Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Hard Facts: Shocker! Stalking Can Be Bad For You

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

“A study published last month in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found that the more time people spent on Facebook, the happier they perceived their friends to be and the sadder they felt as a consequence.” (“Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want To Know” ; New York Times 2/12/2012)

I have admitted here to hours spent Facebook stalking. I’ll poke through online albums, checking out people’s pregnancy photos (“She’s the size of a large jicama! An ear of corn! A chinese cabbage!”), baby photos, vacation photos, party photos. I’ll assess who’s still BFF with whom, who broke up with who, etc. All of it. I’m totally guilty.

And while I get a weird buzz from mindlessly clicking though picture after picture, there is that moment when you think, “Wait, why didn’t I have 45 people at my birthday party? Should I, too, be zip lining through Costa Rica? How can I get a picture with Barack Obama???”

In this interesting article in the New York Times, Pamela Paul explains all the reasons why we are being bombarded with too much information about our friends these days. “Unless you are my best friend or my husband, I don’t need to know the macabre symptoms of your gastrointestinal virus. I don’t need to know about how much candy anyone, other than me, has eaten,” she writes. “As for my ex-boyfriend, I don’t need to hear about his wife’s ability to Zumba.”

But what struck me most was this quote from psychologist Sherry Turkle: “People pay a psychological price for seeing information about former friends and spouses and colleagues that they really shouldn’t be seeing.” It speaks to the idea that you probably shouldn’t know that your co-worker got wasted last Saturday, or see your ex-boyfriend cuddling with his new love. It’s kind of creepy, and  totally unnecessary. Facebook messes with your head, and the worst part, Turkle says, is that “it makes people feel bad because they know they shouldn’t look at this stuff — but they can’t help it!”

It speaks to the very loose definition of friendship that comes with Facebook. I want to see the wedding pics of my friends, but not those of my “friends.” And yet I keep looking. It’s not just a time suck. It makes me feel less fit, when compared with an old sorority sister’s marathon photos or a former classmates flying crow. Or less fashionable (see: photos of home-made adorable scarves or dresses I could never pull off). Or just less fabulous (weddings in Jamaica! Great seats at the Super Bowl!)

No surprise: That Facebook, it’s a blessing and a curse

Do you ever feel worse about yourself after perusing others’ lives on The ‘Book? Do you, too, find yourself looking through photo albums when you know you probably shouldn’t?

Does your book club want to read MWF Seeking BFFCheck out the discussion guide for questions. And let me know if you’d like to do an author chat via Skype!

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The Generation Gap

Last week I did my first book club guest author visit. It was so much fun. Every reader takes something different from a book, so it’s fascinating for me to learn which parts stick with different people.

One of the women in the book club made an observation that had never occurred to me. As she noted, I write a lot about the need for independent female friends. MWF Seeking BFF is largely about the importance of strong friendships that are separate from romantic relationships. “I think that’s generational,” she said. She went on to explain that whenever she tells her mother about how, say, all her girlfriends went on a vacation, her mom’s first reaction is to ask “what were [the husbands/boyfriends] doing?” To her mom, the idea that the ladies would go off and do all these activities independent of their husbands was strange. In her mother’s generation, this woman said, women didn’t just up and go out with the girls. And if they did, they first talked to their husbands to make sure they had plans, or were otherwise taken care of.

I’m not sure this is specifically generational. The woman who brought this up was about my age, and our mothers are probably similar ages. My parents, who were married for 30 years before my father died, spent a lot of time together but were also quite independent. My mother would leave for quilting retreats. My father, an American history buff, once went on a solo road trip of the antebellum south. I thought this was really strange at the time. Now I think it’s pretty cool, and was probably quite smart. When my mom left to quilt with the ladies, she didn’t feel the need to make sure my dad was cared for every second that she was gone… he was a competent guy, after all.

But I have heard these kind of questions. The “But what will Matt be doing??” inquiry, to which I usually respond “I don’t know, you should ask him.”

So I’m wondering, do you think the notion of it being ok to focus on friendships, even if that means leaving the men to fend for themselves, is a generational one? And what changed to suddenly make this more acceptable?

It’s Valentine’s Day! You know what makes a great V-Day gift for your be sties? (What? You love them too, don’t you?) MWF Seeking BFF. You can:
Order a copy
Read an excerpt
Get the book club guide

Watch the trailer

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R.I.P. Jeffrey Zaslow

It is with great sadness that I’m writing today’s blog post.

Jeffrey Zaslow, the author of The Girls From Ames and co-author of The Last Lecture died on Friday at age 53.

I didn’t know Zaslow personally. But I devoured The Girls From Ames in a single weekend, so taken was I with his documentation of the friendship between ten lifelong BFFs from Iowa. It was a book that made me think, a lot, about the nature of relationships and even made me question my own BFF search. I wrote about the The Girls from Ames in MWF Seeking BFF, and wrote blog posts about it herehere, and here (my mother even quoted The Girls in her guest post).

Last year, once MWF Seeking BFF was written and my editor and I had graduated to the “blurb” phase of the book process, we discussed who might be the ideal person to offer a quote for the back cover. Zaslow’s name came up immediately, of course. But would this long-established bestselling journalist have the time, or the interest, to check out a book from an unknown first-time author? I’m sure he didn’t have time for it, but he made time nonetheless, and offered a kind and generous blurb. I still remember the morning I opened the email from my editor to find that quote. It was such an exciting day, and I was—and still am—so grateful.

The literary and journalism world has lost a great man. Aside from The Last Lecture and The Girls from Ames, he co-authored Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope with Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly and Highest Duty with Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger. He was the replacement for Ann Landers at The Chicago Sun-Times for 14 years, and a longtime columnist and reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Most recently, he wrote The Magic Room, about the women who work and shop at a bridal store in Michigan. He was killed in a car accident on his way home from promoting that book.

In looking through my copy of The Girls From Ames, which still has about 30 mini post-it flags protruding from its pages, I’m struck by these lines in the introduction. “I do feel an almost urgent need to understand women. That’s mostly because I am the father of three teenagers, all daughters. I have seen my girls pout and fret and cry over friendships in turmoil, and I have seen how their friends have buoyed them at their lowest moments. … Having observed how my mother, sister and wife built lovely friendships over the years, I naturally hope that my daughters can be as fortunate. When I think about their futures, I want them to feel enveloped by people who love them, and I know they’ll need close, loving friends at their sides.”

He was a wonderful writer. And, clearly, a wonderful dad.

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Hola Amigas

Today I’m in Mexico. For a friend’s wedding! Sun, relaxation, books, margaritas. I’m very excited.

At the wedding will be three good local friends (four if we include the bride) who I haven’t seen in weeks. Or is it months? They live in Chicago, but for some reason—travel schedules, night classes, more weddings—we haven’t hung out in ages. As one of these ladies texted me recently, “I can’t believe we live half a block away and need to travel to Mexico to hang out.”

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to a weekend with the ladies.

Which of course reminded me of another wedding-related trip to Mexico, though this one under different cricumstances.

I’m speaking, of course, of everyone’s favorite BFFs, the ladies of  Sex and The City, when they took a girls-only honeymoon to Mexico after Carrie’s canceled wedding. I truly believe that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda’s Sunday brunches and Saturday night cosmos made American women everywhere take stock of their last-minute brunch buddies. They were the best besties.

And so, here, a Friday video clip. I’m thinking my Mexico trip will be just like this one…sans the broken engagement. And here’s hoping that I’m one of the laughing ladies. Someone else gets to play Charlotte, por favor.

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Are You a Keeper?

Gretchen Rubin wrote a recent post—or an assay, as she labels them—in which she quotes the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas on the death of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (embarrassing fact: I have heard of neither of these people). Here’s a nugget of the quote: “Guillaume would have been a bond of union, he always had a quality of keeping people together, and now that he was gone everybody ceased to be friends.”

Upon reading this quote, my thoughts went immediately to my father. I always thought he had that quality with his family. Specifically his siblings. My dad was the glue of the four siblings, I thought, and I remember being worried when he died that the rest of them would lose touch, or that the whole family would cease celebrating holidays or spending time together. (Thankfully, I was wrong.)

I think a lot about Connectors–the people who bring others together. I’ve tried to do my own bit of “connecting” since meeting so many new friends.  But keeping people together seems to be a different quality. And, I’d say, a more difficult one. Introducing people is a one-time thing, being the person who keeps the group together is an ongoing job.

It’s also more rare. In thinking about my groups of friends, it’s definitely harder to ID the “keeper” than the “connector.” The keepers that immediately jump out at me are the friends who love activities–they’re real “doers”–but are also nurturers. Keeping the family together, so to speak, is important to them.

Before I started my year of friending, I didn’t give so much thought to the different roles friends play. Keepers, connectors, social chairs, confidantes… Who knew!

Do you have a “keeper” in your group of friends? What role do you play among your BFFs?

MWF Seeking BFF  is in stores now! You can:
Order a copy
Read an excerpt
Get the book club guide

Watch the trailer

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The Hard Facts: Living Alone, Together

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

“Living alone no longer suggests an isolated or less-social life. After interviewing more than 300 singletons…during nearly a decade of research, I’ve concluded that living alone seems to encourage more, not less, social interaction..” (“One’s a Crowd” ; New York Times 2/4/2012)

A couple of years ago a friend was talking about an old pal of hers, and how she thought that pal wasn’t ready to get married. “She’s never even lived alone,” she said. I’ll never forget that comment because I, too, have never lived alone.

After college I moved back in with my parents for six months. Then I moved in with a college friend for three years. Then I came to Chicago, where I moved in with Matt.

I like living with other people. It makes me feel connected. In New York, even on the nights when I was too tired to go out, I could sit and watch Law & Order: SVU with Brooke and at least have someone to laugh with. But I’ll admit that there have definitely been moments in my life where I’ve thought fondly about what it would be like to live on my own.

Turns out that living solo makes a person more likely to be social. Simply being single might actually make you more connected.  “Compared with their married counterparts, single people are more likely to spend time with friends and neighbors, go to restaurants and attend art classes and lectures,” according to the General Social Survey.

When you think about young people, this research seems to make sense. Single 20-somethings are out dating, socializing, trying to find their other half. But not so fast. It’s not an age thing. According to this article, “single people 35 and older were more likely than those who lived with a spouse or a romantic partner to spend a social evening with neighbors or friends.”

In MWF Seeking BFF, I talk about this phenomenon of “cocooning,” when a married couple gets so comfortable spending time together that they forget (or just don’t care) to make plans with friends, see family, or say hi to neighbors.

The lesson here? Don’t let living with someone–a husband, a sibling, an old-fashioned roomie–keep you from going out and socializing. Yes, you’re less likely to be at home alone, but you’re plenty likely to be lonely.

Ever lived alone? Were you more social when you lived alone or with someone else? And do you think everyone should live solo at some point?

Remember friendship bracelets? They are awesome, and I’m bringing them back, ’90s style. If you and your BFF (near or far) are reading MWF Seeking BFF together, let me know and I’ll send you two bracelets. You can rock them together like Six and Blossom or the BSC. Like, totally. 

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Do You Have Any Deal Breakers?

When I started my friend search I had a very clear, and very limited, idea of who would be my new BFF. She would love television. She would not have kids. She would be at least 25. She would live probably in Lakeview, Old Town, maybe Lincoln or Logan Square—areas I considered fun but not fancy.

Don’t ask me why I assumed these things. I don’t even live in any of those neighborhoods.

I figured I’d be able to look at someone’s Facebook profile and tell pretty quickly if we were a match. Who needed to actually meet when I could “get to know her” online and forecast our friendship from there?

As you might imagine, I learned quickly that I was shooting myself in the foot.

The whole judgmental thing was pretty limiting, first of all. I was casting asides entire neighborhoods of potential friends and a pretty large parenting population.

At 27, most of my friends were over their hard-partying ways, so I didn’t think I’d have much in common with post-grads. I thought certain zip codes attracted my kinda girl. And I thought I’d have nothing to say to someone who couldn’t appreciate a good episode of Friends (still sort of a concern).

In the end, of course, plenty of my greatest friends lived in those fancy ‘hoods. One of my dear pals from The Year had kids. I was proven very very wrong, very very quickly.

But I’ve heard from people who do indeed have friend dealbreaks. You might remember this nugget of goodness from Liz Lemon: “You have sexually transmitted crazy mouth. Deal breaker!”

Though that’s a pretty fair one.

Recently a guy was telling me about a new potential friend for his wife.

“I don’t have high hopes for the relationship,” the husband told me. “According to Facebook, her favorite singer is Josh Groban.” My friend and his wife? Not only can they not stand Mr. Groban, they don’t understand what kind of person would be a fan. Deal breaker!

I hear things like this all the time. Friendship deal breakers can be politics, bad books or movies in their “favorites,” religious status updates.

There’s research that you know what kind of relationship you want with someone within 10 minutes of meeting her. But you need to actually meet. Stalking her Pinterest page doesn’t count.

So I ask you—honestly—do you have any friendship deal breakers? Anything you might learn about a lady that would say “nope, we’ll never be friends”? Is yours Groban-related too?

I Skyped into my first book club appearance last night! So much fun. If your book club is interested in reading MWF Seeking BFF, check out the discussion questions. I’d be happy to visit your club (in person or via Skype), too!

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Friend Dating Your Friends

Yesterday I had a wonderful reading in San Francisco. (Thanks to all of you in SF who skipped the Super Bowl to attend!) One of the most fun parts of the event was that Shasta Nelson of GirlfriendCircles.com co-sponsored the affair and hosted a mini-speed friending afterwards.

A quick background: Speed-friending is just like speed-dating. Women are separated into groups of three, and the trios are arranged in a circle around the room. The host asks a question and each person in your threesome gets two minutes to share her answer. After each person has had a chance to share, and you all get to know each other a bit, everybody rotates. One person in the group moves to the trio to the right, one to the left, and one stays put. Suddenly, you’re in new group of three. Ideally, you keep doing this until everyone has met everyone, though last night we only did three rounds.

It was a big hit. Long after the official friending had ended, women were hanging around, chatting and exchanging contact information. There were women still in college and women in their late 60s. My fingers are crossed that some real friendships come from it.

I don’t have a huge social network in San Francisco, but I do have three great friends who attended the reading. As speed-friending began, I found myself in a trio with one of my oldest college besties. For the first round, we were each asked to talk for two minutes about one of our earliest best friends. My college pal told a story about a girl who grew up in her neighborhood. She explained why she liked this friend so much when they were little, and shared some memories from the old days. She also mentioned, as part of an anecdote, that she used to have a super-cool Barbie skateboard. Which is obviously awesome.

What was especially interesting was that I didn’t know any of this. I’d never heard of the friend my bestie was talking about. I had no idea she had a Barbie skateboard, or any skateboard, ever. She and I were college roommates for three years and somehow I missed this information entirely.

Afterwards, I told my pal: “I liked speed-friending you. I thought I knew all of your stories and I never even knew you had a Barbie skateboard!” With old friends, we often think we know everything there is, so we don’t ask the questions that we might of someone we just met. I’d probably never ask one of my best friends to tell me about a pal from childhood because I’d figure I knew all the stories already .

Clearly I’d be wrong.

Just as you should date your spouse—keep things interesting! learn new things!—so too should you friend-date your friends. There’s always more to learn. I mean, a Barbie skateboard? That’s BFF gold, right there.

Ever learn something new about an old friend long after you thought you knew everything? Do you make a point to bring the “friend date” attitude even with old friends?

MWF Seeking BFF made the NY Times extended bestseller list for the second week in a row—and it even moved up to #27! A ginormous THANKS for all your support. It’s my absolute dream to make it to the short list (the top 20) so I’d be so grateful if you might spread the word about the book to anyone who might be interested. You (or a friend) can:
Order a copy
Read an excerpt
Get the book club guide

Watch the trailer

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Your New BFF, In a Line Near You

One of my favorite blogs, a daily read for me, is 1000 Awesome Things. You probably know it, because it’s insanely popular and has already spawned three books.

So I was pretty psyched when I got a comment from a reader on Wednesday telling me I had to check out the days’s post. So  I did, and, obviously, loved it.

Awesome thing #56 is “Lineup Friends.” Author Neil Pasricha writes, “If you’re stuck in a really long line you probably do what I do and chat with friends while sending one hundred text messages. But at some point you get bored. Batteries die, conversations dry, and you’re twiddling your thumbs when the four-step process to making Lineup Friends suddenly happens.” The process, he says is 1) Complain together, 2) Talk about the things you must have in common (since you’re in the same line), 3)Keep talking until the front of the line (changing conversation topics frequently) and 4) Swap contact info.

I love this post. It’s so true. Just last week I was in line at the Lululemon warehouse sale and saw plenty of people bonding over hour long waits just to get in. Even at my book readings, where people wait in line for signed books (though not for very long!) I’ve met so many women who point to the reader behind them and say “we just became friends in line!”

A college friend once met a woman in line at Best Buy or something. They started chatting, becoming pals (my friend is the queen of making new friends). At the time, my friend was just out of college and the woman was a bit older, maybe in her late 40s. My friend mentioned that she does some babysitting. The woman in line asked if my friend might want to babysit her kids? My friend said sure. (Keep in mind, this is all happening in the checkout line.)

And that’s how my friend ended up at John McEnroe’s house in New York City on a Friday night.

The woman she’d befriended in line was Patti Smyth! Rocker extraordinaire and wife to the legendary tennis pro.

So, moral of the story, you never know who these lineup friends might turn out to be.

This weekend, while you wait in line to buy nachos and beer for the super bowl, checkout the woman behind you. Maybe she’s your new BFF!

Have you ever met a friend in line?

Are you in San Francisco? Don’t care about the Super Bowl? I’ll be reading/signing MWF Seeking BFF at Books, Inc. in Opera Plaza on Sunday at 4 pm.  Shasta Nelson of Girlfriend Circles will also be there, hosting a mini speed-friending event afterwards for all who are interested, too. We’d so love to see you there!

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Is That Really You?

I’m currently traveling in the Pacific Northwest for some book readings (Portland tonight!), and last night I paid a visit to the Olympia Timberland Library. It was a great crowd with lots of questions, and I was thrilled to see the Washington capital for the first time. And even with all that goodness, the night was made the smallest bit better when I received a really lovely compliment. “I follow your blog pretty regularly,” she said, “and you’re exactly like I imagined you.”

To me, there’s no greater praise. I take it to mean that my blog is true to who I am, and that you readers and I are making a real connection. That I represent myself honestly—even when that means I’m making a fool of myself or unleashing the crazy.

But it got me thinking about expectations. Like with pen pals, back when people wrote actual stamp-and-envelope letters. You’d get to know each other better and better via mail, and then, one day, you’d work up to a face-to-face. It usually involved travel and lots of pressure.

It’s so nerve wracking to meet in real life someone who you feel you already know. Because what if you don’t, really? What if the potential BFF you’ve envisioned in your mind is nothing like the real thing? Yikes.

It reminds me of a girl I met a couple of years ago. She and her BFF were going into business together, but they’d never actually met. They’d been online BFFs for 10 years, (they connected on a Seventeen magazine message board. Awesome) but were too scared to come face-to-face. It had gone this well so far, they figured, why mess with a good thing?

A couple of years ago I read a blog post  where the author talked about attending a blogging conference. “I’ve heard more than once since the weekend that people were disappointed in me and that I didn’t seem to be the ‘same person’ as on my blog,” she wrote. “This from people who never actually talked to me.” It was upsetting, she said, because her blog was her real self, it was simply that the other conference goers never chose to get to know the real her in person. (Lindsey, the author, recently told me it was one of her most popular posts.)

I imagine a similar thing might happen with online dating. You think you know a guy through his emails and his profile. Then there’s that moment of meeting where you decide: Is this the man I was expecting?

“Meeting” before you actually meet in person—whether it’s online, via pen pal, in a book, or even over the phone—can go two ways. It can set a relationship up to take off immediately, or it can stop a friendship in its tracks.

Have you ever met someone who you felt like you knew already—because you read her blog, or emailed on Facebook, or were pen pals? Was it exciting because she turned out exactly as you’d imagined? Or awkward because the real thing didn’t match the person in your head?

MWF Seeking BFF  is officially a National Bestseller! (Thank you thank you thank you.) Want to know more? You can: 
Order a copy
Read an excerpt
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