Monthly Archives: May 2011

When Infidelity Strikes…

Infidelity is front and center these days. Ahnold has made sure of that.

It seems that every six months or so, another story like this hits the news. Eliot. Tiger. John. Arnold.

At book club last night, the question came up of whether Maria could have known about this love-child. And if she didn’t (and for what it’s worth, I’m guessing she didn’t), someone must have, right? There were probably people in the inner circle who knew and didn’t tell her, don’t you think?

What about her friends? Did any of them know? Did they keep it from her? We’ll probably never have an answer, but it’s a question I always find myself pondering in the wake of these scandals.

One of the hardest lessons in friendship I ever learned came some years ago, when I found out my friend’s boyfriend was cheating on her. The boyfriends was a classmate and friend, too, though not as dear to me as my pal. But I was young and stupid. I didn’t want to rock the boat, or upset the guy. I didn’t want to be involved, period. So I kept my mouth shut, just as all my classmates did. It seemed most everyone knew, except my friend.

And when she found out (and all these years later I can’t remember how she found out), she said to me: “I know you must not have known, because you would have told me.”

Ouch.

Never have I felt like a worse friend than in that moment. Two years later, when I was led to believe another’s friend boyfriend was cheating, I told her. Turns out I was wrong—or so he claimed—but I earned that friend’s unending trust and loyalty in the moment I shared that difficult news.

I will never forget my friend telling me that she knew I would have been honest with her. That I was such a good friend I wouldn’t have let her suffer the pain and humiliation that she did. And I do regret not telling her. But I also know that I was young and stupid and scared of the wrath of those I would be outing.

My friend was not Maria Shriver and her boyfriend was no Arnold SchwarzeneggerBut I bet the fear of being the whistle-blower was the same in the former first couple’s circle as it was with my friends, if only on a grander scale. It’s hard to deliver bad, life-changing news. Especially when being the honest one could come back to bite you in the ass.

From what I’ve heard from readers, the ethics of this issue are a gray area. I once wrote that telling a friend when a significant other is cheating is a must, but you didn’t all agree. I thought it was black and white, you all thought not. There’s always the concern that she won’t believe you or think you are spreading  “lies” for selfish reasons. If she finds out and decides to stay with him anyway, she may be too humiliated around you to maintain the friendship. There are circumstances to consider.

So I ask now, if you know a friend is getting cheated on, do you tell? Always? Sometimes? Never? Discuss.

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The Hard Facts: The Pain of Rejection

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

“New research suggests that the same areas in the brain that signify physical pain are activated at the moments of intense social loss.”  (“Rejection May Hurt More Than Feelings,” New York Times, 5/6/2011)

Love hurts. So can friendship. This latest study proves it.

One quote, from the study’s lead author Ethan F. Kross, really stuck with me: “When we sat around and thought about the most difficult emotional experiences, we all agreed that it doesn’t get any worse than social rejection.”

It’s not that I don’t agree—I absolutely do. I guess the image of five scientists sitting around and talking about what hurts the most, and agreeing that feeling left out is The Worst, just surprises me. Admitting to social rejection calls for a certain amount of vulnerability that I don’t equate with the science lab.

It’s also interesting—might I say, nice?—to hear that men feel the same sting of social rejection that women do. It hurts! Bad! Good to know we’re all on the same page.

Previous research had found the opposite, that “while social rejection hurt, it did not activate parts of the brain associated with physical distress.” Turns out, though, that not all social rejection is created equal. “According to the authors, the emotional pain simulated in previous experiments (being told a stranger dislikes them, looking at rejection-themed paintings) wasn’t powerful to elicit a true-to-life response.”

I’m kind of surprised that any scientist, ever, wouldn’t realize that thinking a stranger dislikes you is far less painful that getting dumped by a friend, mocked by a colleague, or left out by your group of besties. I mean, really. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. (Get it? Get it? ‘Cause these people are actual scientists!)

Most women have been through this kind of painful physical rejection before. Even if the official science wasn’t out there, I wonder if we all knew, in some small way, that this pain was legit. That might explain why we have such horrible guilt when we break up with friends. If we know, however subconsciously, that we’re inflicting genuine pain on someone? Well, that’s just not in our nature. I hope.

I don’t know. This is all just hypothesizing.

But regarding the pain aspect, apparently the part of the brain that is affected by spilling hot coffee on yourself is the same as the part affected by social rejection. Ouch.

Personally, my social rejection pain seems to manifest in my stomach. Just thinking about my worst moments of feeling rejected starts to tie my stomach in knots. Blurgh.

Have you experienced the physical pain of social rejection? Does this research surprise you, or is it a bit of a duh moment? Think this is why we ladies feel so guilty about breaking up with friends?

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Friend Flirting

It’s not really a thing, friend flirting. Not yet, at least.

But here’s the definition of flirting, according to my laptop dictionary: “Behaving as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.” I would take issue with the second half of that definition— plenty of people flirt with romantic interests with every intention of eventually making it serious—but that first section seems spot on.

And if that is correct, if flirting is simply a way of behaving to attract someone and show your interest in them, then the word really can be used for the friendly smiles and nods we use to endear ourselves to potential BFFs.

One thing I’ve come to believe, lately? As a woman, it’s easier to “flirt” with a guy than a girl.

I’m always on the lookout for new friends. I’ve trained my eye, so now I can spot an inviting smile anywhere. If a potential friend seems to be expressing “interest” in me (strictly platonic interest, but you can see why the issue of having no vocabulary for making friends can be tough. These quotation marks around the generally romantic words are just annoying), I reciprocate or even initiate the contact. And as I’ve always said, the people I’ve reached out to are generally responsive.

But what if it’s friendliness with no agenda? What if, say, I’m interacting with someone in an airport, and there’s pretty much no way we are ever going to see each other again, so any type of real BFFship is out of the question? In that case, it can be really hard to strike up conversations with women.

Yesterday I was at LaGuardia Airport, killing time before my flight from New York City back to Chicago. I wasn’t looking for a best friend (I’d just seen all my lifers so was feeling nostalgic for those specific ladies), but I’m always on the lookout for someone to chat with. The woman across the aisle from me at the gate seemed friendly. But every time I thought I might say something, just to chat, I chickened out.

Meanwhile the guy at Five Guys, the guys at the security line, the guys at the gate, they were talkative and friendly. I think we’ve all been trained in charming the opposite sex, even for a moment. But winning over a new buddy? No one’s gone to class for that.

Am I crazy? Have you found that it can be easier to strike up small-talk conversations with men than with women? Is it because we’ve been trained to flirt? Or because men are less judgmental, and thus less intimidating, than women?

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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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