Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Hard Facts: The Friendship Life Cycle

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

“Our social connections change as a function of age, typically forming a U shape across the lifespan, [associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence Stephen S.] Hardi says. As kids, we make friends easily because we spend so much time with our peers. Then comes a dip in early adulthood and midlife, when careers, marriage, and kids send us into lockdown. As these obligations ease up in our older years, we become socially active once again.” (“Friends for Life,” Better Homes and Gardens; April, 2011)

I find this life cycle of friendship fascinating.

But also encouraging.

Here we have scientific proof that my difficulty making new local BFFs when I first moved wasn’t because I’m a social leper or totally awkward. It’s because I was, and am, at an age where meeting new people is hard, both because I’m so busy and because my peers are too.

Last summer, my mother wrote about why it’s so important to hold on to your friends during the “lockdown” years. “Girls, don’t let the building of your adult life get in the way of maintaining the friendships you’ve spent so much time and energy developing,” she wrote. “You’ll find that whatever effort it takes—going back to your home town for a wedding or reunion, taking time out of a family visit for lunch or dinner with pals—you’ll be glad you made it. Once you emerge from those years from twenty-five to forty, those long-time friendships will mean the world to you.”

I know that she’s right, but I also like the idea that I’ll be in good shape for new friend making when I’m older. That the hardest part is right now, so if I can get through this, um, decade, I’ll be in great shape.

It’s funny, too, because when I started this search I thought not being a mom was the single thing working working most against me. I figured having a little one would mean Mommy & Me and Gymboree classes that would guarantee my next best friend. I was under the impression that the late-20s, early-30s were prime BFF time, now I know it’s the Empty Nesters who’ve won the friendship jackpot.

Now that I think about this research, I can’t help picturing the movie In Her Shoes (I never read the book), when Cameron Diaz’s Maggie moves into her Grandmother’s retirement home. Suddenly, she’s got a ton of new BFFs—and shopping buddies. I’m not saying that I want to move into a retirement community… but I’m not saying that I don’t.

Sure, age and lifestage influence who you are friends with, but do you think they influence your ability to make friends in the first place? At what age have you found it easiest to make friends? And for those of you in the so-called “older years,” is it true that your social activity has increased as you’ve aged?

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How Long Does It Take to Make a BFF?

I think this search might be working.

Last Friday, Matt and I went to dinner with one of my new friends. She brought along another friend, who I’ve slowly been getting to know as well.

On Saturday, a friend from book club came over for a TV marathon. It was our first non-book club playdate, but felt as easy as if we’d been doing these weekend viewing sessions forever.

Low-key group dinners? Hours in front of the TV? This is just what I’ve been looking for.

Both of these friendships evolved slowly over time. They involved months of seeing each other on a scheduled basis—weekly or monthly—before the friendships graduated to girl-date status. A real lesson in patience.

Of course this doesn’t mean that I’ve found my BFF. Apparently there is more to being a best friend forever than simply having the same taste in television. (Though that’s a pretty good start.) Still, I realized over the weekend that I’m a long way from where I was when I started this blog: desperate to meet new people and begging for any help I could get.

I offer this piece of insight to anyone who might be discouraged as to how long the friend-making process takes. I hear from so many women regarding promising friendships that seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. They worry that time is keeping the friendship from moving to the “next level.” I say wait it out. Continue making other friends and moving on with your life, but don’t write off a potential BFF just because you didn’t immediately start making plans for every day of the week. Like anything, friend-making takes patience. A lesson I’ve learned the hard way considering I’m the least patient person in the world.

What about you? Think about your own local BFF: How long did you know her before you started considering her The One?

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The Unvitation

Last week, I wrote about the phenomenon of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. We’ve all been there—deep in the abyss of self-pity, nervous that all our friends are gathered without us, having the time of our lives.

The example in question was a quiet Friday night. You may choose to stay in and take a load off, but a barrage of Facebook status updates showing your BFFs having a grand ol’ time can make you regret that choice.

After I wrote this post, I got a call from a friend. “I don’t really care if I miss out,” she said. “I just want to be invited.”

And later: “I want my friends to want my company. It’s important to me to be included. But to actually have to go out on a Friday? Ugh. No thank you.”

This gets at something very real. The knowledge that my friends are at a concert doesn’t affect me if I’ve turned down said concert for a quiet night in. But when I hear, after the fact, that some pals went on an adventure without me—without even inviting me—that’s when my inner over-sensitive 4th grader comes out to pout.

Despite having felt the sting of the “unvitation” before, I have been guilty of imposing this feeling on others. A few years ago, I told a friend I was thinking of having a small birthday dinner on that Saturday night. She mentioned she’d be at a wedding. So when I sent the email invitation—it was a low-key affair—I left her off the list. I knew she couldn’t make it.

Fast forward a few days and you know what happened: My pal was mad at me for leaving her out.

“But I knew you couldn’t come!” I said.

“Still, it would have been nice if you included me.”

Rationally, I believe to this day that I didn’t do anything wrong. She told me she couldn’t come, so what was the point of inviting her? It was as if I was supposed to pretend she hadn’t already informed me the other plans. But I should have known better. The human brain isn’t always rational, and  when it comes to friends I’ve learned we must honor irrational emotions more than logic. I guess that’s part of the whole friendship gig. Not everything is based on reason.

After this incident, I got nervous planning wedding events. I had two showers—my mother-in-law threw one and my aunt the other—and didn’t want to invite my friends to both because I didn’t want them to feel guilty for not coming. Or obligated to buy gifts. But I also didn’t want them to feel left out. Ugh, being a girl can be so complicated.

My solution? A simple email. I wrote, “I’m having two showers, one in NYC and one in Boston. If any of you think you might come to either one, let me know as I’d love to have you there. But absolutely no pressure, and if you’re not local I wouldn’t want you to feel like you need to travel or buy a gift, so just let me know and I won’t even send an invite.”  There’s no perfect plan, but this worked for me.

So, what say you? Do you fear missing out? Or are you happy to miss out, as long as you get the invite? Or is all this hullabaloo just a product of adults being too sensitive and over-analytical? ‘Cause personally, I think that might be it.

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The Big Screen Treatment

The amount of time I’ve spent watching movies about female friendship—Beaches, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Now & Then, Sex and the City (and the sequel), the list goes on—would probably add up to a good week or two. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the Traveling Pants of the Ya-Ya Magnolias. Long before I launched any type of friend search, back when I lived in New York with Sara, Callie and the gang, even then I had a soft spot for a good BFF moviefest. I don’t know, I guess this whole friendship fascination is long ingrained in me.

Despite having seen pretty much every girl-power movie under the sun, there are very few that actually mirror my own time with pals. Our lives are much less dramatic than those of CC Bloom or Carrie Bradshaw. There are rarely intense talks a la Boys on the Side or Mystic Pizza. More often than not we’re goofing off or gossiping. In fact, the friend flick that resonates the most strongly for me was panned overall: The Sweetest Thing. Granted things never get that raunchy when I’m with my friends, but the lighthearted, silly sentiment is spot on.

I don’t know why female friendships are so often portrayed as “serious” onscreen, but maybe that’s what sells. The good news: smart female comedians are having a moment. (So excited that Bossypants is my new book club book!) I’d wager that  we’ll start seeing more witty, honest, and relatable friendships in films soon enough (not every best friendship has to end with me clutching an entire box of Kleenex and sporting puffy eyes with streaky mascara), starting with this:

You know how I feel about getting too serious on a Friday (not good) so instead let’s take a moment to celebrate Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote the screenplay for Bridesmaids. She clearly gets what it really means to be a friend… and a bridesmaid.

Now you tell me: What’s your most favorite BFF movie?

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Exciting Book News!

I haven’t written much on this blog about my upcoming book. That’s because, until now, I haven’t had much concrete information to share.

But now I do!

Yesterday I found out that MWF Seeking BFF, the book, will be on-sale from Ballantine Books on January 10, 2012.

Over the next 270 days (but who’s counting?) I’ll be posting information about the book as it becomes available. To start, here’s the description from the book jacket:

When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code, let alone an apartment, with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, Bertsche realizes her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington DC. Yet in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl-talk over brunch or a reality TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: she’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

In her thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny memoir, Bertsche blends the story of her girl-dates (who she meets everywhere from improv class to friend-rental websites) with the latest in social research to examine how difficult—and hilariously awkward—it is to make new friends as an adult. She asks why women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF. And she uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life, you gotta have friends.

I’m so excited to share my book—and my search—with all of you. While this blog deals with friendship issues in every aspect, the book is much more specific about my “year of friending.” (I’m still open to new friends of course—email me!—but this year is a bit less stringent in its schedule.) I share many stories of friend-dates in the book that I’ve never revealed on this blog, and while these posts jump from topic to topic, the book is a narrative. It details the good, the bad, and the painfully awkward of my year, as well as the strategies that worked for me (and didn’t) and the self-discoveries I made along the way.

I do hope you’ll pick up a copy!

I must say, for over a year now MWF Seeking BFF, the book, has felt like this mysterious “thing” that would never be real. Now? With an actual date? It looks like publication is really happening! Thanks, as always, to all you readers who have come along for the ride.

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The Hard Facts: Everyone Is Hanging Out Without You

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

“When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of ‘Predictably Irrational’ and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.” (“Feel Like a Wallflower? Maybe It’s Your Facebook Wall” New York Times, 4/9/2011)

I mentioned last week how excited I am for the release of Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). The title alone tells me hers will be my kinda stories.

The titular concern is a universal one—no one wants to feel left out—but I didn’t know until yesterday that there is an actual scientific term for this sentiment: FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. According to this article’s author, FOMO “refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram.”

The author says she was struck with FOMO on a quiet Friday night when, while she was curled up on the couch, her phone went bonkers with alerts about her friends’ whereabouts. Three ladies were at a nearby music venue, without her. Other pals posted pics from a trendy restaurant. Suddenly her cozy night in didn’t seem so luxurious.

I can relate. I catch a bad case of FOMO whenever I see Facebook pictures of my New York BFFs out on the town together. I feel it even if the pics are simply of them lounging at someone’s apartment. That’s when it hits me: Everyone is hanging out without me.

And it’s not just feelings of being left out. Looking at someone’s photos or reading their Tweets often makes me feel like my life is too plain. I’m not spending my evenings at movie premieres like my friend Adam apparently is. Or eating sushi in Japan like Lauren seems to be. Or having babies like, um, EVERYONE.

These are the moments when I remind myself that Facebook photos and other social media updates are self-selecting. No one is going to post pictures of their lazy Friday evening on the couch (though even that might be enough to inspire FOMO in a super-busy overscheduled type). We document the events that are unusual and exciting, the minutia of every day doesn’t warrant such online real estate.

I’m just as guilty of this as the next girl: I’ve only posted photos to Facebook once, and it was pics of my Croatian vacation. Hardly an everyday occurrence.

FOMO is only going to strike more and strike harder as social media continues to grow. “Streaming social media have an immediacy that is very different from, say, a conversation over lunch recounting the events of the previous weekend. When you see that your friends are sharing a bottle of wine without you — and at that very moment — ‘you can imagine how things could be different,’ Professor Ariely said.”

The solution? Unplug. Step away from the computer or, as the author did, turn your phone screen-side down.

No mo’ FOMO. (Yeah, I said it.)

Have you been struck with FOMO after perusing one too many Facebook pictures or status updates? What’s your cure?

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Honesty Vs. Support: A Battle of the Ages

It’s the rare moment that I laugh out loud while watching TV alone, but yesterday I couldn’t stop. I was watching one of my all-time favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother, in which Lily performs in an off-off-off-Broadway play. When Barney tells her, honestly, that the play was wretched, Lily lectures him on how friends should support each other. Barney doesn’t see it that way and, in an effort to make his point, stages the world’s worst one-man show. He then characteristically forces the gang to sit through said show until they admit friends can’t always be supportive.

Lily’s argument: “I am going to sit through the whole thing and I am going to say something nice about it afterwards. You know why? Because that’s what friends do.”

Barney’s argument: “Friends don’t let friends come see their crappy play.”

Both arguments hold water. When I pour my heart into something, I want my friends to say something nice. Of course, I want them to be speaking honestly. But even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t need to know. Good ol’ fashioned support is a blessed thing.

But sometimes I participate in something—for whatever reason—that I’m not especially proud or enamored of. Maybe it’s a project I was asked to help out with, or something I had no choice but to work on. In those cases, I usually leave my friends out of it. I don’t want to bore them with my so-called crappy play.

Obviously in a world of Lily vs. Barney, Ms. Aldrin is almost always right. She’s Barney’s conscience, after all. But the episode made me wonder, in what circumstances is it better to be honest than supportive? When is “don’t quit your day job” the right response? (Maybe not those words, exactly, but that sentiment at least.)

When a friend decides she wants to pursue her life-long dream of acting or designing clothes or becoming the world’s oldest trapeze artist, at what point do you tell her it’s not going to work out?

Certainly before it comes to this:

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