Monthly Archives: February 2011

Do You Need To Know A BFF’s Family For Her to Be a BFF?

I’m in San Francisco for a long weekend visiting college friends. It’s been a refreshing few days—sunshine, long walks outside in mid-60 degree weather, No Strings Attached (much better than I anticipated. Turns out I love Ashton and Natalie!), and delicious dinners.

Last night, we ate at my friend’s parents’ house. I hadn’t seen them in about six years but things picked up as if no time had passed. Such a cliché, I know, but the truth.

On the drive home, my friend and I were talking about dinner in the context of this blog. “Do you think knowing a BFF’s family makes the friendship stronger?” she asked.

The short answer: Yes.

When it comes to my oldest friends, the people I met back in my school days, I’ve spent time with all of their parents and siblings. Slumber parties, weekend visits, graduation celebrations—they all involved family bonding. Knowing where (and who) a person comes from helps you understand who she is. It helps you complete the picture of her life, to put a face and personality (a real one, not the one she makes up in the my-mom-is-driving-me-crazy tales she tells after an exhausting phone call) to some of the most important players in her story.

When it comes to friends I’ve made since I moved to Chicago, I’ve only met the families of two people. It was a real treat. I had those moments of “Oh, that’s why you’re like that!”

I know the same is true of when people meet my mom. This apple didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree.

As it is with dating, “meeting the parents” is a friendship milestone. People say it’s because they don’t want to bring anyone home to Mama who isn’t going to stick around, but it’s more than that. Introducing someone to your family is revealing a raw part of yourself. You can’t put on an act in front of family, they’ll always call you out. The real you will peek through. Sometimes we’re not ready for the new people in our lives to get a glimpse of our true selves.

So I say yes, knowing someone’s family does make the friendship stronger. It’s not that you can’t be great friends without memorizing the family tree. You can. I know this because I have some of said friendships. But in every instance the relationship would only grow deeper if I met her parents and vice versa.

What do you think? Do you have to know a friend’s family to truly know her? Or does that need fade as you grow older?

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Can Men Write About Female Friendships?

The other day a friend sent me a link to an article on Empowher.com called “Do You Have Some Bad Friends? Fire Them!” When I clicked on the link I didn’t expect to see anything new, just the usual rundown of why certain friendships turn toxic and why doing a friendship cleanse can be the best thing for your emotional health.

Before I could dive into the text, I was struck by the story’s byline. It was written by a man. Not a psychologist or therapist or relationship expert. Just a guy.

To be fair, this author seems like a wonderful person who, according to his bio, was the caregiver to his wife during four bouts with breast cancer. He is the founder of an organization called The Patient/Partner Project and the author of a book called “Cancer for Two.” So it’s not like he’s some Joe Schmo off the street.

But still, my first thought when I saw his name was, “What could this guy know from BFF breakups?”

A lot of what Dave Balch writes is spot-on. Like, “the bottom line is that relationships with some friends are more stressful than they are beneficial.” And “we sometimes end romantic relationships when they no longer work; why is it so hard to end friendships when they no longer work?”

But then I came to this line, regarding the decision to dump a friend: “It only hurts for a little while.”

Here is what I have learned while writing this blog and hearing from women who have broken up with friends: It hurts for a long while.

This reaction to severed friendships is the most striking difference between men and women. Men have a really hard time wrapping their heads around how difficult it can be when two friends “separate.” To guys, it’s good riddance. While women are agonizing over what went wrong, and just how horribly guilty we feel (even when we know we did the right thing), men are wondering why we even broke up with said friend if we’re just going to weep over it all the time.

I’m not one to say that men shouldn’t write about women’s issues. One of the great friendship books I read last year, The Girls From Ames, was written by a man. But one of the great parts about that book was that author Jeffrey Zaslow addressed his vantage point as a female friendship “outsider” from the get-go. He was honest about the fact that, as a man, he couldn’t presume to truly understand female friendship without immersing himself in the research and the women he studied.

The author of this article clearly didn’t do anything wrong, and the advice he gives is pretty solid. But as I read the piece, with the caveat that it was from a man’s perspective in the back of my head, I couldn’t help but smile when he wrote: “It only hurts for a little while.” I’m still holding a grudge about the friend breakup from fourth grade. I know. Mature.

Ah, men. They just don’t get us.

Do you take issue when men write stories about female relationships?

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What Improv Taught Me About Making Friends

When you go on as many new girl dates as I have (about 60 at this point!) there are bound to be ones that are better than others. During some, the conversation flows. It feels as if you’ve met your long lost soul mate, and suddenly a million things you didn’t know you’d been holding in come pouring out. You’re telling her about your job and childhood and that time in 3rd grade when you stole Sally’s chocolate chip cookie (it was a dark dark day that I’d rather not talk about). Others aren’t quite so easy. As with romantic dating, there are some first girl-dates that are a disaster from the start. You can tell immediately that you don’t click, and you learn just how long an hour is when you notice every…second…passing.

The hardest part of bad girl-dates, for me, is the awkward silence. You can almost see it coming down the pike. You both sit there, staring at each other, trying to think of something—anything!—to fill the void.

One of the first tenets of improv is what’s called “Yes, and…” The idea is that you always want to take what your partner gives you in a scene and build on it. So if you say “Billy, it’s so strange that Mom made us wait for her in this dungeon,” a great partner won’t say, “This is the basement not a dungeon, stupid, and that wasn’t even our mom it was my teacher.” Instead she’ll say “Yeah, that is strange, especially since this dungeon is at the bottom of a castle and mom is terrified of castles.” This way you’re building a story, adding layers with each line of dialogue. As my teacher would say, saying no closes the door, saying yes opens it.

I’ve learned over time that this “Yes and” approach works for real-life conversation too. No matter how painful a get-together is, accepting and adding to whatever your date gives you will keep the conversation going. It might even lead it in a positive, not-entirely-unpleasant direction.

The correlation between “Yes, and” and real-life socializing hit me the other night while I was in a cab. My taxi driver started chatting away the minute I closed the door. Normally I would have smiled and nodded but remained silent, a deliberate indication that I’d rather ride in silence. Instead, I decided to “Yes, and…” him.

When the cabbie volunteered that he spent his blizzard days catching up on movies like Green Hornet and Wolverine and X-Men, I countered that, “Yes, I know those movies but I haven’t seen them. You must really like action flicks. You might like The Fighter. Not action, per se, but fighting.”

To which he replied that he was more into “movies with guns” than boxing movies, though “as Oscar contenders go, I really liked the King’s Speech.”

“Yes,” I said “I loved that movie. And I thought Geoffrey Rush was stellar.”

Suddenly my cab driver and I were having a perfectly nice, and totally unexpected, chat about awards season. If I had responded to the comment about his snowy day with “Oh, I didn’t have cable,” it very well might have stopped the conversation before it had begun.

Try it out on your next friend-date. Accept what she says (you don’t have to agree with it, just be open to taking the conversation in that direction) and then add to it. It’s not going to make you suddenly like someone you can’t stand, but it will help the hour pass by faster, which, when you’re stuck in a nightmare encounter, can feel like a miracle in itself.

What are your tricks for getting a bad girl-date on track? If you are out with someone who is clearly not a potential BFF, what helps you get through it?

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Your BFF’s Ticket to Romance? You.

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

“According to a new nationally representative survey of 3,009 adults with a romantic partner, the Internet has now overtaken all the ways people meet, save one: meeting through friends. … Regardless of when they met, at least 32% of respondents said friends brought them together.” (“Friends No. 1 way to meet that Valentine, but Web is growing” USA Today, 02/11/2010)

Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, so now is an appropriate time to look at the role friends play in romance. According to this survey, it’s a big one.

As I’ve mentioned, I generally avoid setting people up. Why? Perhaps I should share my most recent attempt at matchmaking.

Last month,  I was sure I had come up with a compatible pairing. I talked each one up to the other (for ease, let’s call them Girl and Guy), forwarded contact information, the whole bit.

The first date was put on hold because Guy had recently been set up with someone else, and he wanted to see where that relationship would go before pursuing my offering. He thought Girl was cute but didn’t want to get himself caught up in two potential relationships at once. (Three cheers for my guy friends not being total crapweasels!) Fast forward one week and I get an email from Girl telling me that the “someone else” Guy had been set up with was… her best friend.

Of course it was.

Now she’s not interested, even if Guy and Girl’s BFF don’t work out, because it would just be too weird. Sloppy seconds and all that. (Or so I’m told.) And you can imagine the conversation when Girl told her BFF Guy’s name, only to learn that BFF and Guy were currently in the early stages of dating.

Fun stuff.

So, yeah. I avoid set-ups as a policy. But you shouldn’t. According to the survey above, friends are the most reliable method for meeting a “romantic partner.” (That is a silly phrase. I have never, nor will I ever, call Matt my romantic partner. Ew.)

While the Internet is efficient, psychologists say that real humans will always beat out the computer in terms of reliability for meeting others. And while I’m totally pro-Internet dating—I’m going to a Match.com wedding this summer!—I like that human connection wins out. Especially in a world where a computer is about to take on Ken Jennings. (Set your DVRs people. Feb 14, 15, 16. It’s on.)

So this Valentine’s Day, perhaps the nicest thing you can do for your single BFF is to introduce her to some of your other single pals. You never know.

Unless you’re me. Then you do know. It won’t go well.

If you’re single, do you trust friends most of all when it comes to meeting a potential mate? Everyone, please do share your set up stories—good and bad. The worse they are, the more they’ll make us laugh.

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BFF Searching: Phase Two

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who I met through this blog. Just as we put our napkins in our laps, she made an observation about my recent posts:

“I notice you’ve started writing more about friendship and less about the search,” she said.

I don’t know that I’m writing less about searching for a BFF, per se, but I am, I think, writing less about the questions of where to meet potential friends, and more about how to turn those new friends into best ones.

This isn’t on purpose. As my search has evolved, the blog has changed along with me. When I started writing here, my main question was where in the world should I start? How could I find people to ask out on girl dates? Why was it so hard to talk to a potential best friend in a restaurant or a yoga class? Over the year, I’ve improved in those departments—you know, except for the times when I’m totally awkward—and now I’m in phase two. I’ve found the potential BFFs, now I need to turn them—some of them? Any of them!—into plain old best friends forever.

This might be the harder stage. There is some finesse involved—“I want to hang out with you all the time, but I’m not a stalker, I swear!”—and while most people are open to girl-dates and friendships, they aren’t necessarily in the market for a new partner-in-crime. Plus, as I discussed yesterday (and THANK YOU all so much for your amazing insights) the whole let’s-go-to-the-mall-on-a-whim thing isn’t quite as easy in the adult world of scheduling as it was when I was 13 and had nothing to do.

My intention for this blog was to chronicle my quest for a new best friend, and to bring readers on the journey with me. But now I figure it’s time to check in with you guys. Are you missing the stories and analysis of the where-to-find-friends variety? I still try to address those questions as they come up in my everyday life, but admittedly they arise less now than they did when I was making a daily effort to meet new people. Would you like more posts focused on where to pick up girls, or are you enjoying this next phase of the journey? Be honest, I don’t offend easily.

The goal is to strike a balance, but since you guys are nice enough to check in and give me feedback all the time, I want to be sure I’m giving the people what they want! And, as always, if there is any specific topic you wish I’d write about, feel free to shoot me an email.

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Is It Better to Be Hard to Pin Down or Hard to Rely On?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about plans. Specifically about making them and keeping them.

Since starting this quest last year, I’ve met a lot of potential BFFs. We meet at a party, or over email, or at improv class or book club or dance class, and eventually we make plans for brunch or dinner or a drink. And since I’ve really strengthened my meeting-new-people muscles, I am continually scheduling new girl-dates. I’m thrilled about this, because you never know who might end up being your Christina Yang, but it means that my calendar can get full. Sometimes I’ll try to make plans with someone and we won’t be able to find a day that works for both of us for at least two weeks. And I start to feel guilty, because I say I’m looking for a last-minute friend while I’m becoming someone who is not readily available at the last minute.

Last weekend I met a PBFF for drinks and at some point she said to me “You are the only person I know who is such a planner.” I got the impression this wasn’t a compliment. Apparently being someone who sticks to a schedule instead of going with the flow isn’t a great quality.

A few days later, this same friend totally bailed on an invite she had extended to Matt and me. One minute we were going to her house for a dinner party, the next minute that invite was off the table. Something came up. The dinner party was no more.

I discussed this with another friend over lunch the next day. “She told me I was a planner, and it definitely felt like an insult, or at least a back-handed compliment. But now I feel like the problem isn’t that I’m a planner, it’s that she’s a flake.”

As I look back at my calendar, I see that approximately 25 percent of the plans I make get cancelled. Never by me, and always because “a friend is in town at the last minute” or “work has been crazy and I’ve been getting home late” or “something came up.”

What I’ve come to realize is that it seems everyone is difficult to make plans with. Either you’re like me, occasionally hard to pin down but once you have a plan it’s a commitment you will honor, or you’re like so many women I’ve met, who act all breezy about scheduling (“I can do whenever!”) but then have no problem canceling if something better, be it a party or the couch, comes along.

I don’t know which is better. Well actually, I think my way is better, but perhaps we all think our approach is best. I’d rather be harder to schedule with but reliable. I want someone to know that if we make a plan, I intend to stick to it. To me that shows respect. But maybe others—maybe you!—think it’s more desirable to be the easygoing friend who can meet up whenever, and so they play that role even if it’s not always the truth. And if that means double-booking and figuring out what to cancel later, so be it.

Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Ever since I was told I was a planner as if it was a truly horrible trait, I can’t quite wrap my head around what the more attractive alternative to planning would be.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you make plans with no problem but bail if necessary? Or do you schedule every little thing, so that getting a date with you is like trying to get in to see the doctor? (I don’t think I’m that bad…) While clearly neither of these traits is particularly desirable—the true great friend is a mixture of both, she’s easygoing but never leaves you hanging—does one put you off more than the other? Please weigh in! I’m eager to hear what you guys think about this…

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The Guy-Friend’s Girlfriend: A Dilemma

OK. I think I’ve gone over almost every iteration of this problem: What to do if you hate your husband’s friends, what to do if you hate your friend’s husband (or boyfriend), what to do if you love your guy-friend’s girlfriend and then they break up, etc.

Except this one: What if you cannot stand your guy-friend’s girlfriend, but she wants to be friends with you?

Someone I know recently encountered this problem. Her husband’s BFF has started dating a girl that my pal doesn’t particularly like. They’ve gone on some couple dates, because that’s what you do when you’re married. But now the unpleasant girlfriend in question wants to start hanging out with my friend, solo. Just the two of them. And my friend, who shall remain nameless (but isn’t me, I swear), doesn’t know what to do.

Well, here’s what she did do: She accepted the invitation because she’s a nice person and how do you say “No thanks, I don’t want to hang out with you” anyway? It’s not easy.

Now my friend is understandably conflicted. This is not an independent friendship she wants to pursue. But it’s not like she can just quietly fade away, letting the next batch of phone calls and emails go unanswered. Besides the fact that perhaps it’s rude to passive-aggressively stop responding, this is someone my pal is going to continue to encounter. The men will be in each others’ lives forever.

I’ve been thinking about what I’d do in this situation, and I think I’d probably continue accepting the invitations when they are offered, but not extend any invites of my own. If it was my husband’s best friend, I know it would be important to him that I not screw up the relationship.

This brings up the bigger question of what to do when someone is pursuing a friendship and you are just not that into her. There have definitely been some potential BFFs—or should I say, people I thought were potential BFFs—who straight-up disappeared on me. And I was ok with that. We weren’t friends, so there was no big breakup speech necessary. I know some of you might think it was rude of them, but I preferred that to a big production email, or even a small one. I think hearing “I’m too busy for new friends” would have been tougher on the ego than radio silence.

As for the other way around, when people I’ve just met pursue a friendship I’m not interested in… Well, I usually just go with it. Women, I have found, are pretty good at recognizing when a friendship isn’t meant to be. Most of the time, if I’m not into it, neither is she.

Input, please? What should my pal do about the friend’s girlfriend she doesn’t want to befriend? And what do you do when you’re not into a new friendship? Not someone you’d need to break up with, just someone you’ve recently met?

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Observations From a Snow Day (Take Two)

Still have no Internet, so excuse (again) the brevity of this post.

Yesterday, a friend suggested that perhaps my loss of connection was God’s response to my recent post about unplugging. Well, I can now say with some certainty that I would have a truly hard time with friendship if I didn’t have technology. I got a lot done yesterday, but most of it was of the lonely let-me-clean-my-house-and-pay-bills variety. I even opened some tax forms. That’s how little there was to do. So, conclusion: Without technology I would be very productive, and spend lots of time with the hubby, but friendships would be tough.

Also, I stand by what I said yesterday. Friendliness is at its peak in a snowstorm. I’ve never seen so many people out chatting in the streets. No cars, just people and shovels. Everyone was suddenly best friends with her neighbors. (Whether this was due to the aforementioned loss of technology, and thus they had no one else to talk to, is not clear.)

Thanks for your patience the last two days as I’ve blogged from my phone. Friday we’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming.

For now, what did your snow day look like, if you were so lucky? And did you notice extra-friendliness in the face of blizzard 2011?

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Snow Day!

This crazy blizzard has taken down my Internet (and TV!) so I apologize for the lack of blog post. (I’m writing this one from my phone.)

Hopefully I’ll be back up and running tomorrow but in the meantime, I’m thinking that this kind of weather is great for friend-making. Throw on a snowsuit and some boots and whoever else is playing out in the streets is your new BFF. Oh, Mother Nature. Just bringing people together all over the place.

Thoughts?

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My Reality TV BFFs. Who Are Yours?

On Saturday night, Entertainment Weekly published a blog post entitled “David Tutera is my reality TV BFF. Who’s yours?”

In case you are wondering (as I was) who David Tutera is, apparently he hosts a show called My Fair Wedding on WE.

I have come to the very surprising realization recently that I don’t actually watch very much reality TV. I came to that conclusion after repeatedly saying, “Oh I actually don’t watch that” in response to people’s comments regarding different shows, assuming that I would watch them because, well, I’m me.

“I actually don’t watch that” has, in the past 30 days, referred to: The Bachelor, Real Housewives of Anywhere, Teen Mom, 16 & Pregnant, Millionaire Matchmaker, American Idol, Bethenny Getting Married, Jersey Shore.

The reality TV I do watch is usually limited to the competition type: Survivor, Top Chef, Biggest Loser.

But still, I couldn’t resist a chance to chime in on a combo of my two favorite topics: TV and Friendship. So here you go—my reality TV BFFs.

1)    Jeff Probst, Survivor. I’ve had a thing for Jeff since I was 18. Embarrassing but true. He’s on my celebs-I’m-allowed-to-sleep-with list. Matt knows this. I actually have a video of him wishing me a happy college graduation. Long—but true!—story. So maybe he’s more my reality TV boyfriend than reality TV BFF, but I’m including him here. Those dimples! That incessant harassing of Survivor contestants and never letting them off the hook for anything! Love.

2)    Sahil and Joel of Girls Who Like Girls Who Like Boys. These guys are very different from each other but equally hilarious. I’ve not been shy about my desire for a Will to my Grace, but unfortunately these men are both taken. But whatever, this is my dream list. I can stake claims.

3)    Samir Patel, National Spelling Bee. Perhaps this doesn’t count as reality TV but I’m going with it. Watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee is one of my favorite traditions, and Samir made it five times. The poor guy never brought home the trophy but he won the viewers’ hearts. Including mine. Wikipedia tells me that people refer to him as “the Tony Romo of Spelling,” which just make me sad.

4) Jay McCarroll, Project Runway Season 1 (Winner). Tim Gunn or Christian Siriano are the obvious choices here and I do love them both. But I feel like Jay was the original style maven to emerge from Project Runway. If you ask me, the show went downhill after the switch to Lifetime, but that’s a discussion for another day.

5) Tiffany Derry, Top Chef. She just seems to have her head on straight. (That phrase makes me feel like my mom, or a middle school teacher, or both, but you know what I mean.) So many reality contestants are nuts, and the chefs especially can  get unnecessarily hostile and full of themselves. She’s funny but calls people out just enough when they are being crazy. I applaud that.

I know there are some reality stars I am missing. I feel like there is one show where the sidekick is sort of the deadpan awesome one, and I can’t figure it out. And I hear I would really love that Bethenny Frankel if I gave her a chance.

Who would make your list? Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Literary BFF and Scripted TV BFF lists.

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