Monthly Archives: October 2011

Is It Ever Too Late To Be BFFs?

The obvious and empowering and “you go girl!” answer to the question posed in this post’s title is “Of course not.” I know that that’s the right thing to say, and it’s what I’d like to believe. It is definitely the advice I’d give a reader if she asked.

But it’s not always so easy to take our own advice.

Here’s the deal. There’s this girl in Chicago who I run into every now and then at parties, bars or other social gatherings. Whenever we see each other, it’s friend-love all over again. We chat at length, we laugh a lot and we always, always, do that thing where we say “Why don’t we ever hang out? We have to get dinner. Seriously this time, though. Like, for real.  This is getting ridiculous. I mean it this time.”

Then a week or so passes and I get caught up in work and life and my existing friends and I forget to email her, and she doesn’t email me, and we don’t end up getting together. I’m confident we were both sincere when we said it, but the moment passes. Nothing happens. And then a few months later we run into each other at another affair and the whole thing happens over again.

I was thinking about her today. I haven’t seen her in a while, and I really would like for us to hang out. I think we could be best friends. (When I say it so bluntly it sounds silly and childish. But whatever, I really do think that.)

The thing is, we’ve been doing this dance for so long that I almost feel as if we’ve missed our window. That, somehow, the bar banter and the “no, really this time” has become our special thing. Basically, I think it might be too late.

Rationally, as I write this, I realize I’ve got the perfect set-up for a pick-up email. I should just send a note that says “I’m finally making good on our promise to get dinner.” That’s what I did throughout 2010, when I was going on one girl-date a week in search of my new BFF. But somehow, even though I knew this girl last year when I was making it my business to ask girls out, I never mustered up the courage to go there with her.

There was a part of me that was intimidated by her back then. And now there’s a part of me that worries what if we meet and it isn’t the easy, hilarious conversation that sprouts up when we organically run into each other? What would happen at the next birthday party of a mutual friend? Would we get awkward?

Since I know I’d tell any reader of this blog to send that email, I’m going to vow–publicly, right here–to email her. This week. I’ll do it, I swear. But has anyone else ever felt like I do in this situation? Ever met anyone great, and done the whole we-should-be-friends dance so often that it starts to feel like the true friendship window has passed?


Filed under The Search

Friday BFF Greetings

Julie over at Fox and Bird tweeted me this greeting card yesterday. If only we each sent it to one other person… My blog would be out of business!

Send it to one potential pal today. If she’s worth being friends with, she’ll love it.

(Also, what is that creature? It looks like a four-legged potato person with a horn.)


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A BFF Breakup: Witness The Awkwardness

You know how friend breakups are so miserable? And how after you’ve broken up, even being in the same room feels impossible because the tension is so thick with unresolved feelings and crazy intense emotion? Well, imagine that instead of the same room, you had to sit on the same couch. On TV. On The Today Show.

That’s what happened with Martha Stewart’s daughter, Alexis, and her ex-BFF recently. They wrote a book together back when they were friends and now they are promoting it as a duo except they’ve broken up and it is so awkward.

What’s most fascinating about this video, in which they discuss their friendship break-up, is it seems so obvious that Alexis (the blonde on the right) did the breaking up, and Jennifer, her ex-bestie, is trying to be mature and take the high road. She admits flaws and is all “I respect Alexis’s decision.” My heart sort of breaks for her while watching this, though it seems quite clear to me that she’s better off.

I feel like we’ve been given the twisted gift of a case study in friendship breakups here. Notice they don’t look at each other. They do not once speak to each other. Which, according to Alexis, is a “really good punishment.” You must watch for yourself.

Scroll to minute 5:51 below and stick with it until about 8:08.

Have you ever been more uncomfortable? But at the same time, don’t you feel like you’ve been there? It brings me back to fourth grade when my best friend dumped me for reasons I still don’t understand. We got back together a month later but, if my memory serves, it felt like four loooonng weeks on that Today Show couch. A month in fourth grader time is like forever.

And, yikes, poor Savannah Guthrie trying to moderate this.

What do you think? Can’t you just feel the tension in this clip? Have you ever felt the way Jennifer or Alexis must?


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The Hard Facts: The Facebook-IRL Correlation

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

“Researchers at University College London… showed that the more Facebook friends a person has, the more ‘real-world’ friends they are likely to have.” (“Number of Facebook Friends Linked to Size of Brain Regions” ; 10/26/2011)

This might seem so obvious it doesn’t even count as research. That was my first thought. But then I remembered that conversation I had with a social psychologist and the author of the book Loneliness, John Cacioppo, in which he told me that often the loneliest people are the ones with 2,000 Facebook friends. They hide behind the computer, he said, caught up in their virtual life at the expense of going out into the world and connecting with people.

I’m curious, also, how these researchers qualified “real-world friends.” What was the criteria? As I mentioned yesterday, I think there should be a litmus test here. Because, to me, a lot of Facebook friends means you know a lot of people. Not necessarily that you’re friends with a lot of them.

Wait a minute, I just found that information. (Amazing what happens when you read to the end of an article.) “The UCL researchers asked their volunteers questions such as ‘How many people would send a text message to you marking a celebratory event (e.g. birthday, new job, etc.)?’, ‘What is the total number of friends in your phonebook?’ and ‘How many friends have you kept from school and university that you could have a friendly conversation with now?’ The responses suggest that the size of their online networks also related to the size of their real world networks.”

I think those are decent markers of friendship, though I could have a friendly conversation with plenty of people who don’t qualify as friends.

The takeaway from their research, the study authors say, is to that “most Facebook users use the site to support their existing social relationships, maintaining or reinforcing these friendships, rather than just creating networks of entirely new, virtual friends.”

True, but I think Cacioppo has a point too. Some users use the site to appear connected to a thousand people they’ve met only once or twice, thereby masking loneliness.

So here’s my assertion: Having more real-life friends will certainly mean you have more Facebook friends. But the opposite is not necessarily true–having more Facebook friends doesn’t necessarily mean you have more real-life friends.

Do you agree with my oh-so-scientific analysis?


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The Friend-or-Facebook-Friend Litmus Test

I was chatting with a couple during last weekend’s wedding happy hour, when the male half referenced a budding actor that he was “friends with.”

Right on cue, his wife looked at him and said, “Are you friends? Or are you Facebook friends?”

Turns out this guy and the actor in question went to high school together. I’m not sure they have spoken since. But on Facebook, they have extended and accepted connection requests.

My friend told me that he and his wife have this conversation all the time. He liberally throws around the “friend” label, she’s a bit more selective. Because of this, they’ve come up with some friendship criteria. Namely, if his wife–who he has been with for ten years–hasn’t met this person, or hasn’t at least heard of him, then he’s not a friend.

She’d never heard of the actor friend.

You can imagine how excited this conversation made me. It was pretty weird, actually.

If you’re in a long-term couple, I think this rule is right-on. If you’ve never had occasion to introduce someone to your partner–if you’ve never even seen fit to mention someone–then he probably isn’t really your friend. He’s your Facebook friend. Or, as the wife explained to her husband , “that’s not your friend, that’s someone you know.”

It’s amazing how often those we confuse those two things.

Since the does-your-spouse-know-him criteria doesn’t work for everyone, I proposed this rule as well. If you haven’t spoken to someone, at least via email, in two years, then she’s not a friend. She’s a Facebook friend. She’s someone you know.

I keep trying to think of “friends” of mine who would break this rule. People I haven’t spoken to in two years  but I still consider my friends. I can’t.

What do you think of these friend-or-facebook-friend measures? Are they appropriate litmus tests? Is there a better one?


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Quiz! (Part Two): Do You Know Your BFF?

A couple of weeks back, I posted the first 20 questions of the BFF quiz that kept Sara and me busy during our weekend visit. Turns out that after 20 years of friendship (20 years!) we know each other pretty well.

When I first posted the quiz, I wondered if perhaps you readers would like to see more questions in follow-up installments. One reader, Lauren, wrote a comment that might go down as one of my favorites of all time: “PLEASE POST MORE QUESTIONS! I’M USING CAPS LOCK WHICH MEANS YOU MUST.”

There’s no arguing with all-caps logic.

So Lauren, these are for you:

21. Would she give up a year of her life expectancy to become really gorgeous? How will she answer? a) She’d agree in a flash b) She’d think long and hard c) Without hesitation, she’d say no

22. If Hollywood were to make a movie of her life, who does she think should play her?

23. Which would she rather ride on? a) Roller Coaster b) Ferris Wheel

24. If she had to live for a month with only one of these, which would it be? a) Hair dryer b) Telephone c) TV d) Computer

25. She thinks adults wo dress in costume for Halloween are: a) Childish b) Fun-loving c) Looking for attention

26. Having her picture taken: a) Annoys her b) Brings out the ham in her c) Is no big deal to her

27. What compliment will she say people giver her most often? a) “You have beautiful eyes.” b) “Your hair is gorgeous.” c) “You have a great smile.” d) “Nice outfit!” e) “That’s a smart idea!” f) “You’re a riot!” g) “You’re very sweet.”

28. Who was her favorite grade school teacher?

29. Which statement best expresses her feelings about solitude? a) “I hate being alone, even for a short time.” b) “I can be alone for a while, but I’m always happier with people.” c) “I really relish time by myself.” d) “I could be a total hermit.”

30. How often is she bored? a) A lot b) Rarely c) Never

31. Since birth, how many places has she lived? Can you name them?

32. Name one food you know she’d want as part of her last meal.

33. What would she say is the most memorable vacation she ever took?

34. Does she know: how to use a sewing machine? How to type without looking at the keyboard? How to make a cheese omelet?

35. How does she go off a diving board? a) Headfirst b) Feetfirst c) She doesn’t

36. If she has several chores to do, which approach is she likely to take? a) Do the simplest on first, to get some quick satisfaction b) Do the toughest one first, to get it out of the way

37. In a typical day, she watches TV: a) less than an hour b) An hour or two c) More than two hours

38. Would she rather shop than eat? a) Not really b) It’d be a close call c) Oh, yes!

39. Which piece of furniture at home would she most like to trash?

40. What usually wakes her up? a) An alarm clock b) A person c) A pet d) Her own natural clock

There you go, the second installment. Answer, then have your BFF answer… do you know her as well as you thought? Isn’t this fun?!? Quizzes are my favorite.


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The Great Friendship Debate

Yesterday, a reader emailed me a really interesting blog post from the New York Times Motherlode blog. (Thanks, Leah, for passing it along!) The piece, entitled “The Myth of ‘Real’ Female Friendships” is a response to a critique of the new novel The Marriage Plot in a recent issue of The Atlantic. (You follow?)

Between the two articles, there are a number of interesting arguments worth noting here.

Let’s start with the original Atlantic article. The author, Eleanor Barkhorn, argues that the one major problem with the book (which I haven’t read so I can’t weigh in) is that main character has no close friends. This absence makes the character unrealistic, Barkhorn claims. “Real women have true friends,” she writes. “Not friends they secretly hate, not friends they are in constant competition with, but friends they care about and can talk to and who understand them.” Barkhorn says that this protagonist, especially, should have friends because “women who love books…are especially prone to close friendships with women because there is an obvious subject to talk about: books.”

Barkhorn goes on to explain that plenty of novelists miss this vital aspect of female characters’ lives. She references The Bechdel Test, which “suggests that for a story to be even a somewhat realistic portrayal of women, it must have ‘at least two female characters who talk to each other about something besides a man.'”

Judith Warner’s response in The New York Times basically says that the assumption that all women have a close group of friends is, well, bogus. Her problem, she says “is with the idea, which I find pretty widespread,  that there’s one real or typical or ‘normal’ way to experience good, positive and sustaining female friendship.” Warner has friends, she says, but they aren’t interested in knowing what she’s up to every day, or always having long, deep, conversations. “Are we less real women for this? Are we less ‘real’ friends?” she asks.

Both writers have good points. Female characters who are supposed to be fully formed seem less real to me when they don’t have a single close friend or confidant. I even wrote a post about this a while back—though the post is about Twilight’s Bella Swan, who is hardly the most fleshed out character in literary history. Or realistic. Given the fact that, you know, she birthed a vampire.

In real life, it seems to me that most women have at least someone they can confide in–a faraway friend, a sister, a BFF.

That said, the idea that women who like books are more likely to have friends is ludicrous. Sure, we readers can talk about books. But can’t women who like cooking talk about recipes? And women who love quilting talk about quilts? The idea that the love of reading makes you more prone to—or deserving of—friends is, dare I say, totally elitist.

And yes, I believe, like Warner, that all friendships are valid. Female friends are important because they help women feel emotionally fulfilled. If your friendships aren’t especially deep and don’t involve frequent interaction, and that works for you, great. If you are getting what you need out of your existing relationships, then your friendships do the trick.

At the end of her post, Warner writes of her unease with the American emphasis on female friendship. “As the mother of two girls (ages 11 and 14), I have long been concerned about the new BFF culture for girls — I think it’s not just cheaply commercial (those necklaces!) but also kind of oppressive. There’s something compulsory-feeling to me, too, about the notion that a woman can realize her full human potential only if she’s plugged in, all the time, to her friends. It’s not an idea I want my own girls to feel pressed to accept.”

Clearly, I’m a proponent of, and participant in, the BFF culture. I long for those necklaces! I spout research week after week about why we need BFFs. But if shows like Sex and the City didn’t dangle friendships in front of me like a carrot, would I have still felt as friendless when I arrived in Chicago? I’m not sure. I think so, but I probably wouldn’t have longed for Sunday brunch buddies as much. Carrie and the girls had what I wanted.

So, in sum, my take: All friendships are valid, yes (point Warner), but if I had my way, I’d always want what Barkhorn speaks of—a group of intimate friends to confide it.

Which side of the debate do you fall on?


Filed under The Search

Me. The Greeter Girl.

Since leaving my office job back in June, I’ve been working primarily from home. And from the coffee shop down the block. When my self-employment first started, I was really worried that this kind of solitary writing life wouldn’t gel with the whole “I want to make new friends” thing. And, basically, it doesn’t. Sure, sometimes I smile at the redhead who always seems to be at the table next to me, but I’m pretty sure she hasn’t noticed.

I have a few other work-from-home pals, and sometimes we meet up for a study session, but all in all it’s not conducive to forging new friendships.

However, this gym gig I took? It’s a friend-searcher’s dream!

For two hours twice a week, I check people into a workout studio near my apartment. I signed up for the job because I loved the classes but they were out of my price range. Now that I work there, I can exercise for free. The benefit I didn’t see coming when I started was that I’d suddenly know everyone in the neighborhood.

I sit at the front desk being the greeter girl. (Writing that makes me think of Jon Lovitz in that episode of Friends where he’s looking to open a restaurant and Monica cooks for him, but he’s too stoned to wait for the food. When he walks in he takes one look at Rachel and says, in his nasal tone, “Hellooooo, greeter girl.”) I get to know people’s names. I chat with them while they wait for class to begin, and then again when they get out. It’s hardly enough time to form a legitimate friendship, but when you’re on the search for a BFF, just running into familiar faces around town can feel like success.

I caught up with one gym-goer when I ran into her at a local brunch spot. Another I saw at 7-Eleven. When I went to class the other day, the girl on the treadmill next to me asked when my book was coming out (Two months from today! OMG!) and I asked her about her upcoming wedding. It’s just enough to provide that sense of community and belonging that anyone on a BFF-quest is looking for.

I get that most of you probably don’t have time (or interest) to take on 4 hours of front desk work at the gym. But I like to offer ways of making pals that you might not have thought of. Any job that entails interacting with customers could do the trick. Maybe you want to volunteer at the library a couple of times a week. Or take a shift at a bakery because you love the smell of fresh cupcakes. There are plenty of benefits: getting to be around something you love (or, in my case of working out, something you love to hate), discounts (!!), and an extra dose of friendly interaction.

I know it’s crazy for me to suggest anyone take on more work, but as someone who still feels like a newbie in Chicago four years later, this job helps me feel like an insider in my ‘hood. So, you know, just a thought.

Have you ever taken on a project and found that making new pals was an unexpected side effect? What were they?


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The Hard Facts: American Friendship

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

“Among the many reasons Americans are lucky is that they tend to have people they can depend on. That is one of the takeaways from a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which in part looked at social relationships and trust around the developed world. The United States is in the middle of the pack of the countries surveyed, with 92.3 percent of Americans saying they have a support network. Compare this to a country like India, where only 59.3 percent of people say they have a network they can depend on in times of need.” (“Lean on Me: Trust and Friendship Around the World”; New York Times, 10/14/2011)

I’ve always been interested in how friendship in America compares with other countries. I’ve never lived anywhere but the U.S. of A., but the sense I’ve gotten from those who’ve spent more time abroad than I have is that mine is a very American quest. In other countries, people may not move around as often as we do, and they don’t stray as far from home.

I’m fascinated by this graph, which ranks the percent of citizens who have support networks by country. 92.3 percent is pretty great, though it only lands Americans in the middle. What, I wonder, puts so many countries ahead of us? What do the French have that we don’t (aside from legit croissants)? Or the Swedes? Is it our crazy work obsessed culture? Or our intense emphasis on being strong and independent, rather than celebrating dependence on our support networks? Clearly, I’m going to need to do some studying up.

Oh, here’s another tidbit that surprised me from this article: “Perhaps partly because they generally have good support networks, Americans are slightly more trusting than residents of other countries; 36.6 percent of Americans agreed that ‘most people can be trusted,’ compared with 33 percent across the developed world.”

I’ve always thought that Americans are, well, not all that trusting. Though, if only 36 percent of us think people can be trusted, that doesn’t really make us trusting. It just makes us less un-trusting than everyone else, right? I mean, apparently 63.4 percent of us think we can’t trust people. (Yes, I said “un-trusting.” Whatever.)

What do you think of this graph? Why do you think the U.S only falls in the middle of support network percentages? And why are we more trusting than the rest of the developed world?


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Carving Friendship Time

When careers get busy or families start growing, the first thing to fall to the wayside is, often, friendship. That’s why ages 25-40 are the “friendship danger years.” Historically, if you could keep a friend through those years, you could count on being friends for life. That might be a bit different now that women are having kids later, but the general sentiment is that by 40 your kids don’t need 24/7 attention, your career has figured itself out, and you start to realize the importance of BFFs.

At 29, I find myself smack in the middle of this danger zone. I don’t have kids yet, but this is a big year for my career so a lot of my energy is spent working on my book and building a writing network. Not to mention the gazillion out of town weddings we’re attending. I love weddings (I’ve been known to rock the dance floor, just saying) and I wouldn’t miss the big day for any of my friends. But weekends away inevitably mean less time for the local friendships I’m trying to build.

My coping mechanism–or maybe it’s a defense mechanism–for this danger zone is to continue reaching out to friends and making plans whenever I can. It’ll occur to me that I haven’t seen Friend X in a while, so I’ll shoot her an email and get something on the calendar. I’m lucky to have monthly clubs–book and cooking–to ensure catch-up time. And when I know I can’t see someone, if she’s traveling or I’m traveling, I try to write emails.

What I’m wondering, though, is this: Is there a more interesting out-of-the-box solution to combating the friendship danger years? When your job is demanding and, maybe, your kids are moreso, are there tricks for carving out girl-talk time? After all, these are the years that we need friends most: they keep our marriages safe and our health in tact. They preserve our sanity. So I’m turning to you, readers, to see if anyone has fun tips or traditions that ensure they see their friends amidst the craziness of life. Maybe one night of the weekend, your partner babysits so you get to see the girls? Or you host a movie night once a month? Perhaps you started a kids playgroup just so you could see the other moms?

People are constantly requesting out-of-the-box tips for finding friendship time, so I figured I’d take it to the front lines: You. How do you make time for pals when work, family, and errands are all vying for your attention?


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