Monthly Archives: August 2011

Guest Post: Remember to Forget

I’m on vacation!  While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to hear from some of the products of this search firsthand. Here, my new friend Jordan on the importance of forgetting.

“So… when you see Mitch, if he says anything about me being a state champion tennis player, just go along with it, ok?”

That’s what I told my high school BFF Lynn a month ago. I followed with the story of how I randomly thought a high school tennis tournament that I’d played in was the state championship and that I’d won (Lynn also played at said tournament and was a higher rank than me, so don’t ask me why I thought I was the champion). I didn’t even realize my mistake until last year when I told Mitch of my victory and saw his amazed reaction. Being the bestie that she is, Lynn just laughed hysterically (wouldn’t you?) but said she wouldn’t divulge my secret.

“Did I ever tell you that when I was growing up I called a cash ‘register’ a cash ‘rah-jesture’ and that I secretly have to stop myself from saying it wrong all the time?”

That’s what I told our lil’ Miss Rachel when I explained my first job at a driving range back in 1997. I didn’t even know I said it wrong until my coworkers looked at me like I was crazy! Rachel laughed but moved on to the next topic with ease.

When I tell a friend something I don’t want the world to know (no worries about this blog… I’m using a pseudonym), I expect her to laugh, but also to “get it.” When I told my friend Michelle that the word “pragmatic,” which is overused at my job, means nothing to me, and that I constantly have to look it up because I forget what it means, and just thinking about it now makes me wonder how to possibly use it in a sentence, Michelle giggles but gets it.

What I’m trying to say is that, to me, a best friend is someone to whom I can tell my most embarrassing stories. Confiding in my BFFs gives me a sense of relief and support. If a friend responded by looking at me like I was an idiot, I’d feel like I shared my secrets with the wrong person. And besties are the ones who don’t bring up the subject again. It’s not like Rachel said “hey! there’s the rah-jesture!” or that Lynn asked “how’s our state champ doing today?” or that Michelle uses pragmatic in every other sentence. No, they avoid the topic completely, because that’s what friends do: they listen, they laugh, and they forget.

Are there things you can tell some friends and not others? Does that make them BFF-worthy? (pragmatically speaking of course.)

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Guest Post: Don’t Give Up On The Sour-Faced Girl

I’m on vacation! While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to hear from some of the products of this search firsthand. Here Ashley, one of my work BFFs, learns a lesson from our first meeting. And makes me blush.

I can’t remember the exact moment I met Rachel, but I’m certain of two things: I was in a cube and I was in a bad mood. Rachel came to work at the same company as me about four years ago. I had already been there for a couple years, and her first day happened to be my first day in a new (and stress-inducing) position. On top of starting my new job, I had just learned my father had cancer. I was your proverbial train wreck—overwhelmed, scared and certainly not looking for a new friend.

Anyone else in the world would have seen my sour-faced self and run the other way, but not Rachel. She did all the things a good work friend should—she listened to me vent, sent me important EW.com links and walked with me to lunch. And the day before my dad was scheduled to go in for his big surgery, Rachel wrote me one of the nicest, most encouraging emails I’ve ever received.

She won me over big time.

Rachel and I no longer work together, but we’ve grown incredibly close. In fact, I recently introduced her to another good friend of mine by saying, “This is Rachel. We’re basically obsessed with each other.” And…we kind of are. {Editor’s Note: It’s true!} We chat daily about everything from our careers and personal lives to the new yogurt shop around the corner and how amazing Neil Patrick Harris is (I mean, seriously. Is there nothing that man can’t do?).

I recently started a new job (sadly, without Rachel), and I’m constantly sending her important updates: “No one is talking to me,” “Two people just talked me,” “OMG, they have free Diet Coke here!” I’ve yet to find a new work BFF, but I think I should take a page out of Rachel’s book and just make it happen. I guess you never know…that sour-faced girl in the next cube could become one of your closest friends.

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Guest Post: Bookish BFFs

I’m on vacation! While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to hear from some of the products of this search firsthand. Here, my new friend Jillian reflects on her favorite literary BFFships.

I wanted to be Rachel’s friend because she openly admitted in an article to the entire universe that she thought about making friends in bookstores based on the books that they carried.  This woman, I smartly thought, is amazing.  I didn’t know they made them like her.  And when we met for our first friend date and our first conversation was about our unabashed love of Harry Potter, I knew a lifelong friendship was in the making.

So, as I hunted for inspiration for this blog post, I thought back to our original meeting and some of my favorite MWF blogs.  My husband often says that he thinks that there are books that make us love each other better and more.  We stumble across characters that feel like actual kindred spirits, or storylines that are moments of recognition.  Well, I think there are books and stories of friendship that make us love our BFFs better and more.  Here is a list of my five favorites.

1) Anne and Diana in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

When Anne meets Diana, she makes her swear to be her best friend for “as long as the sun and moon shall endure.”  Diana then tells Anne that she is “a queer girl…but I believe that I am going to like you real well.”  And a best friendship is made…and girls everywhere are taught that it is okay to be as weird as you are…and you can find a BFF anyway!

2) Morgan and Jimmy in Julie Reece Deaver’s Say Goodnight, Gracie

In this much undiscovered YA novel, Morgan (girl) and Jimmy (boy) are BFFs from prenatal times.  What I love so much about their friendship is that it’s a story of an intimate, I- know-you-like-I-know-my-favorite-pair-of-blue-jeans-and-can-finish-your-sentences friendship between a girl and boy.  Needless to say, when I was 13, I wanted that kind of friendship too.

3) Harry, Ron, and Hermione in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

Best friends can come in trios, and you can meet them in the most unlikely places.  Ron and Harry meet in an opportune moment while boarding the train to Hogwarts and when they first meet Hermione, they don’t even like her!  Rowling’s tales have something to say about holding out past the first impression and being open to all friendship possibilities.

4) Lucy and Ann in Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty

In this amazing memoir of friendship, Patchett describes meeting Lucy and how she believed that “Lucy Grealy was way too cool for the likes of me.”  On the same page, she says, “I do not remember our love unfolding, that we got to know each other…[only that] it was there, huge and permanent.”  There are some friends that we find because we are in awe of, have crushes on and fall madly in love with them…and hooray for this.

5) Ruth and Ann in Elizabeth Berg’s Talk Before Sleep

In this story of death and friendship, Berg shines a light on the painful beauty of sharing suffering and pain with another human being.  I have read this book many times since I was a teenager and have given it as a gift to those I love best because when I read it, I am reminded of them.

What are the stories of friendship that stay with you, inspiring you to find those you have yet to find and reminding you of those you have already met and love lots?

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Guest Post: On The Opposite End of the Pick Up

I’m on vacation, so thought it would be fun hear from some of the products of this search firsthand. Here, my very first girl date reflects on our awkward introduction.

For those of you who will very soon be reading MWF Seeking BFF, you’ll know me as Hannah, Rachel’s very first “girl date” in Chicago.  It was January, 2010, and I had just moved back to my hometown of Chicago from a rather turbulent year in New York City.  I had been dumped, robbed, and nearly laid off in the span a few months, so I’d decided it was time that New York and I parted ways for good.  Needless to say, I was ready for a fresh start and a new chapter in my life.

One thing that hadn’t crossed my mind when deciding whether to move back to the Midwest (I’d spent five years in Boston before New York) was that I would have to make new friends.  Though I hadn’t lived in Chicago since I was eighteen and a senior in high school, I was lucky enough to have several friends—very close friends—from all stages of my life in the city.  I planned to move in with my cousin, and my sister had just relocated to Chicago from Atlanta.  I’d joke that I was homeless, jobless, boyfriendless, and law-license-less, but one thing I was not was girlfriendless.

So I admit I was a bit taken aback when I received the following email:

On Wed  at 4:18 PM, Sara [redacted] wrote:

think she’s moving in January.  we’re having our December book club at her house.

Very confused, I read on:

On Wed at 4:11 PM, Rachel Bertsche wrote:

what’s her email? When is she coming to chicago? I want to grab her as my bff asap

My first thought: Should I be creeped out that some girl named Rachel wanted to aggressively make me her BFF ASAP?! Apparently, I had accidentally been copied on an email chain between Rachel and her longtime BFF Sara. {Editor’s Note: I was so embarrassed! That aggressive friending was meant for Sara’s eyes only! Oops.}  Sara and I were in a book club together in New York – the book club that Rachel had founded several years back, before she moved to Chicago.

I wrote back:

On Thu at 7:59 AM, Hannah [redacted] wrote:

Ha! I’d love to be friends, Rachel!

And though I meant it, it wasn’t until Rachel followed up with me some weeks later that we ended up sipping cocktails at a bar and talking a mile a minute like old friends.

I have had the privilege of not only being a part of Rachel’s quest for a BFF, but of watching it from its inception.  I am truly in awe of her—not just of her commitment to putting 110% of herself into her search (rent-a-friend, improv classes, flash mobs…need I say more?!), but Rachel has also taught me that sometimes, even though sitting on my couch with old friends sounds perfect, and a lot of times it is perfect, it can also be the easy way out. Now I see the value in new connections. I’ve even given a girl my number! She was new in town, clearly looking for new pals, and I was happy to help—rather than totally weirded out—because I’ve realized how tough this friend-making thing really is.

What do you think? Would receiving that accidental email have turned you off? Or made you jump for joy?

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A Little Help From My Friends…

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m heading out of town today for a trip to Hong Kong. As you might imagine, I’m plenty excited. And I’ve decided that, like last year when I went to Croatia, I don’t want to blog over vacation.

But never fear, dear readers. I wouldn’t leave you hanging. (‘Cause clearly having this blog to read every day is what gets you up in the morning. Clearly.) Perhaps you remember that last summer I asked the important people in my life, those who’d been witnessing my search firsthand, to write about how my year of friending affected them. My husband, my mom, my brother, and my two best friends each wrote funny and insightful pieces about their take on BFF searching.

This year, now that the “official” year of friending is over (although, is the quest for friendship ever really finished? I think not) I thought I’d ask for guest posts from some of the women themselves. People are always asking me, “Do the girls you pick up think you’re weird?” “Do they know about your blog?” “Did you make any new friends?” My usual answers are “Maybe,” “Sometimes” and “Of course!” But over the next six days, I thought you might as well hear it straight from them. What they thought, how they’ve changed (or not), and if they do, in fact, think I’m crazy. (Spoiler alert! Most are pretty kind.)

In collecting the posts over the past few weeks, I’ve laughed, gotten choked up, and been totally surprised. But one of the most interesting things about reading them, for me, was how much I learned both about my new friends, and about my new friendships.

As a writer, I’ve always felt more comfortable putting my thoughts onto paper than speaking them aloud. If I want to tell a friend how much she means to me, I put it in a card. If I have a complaint or confrontation, I communicate that in writing, too. In fact, a few months ago, a coworker actually called me out for having trouble with emotion. Perhaps it’s true. When friends get all lovey with me in person, I get awkward and make a lame joke when I should be grateful. But I’d say that I simply have trouble with open declarations of emotion. Written ones are my forte.

Turns out it’s not just me. Most of us are more willing to make ourselves vulnerable in writing than in person. When reading the upcoming guest blogs, in each case I thought “that’s what she thought?” or “I never knew that!” It’s always fascinating to hear someone’s first impression of you–what are the things they remember? And do your memories sync up?–but I’m struck by how open women get about the nuance and importance of friendship when they’re writing it down, and how nonchalant we are about it when speaking. It’s curious, no?

When telling your friends how much they mean to you, do you do it better in writing? Or in person? Why are we more willing to be vulnerable on paper (or virtual blog paper)? And have you ever been surprised to learn of someone’s first impression of you?

Have a great week everyone! I’ll be back next Monday. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy learning about my search from the flip side. I know I have!

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The Hard Facts: Your Friends Might Not Be Making You Fat

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

“Over the past few years, a series of highly publicized studies by two researchers have concluded that behaviors like [overeating, smoking and drug use]  can be literally contagious — passed from person to person. … But now those surprising conclusions have drawn heated criticism from other scientists who claim that the studies’ methodology was flawed and the original data completely inadequate to estimate the role that contagion might play in the spread of these behaviors.” (“Catching Obesity From Friends Might Not Be So Easy” New York Times, 8/9/2011)

You know how one day scientists will say something is unhealthy–red wine, perhaps, or chocolate, or cheese–and the next day they’ll be telling you to get at least three servings a day? How one day fat was the devil, until it wasn’t, and instead we should cut the carbs. And then carbs got added back, but only the unprocessed ones, and sugar became the target? That’s what’s becoming of the latest friend research.

First, behavior was contagious. The activities of our friends was the most important thing when it came to our own healthy behavior. I wrote on this blog about research that said unemployment could be “caught” between buddies. But the same held true, supposedly, for smoking, drinking, levels of happiness, exhaustion, and weight. The theory as to how this contagion works is interesting and, in my opinion, convincing. Here, the author is referencing weight contagion: “A person’s idea of an acceptable weight, or an acceptable portion size, changes when he sees how big his friends are or how much they eat.”

This was the claim of the researchers, and I buy it. My ideas of what is acceptable is directly influenced by my friends, if I’m being honest. Not just any friends but, for me, it’s the friends I see regularly. They influence what I deem “normal” and then, subconsciously or not, I adapt to fit that mold.

But “not so fast!” say the other scientists. (They really love challenging each other’s research don’t they? Tough crowd.) Apparently, according to the haters, it’s “impossible to separate homophily [the tendency to choose friends like oneself] from contagion.” So, basically, there’s no way of knowing if people are “catching” behaviors, or simply flocking to those who behave as they do. Birds of a feather and all that…

The end result: Smokers are friends with smokers, happy people hang with other happy people, and when your friends eat too much, you probably do too. The reasons why this is the case? Still up for debate.

Oh, the scientists. They’re just never satisfied.

Have you ever noticed that your behaviors are similar to the friends you associate with? If so, do you get the sense that you chose your pals (however subconsciously) because of these similarities? Or have you grown more similar–passing behaviors between you like the flu–as your relationship has progressed?

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The Solo Traveler

In a few days I’m leaving on big trip: Ten days in Hong Kong. Matt and I are visiting an old friend of his, who’s been living there for a few years. I’m so excited, though I must admit that all this summer travel has really kept me away from my  new friends. I encountered this problem last summer too. When you’ve got weddings, family reunions and vacations galore, there’s not much time left to nourish new friendships, which are the very ones that need the extra love (versus the old friendships that pick up where you left off, cliche as it may be). I’m not complaining–I know I’m lucky to take such trips–but lack of PBFF time at home is the one down side. And every time one of my new friends says “where are you going this time??” after extending an invitation I have to decline, I feel a mix of guilt and regret.

Since it’s summer, I’m not the only one off gallivanting around the world. An old friend left this morning for a week in Nicaragua. Solo.

I’ve always been intrigued by solo travel. I once signed up for a yoga retreat by myself. I flew to Tulum, Mexico, for a week of stretching and sunning on the beach with other yogi wannabes. It was a good way to wade into the solo travel waters, as I wouldn’t be with a friend, but I’d be in a specific program with others who signed up for the same activity. I’d meet like-minded people! We’d bond in downward dog and be connected for life!

For me, it didn’t quite work like that. On that first night, Matt showed up, surprised me, and proposed. (I know. Not too shabby.) It was a perfect day and a perfect trip, but it wasn’t the solo travel experience that I had mentally prepared for. I still wonder if I could hack it in the on-your-own world touring. It’s said to be the quickest way to make new friends. I have a friend who travelled alone around South America and would send emails like: “Just met two great Canadian guys on my bus. I’m joining them tonight on the top of a mountain for some camping out and bongo drumming.”

I mean, what?!

When two strangers in a strange land cross paths, it makes sense that they would team up. What makes finding new friends so hard when you move is that everyone else is already settled. They have friends, favorite coffee shops, and full lives. Travelers, if they’re alone, are in the discovery phase, just like you. It’s the perfect breeding ground for friendship. Plus, travel is one of those friendship accelerators. If you travel with someone for one week, it’s as if you’ve know them for one year. On top of that, solo travelers are a self-selecting group of like-minded people, so there’s a good chance you’ll hit it off.

As I write this it occurs to me that perhaps I regret never having experienced the travel-for-one adventure my Nicaragua-bound friend is about to embark upon. As a friend-seeker (I just made that term up but it makes this sound like an actual job!), it feels like a missing piece of the puzzle.

Have you ever travelled alone? Was it the romantic, friend-finding adventure I envision? Or are you, like me, a summer traveller who suddenly loses an entire season with the local friends? Got any tips for picking things up where we left off when I return?

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A Case of Nostalgia

This weekend marked another stop on the annual wedding circuit. I’m told that this phase of my life (we’re attending seven weddings in 2011, six of which are out of town) will slow down in a couple of years, but since I’ve already got four weddings lined up for 2012, I don’t see that happening soon.

Saturday’s affair was one of my closest friends from college’s nuptials. Which meant the entire weekend consisted of bonding with my besties and reminiscing about the old days. After I got home last night, I spent some time analyzing the difference between time with old friends and new.

A year and a half ago, I would have come home close to tears, totally bummed that I didn’t have anyone in Chicago who measured up to my college BFFs. But now I have Chicago friends. I may still be searching for The One, but I’ve racked up plenty of pals here–people I could invite to last-minute brunch, even if they couldn’t attend. Still, there is a noticeable difference between hanging out with the college crowd and hanging out with my new friends, and I think the culprit is, simply, time.

I met my college friends 11 years ago. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. For three of those years we lived together,  spending every waking moment by each others’ sides. A friend and I were laughing over the weekend at how even though we were roommates and took classes together and went out as a group at night, whenever I’d run into her at the gym during our college days, I’d stop her mid-run and she’d stand on the side of the treadmill so we could “catch up.” You know, since the hour earlier when we’d hung out.

There’s no adult equivalent to that college set up. You grow up, you live  alone or with a romantic partner or roommate, but the days of eight girls sharing one home? Those are over. Unless you’re in a brothel.

And in all that time together, you make memories. It’s inevitable. So I spent a good majority of this weekend reminiscing. We laughed about awkward date stories (mine included), embarrassing moments, and, I must admit, there was some toilet humor in there too. And by some, I mean a lot.

In looking back at the weekend, and at old friends versus new, it’s become clear that time with the oldies is often about strolling down memory lane. Of course we talk about our current lives and what we hope for the future, but even those conversations are rooted in a shared history. With new friends, even after a year, there’s still so much getting to know each other. And the learning curve is higher, because we don’t live together and we’ll never spend the 24/7 time together that college friends do.

One isn’t necessarily better than the other. I cherish time with my college BFFs more than anything in the world. It’s so comfortable, being with people who know you so completely and will always, always, laugh with you. But I adore my new friends, too. They’re different, and it seems I’m lucky, finally, to have both.

Do you get nostalgic about old friend reunions? If you had to, would you choose old friends or new? (Remember my friend, who made the case for new friends being better than old ones?)

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More Awkwardness. Starring Me.

Awkward encounters follow me.

Once I thought I spotted one of my favorite writers on an airplane. He was sitting some five rows in front of me, so I couldn’t even walk past him to go to the bathroom. Instead, I waited until the beverage cart was behind me and used it as an excuse to use the first class bathroom. I didn’t actually need to use the restroom, of course, I just needed an excuse to walk by his row. When I did, I went for it. “You’re AJ Jacobs, right?” I asked. He stared at me.

I tried again. “Are you AJ?’

And then he responded. In another language. The poor guy didn’t even speak English and this crazy fellow passenger was trying to pick him up on a plane.

Awkward.

I also have  a lot of interactions with people I’ve met before, where they don’t remember me but of course I know exactly who they are. This happens more often than it should.

Them: “It’s nice to meet you.”

Me: “Oh, we’ve actually met before.  Three times. But good to see you again.” 

I should probably respond with “nice to meet you too,” like a normal person. It’s not that I’m trying to make this guy feel bad for forgetting me. I do it because I just might be missing that piece of the brain that helps one think before she speaks.

But last night I had a new kind of awkward moment. Instead of someone forgetting me, for the first time, it was the other way around. I was walking out of a restaurant in New York (I was there for the night before heading to a wedding this morning) when I heard “Rachel!”

I stared, knew she seemed familiar, but had no idea who she was.

“How are you?” I asked. And then I actually said something like, “You look all grown up!” WHAT? Who says that? What does that even mean? I am so embarrassed even typing this.

I believe those words came out of my mouth because 1) I thought there was a chance she was this girl from summer camp who I last saw when she was six and 2) I am missing a filter. 

She laughed, which, quite honestly, was generous of her. Especially since, I realized later, she was actually someone I knew from college. All of two years younger.

Also, one of her dining companions was someone I should have recognized, and I didn’t put that together until after the fact either. So, basically, the entire encounter was me looking totally clueless and asking nondescript questions like “how are things?” which made quite obvious that I had no idea who I was talking to.

Sigh.

I know there’s a number of how many friends one can have (150, remember?) but is there a limit on how many people we can remember? Could all my new-friend meeting be pushing old familiar faces out of my brain? And how do you fake it when you run into someone  you can’t remember?

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Memory is a Funny Thing

Over the past few days, I’ve found myself faced with a number of reminders of just how big an impact small gestures can have. It’s a small (perhaps even kind of cheesy) lesson, but bears repeating.

First: My mother-in-law is reading an early copy of MWF Seeking BFF, the book. (Available for pre-order now! {Had to get that in there.}) The book is a memoir—specifically of my year of 52 girl-dates, but more broadly of my life experience with friendship—and thus it references any number of my memories of meeting new friends. It touches on all the important players in my life, too, often revealing their own moments of BFF discovery. When my mom-in-law called to talk about the half of the book she has read, she seemed genuinely surprised at all the seemingly small memories I was able to recall. Especially a story she shared with me once, about the day, at three(ish) years old, when Matt met his lifelong BFF.

“Of course I remember!” I said. “I was listening.”

To her, it seemed such an inconsequential tale. Something funny but not significant. But it stuck with me, a small scene in my husband’s life that seemed to represent his own experience with best friendship.

Second: In preparation for some fun stuff coming up on this blog (ooooh, foreshadowing!), a friend sent me a note yesterday in which she referenced an email I wrote when we first met. While I was reading her message, I had to stop and really think about what email she could be talking about. I hadn’t thought about it again since that day I hit send. She described this email. which had to me seemed a natural response to a family emergency she was going through, as one of “the most encouraging emails I’ve ever read.”

Again, I literally hadn’t thought about that note in over a year. But clearly it stuck with her and hopefully helped her through a tough time, which was the point, after all.

There are so many moments in my life when I have every intention of writing a supportive email, buying a small token of gratitude or shooting off a quick ‘thinking of you’ phone call, and then I drop the ball. To-do lists, appointments, and schedules come up and I get distracted. Or Drop Dead Diva comes on and I get even more distracted. There’s no excuse. I have nice, friendly ideas but often seriously lack in follow-through. Yesterday’s reminder that these small gestures don’t go unnoticed, that it’s these tiny things that make an impact and slowly build up to a true friendship, was just the nudge I needed to amp up my execution.

It’s the little things, you know. This probably isn’t news to you, but one can always use a reminder.

So the lessons of the past few days? 1) When you reveal a bit of yourself, people are paying attention. What’s an insignificant tale to you might have great meaning to a new friend. 2) Small kindnesses aren’t for nothing. They are the things people remember.

Have you discovered these same lessons in your own life? Care to share your story?

I told you it might be a bit of a sappy lesson day! But what’s a bit of sentimentality between friends?

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