what a swampland this was: the world of envy and rivalry and self-doubt (between women, and writers, and women writers), about insecurity and power differentials.”

“I had a number of old and solid friendships, male and female both, but these days most of the local ones belonged in the second circle of intimacy—the people you’d call when you were hit by a bus, but not necessarily if you’d merely sprained an ankle.”

“’Men don’t really understand women’s friendships, do they?’ I once asked my friend Louise, a writer who lived in Minnesota. ‘Oh God, no,’ she said. ‘And we must never tell them.’”

“Most of us wander in and out of one another’s lives until not death, but distance, does us part—time and space and the heart’s weariness are the blander executioners of human connection.”

I share these quotes because in many of these cases Caldwell has summed into one sentence what it often takes me an entire post to communicate—I mean, the want ad? Hellooo? That’s me! (The one placing the ad, clearly, not the “funnier and better” one.)

In Knapp, Caldwell found the very BFF I’ve been looking for. I certainly don’t wish her story on myself—I can’t even fathom the pain—but it’s interesting to read the tale of someone who found her friendship soul mate later in life, when she wasn’t really looking. Apparently, it really happens.

Have you read Let’s Take The Long Way Home? What’d you think? And do you have any recommendations for my friendship-memoir reading series?

I meant to say this yesterday, but we’re still in New Year territory right? Right?!? Anyway… A great way to start your 2011 on a friendly foot might be to “like” the MWF Seeking BFF Facebook page. Get updates on posts, MWF news (I think 2011 will be a big year!) and join the discussions. Or just do it ‘cause we’re such good friends. Thanks!

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