Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Hard Facts: Peer Pressure Is Still In Effect

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

“A new USC study explains why people take stupid chances when all of their friends are watching that they would never take by themselves. According to the study, the human brain places more value on winning in a social setting than it does on winning when you’re alone.” (“Peer pressure? It’s Hardwired Into Our Brains, Study Finds”; ScienceDaily.com 9/11/2011)

Bottom line: If you thought peer pressure faded with adolescence, think again.

How does this translate to Friendship Challenge week? Easy. As the younger me might have said (cue whiney voice): Everybody’s doing it!

Of course we all like to think that we’re too mature to let our pals pressure us into doing something stupid, but this research shows that friends don’t necessarily need to purposefully egg you on. Their mere presence might be enough to give you that extra nudge.

And, according to researchers, activities feel less risky when we are surrounded by friends. “In private environments, losing can more easily be life-threatening. With no social support network in place, a bad gamble can spell doom.”

Now, you may have noticed in the quote up top that this study talks largely about “stupid chances.” Let me be clear about one thing: Asking out a new friend is not a stupid chance. It’s a great chance! The worst that can happen, if we want to go there, is that she says no. And maybe looks at you funny. Well, sure, that could be embarrassing for, like, a minute. But that passes. Quickly.

The best that can happen though is that she says yes, you totally hit it off, and you come back to this blog a year from now and you are someone who found your new BFF. That could happen.

I’d like to say I’m above peer pressure to encourage my readers to do something. But you can’t argue with science, folks.

So won’t you ask out that awesome potential BFF in your book club? At work? In the kid pick-up line after school?

Everybody’s doing it.

Have you found yourself doing things because you’re surrounded by friends that you wouldn’t do otherwise? Do you think peer pressure still exists? And did mine work??

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Friendship Challenge: Unexpected Success

Since this is Friendship Challenge week, and I’m really hoping people will take take on this mission and share their “ask her out” experiences, I thought I’d try to inspire you with a tale of one of my most embarrassing–but most rewarding–pick ups.

I was at dinner at a nearby restaurant with Matt (happy 30th birthday Matt!!), and two friends from out of town. We had the greatest waitress. She was spunky. She made us laugh, but without trying too hard. She seemed like absolute BFF material.

“She’s cute. She should be my BFF,” I said.

“Ask her out,” Matt said. “Leave a note.”

I knew it was a great suggestion–I’d been trying to test drive new ways of meeting people–but just the thought made me nervous. What if she thought I was crazy? Or trying to really pick her up? What if she thought I was a desperate pathetic social leper and I got too humiliated to ever return to that restaurant? It was our favorite!

After a meal full of pep talks, I decided to go for it. But, just in case it was a total disaster, I made my friend write the note for me. She had better handwriting anyway, and if our waitress saw the whole thing go down and decided the writer of the note was a nutcase, at least I could still eat dinner there. Jenny, my dinner companion, was from out of town so she didn’t stand to lose those delicious scallops.

And so Jenny wrote a note, dictated by me:

“Hi! I’m new(ish) in town and I live around the corner with my husband. You seem cool  and like we could be friends. Would you like to get lunch sometime? Let me know!”

For a four sentence email, let me tell you it took a lot of thought. Jenny wrote the note on the back of our receipt, and I was pretty confident I’d never hear from the waitress. She might not even turn the receipt over!

Except she did. And she wrote me back that night. And we went to lunch. And then to drinks. And then she gave me free food the next couples times I stopped into the restaurant.

Success.

The point of this story, of course, is that you never know. I thought leaving a note on a restaurant bill was a no-chance method. But I was wrong.

If you’re holding back, you could be surprised too.

What’s the craziest route you ever took to meet a potential friend? Anything totally unexpected? And did this story make you say, “Yes! Today I will totally ask that PBFF out to lunch”? Anybody? Bueller?

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A Friendship Challenge

I love a challenge. Or maybe I love a project.

Clear cut parameters–rules! regulations! tangible results!–propel me to tackle missions I would otherwise laugh off.

Take last week. I went off gluten. A friend told me that tennis superstar Novak Djokovic went from number 15 to number 1 in the world in only one year, and credits going gluten-free with his unstoppable rise. My friend said, “If you were off gluten, you’d have written five books already!”

Challenge accepted.

When it comes to food, I happen to enjoy changing it up. I’m a carb-lover all the way, and if I could eat anything in the world and health were no issue, I’d have chicken fingers and fries and mashed potatoes for every meal. Throw in some pad thai for good measure. But I’ll try any eating plan once. I like rules (all or nothing is always easier for me than moderation) and I like seeing how different diets (hate that word, but we should call a spade a spade) make me feel. Oh, and gluten free? After a week of it and a weekend back on gluten, I can tell you it made me feel good. Less bloated, more energetic. I’m going back for a little. Screw the glute.

And, of course, a project is what finally forced me to get off my tuchus and start making friends. When I used to sit around lamenting my lack of local pals, I couldn’t quite get myself to do anything about it. I’d think about it, or complain to Mom or my long-distance BFFs, but actually asking anyone out was too daunting. Until I made a challenge: 52 first friend-dates in a year. Suddenly it felt like I had no choice. I’d set for the challenge, so I had to deliver.

I talked to my BFF Callie over the weekend who said that reading an advance copy of MWF Seeking BFF inspired her to write an email to a “friendish person” to ask her to dinner. And, when she was doing some work for a local board she sits on, she suggested that a group of them go out for drinks. She undertook the friending mission.

So for this week, lovely readers, I’m extending a challenge to you: Ask one, just one, potential BFF on a friend date. Shoot the new-in-town girl an email to see if she wants coffee. Or suggest to another local mom that your kids get together so you can hang out, too. Or invite the girl in the next cube over for a drink after work. Or maybe a friend of a friend could come over to watch one of the 48,000 season premieres this week.

It’s not a crazy mission. I’m not suggesting you take on 52 dates. Or even 2 dates. Just one. Because for most of us, the asking is the hardest part. It’s awkward, it makes us feel desperate. But it’s easier than you think! I promise. Just go for it. If it makes you feel any better, I’m going to do it too. I’ve taken a new-date break, and it’s time to get back on the wagon.

So go forth and friend! And then share with us in the comments: success stories, questions, fears. As Sharpay would say, we’re all in this together.

So…. Challenge extended. Do you accept?

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You Say It’s Your Birthday

My husband’s big 3-0 is coming up next week, which of course has got me thinking about birthdays in general. (Also the fact that we met when he was 19 and now he will be 30. Which is crazy.)

Matt’s not on Facebook, which means he will miss out on the very most modern birthday phenomenon: The Facebook birthday greeting.

Now, I’ve written before about my feelings on Facebook wall birthday well-wishes. In fact, it was one of my most controversial posts (well, that and the whole wedding present dispute). Here’s the gist: I believe a “Happy Birthday!” solely on Facebook is acceptable from only the lowest tier of friend. If you’re a BFF or a close friend, a phone call is the way to go. A new friend or a casual friend, text. And if you’re one of those non-friends who has met the birthday girl only once, and you just happen to be connected via Facebook, then post on the wall. Fine. Basically, if you’re someone who would have wished the birthday girl a happy day even if Facebook didn’t exist, then you should do it in some more personal manner than a two-word social network message.

I’m not someone who gets mad when people forget my birthday. Last month I forgot one of my bestest friends’ birthday. I was horrified, but good friend that she is, she didn’t care. However if my BFF were to remember my birthday and choose to recognize it only on Facebook, I’d find it odd. I don’t think I’d be mad, but maybe a bit put off.

Still, the plethora of greetings that cover your wall from virtual non-friends is enough to make you feel like queen for a day.

And, like I said, Matt’s not on Facebook. So no wall greetings for him. Last year, I announced his birthday on the site for him. I know how many people rely on the birthday notification over there on the right. Perhaps his pals would see my status update and remember when they might have otherwise forgotten. I like to do what I can to help friends be good friends.

I recently read a hilarious article on Slate.com entitled “My Fake Facebook Birthdays.” The author, David Plotz, continues to change his birthday in his profile, so he shows up on the “today’s birthdays” list every few weeks. He does this solely because he believes Facebook birthday greetings are silly and meaningless. He writes:

“There is one manifestation of good manners that appears to have exactly the opposite purpose [of etiquette], a form of social lubrication that makes a mockery of everyone connected to it. I refer to the Facebook birthday greeting. The Facebook birthday greeting has become a symbol of all that is irritating about the social network. Every April 11 or June 7 or Sept. 28, your Facebook account suddenly chatters with exclamation-point-polluted birthday wishes. If you are a typical Facebook user, these greetings come mainly from your nonfriend friends—that group of Facebook ‘friends’ who don’t intersect with your actual friends. The wishes have all the true sentiment of a Christmas card from your bank. The barrage of messages isn’t unpleasant, exactly, but it’s all too obvious that the greetings are programmed, canned, and impersonal, prompted by a Facebook alert. If, as Facebook haters claim, the social network alienates us from genuine friendship, the Facebook birthday greeting is the ultimate example of its fakery.”

I don’t think a Facebook post is quite as calculated and impersonal as Plotz claims. Banks send Christmas cards to keep your business, people say happy birthday to be nice. Sure, it’s prompted by the good ol’ bookface, but so what? If you’re only a virtual friend, it seems appropriate to say happy birthday in a virtual world.

What do you think? Is David Plotz right, are Facebook birthday greetings “the ultimate example of fakery”? Or do they brighten your big day?

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When Being Nosy is Being a Good Friend

A question: When you think a close friend has a secret–maybe something some specific, or maybe she’s just going through a hard time but isn’t talking about it–do you confront her and ask what’s going on, or wait until she comes to you?

I don’t know the right answer to this question. What I do, normally, is wait for her to want to open up. I figure someone isn’t ready to talk until they are ready to talk, and nothing I can say is going to speed up that process. But I’m not sure that’s the best option. Maybe said friend doesn’t know that I care, or that I even notice something is going down.

Like, say, if a friend is having marital problems. You go out to dinner or drinks and she seems slightly out of sorts. When you see them as a couple, something seems off. When you talk to her on the phone, she changes the subject when he comes up. You, astute friend that you are, can tell that there are issues. You know it’s probably eating your friend alive, this trouble at home. So do you ask–“Is everything ok with you and Husband?”–or do you listen and wait until she wants to talk?

The reason I always wait is that I don’t want to seem presumptuous. Maybe it’s none of my business. Maybe she is talking with friends, but I wasn’t chosen. Maybe she needs time. Maybe she was hoping people didn’t notice and the best gift I can give her is to not bring it up.

Now that I think about this, oftentimes when I’m going through a hard time, or have issues I feel I should keep secret, I pretend to not want to talk about it. I act as if everything is A-OK, but deep down I’m kind of hoping someone will notice that things are off, and ask, because it shows that they understand me and are paying attention and care, and it gives me an excuse to open up. And if this is what I want from a friend, why isn’t that what I should deliver?

Not sure. Mostly, I don’t want to piss anyone off by overstepping and sticking my nose where it’s not wanted. Which, let me tell you, is always very tempting. It’s that journalist’s instinct, to want to know everyone’s secrets and understand everything going on around you. Maybe that’s why I try not to pry. Because I know I’m nosy by nature (Hey! That could be their new band name–Nosy by Nature!), so I have trouble distinguishing the line between appropriate concern and care, and nosy none of your business-ness.

Hmm. The writing of this post has been a real lesson in self-discovery. Who knew?

What’s your take? Ask a friends what’s up?  Or sit quietly and wait for her come to you? Please weigh in below!

{I’m over at The Debutante Ball today talking about my two favorite literary characters. This was a really fun one. Who are yours?}

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The Hard Facts: Pick Your Poison

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

“[According to a survey of 18,000 women and 4,000 men], 84 percent of women — and 75 percent of men — said they’d had a toxic friend at some point, with 1 in 3 survey takers fessing up to a toxic BFF.” (“Toxic Friends? 8 in 10 People Endure Poisonous Pals”; TodayShow.com 8/22/2011)

It doesn’t surprise me that so many people have been in a toxic friendship at some point. There’s no way to know that a relationship will be toxic unless you’re in it.

At least a good number of those people probably got out. Somehow.

That 33% percent of people say they have or had a BFF that was “poisonous,” well that’s a bit more disturbing. Why let it get that far, if it’s such a disastrous relationship? I imagine it wasn’t so bad when the friendship started, but developed into something no-good. Or maybe it’s that when best friends get as close as sisters, there develops that sister-like competition or little annoyances. I’m not sure. I’m happy to say I don’t think either of my best friends are toxic. There might have been–there probably were–unhealthy friendships in my life back in the day, but apparently I’ve blocked them out. Isn’t that how we handle pain?

What makes a friendship toxic, anyway? According to this survey, commissioned by The Today Show and Self:

–  65% of respondents say they’ve been stuck with a self-absorbed sidekick
– 59% say their best friends are the “draining emotional vampire types”
– 55% say their pals are overly critical
– 45% say they are friends with back-stabbers, who undermine with insults or backhanded compliments
–  37% have an unreliable bestie

Let’s ignore the fact that these clearly add up to plenty more than 100%. I’ll assume those surveyed could check as many as applied, and some crappy friends committed multiple offenses. Reading this list, I realize that of course I’ve been friends with these people. There might be someone out there who thinks I am one of these people. I guess I’ve simply thought of these as annoyances, or flaws, but not necessarily reaching toxic levels. It’s such an ugly and clinical word, I try to reserve it for the worst cases.

Some other stats of note:

– 37 percent say they hide friends on Facebook when they’re upset with or sick of them

– 53 percent made a conscious decision to downgrade their toxic friend to acquaintance status.

– 22 percent (57 percent of male respondents, 14 percent of women respondents )say their toxic friend was a man (I really thought men were better behaved in this category. Glad to know they, too, can be the worst.)

So there you go. All you needed to know about crappy friends–and in what ways, exactly, they are crappy. I’ve definitely had friends who only talk about themselves, friends who are unreliable, friends who are soooo emotionally draining. In none of those instances did I end the friendship. In many cases, I moved away, or they did, so the decreased frequency of our visits made the offense seem worse. Or I learned to deal with it. Or they grew out of it.

I hope those pals who put me in one of those categories feels the same way. (Namely that I grew out of it? Maybe?)

Which of these toxic pals do you recognize? Did you end the friendship or learn to deal? And do you think there are people who think you are the poisonous one?

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BFF Hodgepodge

I’m still pondering over yesterday’s question–how soon is too soon to friend someone on Facebook?–and implore you to weigh in. Together we can come up with a good rule of thumb. I know it!

Face it, guys, these are the things we waste our worrisome energy on. I was especially fascinated with an email I got from a friend, which I demanded politely asked that he include in the comments. “You did leave out one very important nuance. It’s all about how much of the profile you can already see when not friends with said person. If you can’t see anything, friend immediately. If you can already see wall posts, photos, etc. wait some time. Works like a charm.”

Clearly other people have thought about this.

So let me know what you think. We could conquer the modern world with these answers. We’re doing a social service here!

Other random on-the-internet BFF things I have to say:

– I’ve been hearing this same song at my workout class lately, and yesterday I figured out the words that have been drowning out my treadmill. It’s called Best Friend’s Brother and it’s all about how some girl is in love with her BFF’s bro, or BFB as she calls him. I find this is a strange basis for a pop hit. And who is this Victoria Justice anyway? Not knowing who she was at the Video Music Awards made me feel the oldest ever. Will someone with a tween please enlighten me?

– There’s a midseason NBC drama coming out called Best Friends Forever. Here’s a clip. (For some reason I can’t get this to embed in this post. Sorry about that.) The jury’s still out.

– The third season of Bestie x Bestie is back. Remember their most amazing first video? Enjoy the episode below. (But take note: It’s appropriateness is questionable. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

{In blatant self-promotion book news: MWF Seeking BFF got its first review! From Publisher’s Weekly. Check it out, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to pre-order a copy. Pre-orders are extra helpful since they all count toward first week sales, the most important week for a book. Thanks!}

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