Monthly Archives: April 2011

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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Drama? Or Just a Friendly Check-In?

At 1 pm on Saturday I got a text from a friend: “Are you home?”

I was sure something bad had happened. This was not a friend who has ever casually popped over to my place. Another pal texts to ask if I’m around whenever she walks her dog by my house in case I can come to the window to chat. But the Saturday texter? Never. I pictured her crying on my street corner—what had caused the tears would be explained later—with no where to go and no one to turn to.

I would be that shoulder to cry on and listening ear! I was ready! In remembering this moment, I feel like I should have been wearing a cape, determinedly flinging it over my shoulder. Rachel to the rescue!

The reality was a bit different than the imaginary drama. Turned out my friend was at the bakery on my corner with her BFF, and wanted to introduce us. I threw on a pair of shoes and headed to my neighborhood cupcake haven.

The true motivation behind the text was a much better than anything I concocted in my head. I was psyched that my friend thought of me and that she wanted me to meet her VIP pal. But still, what kind of crazy person assumes that anyone who writes “are you home?”must be in need of urgent help?

It reminded me of an article from The New York Times a few weeks ago. In “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You,” Pamela Paul writes about the death of the friendly phone call.  “It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter — my first thought is: ‘What’s happened? What’s wrong?'”

I’d go one further. Whenever anyone inquires about my whereabouts in any way—be it via text or phone call or email—I assume there must be a problem. You know, one of those “Where are you? Are you sitting down? I need to tell you something…” messages.

My heart goes pitter-patter when I get a voicemail from a friend.  But if a local pal calls in the middle of the day, and we don’t have plans later or something specific we need to discuss, I must admit I still register some surprise. In writing this blog—and having posted often about the decline of the telephone—I’ve become much better about phone chatting. Considering I often wax nostalgic about that lost art of conversation, I decided I better improve at it. In fact, one of my New  Year’s Resolutions was to hone my phone skills. As in: if it’s ringing, answer it. Don’t wait to listen to the message and mentally prep for voice-to-voice contact.

I’ve gotten much better.

Next up: Accept that someone might ask where I am because they want my company rather than because they need my help.

Have you been there? When you hear unexpectedly from a friend, is your first thought that something must be wrong?

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I Never Said I Was a Grown-Up

Here’s one thing I believe to be true: As much as everyone grows older and wiser, at our core we’ll always be the same people we were in our youth. I may be a mature, learned, married, pay-my-own-bills version of the childhood Rachel, but when you strip all that away I still have many of the same insecurities and confidences, likes and dislikes.

Tonight, on the ride to our monthly cooking club meeting, a friend told me about the come-to-Jesus she had with one of her BFFs. As she told me about the conversation—one in which both parties expressed hurt feelings over various misunderstandings—I found myself thinking, “These are things I would have totally gotten upset over when I was 8, but I’d get equally upset today.”

As much as we like to think we outgrow our childish—maybe teenage?—jealousies or sensitivities, it’s not always the case. When it comes to issues with friends, fights and misunderstandings quite often stem from feelings of not being heard or recognized. We don’t feel validated. That’s true whether you’re 8 or 18 or 28.

But those childish sensibilities aren’t limited to the dark side—the insecurities or jealousies or hurt feelings. Nope. Humor has the ability to bring me back to childhood, too. For example, I learned tonight that mischievous girl talk about boy parts can still make me giggle like an embarrassed schoolgirl. And that comparing actual celebrity crushes (not the BFF girl-crush kind) can get silly, and even kind of squealy.

But here’s the thing: It’s fun! Those immature conversations about boys—especially amongst a group of women who are largely coupled off—are just so fun. They don’t involve any serious thinking or heavy lifting, just a few ladies willing to be delve into the depths of juvenile girl talk.

I’ve made no secret of how, when I started this blog, I was looking for relationships that reminded me of childhood friendships in terms of their last-minute what-are-you-doing-lets-go-to-the-mall-ness. But as I’ve come to accept the impossibility of that spontaneity, it’s nice to know that friendship can transport me to childhood in other ways.

Like giggling over cute boys.

Or planning princess parties. Royal wedding tiara not optional.

When you’re in a room full of friends—be they old or new—do you ever find yourself reverting to your most childish self? Or am I just that immature?

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Who Do You Talk To When You Work From Home?

Yesterday I had one of those gushy IM conversations with one of my co-workers about how grateful we are to have each other and our other work BFFs in the office. It went something like:

Me: Thank God we have each other.

Friend: Seriously. Can you imagine if one of us was all alone?

Me: Sad. If there is ever a time we don’t all work here, will you come work out of my living room? Pretty please?

Friend: Tempting. Not the worst idea in the world.

I know, I know. What a lovefest. Gross. But having friends at work is one of the largest contributors to happy employment, and I’ve been realizing this lately more than ever.

Why?

Because two days a week, I’m friendless.

Let me explain. These days, I work in an office only part-time. It’s a three-day-a-week gig. The other two days I work from my apartment, writing and pitching stories and working on my upcoming book. It’s an amazing setup, and I have no complaints. I’m lucky to have been allowed this flexible schedule.

There are some killer perks to working at home (ahem, writing in pajamas ‘til 4), but let me tell you, it can get real quiet in here. When Matt gets home at the end of the day I catch a wretched case of verbal diarrhea. Every thought I’ve had for the last 8ish hours comes pouring out because, give or take a conversation with my mother, I’ve had no social interaction all day. I actually talk to myself sometimes. Okay, a lot. It’s not good.

Lucky for me, after two days of isolation I get three days with my work pals. As one of them once told me “I try to be extra productive on Monday and Tuesday to make up for how much you talk to me on the other three days.” Oops.

But it’s true. After two days at home, I feel like I have so much to catch up on. Their weekends, the missed days in the office, How I Met Your Mother. I mean, there are important things to discuss.

There may come a time when I will work from home full-time. If I have kids one day—as I certainly hope to—I may choose that five-day-a-week writing from my living room provides the flexibility I need. But, woah. What would I do then? Five days of silence but for the hum of the dishwasher? As luxurious as that sounds, the idea of having no co-workers at all—no work besties—is a bit jarring. Who will I IM about the latest Popwatch post?

Having people to talk to during the weekday is necessary. It keeps me sane. My plan, if I do work from home one day, is to turn the living room into an office and force my co-worker friends to work from here. Problem solved.

But, on the off chance that doesn’t work, what do you suggest? Any work from home-ers out there?  Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a telecommuter, or a whatever other sweet gig lets you pass on a shower every now and then, you must have a strategy for dealing with the quiet of a home office. Suggestions?

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The Hard Facts: A Common Enemy

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

“Trashing the same person often helps people bond. …. The power of this initial spark of shared antipathy, it seems, comes from what negativity implies. Everyone, after all, can say kind things. And everyone does. This is how we supposedly make friends: by being nice. But by going negative—thereby breaking a general rule of first impressions—you signal that you instinctively trust this new person, because you suspect he or she might feel the same way.” (“Hating The Same Things,” New York Magazine, 3/27/2011)

Like it or not, this is so true. When you meet someone you hardly know, bonding over someone you both really like isn’t all that interesting. It can help to break the ice, but bestowing compliments on a mutual acquaintance isn’t going to immediately bond you because it doesn’t say much about who you are. Aren’t you just doing what you’re supposed to do?

Hating the same thing, on the other hand, can foster a click but quick. Whether your shared enemy is a person, a celebrity or even an airline, suddenly you’re in an us vs. them situation. Which means you and this potential BFF are an “us,” a team. It’s you against the world. Or the airlines. Same diff.

The idea that sharing a dislike signals “that you instinctively trust this person” rings true with me. Just recently, I was at dinner with someone I knew only casually. I had the sense we could be best friends one day—I still have that sense!—but this was only our second meeting. We’d figured out earlier that we have a mutual semi-acquaintance (semi in that my relationship with this lady is flimsy at best), but we’d never really discussed her in any depth. Turns out were both testing the waters, deciding if it would be acceptable to voice our distate for the acquaintance in question.

When my new pal finally said those magic words—”I kind of can’t stand her”—I felt like I was able to breathe again. Not only was I relieved that she too was put off by certain behaviors (a sign of shared values?) but I was honored that she felt comfortable opening up and revealing her true feelings. She knew I wouldn’t judge or cast her aside for this little foray into negativity, and that required trust.

And now this shared antipathy has become something of an inside joke between us. Childish, but true.

Basically, sharing a dislike for someone during an early girl-date makes you feel all mischievous. Like you’re breaking the rules, but you’re doing it together. Immediate bonding.

Have you experienced this negativity bond with a potential new friend? Who/what did you mutually hate? A boss? A mean girl? Mel Gibson?

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Who’s Your Type?

My girl-crush on Mindy Kaling is something fierce. It started the day Kelly Kapoor told Ryan Howard that she wanted to name their daughter Usher Jennifer Hudson Kapoor. (Since Mindy is one of the writers for The Office, I feel I can credit her for this.) Said crush has only grown stronger as I’ve followed her twitter feed, sang along to Subtle Sexuality, and enjoyed No Strings Attached way more than I ever expected. Her first book is coming out later this year and is titled, amazingly, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

Um, excuse me? Are you in my head??

For all of these reasons (and more!) she should be my second celebrity BFF. (After previously-crowned NPH, clearly.)

So imagine my excitement when I saw these tweets from her this weekend (I told you I’ve been all about Twitter):

“I had a great lunch with a potential friend; she’s a willowy and witty blonde woman I met at Lee’s Superbowl party. New friends after 30!”

And then…

“I like this Carrie Bradshaw tone, but for friendship, not sex. Is the world ready for my ‘Friendship & The City’ blog? It’s rated PG.”

If we really were best friends I would have been like “Hey Minds, that blog exists… it’s mine! Guest post please?” (Though I did tweet at her {tweet at? Tweet to? I still don’t know} about this here corner of the world wide webs.)

Her final friendship tweet read: “‘How Many Best Friends Can You Have?’ ‘Do You Have A Friend Type?’ ‘Do You Share Towels With Your Friend?’ #friendshipandthecity.”

I’ve actually written about how many BFFs a girl can have, but I love the question of whether or not we have friend types. She might have been kidding, but seriously—doesn’t everybody?

Just as I always said I wasn’t into blonds until I married one, I’ve realized that the potential friends I think are my “type” aren’t always the ladies with whom I actually hit it off. When it comes to new potential BFFs, I’m often immediately drawn to confident, chatty, super-cool-seeming types. Until we go for brunch or drinks and I realize they are totally too cool for me. I was drawn to them because everyone is drawn to them! They befriend bartenders and party ‘till sunrise while I’m all awkward and tripping over my words just trying to order a Miller Lite.

I mean, seriously. Pull it together, Bertsche.

The ladies who actually become my would-be-BFFs? Other pop-culture lovers who embrace their nerdiness and are just as happy watching a Glee/Modern Family/Friday Night Lights marathon on a weekend—and exchanging book recommendations—as they are going out. (Obviously, my true BFF would choose the wine-book-TV marathon, if push came to shove.)

What about you? Do you have a “type”? Ever find that the ladies you think are your type don’t actually fit the BFF bill?

 

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Working the Wedding Circuit

Over the weekend, Matt and I celebrated the first of seven weddings we’re attending between now and November. We are on the wedding circuit, and I anticipate the world tour will continue for at least another year as the people closest to us keep coupling off for as long as they both shall live.

Wedding talk has proven a controversial topic on this blog: My post about gift-giving etiquette inspired one of the most heated debates this MWF has ever seen. The act of choosing bridesmaids and dealing with bridezillas/angry attendants always gets people riled up. Nuptials are just a loaded topic, likely because so much weight is given to this one day and there’s some serious expense involved (for both the hosts and the guests).

This year I’m planning to attend every wedding I was invited to, except for one. And that’s because I have another wedding—across the country—on the same day. I adore all the brides/grooms in question, and wouldn’t consider not going.

But recently a pal and I were discussing the etiquette of wedding attendance—namely, when is it ok to just say no?—and I thought I’d bring the question to the people.

Obviously, weddings can be costly. Our weddings are all over the country so the expenses include flights, hotel rooms, and rented cars on top of the usual wedding gift, shower gift, bachelorette party and more. But all these people made such sacrifices for me when it was my big day, and, more importantly, these are my friends. I want to celebrate them.

Here’s my take. There are likely three reasons for not attending a wedding: You have a scheduling conflict (be it work or another wedding), you can’t/don’t want to spend the money for travel, or you have kids that make taking a weekend away impossible. The friend who asked me if it was ok to miss a wedding told me he was surprised to have been invited to this affair, it was out of town and would be a pricey venture, and he wouldn’t know many other people in attendance. I said he should do what he wanted, but that a “not gonna make it” RSVP wouldn’t be the end of the world.

To be clear: I love a wedding. I tear up at the ceremony, dance until my heels must come off, and chase down platters of spring rolls and crabcakes. Anything fried, really. (The trick is locating the servers’ path from the kitchen and strategically planting yourself so that no bacon-wrapped-scallop can get past you.) But I know some of you aren’t so keen on participating in the hooplah. And my take is that wedding attendance falls under the category of things you do for your friends, if you can.

If your absence is going to take away from the bride’s big day, then try to be there. You should want to celebrate this occasion in your friend’s life, but even if you don’t, she wants to celebrate with you.

Then again, if you hardly know the bride and suspect you were invited out of courtesy rather than any actual desire for your company, saying no might be the nicest thing you can do. I mean, your attendance isn’t cheap for the hosts, either.

What’s your wedding attendance rule? Do you try to attend all? Only go to those in town? Do you agree that being a friend means being there on the big day?

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