Month of January , 2008

Singled Out (Part 2 of 2): Friendship among singles

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This is the second part of my interview with social psychologist Bella DePaulo, PhD, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

Do single women have more or less problems making and maintaining friendships? Explain.

From a scientific perspective, the answer is unknown. That’s something that is very frustrating to me as a social scientist. There is a very lively field of study about personal relationships, but the vast majority of studies are about romantic relationships. Yet, there are many more adults who have no spouse in their lives than who have no friends. And, the relationship that is likely to last the longest is not the relationship with a spouse, but with a sibling.

Although there is no systematic research that answers this question, there are several qualitative studies of the lives of single women. These suggest that single women can be very adept at making and maintaining friendships. One of my favorites was based on interviews of 50 women, ages 65 to 105, who had always been single. Of those women, exactly one was socially isolated. The other 49 had a total of 47 friends with whom they were in contact every day. In 16 instances, those friendships had lasted more than 40 years!

There are other indications, too, that single people are hardly flying solo. Kay Trimberger and I wrote about this for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007.


Is there anything else you’d like to add about single women and friendship?

Yes. After doing the research for my book, Singled Out, I was struck by just how important friendships are in our lives, and how undervalued friendships often are in our culture. Think of the phrase, “just friends.” I think that for our closest friendships, that sentiment is exactly wrong.

And on this point, there is scientific evidence. A few years ago, two scholars reviewed every study ever published on what contributes to people’s well-being in later life. They found that one of the best predictors of good feelings was time spent with friends.

One other thing. Because friendships are not valued in our society the way that some other relationships are, people often do not find the support or concern they would like when things are going badly in their friendships. I remember one person commenting to me that when she had boyfriend problems, sympathy arrived promptly at her doorstep. But when she tried to tell some of the same confidants about her problems in a close friendship, they would give her this funny look, as if to say, “So?”

That’s one of the reasons I so appreciate this blog. When it comes to friendships, with all of their intense ups and downs, there is no dismissiveness here.

 

Singled Out (Part I of 2): Friendship among singles

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Earlier today, I was very pleased to interview Dr. Bella DePaulo about friendship and the single woman.

Dr. DePaulo is a social psychologist living in Summerland, CA., and the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She blogs for the Huffington Post, and has published op-ed pieces in newspapers such as The New York Times, Newsday, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

I'll post the second part of her interview tomorrow.

How are friendships among single women different than those among married women? Are friendships any less or more important to single women?

Most Americans believe in a hierarchy of relationships, in which the marital relationship comes before all other peer relationships, even with the closest of friends. For those married women who believe in this ranking, their female friends will always come in second (at best). Single women have more freedom to value their friendships with one another more than any other relationship – if they wish to do so.

Because so many Americans (myself included) are so ahistorical in their knowledge and outlooks, they are often surprised to learn that the prioritizing of the marital relationship in our affections is not timeless and is not universal. Historians such as Nancy Cott and Francesca Cancian have pointed out that in other times, such as the late 18th and 19th centuries, intensely close friendships between women flourished. In fact, women often expected to find their only truly equal and reciprocal relationships with other women.

So, in the big historical and cross-cultural picture, people who deeply value their closest friendships, and find more emotional closeness there than in other relationships, are not at all unusual.

Are there any special pressures that single women feel? (For example, one woman told me that she felt like she had to spend every Friday night with her girlfriend)

Friendship is such an individualized relationship. People differ tremendously in how close they need to feel to someone in order to consider that person a friend. The norms for friendship are less clear than they are for some other relationships, too. So you can end up with a friend who expects you to spend every Friday night with her. But I’m not so sure that things are all that different for couples. There are many couples who seem to feel obligated to spend every Friday night with another particular couple or two. There can be something unfortunate about this tendency: Sometimes a person only likes one of the two people in the couple, but they don’t get to spend their valuable leisure time solely with the one person they really do like. The person they like “comes with” a boring or annoying partner.

Visit Dr. DePaulo's website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.

 

 

The company we keep: Do our BFFs define us?

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Two more celebrity pairings this week reinforce the notion that people define us by the company we keep.

CNN quoted former President Bill Clinton saying that Hillary is a close friend of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

"She and John McCain are very close," Clinton said in Spartanburg, SC. "They always laugh that if they wound up being the nominees of their party, it would be the most civilized election in American history, and they're afraid they'd put the voters to sleep because they like and respect each other."

What was Bill thinking? Does this unusual pairing suggest that Hillary is moving towards the middle of the political spectrum? That she is a conciliatory person? That she is capable of befriending and working closely with the boys? Honestly, could they really be BFFs?

Equally interesting is the TMZ TV buzz linking pregnant superstar J Lo (Jennifer Lopez) as a BFF with the Queens of the King of Queens, Leah Remini. Leah is a self-proclaimed scientologist, which caused immediate speculation that she might be recruiting J Lo as a convert.

Something to think about…

 

Friendship and forgiveness

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All female friendships, even very close ones, hold the potential for disappointment and hurt. It is common for unexpected and unfortunate lapses to occur (as opposed to consistent patterns of toxic behaviors---which also occur!).

A friend may have been insensitive to your feelings, forgotten your special birthday, failed to be there when you needed her, or put you at a distance without an explanation.

Both girls and women tend to have such high expectations of their female friends---believing that those friendships will last forever---so even relatively minor snubs or transgressions can make them feel like they’ve been punched in the stomach.

Eventually the pain subsides but it still is hard to forgive or forget. If you are like me, you'll obsess about what happened, replaying the hurt without getting over it. Yet, it is in our best self-interest to practice forgiveness.

A recent issue of the Mayo Clinic Women’s Healthsource, focused on the topic of “Finding Forgiveness.” The newsletter suggested that it is healthier, both physically and emotionally, to forgive rather than to harbor grudges. Remaining angry can wreak havoc on your heart and nervous system, leaving you feeling anxious, tense, and depressed.

Forgiving usually doesn’t occur spontaneously. To pave the way, you need to be honest with yourself.

  • Replay the event in your mind and admit you feel hurt.
  • Consciously decide that you want to forgive---you might even write it down or say it aloud.
  • Try to understand what happened from her perspective. Instead of thinking that the infraction was purposeful, reframe it as having to do with her rather than you.

Practiced well, forgiveness improves physical health, provides a sense of emotional relief and closure, and has the social effect of teaching us to be more compassionate and empathetic with others. If the transgression was a serious one, your friendship may not survive but forgiving will allow you to move forward feeling more whole.

 

People who need people

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What do lonely people do when they need friends but have none? According to new research, they tend to anthropomorphize: They attribute human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.

“When people lack a sense of connection with other people, they are more likely to see their pets, gadgets or gods as human-like,” says psychologist Nicholas Epley, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, in a press release.

The loneliness of having too few friends or being totally bereft of friends can be excruciatingly painful. In fact, Epley suggests that it can even be deadly. “It’s actually a greater risk for morbidity or mortality than cigarette smoking is. Being lonely is a bad thing for you,” he says.

The researchers suggest that humanizing the inhuman may confer some of the same benefits that people derive from friends and other social relationships. The bottom Line: If you find yourself talking to your cat, you may want to think about whether you have a friendship deficit that needs to be addressed.

 

The study will appear in the February issue of Psychological Science. Also contributing to the research were Scott Akalis of Harvard University and the University of Chicago’s Adam Waytz and John Cacioppo.

 

Why they call it---My Friend Flickr

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When Matt Raymond of the Library of Congress needed help tagging more than 3100 photos in the library’s collection, he teamed up with the Flickr, the photo-sharing website.

“If all goes according to plan, the project will help address at least two major challenges: how to ensure better and better access to our collections, and how to ensure that we have the best possible information about those collections for the benefit of researchers and posterity,” wrote Raymond in his blog.

Well, the pilot was enormously successful, proving the power of photosharing websites in fostering a sense of community. Two days later, Raymond posted that there had already been 650,000 views of the photos, with 420 of them commented on, and 1200 having been favorited

Photos can help us share our lives with our female friends. They can offer portraits of the woman we were yesterday and the one we are today. A snapshot can also capture the people, places and things that are meaningful to us. Want to stay connected? Send a captioned photo to a friend, either electronically or via snail mail. Or put a few up on Flickr---with tags, of course.

 

Preteen Worries: My family, my friends and me

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Preteens tend to worry. Why? As they’re simultaneously growing into awkward new bodies and tackling the social challenges of middle school, they’re also victims of the emotional roller coaster created by their fluctuating hormones. With these stressors, it’s a difficult time for kids well as their parents.

Preteens tend to be tight-lipped---preferring to share secrets with their friends over their parents---so it’s natural for moms, dads and teachers to wonder what they worry about. A new KidsHealth KidsPoll was designed to provide some answers. The January 2008 poll surveyed 1,154 kids between the ages of 9 and 13, looking at how much they worry and what they worry about.

By far, the largest proportion (86 per cent) worry “almost all the time” or “a lot” about someone they love. They also worry about tests and grades, the future, their appearance, and making mistakes---in that order. But 1 out of 4 worry about their friends “almost all the time” and a third of them worry about friends “a lot.” In fact, friendships ranked among the top 8 of 20 pre-teen worries.

One implication: Moms need to talk to their daughters about female friendships and share their wisdom and experience about the fragility of these relationships. Particularly during these pre-teen years, we need to help cushion the blow when our daughters are excluded from a clique at school or camp, or when they are inevitably rejected by one of their Besties.

 

The poll was conducted by KidsHealth.org, a web portal that provides health information for children.

 

Making Friendships Stick

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Women are: Daughters, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, lovers, wives, workers, students, caregivers and FRIENDS!

The significance and order of these roles vary according to the person and change over time. In a 24/7 society, where multi-tasking is not only expected but often demanded, it’s not surprising that even the best of female friendships sometimes get short shrift.

Friendships are prone to fray if they aren’t nurtured. So we need to find small ways to make these important relationships stick:

  • Remember her birthday with a call, card or flowers
  • Send her an old-fashioned postcard next time you are on vacation.
  • Send her a note on pretty stationary, for no particular reason, expressing what her friendship means to you.
  • Call her to wish her and her family a happy holiday.
  • Acknowledge other milestones: her promotions at work, her anniversary, or her children’s birthdays.
  • Don’t be vague about when you’ll see each other again. Schedule face-to-face time.
  • Take a class together or join the same gym.
  • Got kids? Enroll in the same Mommy and Me class.
  • Don’t ever allow three months go by without any contact.
  • Email her to let her know you are thinking of her.
  • If you live nearby one another, find ways to coordinate chores and other things you have to do: Schedule your mammograms together, go food shopping together, take an exercise class together.
  • If you live far apart, plan a girlfriend getaway each year.
  • Make her your friend on MySpace or Facebook.

How to make it stick? All it takes is making friendship a priority and a little bit of creativity in re-ordering your priorities! One woman I interviewed for the Fractured Friendship Survey told me that she exercises simultaneously with her friend who lives thousands of miles away. As they both use the treadmill, they talk and motivate one another to exercise. At the same time, they remain connected across the miles.

 

Eat, Pray, Love, and Befriend

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I just read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert---finally.

In the book, Gilbert translates an Italian phrase un'amica stretta, which means a close friend

With her wonderful way with words and analogies, she goes on to say, "...stretta literally means tight, as in clothing, like a tight skirt. So a close friend, in Italian, is one that you can wear tightly, snug against your skin.."

I would say that having such friendships is right up there with eating, praying and loving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship on the fairway: Keeping it evergreen

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If you ask two friends to describe how they became Besties, they usually say “we just clicked.”

That certainly is the case for Sal Henley Kibler and Mari Maseng Will, now both 53 years old, who first met at freshman orientation at the University of South Carolina. They pledged the same sorority and roomed together from their sophomore year on. “Maybe we were drawn to each other because we were the tallest women we had ever met,” jokes Mari. (At 6 feet she is just two inches taller than Sal.)

Turning an instant friendship into a lasting one requires time and effort but Sal and Mari have been able to maintain their relationship over the years by playing the game: golf. “We are God parents for each other’s children and seem to go through life’s twists and turns pretty much at the same time,” says Sal. Despite living states apart, their shared love of golf has helped them stay connected and remain close to one another.

“Our playing ebbs and flows with the time available since we are both trying to work, raise children and spend time with our husbands,” says Mari, who lives in Washington, D.C.

“We started playing golf about five years ago, once our kids got to be tweens and our careers were a little more established,” says Sal. Now the women try to play together at least once every six weeks, although it doesn’t always work out that way.

Like most women, they find it hard to justify time away for themselves. “We are getting better at that, though,” says Mari. “Our common interest erases the miles, and the years,” she says. “We laugh all the way across the course and it feels good. Women need their community of women friends to lean on. Golf provides opportunities to be together and hours of time to talk and laugh – in the outdoors and at beautiful settings. The game is all about the golfer and the course--- at that moment. There’s no room in your head for work pressures, science projects and what you’re going to do about dinner.”

Both women place a high priority on their friendship. They realize that no matter how hard they try---their work, children and families are never going to be perfect---so they might as well have fun. “Our colleagues, our children and our husbands seem to be happier when we are,” says Mari.

Sal Henley Kibler is publisher of momseasychair.com, an online magazine and community for women who also happen to be moms. She has held executive positions at several leading advertising agencies in Atlanta, and ran her own marketing consulting firm. Mari Maseng Will was a speech writer for President Reagan and served as his last communications director. She ran corporate relations for a worldwide consumer products company, and served as press secretary and then communications director in Bob Dole’s Presidential campaigns. Today she runs her own business consulting with major corporations, industry groups and non-profit organizations.