Monthly Archives: May 2011

New Day, New BFF

When it comes to BFFs there are a four types of people:

1) People who have a BFF, love her, and don’t want anything to change.

2) People who don’t have a BFF, love that, and don’t want anything to change.

3) People on the search for a BFF, to fill a vacancy or supplement existing besties.

4) People who have a new BFF everyday.

This last type of person is who we will be talking about today. Back in college there was a girl—let’s call her Bathsheba (why? because we can)—who loved taking new friends under her wing. She was never without a partner in crime. She’d give her BFF-of-the-moment presents, pay for her lunches, invite her away on family vacations. She and said BFF would walk arm in arm, as if announcing to the world that their friendship could not be broken. They were Best Friends Forever.

But forever never lasted long. The following week, or month, or two months, there’d be a new BFF by her side. A new pal from whom she was absolutely inseparable.

I guess this isn’t so different from the red flag friendships I wrote about last week—the pal who leaves a string of ex-friends in her wake is likely to always find new ones. The difference is the way Bathsheba spun it. She didn’t broadcast yesterday’s friendship, complaining that someone did her wrong. She just took up a new BFF, focusing her energies on that one friendship until she was bored and wanted someone new.

Of course, this didn’t win her many admirers. Each “dropped” best friend felt, quite legitimately, wronged. And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Well, that might be dramatic. No one came fighting back with a pitchfork or anything. But the “dropped” friends did bond over their common ex-friend. And eventually Bathsheba worked her way through all her options, and ended up with no one.

Writing that, it seems like a real cautionary tale. A regular bedtime story for the ladies…

I tend not to use the phrase “social climber” because I feel like it’s lost all meaning. But that term comes to mind when I think of people who devour BFFs like I devour episodes of Friday Night Lights or Harry Potter books. Because what’s the point of having a new best friend at every turn if not to see what and where it can get you? Maybe I’m missing something, but the new friend every week routine seems childish and superficial. Isn’t the best part of having a best friend the stories you retell years later? One can’t build those up in mere months.

Have you ever come across someone like this? A serial monogamist of the friendship variety? A BFF player? Anyone know the intentions behind this behavior?

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Friends on Facebook, Not In Life

This blog could very well turn into a site about Facebook, if I let it. There are so many Facebook friendship quandaries to be discussed. It’s still uncharted territory. Our mothers and grandmothers didn’t navigate the murky “friending” and “unfriending” waters and acquire wisdom to pass through the ages. They were too busy… well, actually I don’t know what they were doing. Not wasting their time in front of a computer, that’s for sure. The point is, we’re all just figuring it out ourselves.

The other day, a reader mentioned one such issue that I’m sure we’ve all experienced. Her question: “What do you do with someone who makes no effort to stay in touch with you in real life but is always commenting or liking on Facebook?”

I met someone recently who falls under this category. We met, hit it off (or so I thought), and became Facebook friends. She commented on my links every now and then, liked my statuses, was generally friendly on the good old ‘book. She even made non-committal references to getting together. I, being someone who has learned about the importance of follow-up in the friendship realm, would counter with an offer of meeting up at a specific time or place. She would never write back. Needless to say the friendship didn’t so much blossom.

The truth? The answer to this reader’s question? I do nothing. If a Facebook friend shows no interest in keeping in touch in real life, but is amused at my status updates and wants to click on my links? I’m ok with that. I don’t put anything extremely personal on my profile page. I don’t post anything I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with a coworker or long-lost acquaintance. ‘Cause I’m Facebook friends with coworkers and long-lost acquaintances.

I’ve always said that people who can be your Facebook friends can be your real-life friends. It’s true. But just because they can be doesn’t mean they are.

But if I know anything, it’s that everyone has strong practices when it comes to Facebook. I treat the social networking site as my online profile, the face I show the world. I consider it public domain. But I’m different than many people. I have a blog. I wrote a memoir. Obviously I’m willing—and eager—to share my life with people.

Plenty of Facebook users limit their friends more strictly. They only accept friends that they’re in close touch with. They cull their contacts annually to make sure no strays got in and defriend anyone they haven’t spoke to in the last twelve months. They wouldn’t want someone who isn’t interested in keeping in touch, in being actual friends, having access to their profile.

So there’s no real protocol when it comes to keeping or tossing “friends” who only care about you in the virtual world. I accept these people for what they are. Let them have their fun flipping through my photos if they want. No harm done.

But that’s not right for everyone, so what do you say? Do you maintain Facebook friendships with those who don’t try to keep in touch in real life? Or do accept only true friends on Facebook?

Speaking of Facebook, it would be so cool and I would so appreciate it if you’d “like” the MWF Seeking BFF page. It’s almost at 500! Plus, it’ll provide great access to book news. Same goes for following me on Twitter. Trying to reach the 400 mark. Hooray for social networking. Or something.

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Is My Mom The Cutest Or What?

An actual email, received from Mom, at 9:57 last night:

Subject: I Should Write A Book

I could write the old ladies version of your book. Weight Watchers is having a fitness challenge and they want people to do some sort of walk, run, or race on May 22, with training before it.

So a lady put up a sign at the WW center asking anyone who wanted a walking partner to email her. So I did and we just spoke on the phone and we are going to meet on Sunday morning to walk. I think she must be in my age range. She used to work in a spa and she lives nearby.

I’m going to walk to and from her place and we will walk 40 minutes by the lake.

My mom is all BFF-searchy! Doesn’t it just make you want to hug her?

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The Hard Facts: The Capacity for Friendship

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

“Here’s what the capacity for friendship looks like in action: asking about others, making someone feel welcome, making suggestions for joint activities, sharing (but not dumping) information about oneself. … Perhaps the strongest signal of problems in the friendship realm is the existence of cutoffs. A string of ex-friendships is a sign of rigidity, indicator of an inability to tolerate conflict or stress in relationships or work out their complexities.” (“Clues to Charater,” Psychology Today, June 2011)

The cover story of this month’s Psychology Today is this article about how you can tell who a person will become. Certain traits, like a capacity for friendship, are apparently pretty stable over time. Someone who is good at making friends as a mini-person (that’s my word for, you know, the 3-year-olds) will probably have a good batch of pals as an adult.

There are also specific clues that can tell you upon meeting a person if she has a good capacity for friendship. None of the characteristics above—asking someone how they’re doing, making a person feel included—are all that unexpected. They seem like pretty obvious indicators. And yet, oftentimes when we meet someone and notice these behaviors, we make excuses for them. We figure she must be having a bad day or going through a hard time.

I get it. It’s nice to give someone the benefit of the doubt. But now I’m telling you—or, actually, psychologists are telling you—that this is not a trait that will change. If someone doesn’t have the capacity for friendship on the day you meet her, she probably won’t have it ever. I’m sure there are exceptions, but let’s just accept this as a rule of thumb, okay?

Similarly, if a potential BFF has a string of broken friendships, trust this red flag. If she starts telling you why all her other friendships went wrong and explains that she’s always in the right but everyone around her ‘just doesn’t get it’… run for the hills. This is the first stop on the way to crazytown. You might very well end up uttering the words, “it’s not me, it’s you.”

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Psychology Today isn’t telling you anything you don’t know. If someone acts like a friend, they’ll probably make a good one. If someone reveals they have a string of ex-friends, you might fall into that category one day, too.

Why do you think we give potential friends a chance when they don’t show the “capacity for friendship” that Psychology Today describes? Are we wired to give people second chances? Or is that just called having an open mind?

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Adult Cliques: Are They Even Possible?

Over the past year and a half I’ve made a lot of new friends. This we already know. When you launch a friend search in the manner that I did—picking up friends wherever you can find them (that makes it sound like my friends were yesterday’s garbage, left on the curb in case someone needed a used beat-up sofa. I assure you it wasn’t like that)—you’ll likely end up with a lovely hodgepodge. My new friends are an eclectic mix of ladies (and two men!) who I connected with at book club and improv, through set ups and blind emails. This is all great, of course. I know I shouldn’t complain. I wanted friends and I got them.

While recognizing how thrilled I am to have so many friends, I just have to say this: I miss having a group.

I won’t say clique, as I know it has horrible connotations that make us all think of Regina George. Or maybe Heathers, depending on your pop culture decade of choice. But back when I lived in New York, my friends were more or less all friends with each other. There was the college gang and the high school gang, and those groups intermingled and there was plenty of crossover. It made making plans pretty easy. More often than not some combination of people from those groups would end up together at dinner or a bar or a friend’s apartment.

In my new life, I have a bunch of different friends. Some have formed small friend groups themselves, like my cooking club or coworkers. Others are one-off friendships and the only time I see those friends are when we make specific plans to meet at this restaurant on this day at this time. There’s never an easy way to organize a group event, because so few of my new friends are friends with each other.

I really really like all my new potential BFFs. There are none that I secretly wish I could kick to the curb or let the friendship fizzle away. But I just wish there was a way to see everyone at once. To email “the gang” and say “Let’s all go to Webster Wine Bar tonight!” I want my own McSorley’s. My own Max. My own Peach Pit!

But here’s the thing: I’m not even sure “the gang” is something that exists in real adult life? It might be a myth ingrained in me by the likes of Brenda, Kelly and Donna. Or, perhaps it exists for people who still live in the city where they grew up? Or where all their college friends are?  The friend-groups I know in Chicago are always made up of either high school friends or college friends.

I know I’m lucky to have made this collection of pals all over my new hometown. But when I watch my favorite flock comedies or try to make plans on a Saturday night and want to see a lot of people at once, I do wish I had a crew of my own.

Do you have a group of friends? Or do friend-groups, the kind you can go out with on a Saturday night, inevitably disintegrate as you get older? Because people move away, have kids, and make more friends outside the group? Are cliques limited to high school and college?

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On My To-See List: Five Friends

The new documentary Five Friends is so named for an Elbert Hubbard quote: “My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, you’ve had a great life.” The movie investigates the relationship between one man, Hank Mandel, and his five friends, while interspersing commentary from a sociologist and a pastor, both of whom specialize in male relationships.

At least, this is what I gather from the trailer and website.

I haven’t had a chance to see Five Friends yet. I only first learned about it last Friday, when a reader emailed me  with a heads up. (Thanks Maria!) Of course I immediately clicked over to watch the trailer and some clips, and I’ve most certainly added it to my mental to-watch list.

The movie asks many of the same questions I do on this blog—Why do we need friends when we have romantic partners? Why can men tease each other and women can’t? Why don’t men talk??—but it’s definitely interesting to see these issues addressed from a male perspective. It’s almost jarring, seeing men seriously discuss friendship, because it’s so unusual.

I remember when I first started writing this blog and book, I overheard Matt talking to one of his friends about it. “You should see how much women talk about friendship,” he said. “It’s nuts.”

It’s not in most men’s nature to discuss their friendships. They live their friendships. Perhaps this is a generalization, but I’d say that analyzing their relationships isn’t in the male DNA.

However, it’s worth noting that Hank is 65 years old, while Matt is 29. Do men become more reflective about their relationships as they age? Perhaps. I really wouldn’t know considering I am not a man and I am not in my 60s. But I wouldn’t be shocked.

On their website, the filmmakers say that America has become obsessed with male friendship: “We live in the age of the ‘bromance,'” they say. But even so, there is an akwardness and uncertainty that surrounds man-friends, they claim. “Men need men, it’s just that we don’t talk about it.”

I’ve maintained on this blog that female friendships and male friendships are fundamentally different. I still believe that. But just because they are different doesn’t mean either one is less important. It just means I’ll never entirely understand how the other half lives. But this documentary (trailer below!) seems like a good start.

What do you think? Do men need men as much as women need women? Did you find it unusual, even surprising, to see these men talk about male friendship so openly?

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When Work Friends Part

My last day at my current job is right around the corner. In a few weeks I’ll pack up my belongings and set up shop in our second-bedroom-slash-home-office.

I’m incredibly excited about this next step and the year ahead. But there is, of course, one thing I will miss: My work BFFs.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I have a wonderful gang of work besties. We’re really close, perhaps closer than normal coworkers should be. They have become some of my closest friends and I’m going to miss our constant banter, IMing across cubes or yelling across aisles, buying each other birthday treats, sending any and all links related to Glee/How I Met Your Mother/teenybopper films/celebrity babies and breakups/Neil Patrick Harris, laughing over lunch hours, and generally doing everything that friends who spend their days within eight feet of each might.

It’s the first friend goodbye I’ll have since starting this search and I am not looking forward to it.

Of course, it’s not like any of us are moving. We may not all work together anymore (two of my four work BFFs are leaving around the same time as I), but we’ll still be in Chicago. We could see each other pretty often if we want to.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about what can happen to a friendship between coworkers when you no longer share an office. In one camp are those who say not working together actually makes the friendship stronger. Office gossip takes up a lot of conversation time, the argument goes. Once you free that space up to talk about more substantial stuff like personal lives and emotions and Bieber, you take the relationship to the next level.

Then there are those who say that once the common ground of the office is gone, suddenly there’s not much holding the friendship together. When there are no circles around the water cooler, there’s not much left. Or so the argument goes.

In my case, I’m quite confident these friendships will last. They’ve been elevated from mere “work friend” to “friend” to “really good friend.” I  spend eight hours a day with these people. They know pretty much all there is to know about me… and they still like me! Keepers.

But in my past life, in previous jobs, I’ve had co-workers fall into both categories. One of my dearest friends in the world is a cube-neighbor of mine from my first job. We were very close then, and our friendship is something serious now. On the other hand, I’ve had a few other coworkers that I considered friends, not just “work friends,” who I hardly spoke to after I left the job. We tried, with an email here, a Facebook message there. But mostly we got lazy and went our separate ways.

So, though in this case I feel pretty confident of what will happen, I ask you your experience. When you’ve left jobs, have you maintained friendships with your coworkers? Or did your relationships fizzle, despite your best intentions?

P.S. Thank you for all the birthday wishes! It was a stellar day.

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Birthday Greetings

Last year, on my birthday, I made a request. You blog readers have become friends, I said. If you really want to get me something, anything, a simple forward or two of my blog would be much appreciated. Spread the word, I requested. Tell two (or more) friends about this site, and I would be forever grateful.

Well, here we are again. I don’t know how it happened. That blog post feels like yesterday. And yet today it is 365 days later. It’s my birthday again—29 this time—and I feel equally, if not more, indebted to you all. Some of you have been coming back to this site every day for the past year. Some are new to my search. Others are existing friends who visit my blog daily because you are just that awesome.

So many options. All of which deserve a big THANK YOU.

After all the clicking you’ve done to return to this blog each day, you don’t owe me anything. But, since it is my birthday, and this is the only time I can come right out there and ask for a celebratory gift, I’m just going to do it. Again. Because there is something I would love more than anything for the big 2-9 this year.

If you are so moved… won’t you pre-order my book?

MWF Seeking BFF doesn’t come out until January 10, but as it turns out, it’s already available for pre-order on quite a few sites. There is no cover image yet, and some of the details are left blank, but there is a description, and a mini-review from The Happiness Project‘s Gretchen Rubin. And I promise you, if you pre-order now, by January 10 you will have a complete memoir with a beautiful (I’ve seen it!) cover. It will be a book that details my entire search for a new BFF—including the good, the bad, and the painfully awkward of friend-dates.

Why do I ask that you buy the book some seven months before it is in bookstores? Because pre-order sales contribute tremendously to a book’s success. All pre-orders are counted towards first week sales, which are the most important. So if you are so inclined, you can order MWF Seeking BFF at Amazon, Borders, IndieBound, or Books-A-Million. As the big day gets closer, you’ll be able to order it from plenty of other sites, but for now, these four are all I can offer.

No matter whether pre-ordering is in your plans today or not, all of you who read this blog from time to time have already fulfilled a birthday wish. Just sharing this blog with you every day is kind of a dream come true, cheesy at that sounds.

So, as they say on Cinco de Mayo, muchas gracias.

What about you? What was/will be your birthday wish this year? And does anyone out there share my big day?

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The Hard Facts: This Is Your Brain on Friends

“According to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center, frequent social activity may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline in old age. … On average, those who had the highest levels of social activity (the 90th percentile) experienced only one quarter of the rate of cognitive decline experienced by the least socially active individuals.” (“Higher Levels of Social Activity Decrease the Risk of Cognitive Decline,” Science Daily 4/26/2011)

You may be tired by now of hearing all the health benefits of having a full social circle. Every time new research to that effect is published, you see it here. It’s getting old, you might be thinking. Tell us something we don’t know.

That said, I’ll probably never stop touting this research. Because every time new research comes to light, I remember that for all our analysis and over-analysis about friendships—who is putting in the effort? Is it too late to attempt friendship? Why is she giving me ‘tude?—the truth is that we just need to surround ourselves with people. We have to calm down with the relationship neuroses (believe me, I’ve been plagued with all kinds of friendship anxieties) and just do it. It’s like exercise. You may not like it, but you’ve got to do it. (And you’ll probably like it more than the treadmill. For real.)

For me, getting out there meant launching a full-fledged search. I’m a pretty all-or-nothing gal. For you it might be less intense.  It doesn’t need to be a big thing. You don’t even need to veer out of your comfort zone. If you find picking up ladies at the grocery store uncomfortable (yes, I did that), sign up for a class. If you’d rather rip your arm off than perform with an improv group (yup, did that too), start a book club. If online friending makes you nervous (check), try simply accepting all the invitations that come your way, no matter how not-in-the-mood you are.

I know this is easier said than done. There is all kind of awkwardness and embarrassment and reverting back to your nine-year-old self involved with making friends as an adult. But every time I read that having friends will improve my chances of surviving breast cancer, or less likely to suffer dimensia (both of which are in my family), I find it pretty unbelievable.

The “why” of all this research remains to be seen. “According to [one researcher], one possibility is that ‘social activity challenges older adults to participate in complex interpersonal exchanges, which could promote or main efficient neural networks in a case of ‘use it or lose it.’”

For us non-scientists, the why is less important than the facts: This cognitive decline info is just the latest in a long line of health benefits that come from making friends.

So go out there, make friends, share some girl talk and sing into a wine bottle at an impromptu dance party once in a while. It’s good for you.

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Reciprocation: A Tricky Situation

One of the most common grievances I hear from women regarding their friendships is that they feel like they’re always putting in the effort. They make the plans, send out the invites (via email, phone, old-school mail), and call in the reservations, while their friends just show up.

I understand how frustrating that can be. Women want to feel wanted—this is true of friendship as well as romance. It’s important to feel like your friend’s as eager to see you as you are to see her. And reciprocation, as we know, is one of the primary rules of friendship.

That said, I do believe that sometimes people overanalyze the one-sidedness. It doesn’t necessarily always mean that the friendship as a whole is unbalanced, or that one party cares more than the other. In friendships—as in marriages—people often fall into specific roles, and very often one of those roles is that of planner. In college, there was a guy in my extended group of friends that we called Social Chair. He was, without fail, always the one who organized all outings, whether it was a night out at a bar or a trip down to Jazz Fest. (I never actually went on that trip, regrettably…)

I think that this friend really enjoyed being the planner, but I don’t actually know for sure. It’s possible that he felt the same way that readers have described—exhausted, frustrated, unappreciated. But the reason the rest of us didn’t reciprocate wasn’t because we didn’t like him. It was because he seemed to enjoy being the planner, and he was quite good at it. And on the plus side for him, being Social Chair meant he got to choose the plans.

I understand that the relationships between a group of college pals is different than a two-person, intimate bestfriendship. But the principle is similar. If you’re always the one reaching out, your friend might assume that’s your role. She may not even be thinking this consciously. Maybe she’s just so used to you doing the work that she forgets to take the initiative.

Keep in mind that I am not defending a friend who never puts in any effort. It can be really annoying. Just recently one of my relationships with a potential BFF fizzled because I was constantly doing the work. There was no reciprocation.  I would set up plans, she would sound excited and then cancel at the last minute asking for a rain check, I would respond with the dates I was available and then… nothing. Eventually I got bored of the same routine over and over, and I stopped trying. That’s when it became clear that I’d been the only one trying at all.

What I am trying to say is this: Don’t write a friend off point blank because you feel like you are always the one making the plans. Might there be a reason for that, other than ‘she’s rude’? It’s quite likely.

(Also, keep in mind the psychological phenomenon of “unconscious overclaiming”: The idea that we overestimate our contributions to something—like a relationship—compared with other people’s. Might you be overestimating your BFF “workload” compared to hers?)

If your friendship imbalance is truly bothering you, you might need to talk to your friend. But it’s hard to have that conversation without appearing as if you keep score, so I’d suggest thinking seriously about where her supposed lack of effort comes from before going the confrontational route.

Thoughts? Am I right to give the non-planner the benefit of the doubt? Or is lack of reciprocation a dealbreaker?

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