Monthly Archives: February 2011

When You’re Mad at a Friend

It’s rare that I get angry at my friends. I’m lucky in that I’ve mostly outgrown the girl-fights stage of my life. In the rare instances I do get annoyed with a bestie, my thought process—and subsequent—behavior,  usually follows these steps:

1. Silently fume and overanalyze in my head. Decide that I am not going to be confrontational this time because it’s not worth it and this too shall pass.

2. Confront the very friend I promised myself I wouldn’t be confrontational with. Sometimes in the form of A Talk and sometimes an email. Sure, I resolved to let it go, but I can’t help myself. I want to discuss. To fix. (For a long time this was how I dealt with my romantic relationships too, for better or worse.)

3. Regret bringing it up. Confrontation, I’ve found, often results in tension and bad blood, even when everything has supposedly been worked out. With emails, I often feel better after writing said message—but worse after sending it. The issue that has me all riled up is usually something small, something I could have gotten off my chest with a simple yoga class rather than starting a whole Big Thing. (There are times when talking it out really is the best option, but usually my frustrations with friends are so minor that a confrontation isn’t necessary. Even if it is, a yoga class is still a good idea. Get zen and level-headed. If you’re still upset after you leave the mat, you know your emotions are for real.)

4. Apologize for making a bigger deal of something than necessary. Even if I was legitimately upset, I often decide to take the hit and just say I’m sorry for bringing it up because I hate being in a fight.

I realize that this general plan of attack might seem a bit crazy. I’m upset, I bring it up, I regret bringing it up, I apologize and take all blame. It’s not the best conflict resolution mechanism.

But like I said, these days I’m older, wiser, and fight much less. When I am annoyed at someone, I make a concerted effort to stop myself at step number 1. Silently fume, and then jump to 3b, the part about going to yoga to work out my frustration.

I know many of you out there might say that talking things out is always the way to go. Women love a good talk. And I think that’s true for bigger issues, things that 1) could actually be solved and 2) could ruin the friendship if not worked out. But I’ve done enough talking in my relationships—both the platonic and romantic ones—to know that discussion is not always the best course of action for me. Probably because I tend to be impatient, so I decide to have The Talk when I’m all worked up, instead of waiting until I’ve cooled down to see if confrontation is really the best route.

What are your conflict resolution strategies when it comes to your pals?


Filed under The Search

Are You a Connector?

Ever since moving to Chicago I’ve been fascinated by stories of how good friends met. It was on my mind long before the ideas for this search and blog were hatched. Probably because the moment I realized how hard meeting friends is, I wanted to be inspired by others. Or more accurately, I wanted to steal their tactics.

Some friends met at work, some bonded when they became across-the-hall neighbors, others connected at bachelerotte parties for mutual friends. I’ve heard everything from “we were set up” to “we bumped into each other at a grocery store.” The stories are as varied as the people who tell them, but they all used to make me  jealous. That could have been me.

Last night I made two girls in my book club tell me the entire story of how they met. I didn’t want to hear their usual “we have a mutual friend” info. I wanted the nitty gritty rundown of the friend of a friend of a friend who brought them together.

One of the interesting things about these stories is they always involve a Connector. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his fascinating book The Tipping Point, a Connector is one of those people who seems to know everyone and is often responsible for two other people getting together (for friendship or otherwise.)

You’d think that a Connector should be the really friendly type, the person who prides herself on being BFFs with everyone she’s ever met. But I’ve found that a connector isn’t necessarily the life of the party. She can be the quiet one, as long as she’s interested in the people she meets. She collects new acquaintances like your son collects baseball cards.

As my fellow book clubber was telling me the story of how she met one of her BFFs, I watched her suddenly realize that a certain old friend was almost always responsible for the new friends she made.

“It’s so weird,” she says. “’Cause she’s not especially social.”

When I first read The Tipping Point I was definitely not a connector. I knew some people, but not enough to qualify me as a girl who brings people together. These days, after a year spent meeting all the potential friends I could, my Connector rating has gone up significantly.

And this isn’t all just in my head. Gladwell has a really fun exercise that allows you to assess whether or not you are a connector.

So? Are you usually the connector or the connectee?


Filed under The Search

Where Do You Find These Friends, Anyway?

There are always articles in Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire on the best places to meet guys. Never have I read one on the best places to pick up friends. And yet, it seems that would be pretty helpful.

Long before I started this blog I would talk to family members or close friends in other cities about my idea for a “search” and it always ended with me asking, “Where am I supposed to find these friends anyway? At yoga? The bookstore? Awkward.”

It was from that kernel of an idea that this blog was born. And since then I’ve made some discoveries. Like that yoga isn’t the best place for friending (people go to the mat for quiet internal reflection or for a get-in-get-out workout), and that meeting someone at a bookstore is plain impossible (try going on a Tuesday morning when every female customer is attending storytime with her kid. You’ll make it one lap around the children’s section before you book it for fear of being mistaken for a child predator. Or maybe that was just me.)

Places that work better:

1) Volunteer work. I did One Brick, a fabulous no commitment volunteer organization. That worked best for my busy schedule, and there’s a social outing after each project. You might want to sign up for something that involves more commitment to ensure more consistency with your potential friend—your call.

2) The Internet. Online dating caught on, online friending must not be far behind. My Internet classified came in the form of an online essay. Perhaps yours would be on Facebook or Twitter or Craigslist (I’ve heard quite a few Craigslist friendship success stories, but be careful, please). When I wrote my essay I got emails from tons of women in the same boat, and just last night I had a girls’ night dinner with 7 of them. Success.

3) Classes that meet often and require you to be vulnerable. This might be an acting class or an improv class or even a religious group. In my case it was improv.

4) Restaurants. I made a new friend because she was my waitress and I left her a note. She emailed me back and now we’re buddies. You can do like I did and leave her a “will you be my friend?” note, or, perhaps less terrifying (and more expensive), you can become a regular and chat her up each time you’re there. I’ve found that people in the food service industry are talkative and like to meet new people.

5) Running group. When you’re training for a race, there’s not much to do during those long runs other than talk to the folks running next to you. Those kinds of talks for miles at a time every week can add up to real friendship real fast. I haven’t done this personally, but I know plenty of people who’ve made new friends this way.

Your turn. What did I leave off?


Filed under The Search

The Hard Facts: Friends Are the Ultimate Anti-Aging Secret

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

“Afraid of becoming disabled in old age, not being able to dress yourself or walk up and down the stairs? Staying physically active before symptoms set in could help. But so could going out to eat, playing bingo and taking overnight trips… A person who reported a high level of social activity was about twice as likely to remain free of a disability involving activities of daily living than a person with a low level of social activity, and about 1.5 times as likely to remain free of disability involving instrumental activities of daily living or mobility.” (“Higher Levels of Social Activity Decrease the Risk of Developing Disability in Old Age,” Science Daily, 2/17/2011)

I am continually amazed at how important being socially integrated is to one’s health. I launched my BFF search in order to find partners for playdates, but it seems I might have earned the added gift of extra years—healthy, physically able, mentally competent years—on my life.

Thank God, too, because this search did nothing good for my workout routine or healthy diet (damn those wine calories). Clearly the best plan is to do both—working out with friends is a long-life twofer—but at least my girls nights haven’t been for nothing.

This particular study looked at 954 adults with the average age of 82, none of whom had any disabilities to start. In this case, disability was defined as the ability to “perform six daily activities without help: feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring and walking across a small room. They were also asked whether they could perform three tasks that require mobility and strength: walking up and down a flight of stairs, walking a half mile and doing heavy housework. Finally, they were asked about their ability to perform what are referred to as ‘instrumental’ activities of daily living, such as using the telephone, preparing meals and managing medications.”

(Let’s just take a moment to recognize the ridiculousness and amazingness of the word “toileting.” Really??)

The results found that staying social doubled your chances of performing the bathing, feeding, toileting etc, and increased by one-and-a-half your ability to do the tougher stuff like walk a half-mile (not easy in your 80s!) and managing medication.

Personally, I’m pretty keen on the idea of toileting all by lonesome for as long as possible. I’m less interested in doing heavy housework into my 80s, but I guess we can’t have it all.

If you’re teetering on the brink of a friend search, what most motivates you to get out there and give it a shot? The research about the benefits to physical health and survival? Or the more personal stories of  successful friend-pickup attempts?


Filed under The Search

Which is Harder to Find: Romantic Dates or Friend Dates?

Yesterday I started reading a book called The Science of Single. You may wonder why I’d read a dating book, considering the fact that I’m married.

Here’s why: The author’s project is incredibly similar to mine, save for two small details. 1) Her search takes place in Washington D.C., and 2) She’s looking for boyfriends rather than best friends.

The Science of Single author, also named Rachel, “committed a year of her dating life to trying every mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) method of meeting potential mates, from single’s events and dating coaches, to speed dating and online personals.” She spent a year romantic-dating, I spent a year friend-dating.

Rachel Machacek feels about dating exactly as I feel about searching for friends. She discusses how hard it can be to meet someone “naturally” but also that if you do the work and put yourself out there, dates aren’t that tough to find. First dates, that is. Connecting with someone who you want to see again, and maybe again and again, is a different story.

The premise of The Science of Single got me wondering: Which is harder for women—finding a spouse or finding a BFF? And who is easier to meet and date? Potential suitors or potential friends?

Now, I recognize that I lucked out in the romance department. Meeting your husband in college is totally the easy way out of the dating scene. But my personal experience aside, I’d still argue that if you are new to a city, romantic-dates would be easier to find then girl dates.

There is a protocol, a vocabulary, and a playbook for dating. Generally, people know the etiquette of meeting someone and going on a date. Singles aren’t embarrassed, from what I can tell, to be on the market for romantic dates. Also, there are a million services/websites/mixers geared toward daters. According to Machacek, dating is a $1.8 billion business, “and there are thousands of resources everywhere for the people who are looking to date.”

Looking for friends as an adult hasn’t reached the social acceptance that romantic dating has. To discuss my BFF search, I have to borrow lingo from the singles scene. There are some services—speed-friending, friendship matchmakers—but they are few and far between and only a couple of years old. From my own experience (and that of some readers who’ve been kind enough to share), starting a search for friends is embarrassing. I thought about my local friend dilemma for two-and-a-half-years before I decided to ignore the humiliation and mention it in public. Now I know that I had nothing to be embarrassed about, but I had to work up the nerve to discuss it on this blog in order to figure that out. And I’d venture to guess that the monetary value of the friending business is way lower than $1.8 billion, though I don’t think anyone has ever studied it.

This is not to say that dating is easy. I know that it’s not. But if you are starting at square one in both the romantic and friend dating arena, I still say you might have a harder time finding a best friend than a boyfriend… (I’d add to that argument that the best friend is the more vital relationship).

What do you think? Do you agree? Or is my head just clouded by all friends, all the time?


Filed under The Search

The Green-Eyed Monster

Here’s a friendship cunundrum: While your BFFs are supposed to be the people you root for and help succeed, one of the most common sources of platonic breakups is jealousy. She lands a promotion or gets into a great school, or maybe she gets engaged or pregnant or meets the perfect guy, and instead of being genuinely happy for her, you’re about 80% happy and 20% jealous. And as things keep going her way, the jealousy festers and the 80/20 split is suddenly closer to 50/50.

This type of frenvy (different than the envy that arises when you see your BFF growing close to other friends) is present in many female friendships, according to social psychologists. And my question is, why?

The more I try to uncover the root of this particular relationship plague, the more I think it’s not that complicated. Yes, we love our friends, but when someone achieves something we want for ourselves—a raise, a gorgeous new sweater, a 10-pound weight loss—jealous feelings emerge. And when it comes to close friends, I propose that two factors contribute to our jealousy:

1)    The In-Your-Face factor: If you hear through the grapevine that an acquaintance got a fat raise, you may have a momentary flash of envy, but it dissipates quickly. You hardly see her, so you don’t think much about it. But if your BFF is suddenly bumped up a tax bracket, you’re probably confronted with this new reality pretty often. The more she (inadvertently or not) calls your attention to her new income, the more jealous—and perhaps bitter—you become.

2)    The It-Could-Have-Been-Me factor: You might dream of winning a Golden Globe one day, but you probably aren’t legitimately jealous of Natalie Portman because it doesn’t really feel like the statuette could have been yours. When it comes to close friends, we know their shortcomings. If something great happens to them, it’s easy to question how they got so “lucky,” as friends don’t seem as untouchable as Natalie Portman. If your BFF, with all her quirks, can find a man/job/little black dress on sale in the perfect size, then why can’t you?

I was thinking about this in the first place because a dear friend of mine was featured on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times Business Section! I am incredibly proud of him, as this is someone I’ve been friends with since I was an 18-year-old freshman roaming the dorm hallways looking for a late-night snack ten years ago. And now he’s being featured in the Sunday New York Times. I mean, really. Amazing. (Check out the article and then check out his dating website,

In this case, I can say with 100 percent honesty that I am ecstatic and not jealous. It got me thinking: Why are we jealous of friends sometimes and not others? (In this instance: 1) This friendship goes so far back that I want nothing but success for him, but also 2) I am not an entrepreneur so being in the business section of any paper isn’t a dream of mine.)

I anticipate there are people out there who will say a true friend should never be jealous of her BFF. And maybe it’s true, but it’s not reality. Jealousy exists, unfortunately. The question is: When does it start to erode a relationship?

Why do you think friends often grow so jealous of each other? How do you suggest they keep the green-eyed monster at bay? And, in your own life, has frenvy ever been the culprit in a falling out?


Filed under The Search

The Latest Movie BFFs: Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin

I’m posting the movie trailer below for a few reasons:

1)    I was perusing (as I do approximately 12 times a day) and the headline read “’Something Borrowed’: Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin Play BFFs In Love With The Same Man.”

2)    Every now and then this blog needs something light and frivolous.

3)    I’ve never read Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed, but I feel like I’m in the minority and I’ve been told time and again that it’s great, so I like getting the Cliffs Notes from the trailer. (Never mind that the 2:31 trailer seems to give the entire plotline away, that Kate Hudson seems to play the exact same person she did in Bride Wars, and that her character seems like no one anyone would ever be best friends with—who steals their BFFs crush??)

4)    I really really want to know: Has this ever happened to you? Not the romantic comedy happy ending part (I’ve never read the book but I do have a hunch how it ends), but the part about being into the same guy as your best friend? It has happened to me in the early stages—we both think he’s cute—but not in any serious manner. If you’ve been in this scenario please speak up—how did it play out? Are you still friends? Did anyone end up with the guy?


Filed under The Search

When Your Boyfriend Meets Your Best Friends

Last weekend, as you may know, I went to San Francisco. I was there to visit some college friends, but a large motivation for the trip was to meet one of said friends’ boyfriends. They’ve been together for about a year and a half, and, until Friday, I was the only close friend who hadn’t met him.

I wasn’t going out there to give him my seal of approval (though I do approve!), I just felt like if I didn’t make a trip, there was a good chance a very close friend would suddenly be engaged to a guy I’d never even met.

Yesterday I spoke to another friend who is going through the same thing. Her best friend should have arrived in Chicago with her new boyfriend last night. “They’ve been together for six months, so it was time,” my friend said. “Even he knew he had to meet me. I’m in the inner circle.”

The whole “presenting your boyfriend to your best friend” thing is complicated. It’s not like my pal would have broken up with her new man if I didn’t like him. Not even a little bit. It’s a matter of wanting your romantic partner to get along with your platonic partner: “You’re both in my life and not going away, so you better get to know each other and get used to it.”

Or such is the general message.

When it comes to boyfriends, meeting the friends is not unlike meeting the parents. Some might say it’s even harder. Friends can be uber-protective and highly judgmental. It’s likely that they’re the ones peeling you off the couch/giving you pep talks/listening to you analyze every minor Facebook exchange after a breakup. And if you end things with a guy and then get back together with him, it’s likely your best friends are the ones who will be least welcoming upon his return. Like I said, uber-protective.

While you probably won’t break up with a guy simply because your friends don’t like him, if he wins over your friends—if they adore him—you may find yourself even more into him. Admit it, there’s nothing sexier than when a guy charms your BFFs.

So the big question is: When do you make the big introduction? Do you present your potential man to your BFFs right away because they can smell crazy on a guy from 300 yards away? Or do protect him for as long as possible, because your best pals are a bunch of vultures, looking to pick apart any guy you bring home?


Filed under The Search

The Hard Facts: Why We Stick To Our Alliances

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

“[There’s] new evidence supporting the so-called ‘alliance hypothesis’ of friendship, which states that individuals’ feelings about their friends are based mostly on how those friends feel about them.” (“Research Suggests Friendship Is Built on Alliances,” Penn News, 2/3/2010)

I was initially intrigued by this article because of, duh, my love for Survivor. Turns out it has nothing to do with my favorite reality show (or its crush-worthy host), although the concept of alliances on the island isn’t totally dissimilar from this new BFF hypothesis.

At first glance, this new research doesn’t really seem like news. We like the people who like us back. So what?

But the researchers say the alliance hypothesis is in opposition to the friendship motivators most people believe in. It “contrasts with the more conventional ‘reciprocity’ theory of friendship, which holds that humans make friends mostly in order to reap the reciprocal benefits.”

I’ve often mentioned here that reciprocity is a rule of friendship. If I make plans with a new friend, she should (eventually) invite me places in return. If I give her a ride to the airport, she shouldn’t mind driving me home after dinner one night. Not exactly eye-for-an-eye, but the concept isn’t too far off.

These researchers are saying it’s not about keeping score, it’s about who likes us best. We are jealous creatures, and we want the friends we rank as “best” to put us in their top spot in return.

It sounds petty at first: We only like people because they like us? What about appreciating people for their kind hearts or sense of humor or generosity of spirit? But think about it seriously. What’s your reaction when Sally says that Jenny is her very best friend forever, and Jenny says Sally is a just-ok buddy.

It comes off as sad. Desperate even. Like poor Sally is hanging on Jenny’s every word. They’re like Gretchen Wieners and Regina George.

People want BFFs to share half-heart necklaces with. And if your BFF values you as much as you value her, shouldn’t reciprocity logically follow? You’ll want to do nice things for each other, in a relatively equal amount?

Of course, this is where Survivor does indeed tie in. You are in an alliance with someone who you hope likes you as much as you like them, and thus will want to keep you until the end. (Unbelievable side note: I actually didn’t realize that Survivor premieres tonight until half-way through writing this blog post. It’s some sort of cosmic love between me and Jeff at work here.)

If you had to pick, which “friendship hypothesis” would you say drives your relationships? The reciprocal, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” theory? Or the alliance “you like me the best so I’ll like you” principle?


Filed under The Hard Facts

The First Step

I spent yesterday afternoon with a friend who has just moved to San Francisco. She’s been here two weeks and is in the early stages of her own BFF search. Plenty of her friends are willing to set her up with pals in the Bay Area, she says, but she doesn’t have the easy, go-to BFF that I set out of search of a little over a year ago.

Walking around the city with someone who’s in the same place as I was when I first moved to Chicago, I felt like I’d traveled back in time. Except this time, I had all the friendship weapons in my arsenal. Back then I was a JV friender, now I’ve made varsity.

When I first started this search I felt really lost about where to even begin. I was so overwhelmed by the vast ocean of potential BFFs in Chicago that I missed perfectly good friendship opportunities right in front of me. I didn’t always recognize the opening. When I did, it made me nervous. Matt would say, “You should talk to her. You could be friends,” about women with whom I chatted in a bar or a clothing store. I was sure he was crazy.

A year later, I’m super attuned to every friendship opening, however small. Like in Lulemon yesterday, when a salesgirl mentioned she was new in town. “You are? So is my friend!” I said to get the ball rolling.

I’m a regular Patti Stanger.

During that same Lululemon trip, my friend remembered that she and the assistant manager, another recent transplant, had a mutual acquaintance. “You have to introduce yourself!” I said.

She didn’t. (I understand this. Making friends is a lot of work, and when you’re out window shopping with an old pal, it’s fun to pretend said workload doesn’t loom like the storm cloud over Eeyore. It’s a welcome break.)

My immediate reaction to the seemingly innocuous observations that the salesgirls had recently moved to San Francisco was to pounce on them for my friend. Some BFF radar went off in my head. I contained myself.

I didn’t have this friendship reflex last year. It’s further evidence of my belief that friending is a muscle. It needs to be exercised, and the more you practice, the stronger you’ll be. Plus, you need to train your brain to recognize a friendship possibility when it presents itself.

If you are someone looking for new pals, challenge yourself to recognize how many times a day small interactions occur that could be spun into friendships, or at least-girl dates. You don’t need to take the “relationship” any further, just train your brain to spot the possibilities.

It’s a first step.


Filed under The Search