Monthly Archives: January 2011

When Is it Time To Let a Friendship Go?

Most of the time, this blog is about  new friends. How to meet them, nurture them, keep them. It’s important stuff.

Equally important though? How to let friends go.

Yesterday a new pal told me that she and an old BFF have been growing apart. They live next door to each other, so they have every opportunity to hang out like they once did, and yet they’re continually drifting.

“Instead of trying harder and reaching out more, I’ve been pursuing other interests,” she told me.

This is an option that almost never occurs to me.

I’ve made no secret on this blog of how hard it is for me when people are upset with me. I’m sure this is some deep-seeded issue with which some therapist could have a field day. (This is not an invitation…) In that same vein, it’s hard for me to just let a friendship go. I forget that sometimes a relationship can grow apart naturally, and that that’s ok.

The friend in question is younger than me, and most definitely at a place in her life where people grow apart. Instead of holding on to the past, she made a healthy decision. She decided to pursue the new activities and people in her life that make her happy.

So my question is, how do you know when it’s time to let a friendship go?

It’s one thing if one person moves and the distance makes it harder to connect. But if you live next door? Is there an amicable way to separate and move on?

I’m not  sure that it’s possible to grow apart but still maintain a friendly relationship.When friends drift (aside from the moving far away scenario stated above) there’s usually one party feeling left behind. Whether the catalyst for the separation (yes, I’m using dating language again. That’s all there is) is kids, a new job, a new beau, or just old-fashioned outgrowing each other, someone’s going to feel the sting.

Although, now that I think about it, that might be girl-specific. Guys don’t seem to mind it. Whenever I hear about two men having a falling out, I try to grill Matt for specifics. Who dumped who? Was he sad? Hurt? Is he trying to woo his BFF back?

And then my husband looks at me like I have three heads. “No he didn’t try to win him back,” he say. “They’re guys.”

Oh, yeah.

Many things to cover: 1) When is it time to let a friendship go? 2) Can a friendship ever separate amicably? 3) Do girls have a harder time with fading friendships than guys do?

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The Hard Facts: The Role Genes Play in Friendship

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

You might have more in common with your BFF than a shared passion for football, politics, or kitty cats. Just like members of the same family, you and your ‘bestie’ could be sharing some very compatible genes, according to a new study published Monday in PNAS, the journal of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.” (“Friends feel like family? You make be genetically tied,” msnbc.com, 1/17/2010)

This latest study from James Fowler (who’s already brought us such doozies as how your parents affect your popularity and why any two of your social contacts probably already know each other) has identified a specific gene that, if two people both carry it, makes them more likely to be friends. DRD2, the gene in question, is said to be associated “with alcoholism, among other things.”

The logical next question, then, is are the genes really choosing our friends? Or are two people with a tendency toward alcoholism more likely to meet (in, say, a bar, or AA) than another two people. It’s a little bit chicken or the egg.

The authors of this study aren’t claiming to have the answer just yet. But they are saying that finding genetic links could be the “beginnings of a scientific explanation for the elusive quality of ‘chemistry’ among friends.”

Of course, in the same study, they reveal that another gene—CYP2A6—has an opposites attract effect. People who carry it, the authors found, are attracted to people who don’t. CYP2A6 is “associated with an ‘open’ personality.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I assume it’s someone (like me, maybe?) who is happily willing to share things about herself with the people she meets. It’s that same question again. Is it really the genes determining friendships? Or is someone who is especially “open” more drawn to someone who is a bit more “closed”? Someone who complements her outgoing nature with a quiet calm?

I’m never quite sure what to make of some of the friendship research. Like with so many studies, the findings of one often seems to contradict those of another.

Even Fowler himself said that the idea that one gene would be attracted to itself and another would be attracted to its opposite “should not be true at the same time.” I do love it when researchers readily admit there’s more work to be done.

Personally, I believe in nature and nurture. Obviously it’s a bigger debate than I can adequately address in this blog. But I am willing to say it’s hard for me to imagine that who you’re friends with is mostly due to how your genes match up. Just seems to me there’s more to it… but what do I know? I’m no geneologist. Maybe I just like the notion of letting that “spark” feel like magic, as opposed to tracing it to some fancy lettered gene.

Do you believe genes help determine your friendships? Or is it more of a nurture thing? And, when it comes to who your friends are, do you even care about these kinds of studies?

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A Lesson I Should Have Learned In Kindergarten

Yesterday was one of those fun flying days where I got to the airport two hours early only to find out my flight was cancelled and I wouldn’t be on a plane for at least another five hours.

Awesome, right?

Let me backtrack first to say that, of course, my trip was wonderful. Three days of friends, wine, theme parks (Harry Potter and Sea World), relaxing by the pool, football (well, they watched, I mostly read), Golden Globe red carpet analysis (and tears when Chris Colfer won, obviously) and non-stop chatter. I’m really pushing for this to be the first annual.

The only buzzkill of the trip came when I arrived at the Orlando airport to find that my 11:30 am flight had been cancelled and I had been booked on a flight at 2:20… the next day.

These are the moments when I see how this search has changed me. My former self would have been so annoyed that I wouldn’t have been able to be friendly. I’d like to think I would not have been mean to the ticket agent, but I’m pretty sure there would have been lots of silent fuming and “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all” tongue biting. People aren’t stupid. When you’re pissed at them, they can see it, even if you’re forcing yourself to remain civil.

During this search I’ve done my fair share of chatting up potential new friends. I’ve learned how to talk to anybody, in just about any situation. And so when Alan the ticketing agent told me my options, I didn’t get angry or go silent. I just laughed at my good luck and talked with him about my weekend and the weather in Chicago.

Alan told me that I could either head back to my hotel and come back tomorrow, or stick around for a flight late that evening that had a good chance of being cancelled.

“Then you’ll have to come back to the counter, talk to us again, and maybe end up back where you started.”

“Will you be here?” I said. “You’re nice. I don’t mind talking to you again.” Bear in mind Alan was about 60. This wasn’t flirting. He just seemed like a nice guy. He seemed interested enough when I told him I’d been in Potterville and when we looked at the Chicago snowflakes on my weather app.

“I’ll tell you what…” he said, and proceeded to take my phone number and promise that if he saw any seats open up on the next flight to Chicago—one he seemed to think would get out—he’d book me and call me immediately. “It’s a hail Mary but we’ll try.”

And so I got some oatmeal and got out my book and 35 minutes later I had a call. Alan came through for me. I don’t think I won him over with my dazzling charm or anything. I think I lucked out with a nice agent (I’ve encountered plenty of horrid ones) who was willing to help out an friendly customer. (I can’t imagine the kind of angry mobs they probably deal with.)

It’s a totally cheesy and obvious lesson, but one that I’ve been reminded of so many times this year.

If you are nice to people, they are more likely to be nice to you.

Like I said, nothing earth shattering. But easy enough to forget when you’re stranded and helpless in an airport at 9:30 on a Monday morning.

Going on a friend search has switched my default button from keep-to-myself to chat-with-others. It’s a nice change. Without it, there’s a decent chance I’d be sitting in an airport right now.

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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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