Monthly Archives: June 2011

Those Three Little Words

If finding a friend is the platonic version of dating, than declaring BFFship is like saying those three little words.

I’ve often wondered what I’ll do if and when I find The One. Or, even, The Ones. Is there a not-awkward way of telling someone that she’s your BFF?

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a reader with this same question. It read: “At what point do you tell someone that you consider them a BFF (or the BFF)?  What signs do you look for that indicate it’s the right time?  Do you wait for it to come up in conversation, or do you make a point to talk about it?  And what do you do if something heartbreaking happens:  you tell them they’re your BFF and instead of them saying ‘Oh, I feel the same way too!’ they just smile sweetly and say something horrifying like ‘Oh, thank you!'”

Perhaps, at this point, you are chuckling in your head at how date-y this seems. These are, clearly, the same concerns when we want to tell a romantic partner that we’re in love. But let me be clear—this reader is not alone. I’ve been wondering the same thing and, in fact, her timing was impeccable. It seemed as if she might have been reading my mind.

Reader went on to tell me about her relationship with a new pal. “I really want to tell this ‘close local’ friend that I consider her a BFF, but I feel awkward doing so because [I know she has other local best friends].  I’m pretty sure she would say she considers me a BFF too, but there’s a chance she won’t.  I tend to wear my heart of my sleeve, so NOT telling her she’s a BFF is quite painful for me.”

I’m the same way. You know how when you’re in love you want to shout it from the rooftops? That’s how I feel about new friends. As our relationships evolve, it’s all I can do not to give my friends a Best Friends Forever card. Or necklace. On top of that—and I’m totally serious here—when we go out and get drinks, if I get buzzed enough I get that giggly “I want to tell you how much you mean to me” bug that plenty of us get when we’re out with a boyfriend. Anyone who’s made a slightly drunk profession of love knows this is not the best idea.

As I told this reader in an email, most of my potential best friends in Chicago already have a best friend of their own. So announcing that they hold the title could be end up, well, with a “thank you.” (Like Emily to Ross!) Yikes.

The good news is that this isn’t romantic dating. Declaring BFFship isn’t a necessity in taking a relationship to the next level. No one (well, except me and this reader, apparently) is waiting for those three little words:”You’re my BFF.” So saying it isn’t a necessity. You don’t have to wait until the time is right. My advice, to her and to myself, was to wait it out. Making a pronouncement could be awkward, but letting it come up naturally in conversation—in a joke, or a fun toast—is, in the words of another Friend, Monica, breezy.

If you’re in a friendship that’s working for you, the rational answer to this reader question is that the label shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you are the official BFF or not, you’re still getting the same social satisfaction. Of course, my rational side doesn’t always win. Whose does?

So, what do you think? When is the right time to tell her you love her she’s your BFF?

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The Hard Facts: How Close is Close Enough?

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

“When a friend who lives less than a mile away becomes happy, it can increase the probability that you are happy by 25 percent. In contrast, the happiness of a friend who lives more than a mile away has no effect.” (Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler)

Yesterday’s blog post was another ode to consistency. But, as we know, proximity is another vital factor for friendship. The closer you live to someone, the better shot you have of hitting it off. Research shows that having similar addresses matters more than having similar values or interests.  Sometimes, a difference of mere feet can affect who you click with. The person you sit next to in class has a much better likelihood of becoming your best friend than the  student four seats down.

But what are the parameters? How close is close enough? Reader Marie inquired about as much in a comment yesterday: “I am wondering how close you need to live to a friend (or group of friends) to stay actively involved in their lives and not fall into a distant relationship? Obviously across the country is a distant friendship. But what about across the state? Or across a metropolitan city? That could be an hour away. How close do your friends need to be before your friendship starts fading due to the distance? Is a friendship that is 10 minutes away more likely to continue than one 30 minutes away?”

This is such a good question, and it’s actually one I put in my book proposal back in the day. Would someone I liked just-enough but lived in my neighborhood be a more likely BFF than someone I totally clicked with but lived across town?  I tend to think the mile-marker is a pretty good barometer. Someone who lives within a mile of you probably will have the most influence, not just on your happiness (as referenced above) but also on your loneliness level. Once a friend lives more than a mile away, it becomes tougher to see them on a whim or meet for a quick lunch.

When I first started this blog I heard from a potential friend who lived in Illinois, but still about an hour away from me. We discussed getting together, but ultimately it didn’t work out. The main reason? Distance. Once it takes an hour to see someone across the state, it’s not much more difficult (though certainly more expensive) to fly across the country. I think the ability to get a spontaneous Sunday morning brunch is the key to close friendship. Even if you never actually get that last-minute meal, knowing that you can actually helps a friendship thrive.

To answer Marie’s questions, I sort of think that, yes, a friendship might start to fade if a BFF moves from 10 minutes away to 30 minutes away. It’s not that you won’t be best friends anymore, but I think that sense of immediacy and closeness that you get from a nearby pal might wane a bit. I would posit that a 10-minute-away friendship is more likely to thrive than a half-hour-away one.

Basically, every little bit counts. 10 minutes is better than 30, but 30 is better than an hour. It might sound formulaic, but I think it’s just reality.

So, my take—with a little help from Christakis and Fowler—is that a mile is the magic distance. Just the simple fact that your happy friend is within a mile of you is probably what’s making you 25 percent happier, anyway.
What do you think? Do you have a friendship distance hypothesis? Think my one-mile rule is too limiting?

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Putting the B in BFF

I’ve been at this search for approximately 18 months now. I’ve made a lot—a lot!—of friends. GFFs. Good friends forever.

The question, now, is how to turn some of those GFFs  into BFFs. Best friends forever.

I’ve often said on this blog that consistency is  key. The more you see someone, the better chance you have of turning them into a best friend. But consistency is really hard. Yes, I have book club friends and cooking club friends, but I usually only see them once a month. It’s consistent, but not consistent enough. It’s sufficient for turning an acquaintance into a friend, but not enough to turn a friend into a bestie.

The other problem with consistency is that people are really busy. Especially during the summer. Sure, I have friends with whom I attend Saturday morning dance class, but when summer hits it becomes only bi-weekly, or monthly, because between the three of us someone is on vacation or at a wedding almost every weekend. People, including myself, have hectic schedules. It becomes impossible to keep a standing date. Life gets in the way.

If I can’t count on consistency, I can at least shoot for often, right? Maybe I can’t see my new friends every Tuesday like clockwork, but hanging out whenever possible should be the next best thing. The problem, of course, is that I’ve made so many wonderful friends that I want to see everyone as much as possible. As you might imagine—and as I’ve spoken about—that gets tricky.

Let me be clear: I’m not complaining. A girl could do a lot worse than to have made a city full of GFFs, and I’m in no way implying that I have too many friends (like that could even be a problem). I’m just recognizing, again, what this blog is about: It’s really hard to make a new best friend. Those of you who read this blog and think,’wow, she makes it look easy,’ know that it’s not. Not at all.

The more I work on this search, the more I believe that friendship, like everything in life, is about timing. You can do all the right things—accept and extend invitations, follow up, join, and be persistent—and still things could backfire if your timing isn’t right. If she’s busy planning her wedding or you have vacations planned all summer, the BFFship probably won’ happen. Not because you’re a bad fit but because the timing makes no sense.

All this to say, making a new best friend is hard. Even I’m still seeking advice, and I’ve been at it for a good long while. Got any?

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Friendship Fanfare

As a BFF, do weddings make you feel rejected?

That’s the question posed in yesterday’s Boston Globe magazine, in one of those articles that made me think, “Whoa there, how did this writer get insidemy brain?” It’s the kind of piece that made me want to send the author a note just to say “Yes! I think so too!” (In fact, I think I’ll do just that as soon as I’m done writing this blog.)

In the column, entitled “A Bridesmaid’s Lament,” author Carrie English writes: “Surely I can’t be the only person who feels like weddings are a bit of a rejection – two people announcing in public that they love each other more than they love you.”

Truth be told, I haven’t actually had that thought. (And you know I’d tell you if I had.) Perhaps that’s because when my BFF got married, we already lived states away from one another. Distance was a harder strain on our bestfriendship than her marriage would ever be. And, unlike English, I am a big believer that it’s having kids–not marriage–that alters your BFFship for eternity.

That said, I enjoyed this bit so much I want to share it: “There’s no denying that weddings change friendships forever. Priorities have been declared in public. She’ll be there for him in sickness and in health, till death do they part. She’ll be there for you on your birthday or when he has to work late.”

Maybe it’s because every woman I know lives with her husband before she gets married, but I haven’t found that nuptials have changed any of my friendships. Coupling off certainly has, but these days marriage itself doesn’t seem to alter much in the way of behavior. My friends who were independent before are still independent now, and my friends who clung to their boyfriends and refused to go out solo, well, they’re still being ridiculous.

But the part that made me scream “yes! exactly!” (if only internally) was this: “However much our society might pay lip service to friendship, the fact remains that the only love it considers important – important enough to merit a huge public celebration – is romantic love. This despite the fact that platonic love is the only love that’s truly unconditional.” English goes on to explain just how that unconditional friendship love is expressed. (It’s funny in its accuracy. Trust me. Read it.)

I know that I just wrote an entire post about why I think National Best Friends Day is bunk, and perhaps this whole “we should celebrate friendship” sentiment sounds like a contradiction to that. It’s not. I too feel that the only unconditional relationship that’s truly celebrated is romantic love. I support the argument that friendship deserves its due. It’s just that I think our way of celebrating friendship, of acknowledging its importance, should be to take it seriously and respect it as a social science, not just create a silly Hallmark holiday.

In the end of her piece, English encourages readers to go out and have an anniversary party with their friends. A friend-wedding, if you will.

It sounds so sentimental. And yet, every summer my mind wanders back to the first time I met my BFF Sara. We are coming up on our 19th anniversary and I can thinkoif nothing I’d rather do than drink champagne and bake a cake (well, Sara can bake the cake, that’s her domain. I’ll eat it) and celebrate each other for surviving what many marriages don’t–almost two decades together.

Do you agree with English’s contention that platonic love is the only true unconditional love? Does it deserve some fanfare? And have you ever felt that sense of rejection when a BFF got married?

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Friends Who Can Travel Together, Stay Together

Over the last few days, I was out of town on a mini-vacation with a friend. Since we both just finished up our jobs, it seemed the perfect time to take advantage of those online deals out there. The trip was fabulous. We were in San Diego, a city neither of us had ever visited but both ended up adoring. (As my pal said, “These are real California hippies!” We loved the surfer-boy vibe.)

One of the best parts of this trip was that my friend and I turned out to be fabulous travel companions. It was our first trip just the two of us, so who knew what could go wrong. I was confident we’d get along great—I wouldn’t have agreed to the trip otherwise—but one can never be sure. Sometimes two people who are a perfect match at home suddenly want to bite each other’s heads off on the road. You know how it is.

But is there  a faster track to friendship than traveling together? I would say no. Sharing a hotel room for three days is enough to a launch a lifelong relationship (or dismantle it).

In our case, all was well. We chatted nonstop and not an hour after we parted—we took separate flights home—were we texting. The trip was so good, in fact, that today I’m exhausted. Isn’t that the universal sign of success?

Have you ever traveled with just one friend? How did it go? Do you think travel is  make-it-or-break-it when it comes to potential BFFships?

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Do We Need a National Best Friends Day?

Apparently, yesterday was National Best Friends Day.

I have to admit, I find this kind of holiday to be really silly. Not just because it is totally made up. Or because every day should be best friend’s day. But because even though I’m passionate about starting a dialogue concerning the realities of modern-day relationships, there’s a stigma attached to talking about friendship and this  kind of holiday contributes to it.

Here’s what I mean: When I first started working on my book, people would, of course, often ask me what it was about.

“Friendship,” I’d say.

They’d smile politely (or was it condescendingly?) as their eyes glazed over. I knew they were picturing those email forwards with the ridiculous pink fonts and the rhymes about how we should cherish our girlfriends. Or those black and white photo books with pictures of little girls holding hands and leaning their heads on each others shoulders. They figured I was writing some sappy ode to sisterhood, when in fact I was hoping to write a modern, fresh, realistic take on how difficult—and hilariously awkward—it is to make new friends as an adult. I planned to quote scientific research, not just Carole King and Dionne Warwick.

But it seemed no one considered friendship a serious or intelligent topic.

Eventually I amended my response regarding my book’s subject.

“It’s about friendship,” I’d say.”But not in a cheesy way!”

For whatever reason, people don’t take friendship seriously. Even in yesterday’s TodayShow.com blog post about Best Friends Day, reporter Jenna Wolfe wrote: “Today is Best Friends Day and while I’m not 7 (I’m…well… considerably older than that), I still honor and respect the gods of friendship who declared this a national (semi-celebrated) holiday.” I’m a big fan of Wolfe’s, but the fact that she felt the need to say “while I’m not 7” pretty much encapsulates the general public’s attitude toward discussing friendship: It’s for children. It’s juvenile. It’s frivolous.

I’m not sure where this sentiment came from. Quality friendships are one of the most significant contributors to our health. Being socially connected affects everything from our sleep patterns to our financial status. And yet, until quite recently, the study of social networks was virtually nonexistent. People researched group mentality or romantic relationships. But just friendship? Not so much.

We all know that women love and adore their BFFs. That is not new information, and new information—the science, the embarrassment that no ever talks about at having trouble making new pals—that’s what needs attention. So when we create made up holidays like Best Friends Day… I don’t know, but I don’t think it does much to lend credibility to the topic. Instead, it reinforces the idea that it’s a sappy topic for sentimental girls.

Do you agree? Or do I need to lighten up?

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The Hard Facts: To Move or Not To Move

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

“It is estimated that 40 million Americans will be moving this summer.” (“5 Things to Consider Before Moving Away From Your Friends” by Shasta Nelson; Huffington Post, 5/26/2011)

No matter how many reasons people have for moving, friends almost never factor into the picture. “We will move to have an extra bedroom, a bigger kitchen, a cheaper cost of living, a neighborhood with other kids, a better job or more sunshine,” Nelson says. So why not for friends?

I’d argue it’s because we’ve become such a culture of individualism that staying (or moving) somewhere “just” so you can be close to friends is considered weak. Which, of course, is silly since one’s happiness is derived so much more from friendship than it is from owning a big home or living in a nice neighborhood.

Nelson is very specific in her argument that women should seriously consider friendship when contemplating a move. It sounds touchy-feely, sure, but having no local friends will significantly diminish someone’s happiness factor.

This summer, a couple of my new friends are moving. “But we just met, ” I want to say to them. “How could you be leaving so soon??”

I joke all the time that I can never move again. What am I going to do, MWF Seeking BFF: LA Edition? The sequel? No thank you. I’m finding the people I need and I’m staying put. End of story.

But for those 40 mil who are moving this summer–or are considering a potential move in the near future–I’m curious. How much thought did you give your local social network while you were in the planning phases? Any?

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Getting Even, For a Friend’s Sake

Have you read this Modern Love essay? About a woman whose best friend’s ex decides to take her spin class?  And she plots revenge for his mistreatment of her BFF by subjecting him to a miserable ass-kicking workout?

I love it.

The piece is at once funny and horrifying. It makes you love the writer, and also think she might be a tad nutty. She’s the kind of person I’d want on my side.

The gist of the story is that the writer, a spin teacher, is taken aback when the man who left her best friend shows up to take one of her classes–with his new girlfriend in tow. She decides to silently taunt him during class, making sure he gets the hardest bike and creating a special cheaters playlist on his behalf. It’s funny because the friend and her ex-husband get along ok. But the writer/spinning teacher? She’ll never be ok with him. She’s angry and must get revenge for his betrayal of her BFF.

I’ve always been fascinated with how affected friends get at their pal’s mistreatment. I’ve heard so many women say that they’ve broken up with a guy, and when they got back together–no matter how dramatic or trivial the reason for the initial break–they were able to trust him again, but their best friends couldn’t.

All guys who’ve screwed up, hear this: Winning back an ex is easier than winning back her friends.

An obvious reason for this is that female friends hear the truth about a guy’s bad side during a breakup. Good friends survive a BFF’s split by her side. They listen to a lot of bitching about the ex, or learn all the horrible things he’s done or said. Suddenly he’s not sounding so sweet after all.

There’s likely a second–admittedly more selfish–reason why friends aren’t happy when a BFF gets back with her ex. They don’t want to live through it again. If Sally coached and counseled Jane through a bad breakup, she won’t want to do it more than once. At least, not for the same guy.

Of course, and most importantly, there’s also the fact that a good friend wants to protect her pal. Wrong my BFF and  you’ve wronged me. It seems silly,  sure, but those bonds are what make bestfriendships, after all.

The other day I saw my friend’s very recent ex walking across the street in front of my car. He looked a little out of it, not entirely paying attention to where he was going. It was all I could do not to pound on my horn and scare the living bejeezus out of him. Not for any specific reason. Just to say, ‘you hurt my friend? Well I’ll hurt you.’

I like these protective tendencies. There’s not much better than hearing that your friend will torture a man in spin class for you.

Have you seen this play out in your life? Where the friend is more angry at her BFF’s ex than the BFF herself is? Do you agree that for a guy, winning over an ex is easier than winning over an ex’s friends? Share below!

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The Friendship Limbo

Today I’ll change things up and kick the week off with a question: What do you do when you know a friendship is drifting apart, but neither party wants to actually end it? Or rekindle it?

I have a friendship in limbo. We don’t live in the same state, so we don’t see each other often. Our relationship has become approximately four months of phone tag to every one semi-awkward conversation.

You know that feeling when it’s been so long since you’ve talked to someone and there’s so much to say that there’s nothing to say? It’s not like you’re going to tell stories about work or what you did over the weekend, because that would require backstory that your friend doesn’t have and you don’t feel like getting into.

So you talk every few months–not because you want to, necessarily, but because you think you should. You’re supposed to. And on those calls you catch up on the basics: Work, family, relationships, kids. Perhaps you quickly catch up on mutual friends. And then someone finds an excuse to get off the phone because neither of you are saying much anyway. And then you think: we haven’t talked in four months and that was our conversation? Are we even friends anymore?

It’s not that either party wronged the other, so you aren’t in a fight. And you’ll see her eventually—mutual friends, remember?—which means you’re not about to initiate some dramatic break up. There’s no cause for one anyway.

So you continue along this path of half-assed phone tag, talking every so often, and wondering after each phone call why you even pretend in the first place.

I feel like this is one of the most uncomfortable stages of friendship, but also a common one. It takes a lot for someone to break up with a friend. We ladies feel so guilty about it that we try to avoid such action under all circumstances. But the infinitely-more-common slink away only feels possible when you know you won’t see her again. Otherwise, it just gets mucho awkwardo when you come to face-to-face and there was no real reason for the drift.

So you ride the friendship wave, right? Is there even another choice? I’m truly curious, because this exact thing happened to me last week. I talked to a lifelong friend on the phone, and it wasn’t that we didn’t like each other, but we just had nothing to say. Our friendship, for all intents and purposes, is over, but neither of us would ever say such a thing.

What would you do? Just keep talking every few months, more out of the respect for the friendship that was than out of actual interest? Or just disengage entirely?

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New Career Phase. New Friend Phase?

After three and a half years, today is my last day in my office. Emotions are mixed.

Mostly, I am excited. More time to focus on this blog, my upcoming book, and other writing projects coming down the pike. I’m eager to try my hand at working for myself, though recently someone told me that anyone who works from home needs two things–a good agent and a good antidepressant. I’m hoping I’ll be able to establish a daily routine that will keep me from living in my pajamas, not showering, and never experiencing the high of human contact. I’m excited to start fresh. Now seems as good a time as any.

But also, I’m a bit bummed. In the friendship realm, I’m losing one of the most important factors: consistency. I am a steadfast believer that above all else, regularity of interaction is the single most important element in building a best friendship. Work attendance took care of that for me when it came to my office BFFs. Now there’s more effort involved, and not that we’re too lazy to do it but… well, there’s always the fear that we are lazier than we think.

Goodbyes are no fun. Coworker goodbyes are especially no fun as they involve some severe awkwardness on my part. Is this a hug situation? Or a handshake? Or the always-uncomfortable so-long-see-ya-later wave? Yikes. And when you’ve worked cubicles away for more than three years, does that make you friends? Or simply coworkers? How heartfelt do these goodbyes have to get?? What is the protocol?!?

Then there is the fear of the future. The one thing about leaving coworkers, usually, is that you are gaining new ones. As an old colleague of mine once told me, “you may be leaving these crazies, but you’ll get a whole new batch of ’em.” Because yes, there will always be crazy coworkers.

Until there aren’t. Like, for example, if you’re working from home.

So, yes, I’m sad about leaving my current wacky work family, but I’m equally nervous about not having a new one. Will I start talking to my houseplant?

I was about to say “where does one meet people??” until I remembered that this is how this whole search got started.  Before there was a proactive friend-dating quest, there was me, in between jobs, complaining to anyone who would listen about how I was going to be working from home and how, then, would I make pals?

In these moments of change, it’s easy for me to forget everything I’ve learned. That one can meet new friends at every turn, that people are excited to hear from potential pals. The good news is there’s one big difference between now and then: Now I have friends. I’ve got a year full of searching under my belt and the companions to prove it.

So the new challenge extended? Re-up the effort to see the friends I already have. Make sure to interact with a few people everyday. Don’t let myself fall into some ‘I have no friends’ funk I worked so hard to dig out of. And undertake serious networking as the next extension of this quest.

Any advice for this new career phase? Any must-heed advice for an official work-from-homer as of, say, 5 pm?

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