Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Hard Facts: Friends vs. Possessions

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

“Some of our respondents were upset by our questions about special objects and told us that they were not materialists, and things mean nothing to them. It is people, not objects that count. … This rejection of the symbolic mediation of things in favor of direct human ties seemed plausible at first, until we began to notice that … [t]hose who were most vocal about prizing friendship over material concerns seemed to be the most lonely and isolated.  … Those who have ties to people tend to represent them in concrete objects.” (The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton, via Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin)

What a great argument for the pack rats among us! There are so many cases being made for the simpler life these days. Minimalism is the counter-message in a world filled with iphones, ipads, ipods, and a pair of shoes for every occasion. I feel like I’ve read countless articles and seen plenty of talk show segments about families who have tossed all their stuff and now live in a yurt somewhere with only their loved ones and a fire to cook rice on. (I think I just combined an Oprah episode and the premise of Survivor.)  The message seems to be that we don’t need so much stuff, that possessions distract us from what really matters–friends, family, relationships.

But according to this research, people who deny the importance of possessions and instead insist it is only relationships that matter actually feel lonelier. This is because, as Gretchen Rubin explains, we “use possessions to memorialize important relationships and experiences.” If your BFF lives in California and you live on the East Coast, you might display a picture frame with a great photo of the two of you, or a paperweight you bought on a trip together. (Or, if you’re me, a mug of butterbeer you bought on a wizarding adventure. Whatevs.) The sight of these possessions will remind you of your bestie and make you feel more connected, even if you don’t see her often enough. It’s through an object’s associations that it becomes special, and in turn fends off loneliness.

This is not an argument for hoarding. Having piles of crap around your house is not going to make you feel less isolated. But it is an argument for sentimental objects. My dad used to say “When in doubt, throw it out.” I think there’s some truth to that. But if you just can’t bear to toss those old song packets from your summer camp days (guilty) at least know that they’re more than just lists of lyrics, but relics that help you feel connected.

Do you hold onto objects that you associate with some of your best relationships or memories? Or are you a “people over objects” person? Are you surprised that the people who claim to value people over possessions were actually found to be more lonely?

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Weekend Friendship Status

Back when I was deep in the throes of my BFF-search (rather than wading in the shallow end, like I do now) I had a phone chat with an old friend that stuck with me. At the time, she was single and I was married, and she was explaining that she didn’t have trouble meeting new friends, but she had trouble seeing them.

“I work late,” she explained, “so I’m not always free on weeknights, and I feel like most girls in relationships like to do friend-dates on weeknights, and save weekends for boyfriends or husbands.”

The result: when she was free, her friends were hanging with their other halves. When her lady friends were available, she was in the office. I recognized myself in her dilemma immediately. During my friend-dating push, I set up those meetings usually on a Monday through Thursday. I liked to leave Fridays and Saturdays open to be with my husband. We didn’t have to be alone or anything, and plenty of those evenings were spent out with couple friends, but I didn’t opt for a ladies night because I didn’t want to ditch Matt.

I didn’t have a good solution to offer my pal. She could make plans with the friends and their husbands, I said, but I know that’s not always ideal.

Ever since that conversation, I’ve kept an eye on the calendar, observing how my plans pan out. And I’ve realized that I’m much more likely to have weekend friend plans  now than I was back during the quest.

The conclusion: Friendships work themselves up to weekend status. Friday and Saturday nights are precious. There’s the blissful knowledge that tomorrow doesn’t involve an office and you might even get to sleep late. Subconsciously, we reserve these days for dates that are sure to be fun, and easy, rather than first dates that might feel like work.

When I was deep in the heart of my quest, I always suggested a weekday for a first date. Not only because I was saving my weekends for Matt or old friends (didn’t really have any of those locally, anyway) but also because I thought she was probably reserving weekends. To suggest a Saturday night for a meetup felt, well, a little too forward.

Crazy? Maybe. But isn’t this how regular dating works, too? All my friends who go on setups seem to go first for Thursday night drinks before they do the big-time weekend dinner.

Nowadays I’m closer with my new friends, and I have no qualms imposing on their weekend plans. That’s just the kinda friend I am! I still save some time for Matt, of course, but romance and friendship can be—must be!—juggled.

Do you find that friendships have to work their way up to “weekend status”? Do you agree with my friend that it’s harder to get together with a pal on the weekend if she is in a relationship?

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Google Thinks BFFs Don’t Last

I just typed “BFF” into Google and it returned this definition, which I guess comes from Wikipedia:

“Best friends forever or BFF is a close friendship typical of teenagers and young people. Such relationships are common in high school but, rather than lasting forever, tend to deteriorate when the parties go to college.”

This makes me sad. It also seems to be quite the sweeping generalization, that best friendships exist in high school but can’t last into college. It makes me believe that this Wikipedia entry was written by a disgruntled ex-bestie who now believes that best friendship, across the board, is a horrible myth.

Best friendship obviously changes with age, and I know better than anyone that the type of relationship BFFs have when they are 10 or 15 is going to be different than the relationship at 30 or 35. But that doesn’t mean it’s not valid best friendship, right?

I don’t like this definition at all. I’ve never actually edited a Wikipedia entry before, but I’m tempted.

Tell me: Is this an accurate definition? Can BFFs last into adulthood? What should the Google/Wikipedia definition say?

 

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The Hard Facts: Your Best Male Pal Might Be In Love With You

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

“Researchers surveyed more than 80 man-woman pals. They found that men were more attracted to their female friend than vice versa. Men also consistently and mistakenly assumed that their female buddy was attracted to them more than they actually were.” (“Attraction Between Friends of Opposite Sexes”; ScientificAmerican.com 7/22/2012)

Fascinating! In another attempt to answer the “can men and women be friends?” question, studies now show that, more often than not, ladies can handle it. It’s the men who want more.

This holds, apparently, even if one of the pair is in a relationship. “Men’s attraction to their women friends was not deterred if they, or the friend, were already romantically involved with another person. Women, on the other hand, reported having much less desire to date their male friend if they, or he, were already romantically engaged with another.”

I don’t love thinking that a guy already in a romantic relationship might still want to date his female pal, but I guess this is where trust comes into play. Feeling an attraction is one thing, acting on it is another.

When I think about cross-gender friendships, I see the possible attraction as a hazard. It complicates things. Apparently, most people agree. But, according to this research, some people think potential romantic feelings is a plus. An opportunity. (I guess this makes sense. There’s the whole “be friends first!” theory of romance, after all.) But even this is a bit gender specific.

So how to handle the conflict of attraction between friends? In another survey the researchers found that, overall, the participants were five times more likely to see it as burden than as not.  Although the scientists spotted a gender difference here, too. Turns out men felt there was more to gain from attraction in friendships, and women felt there was more to lose.

Does this information surprise you? When you see a male-female pair of BFFs, do you question if one is secretly in love with the other? Do you think it’s usually the guy who has the romantic feelings? (I’ll be honest, I would have thought it was the other way around. That  more often the girl would have the crush than the guy.)

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New Year’s Resolutions, Jewish-Style

Today is the Jewish New Year. I am Jewish. So it is my new year.

I’m not so religious. (Translation: I didn’t go to temple today; I did go to work… “go to” meaning I went to my computer since it doubles as my office.) But I still like the opportunity to have a second go at the New Year, and thus New Year’s resolutions. Everyone says September is the new January, so the timing lines up well.

This year’s New Years Resolution, you may recall, was to make more phone calls. I was a great phone person in high school, but not so much anymore. My friends know I’m easier to reach via email, though I long to improve in that regard. The resolution was twofold:

  • One phone call a day to an across-state-lines BFF
  • Call new local friends just to say hi

Truth time. You guys, I am failing miserably at my rezzies. The twofolds are unfolding. I still resort to text with my local new friends. I continue to be surprised, and also afraid someone was mortally injured, when they call me. As for my across-the-country besties, I try. But I’m not doing nearly as well as I’d hoped. And when I do follow through on my calling plan, I seem to spend much more time playing phone tag than I do actually talking to anyone.

So just as sure as I’ll eat apples and honey tonight, I will start calling. Now I’m getting religious about it.

Wasn’t there a time, back when I was a wee young thing, when the resolutions were to stop talking on the phone so much? Maybe they were resolutions like: “cut down on phone time in favor of in-person gatherings” or “stop gabbing so much, read a book instead.” Not this girl. Not this day in age.

I will dial. I will pick up. I will talk on the phone. My friendships will be stronger for it!

Do you reaffirm resolutions in January? (Even for the non-Jews, it seems to be a time of fresh starts.) Do you hope to talk on the phone more? Or less?

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The 24-Hour Friendship

There’s an article in the current issue of GQ about 24-hour bromances. The story is called “Warning: This New Friendship Will Self-Destruct In 24 Hours,” and it is just So. On. Point.

How have I not written about this yet? Probably because I seem to have given up on the 24-hour friendship. In my yearning for new pals, I took it upon myself to try and turn every 24-hour pal into a lifelong one. I got phone numbers, I followed up. But now I’ve been thinking: Maybe, sometimes, a 24-hour friendship is fine. Good, even. Maybe it’s precious in its own way, and thrives best in the context of your meeting place. A wedding. A vacation tour group. A work conference. Maybe trying to take it out of its natural habitat is wrong, and will only ruin what you once had.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. (Typical.)

I love this passage. I have lived this passage (the female version of course):

I’ve realized those nights pattern themselves in familiar ways. The work conferences, the bachelor parties, the birthday dinners and weddings—in particular, those bottom-of-the-guest-list weddings. You’re seated at a table with the loose ends, a little vulnerable in your disconnections. Your girlfriend starts chatting with the woman at her side, so you kill time talking to her date, more likely than not about sports. Soon enough, you two are leaving the girls behind to lean on the bar. Fast-forward five beers and you’re on the dance floor, jacketless, pointing—pointing!—at each other. In between songs you’re laughing at some inside joke from two hours ago. End of the night, guess what? Turns out he lives just thirty minutes away from you! You’re tempted to say it: Dude, we’ve got to hang out again.”

The author, Daniel Riley, goes on to say that he did try, one time, to meet up again with one such friend. It was a guy he met when out of town for work. The friend never responded. “I don’t blame him. He was seasoned and recognized the situation for what it was: a mutually beneficial short-term friendship. We used each other, and when we shifted back to the norm, he moved on. After all, once you’re home, you slip back into that comfort bubble of everyday co-workers and friends. Are you really gonna tell your inner circle that you can’t go to the ball game because you’ve got a date with a guy you shared a special night with in Toledo? Of course not.”

Now that I think of it, this isn’t unlike the blog post my brother wrote for me a couple years back. He too, he claimed, killed at weddings. Is this more of a man phenomenon?

Ok, so many questions for you folks: Is the 24-hour friendship more of a guy thing? (As us ladies always call the next day?) Do you believe the one-night-stand friendship should sometimes be left at that?

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The Hard Facts: The Healing Power of Pals

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

“New research shows that a strong social support system, especially in the first year after a diagnosis with breast cancer, improves outcomes for women. In the study, Vanderbilt scientists found that individuals with emotionally satisfying relationships with family and friends were less likely to die or have a recurrence of cancer.” (“Social Support Helps Women Beat Breast Cancer”; Psychcentral.com 1/21/2011)

Cancer sucks.

This much we know.

But there is a lot of research out there that says that strong social support can help cancer patients fight disease. In this study of women with breast cancer, researchers found that “six months after diagnosis, only greater social well-being was significantly associated with a decreased risk of dying or having a cancer recurrence.”

The article goes on to say: “Compared to women with the lowest scores, women who scored highest on the social well-being quality of life scale had a 48 percent reduction in their risk of a cancer recurrence and a 38 percent reduction in the risk of death.”

Another study found that social attachment was a “survival advantage” for women with ovarian cancer, too.

I’m no scientist, but it seems a fair guess to say that across the board, social support can only help cancer patients.

On a personal note: I bring all this up for a fairly personal reason. One of my dearest, bestest friends–one who is mentioned often in MWF Seeking BFF, in fact–is dealing with her own cancer battle. Her 34-year-old sister was recently diagnosed with “an aggressive form of brain cancer with no known cause.” It’s heartbreaking, of course, to watch my friend go through this, and to feel like there is nothing I can do to help.

 

But I know from research like that mentioned above, and from talking to my pal, that receiving messages of support from both friends and strangers-turned-friends can make a huge impact. And these days sending well-wishes to people you know (even those you don’t) is easier than ever. Sites like CaringBridge, which basically hosts blogs for patients who want to keep their loved ones in the loop, have guest books for supporters to sign and leave well wishes.

See? Social media isn’t all FOMO and YOLO. There are some positive uses, too.

Oh my dear blog readers, if you are feeling so inclined, you can leave my friend’s sister a message of support here. If social support is shown to improve cancer outcomes, and leaving a message takes all of, like, 20 seconds… you could make a quick impact. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Or set up a CaringBridge site for someone you know who is fighting a health battle.  It’s easy social support, and that makes a difference. Science says so.

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