Monthly Archives: September 2011

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 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”; 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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Facebooking Friends: How Soon is Too Soon?

The question of how soon to call a potential love interest is as an oldie but a goodie. The answer is debatable and I’m sure different for everyone, though I can’t help but recall Vince Vaughn’s Trent, in Swingers:

Mike: So how long do I wait to call? 
Trent: A day. 
Mike: Tomorrow. 
Sue: Tomorrow, then a day. 
Trent: Yeah. 
Mike: So two days? 
Trent: Yeah, I guess you could call it that, two days. 
Sue: Definitely, two days is like industry standard. 
Trent: You know I used to wait two days to call anybody, but now it’s like everyone in town waits two days. So I think three days is kind of money.

A modernized version of this problem has emerged in my new-friend-finding life: How soon is too soon to Facebook someone?

It sounds silly, maybe, but it’s the most modern of social conundrums: I’m ready to make someone my social network pal, but we only met this morning. Is it too early?  Will l seem over-eager?

Take this weekend. I met a girl who is brand-new to Chicago and we totally hit it off. We shared loves of Friday Night Lights, How I Met Your Mother, and Never Say Never. (Yes, that is the Bieber documentary. Stop judging me and watch it. You’ll be a convert.) We grew up some 20 minutes from each other in New York and discovered some this-world-is-crazily-small connections. When I got home I started telling Matt about the meeting and suddenly exclaimed, Oh! I’m going to Facebook her now.” But before I got to my computer, I changed my mind. Would that seem weird? Or desperate? Like  I ran home from our meeting with nothing else on my mind and zero to do but ask her to be my virtual friend?

I held back, deciding I would “get around to it” (translation: pry my hands away from the “Add Friend” button until) a few days later.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when, that night, I checked my phone and found an email waiting: “New Friend wants to be friends on Facebook.” Phew.

Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit the small thrill I got from this auto-notification. She friended me first! Now I didn’t have to worry about the appropriate waiting period, and I’ll admit I was more than a little pleased that she even remembered my name (or perhaps asked our mutual friend for it. Either way. There was thought involved.)

I know I’m not alone in overanalyzing the protocol of the Facebook friend request. I generally follow a two-pronged plan. Option 1: Request a new friend while I’m with her, as a kind of laughably honest recognition of how silly the whole thing is, but also to say-without-saying “I like you. We shall be friends.” When I was at a bachelorette party this summer, I was chatting with a girl with whom I totally clicked. That night I declared my intention: “I am totally Facebooking you. You will have a request by morning!” And she did.

Or you can wait a day or two, so as not to seem that all you do is spend time on Facebook.

Oh, the games we play.

Still, I was psyched when I got my request this week, not scared off by any too-soon nature of it all. So maybe I should shove my two-pronged plan down the toilet. Perhaps that’s option 3.

What’s your Facebook tendency? Add a new friend as soon as you meet? Always wait for someone to friend you? Is there a required waiting period, or is there no such thing as too-soon? Or do you only friend someone when you want to stalk their pictures (another valuable reason, in my humble opinion)?


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Friends Let You Vent

Venting. It’s controversial in its effect on our happiness, and our friendships. Some say letting out steam and going on a rant about some terrible awful only fuels anger. Some studies have even found that whatever you say about another person, people attribute to you. So if I’m complaining that my boss is insecure or my third cousin is selfish, my friend on the receiving end of the vent will, subconsciously, begin to think that I’m insecure and selfish.

That’s no good.

Usually I think no-venting is better than venting, definitely. That doesn’t mean I’m especially good at following my own advice, of course. I’m a talker, and I have a really hard time processing thoughts without speaking them aloud. Even if all that does, more often than not, is get me more worked up or poison the person I’m speaking to against whoever I’m venting about.

So, yeah. Venting is, in theory, unproductive. But let me tell you. Last night I needed it.

I was in an angry tizzy when I got a funny text from one of my closest friends in the world. It was a hilarious reference to a Facebook photo. Just the thing to put a smile on my face, and it came at the perfect time. As soon as I saw it I thought, “Yes! This is exactly who I need to talk to.” So I rang up my bestie in San Francisco, and, great friend that she is, she let me go off. She listened, commiserated, told me I was in the right (just what I needed to hear) and that I had every reason to be mad, and then changed the subject enough to distract me and calm me down. She was, in that moment, exactly who I needed. By the time I hung up, I was calmer. I’d let all my anger out and had nothing more to say. So I did the most productive thing I could think of. I got in bed with a book, and went to sleep. So much more pleasant than staying up and stewing, which probably would have happened had my pal not come to my rescue.

I still say less is more when it comes to venting. If your whole life is spent complaining about this horrible thing or that person who wronged you, it’ll just turn you into a sourpuss. Your friends will avoid you because you’ve become such a downer. But if you can save your venting for the times you really need a friend’s ear, well then, I hate to even write these cheesy words, but that’s what friends are for.

Sometimes, you don’t need a local BFF. A faraway pal will work just fine. And someone who’s known you since you were 18, and knows how to calm you down, is a keeper.

Are you a venter? Or do you avoid it at all costs? Is the ability to hear you out and calm you down one of the things that makes someone your BFF?


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The Hard Facts: The Three-Year Glitch

Yesterday was Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“The ‘three-year glitch’ has replaced the ‘seven-year itch’ as the tipping point where couples start to take each other for granted, according to a new survey. … The findings showed that 67 percent of all of those surveyed said that small irritations which are seemingly harmless and often endearing during the first flushes of love often expand into major irritations around 36 months.” (“The 7-year-itch is now the 3-year-glitch: A study”; Reuters, 3/8/2011)

You guys. The long weekend threw me for a loop and, when I was writing my post yesteday, I thought it was Tuesday. For the first time I completely missed Research Wednesday, and didn’t even realize it until last night! I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve been confused about what day it is all week.

Never fear, though. The research is here. Albeit late.

The above findings are, obviously, about romantic couples rather than friendship. But it got me thinking. If couples start to  irritate each other after only three years, does the same hold true for friends?

I’ve heard over and over again that the average friendship lasts no longer than five years. In her book Best Friends Forever, Irene Levine says that most friendships are “fragile rather than permanent.” Which I guess makes sense–people move, have babies, switch jobs, or simply grow apart. Circumstances change, turning friendship maintenance into work that we’ll either do or we won’t.

But when we hit year three(ish), do you think we start to grow less enamored of our friends or more annoyed? Personally,  I think there’s some validity to this, but I’d word it differently. Just as friendships go through honeymoon stages, where months go by in which you’d happily see your new BFF every day and chat with her every night, reality eventually sets in. Nobody’s perfect, and after a while, you start to recognize faults and shortcomings. You know, the things that make your friend human. First, maybe, these “flaws” are fun and quirky. Eventually, it dawns on you that they are, in fact, not the greatest traits. Maybe she talks a lot about herself. Or interrupts too much. Maybe she’s a dissappearing friend. Or a flake. You try to look the other way for a while, but as your friendship grows and you lean on each other more, there’s no ignoring it. She is who she is, imperfections and all.

It can get frustrating. And that’s when a decision needs to be made. Sure, you can talk to her about her flaws. Try to change her. But in my experience that’s not very effective. People, mostly, are who they are. So you can accept her faults because ultimately you want her in your life, or you can move on to different–maybe better, maybe not–friends.

I think this happens in all relationships–romantic, friendship or otherwise. I don’t know that I could have pinpointed a time frame like this study did. But three years seems about right. A year to grow close, another year to be true friends and live with small faults, and then in the third year, when you’re comfy and settled into your friendship, the annoyances creep in. Seems logical to me.

The good news, given this reasoning, is that if you make it to year four, you might be stuck with each other forever!

Have you experienced this same friendship cycle? Do you buy this research about the three-year-glitch? In romantic relationships, or friendship too?

{I’m back on The Debutante Ball today, revealing my writing space and showing off the best gift I ever received. Check it. If you will.}



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The Telecommuter’s Lament

Yeah, yeah, we live in a virtual world, blah, blah, we’ve talked about it before. Like yesterday.

But now I’ve come up against a new problem. How to make friends with coworkers you’ve never actually met?

Here’s the situation: I recently took on a part-time gig doing some editing for a website. I’m covering for a friend who is on maternity leave. The office is in New York, I am in Chicago. Which means the only way I speak to my new colleagues is via Skype and email.

Perhaps this is no biggie in regular life, but in work life it makes things pretty tough. In office scenarios, I’m a big believer in face-to-face contact. Facial expressions and tones of voice relay so much. Getting to know someone on a personal level, makes it easier to work with them, or at least understand their professional style. For example, when you ask someone to do something  via email, it’s hard to subtly express that you know the task is a total bore but you really appreciate her doing it anyway. Via email, a directive can feel rude or presumptuous, especially from the new girl who hasn’t entirely learned the lay of the land. I get that.

Sometimes it seems that in the work environment, employees are looking for reasons to not like someone, as opposed to the other way around. Conversations about duties or tasks can feel like mini-battles, with each person passive-aggressively pushing back. An in-person office drive-by would be so much easier. I could pop my head in when I had questions. I could get a sense of a person’s reaction when I asked her to do something, and she could understand mine when she gives me a directive, too. I could figure out my place in the office food chain, and get a sense of who might want to joke with me about the VMAs and who doesn’t own a TV.

As we know, work friends are vital to an employee’s happiness and productivity. But how do I make those friends when my only contact is twice-weekly conference calls and a few daily emails? It’s hard to have that water-cooler banter with no water cooler. Yesterday I tried to slip in a joke on a conference call–about the Octomom! Everyone loves laughing at her antics!–and it was met with complete silence. So I’ll go about my business, getting my work done, accepting assignments as they come with as best cheer as I know how. But I just hate that I haven’t mastered how to turn these remote coworkers into buddies. Book two?

Help! Any advice for how to buddy up to my new long-distance coworkers? Have you ever found yourself in this situation? It really goes to show that despite Facebook, Twitter, etc., face-to-face contact is invaluable. We should give it some more credit.


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Friends Use Phones

You know how no one uses phones anymore? At least not to actually talk? Phones are a text-only device it seems, a vehicle with which to check Google maps for directions, listen to music, even play Solitaire  (or is that just me?) but talking is a thing of the past.

When I started making new friends, I didn’t ask for their numbers. I didn’t want to bother them with text messages, instead opting for the email route. It’s a good method of communication, more or less, until you need something or someone quickly, and you have to sit and pray that they have email on their phone or are in front of the computer at that very moment. Email is not so much help when it comes to the last-minute brunch invite.

I noticed last night, however, that I am joining the ranks of the social with the whole text message thing. A week or so ago I ran into a newish friend while she was heading into the workout class that I was leaving. I really like this girl, we definitely get along and could be pals, but we’ve never hung out just us. We’ve met a handful of times through two mutual friends, but that’s it. Except, she texted me on my birthday, so I have her number in my phone.

So, anyway, last night I sent over a quick text to see how she liked the class. It was once unlike me to text someone on a whim–I’d be scared we weren’t “there yet,” a phrase I used so often–but I’ve changed over the course of this search. I’ve let go of some of those supposed rules. I don’t wait for a mysterious marker to tell me we’ve reached the text stage or hang-out stage, I just do it. Sort of like how I used to be scared to bother waiters and now I chat with them endlessly about what to order. (A strange but very really side effect of my year of friending. When you become more open and aggressive with potential BFFs, it leaks over into every other part of your life. Including meal service.)

The result of my off-the-cuff text? A response with those magical words: “We have to make a plan to get together! It’s been too long.”

I shouldn’t be surprised by this point that little actions (a brief and friendly text) provoke reactions (an invitation, or allusion to an invitation). I’ve learned that friendliness begets friendliness. And yet I’m continually pleasantly surprised. It’s in cases like these when it seems so easy. Why yes, we should get together again! How’s next week?

Have you found that it’s these little friendly exchanges that kick off a friendship? We worry so much about being awkward when we ask someone out, but sometimes it’s as easy as a quick reminder that we’re here. (I maintain that half the time people don’t reciprocate invitations it’s not that they’re rude or don’t like us, but that they’re so swamped they just forget. In the early stages, you have to see someone a bunch to make it into their regular rotation.) Do you think text message is the quickest way to kick off a friendship?


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Friends of The Help

My eyes are still puffy from crying too much last night.

Why was I crying, you ask? Oh, you know, just the total sobfest that is The Help. I read that book back when I first joined my book club, so yesterday we took a group trip to the movie theaters. I cried early and often.

For anyone who’s read the book, you probably know it’s a film that is ultimately about friendship. Unlikely friendships, unbreakable friendships, and even outgrown friendships. And I know it’s become a bit of a controversial movie, but I’ve gotta say that I really enjoyed it. You know, as much as crying your eyes out is enjoyable. And it is, in a cathartic movie-going kind of way.

If I taught a course in BFFship, this movie would be on the syllabus (oooh, now I’m starting to get an idea. The BFF Film Series!). There’s the deep, we-need-each-other to survive friendship of Aibileen and Minny. The why-are-we-even-friends-I-guess-it’s-just-’cause-we-grew-up-together relationship between Skeeter and Hilly. And the you-never-know-where-you’ll-find-a-pal bonds between Celia and Minny, Skeeter and Aibileen.

And then, of course, is the backstory: Katheryn Stockett, author, sells early movie rights–before the book is a hit–to BFF Tate Taylor, because she trusted him with her baby. They cast friends Octavia Spencer and Alison Janney. As Janney said, “I love that this whole project is about friendship and loyalty. That’s not a story you hear very often in Hollywood.”

Oh, and my friend and I agree that little Mae Mobley deserves an Oscar. Campaigning commenced.

Have you seen The Help? What did you think? Does it rank up there with some of the best BFF movies?


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