Month of February , 2008

Female Friendships: Breaking News

I’m so excited that I’ve been asked to blog for the Living Section of the Huffington Post (AKA HuffPo or HuffPost). This popular weblog offers: syndicated columns, blogs, news stories and moderated comments to 5.7 million readers---talk about reach! I will continue to blog on and many of the entries that you read here will find their way to HuffPo too.

But now you will be able to register with the Huffington Post and get my blog entries delivered directly to your virtual mailbox whenever a new entry is posted (probably about once or twice a week). I hope you will sign up as a “fan” when you read this post by clicking the little red heart at the top of any of my HuffPo blog entries.

The topic of female friendships is of universal interest (even to men who don’t always understand us!) As you nurture the close relationships in your own life, I hope you will continue to help me think about all the dimensions of female friendships and how those rich bonds enhance our lives.

And don’t forget: Please leave your comments and post your questions here or on HuffPo so I stay relevant to your needs and interests.

To be continued…

Friendship by the Book: An interview with the author of MAYDAY


M. Nora Klaver is the author of MAYDAY: Asking for Help in Times of Need

I asked Nora, to think about some of the ways women can overcome the natural reluctance to ask their female friends for help.

Why are women afraid to ask other women for help?

As children, girls learn to navigate the emotional channels of relationships. As we grow into womanhood, we learn to modulate our emotions in order to attract and retain friends, supporters, and partners. Somewhere along the way, we learn to believe that friendships are fragile. In reality they are often much stronger than we imagine.

More so than men, women are concerned that asking for help will result in rejection or damaging or destroying a friendship. When we invest so much emotional energy into our relationships with others, we rarely want to risk that investment.

Women also hesitate to ask other women for help because we all want to appear capable and in control. And, asking for help implies that we are lacking something: competence, skill, energy, or knowledge. Letting another know, even another woman, that we don't have what it takes is humbling and a bit intimidating. Women, at work and at home, will burn themselves out before asking for the help they need simply because they don't want to appear weak.

Given how busy women are balancing careers and their own lives, how can they expect help from friends?

Perhaps one of the reasons we are so busy is because we aren't asking for the help we need. Instead, we decide, often quite deliberately, to take on everything ourselves. I encourage women to sit down with one another and brainstorm common lists of activities -- things we all do -- that we could share with one another. That simple support may be enough to lighten our loads. With just one task alleviated, we might be able to spend a bit more time with each other laughing over tea or margaritas. We might be able to help each other avoid the common illnesses that come from being overwhelmed or drained of energy.

For centuries, women have supported one another in Circles. My mother's own Circle, and it has been called that for decades, is still going strong though many of the ladies have passed on. At first they played bridge and talked about their children, but then they began to be there for one another. Each woman knew she could call on any of the others for help with a meal, babysitting, or finding a new job somewhere in town. Life is definitely different now: expectations are higher, women are working more out of the home, competition at work is stiff. Those differences strike me as stronger reasons for creating a powerful and supportive Circle.

Are there any hints you can offer to women about how to ask friends for help?

Sure, there are simple things to remember when you need to ask for help. First, cut yourself a little slack. We are way too hard on ourselves sometimes. Demonstrating a little self-compassion, you'll see that it is permissible for you to ask for help.

As you ask, be sure to be clear, as clear as you can, about what it is you need. Be open to other ideas that your friend may have to solve your dilemma.

Believe that everything will work out just fine. By now, you have received amazing blessings in your life. And some of the hardest times have turned out to be the best of times as well. Have a little faith. Not only will you get through your crisis more easily, but if you believe everything will be fine, your voice will remain calm and your hands will steady and your request for help will come out clear and strong.

Remember to focus on what's already good in your life. Be grateful for your friendships especially. That gratitude will relax you and help you continue the conversation with your girlfriend. I always suggest the Three Thanks Rule: say thank you when your friend agrees to help you and again when help is rendered. Then, the next time you run into your friend, quietly mention that you really appreciate what they did for you. This way, your friend will know you remember what they've done and will see how truly grateful you are.

What has been your personal experience in asking for help?

My life changed dramatically after I learned how to ask for assistance. Years ago, I was diagnosed with a tumor that needed to be removed. My boyfriend of three years reluctantly agreed to stay with me post-operatively. Two days before the surgery however, he dumped me. I ended up having to ask my elderly parents to come stay with me. I vowed then and there to have people around me who not only accept my help, but are willing to come to my aid when I need it. I have an entirely new circle of friends who have internalized the importance of supporting one another.


February 29, 2008 - Make Time for Friends Day


I hereby proclaim February 29th, 2008 as the first Make Time for Friends Day. There are no commercial aspects to the day that you need to worry about. You don’t have to buy cards, send gifts or spend money. You have received the gift of extra time and are free to use it wisely. Let me suggest how:

At various times in our lives, we have more or less time and need for our female friends. Women who are single, divorced, widowed, or retired tend to have more discretionary time than women who are involved in marriage, child-rearing or heavily invested in their careers. Of course, most research looks at groups and talks about averages rather than individuals so these trends certainly don’t apply to every woman. There are many women who are married, raising their brood, or working---who are wise enough to make female friendships a priority in their lives.

However, looking at the trends, you might easily ask: How will women have any friends when they get divorced, become widowed, or decide to retire, if they don’t make efforts to maintain those friendships beforehand? You are absolutely correct in posing that question because research suggests that single women who forgo marriage are more likely to retain their close friendships over the long haul. In a recent post on her blog on the The Huffington Post, social psychologist Bella DePaulo and author of Singled Out states that based on scientific research on loneliness in later life, “…No group is likely to be less lonely in their senior years than women who have always been single.”

I think I have one answer to reconcile the gap for those at-risk: This year, 2008, is a leap or intercalary year. That means that an extra day has been added to the calendar, Friday the 29th, to synchronize the calendar year with the solar year.

This extra day is a perfect time for Make Time for Friends Day. All you very busy multi-tasking women (me among them), take out your Blackberry, Palm, or conventional paper daybook or calendar and give yourself that extra day, February 29th, to catch up with one or more female friends---old or new--- who you’ve not had time to be with.

Take the leap and do it now! Think about the significance of friendships to your well-being, physical, emotional, and spiritual---and give yourself the gift of time with friends. My suspicion is that you may decide that one day every four years isn’t enough---and that it may become a habit.


Sticks and Stones: Perversions of the language of friendship


I found a new-to-me friendship term in the Urban Dictionary, frienvy. It describes the envious feelings someone has towards a friend who loses weight, gets a promotion, or finds a new love. OK, it’s kind of cute.

The dictionary also defines friendwhoring, the verb: stealing someone else’s friends and making them your own. Getting a bit more nasty.

Another questionable term that has entered the rapidly growing friendship lexicon (although no one is quite sure how to spell it) is friendenemy, frenemy, or frienemy. It describes friends whom you feel ambivalent about, or friends who feel ambivalent about you. In both cases, two people are friends by all outward appearances but they really can’t stand each other.

The social networking site seizes on this perversion of friendship and takes it to a new height. The site facilitates connections among people who share frienenemies. “Rather than dwelling on the negative, we invite you to foster new friendship based on shared dislikes, annoyances, and disappointments,” boasts the home page.

Their categories of frienemies are somewhat illuminating. These include: cheaters, complainers, depressives, drunks, hostile-aggressives, indecisives, know-it-all-experts, lazys, liars, negativists, one uppers, paranoids, pathological liars, psychos, scenesters, silent and unresponsives, soul suckers, super-agreeables, total bores, and users.

But the stigmatizing language on the site (e.g. psychos and drunks) positively rattles me. As does trivializing the notion of an imperfect friendship, which turns out to be a very common but painful experience.

Yes, ambivalent relationships exist and you need to get over them, but I’m not sure this type of social networking is the best route.


Friends: Just what the doctor (surgeon) ordered


Need another reason to nurture your friendships? Every year, about 15 million Americans undergo surgical procedures. Whenever anyone goes under the knife, even for an elective procedure, it is likely to be a time of great stress.

Whether the surgery is for breast cancer, an ovarian cyst or a cosmetic procedure, female friendships can help ease an otherwise difficult journey. Friends can provide physician referrals, listen when you need another set of eyes and ears to interview a doctor, and provide a potent dose of caring and cheer at your bedside. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons confirms that a strong network of family and friends can even ease postoperative pain and anxiety---and speed recuperation.

“Strong social connectedness can have a tremendous impact on patient recovery by helping blunt the effect of stress caused by postoperative pain, as well as ease concerns about health, finances and separation from family members,” says Allison R. Mitchinson, MPH, who works with the Ann Arbor (MI) Healthcare System and was one of the co-authors of the study.

The researchers studied more than 600 patients undergoing major thoracic or abdominal operations at two Veterans Affairs’ medical centers. Prior to surgery, the patients responded to a questionnaire that elicited the numbers and frequency of their social contacts. Patients with smaller social networks reported significantly higher preoperative pain intensity, unpleasantness, and anxiety.

Like exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, maintaining meaningful friendships is one of the things we can all do to improve health, prevent disease and extend life,


Needy Friends: A Friend Indeed?

There are some friends who feel like an emotional ball and chain. They’re always in need of one thing or another: money, favors, help, coddling, praise---or simply more time than you have to give.

Like a wailing toddler, they can be so demanding that their friendship tires you and weighs you down. Who needs that kind of friend? Many women do.
  • People who like feeling needed---or once liked the feeling (even if they don’t anymore)
  • People who feel like they aren’t worthy of healthier, more balanced relationships
  • People who are stuck---either feeling angry or sorry for their needy friend---and feel unable to get out of it
But if you have begun to recognize that a female friendship is a drag, you’ve taken the first step in relieving yourself of the burden.

  • Change the nature of your friendship by learning to say “no” and setting boundaries (e.g. “Even though we are both single, I don’t want to spend every Friday night together.”)
  • Tell her that you have to tend to your own needs (or those of anyone else you can think of)
  • Slip away - Spend less time with her and add other less demanding friends to your inventory
  • Take a relationship sabbatical or hiatus from the friendship (you deserve it!)
  • If it's that bad, simply cut loose!
Remember, the term toxic friendships refers to relationships that are consistently negative and draining. It is the pattern, not the one-time or occasional lapses in the balance of needing that occurs between good friends. If your truly needy friend has been that way for some time, the real possibilities of changing the relationship verge on hopeless.

These are people whose needs can never be satiated. No matter what you give, what you do, how much, or how often, it will never be enough. Since character tends to endure, this person probably treats other people the same way she treats you. It’s likely that many of her friends have probably already dropped out of the picture and that’s why she is so dependent on you.

Just for Fun: Send her hugs and kisses


Do you have a BFF that you phone or text---more times a day than you can count?

Wish her a Happy Valentine’s Day on February 14th with FREE wallpaper for her cell. She’ll think of you each time she looks at her phone and sees all the hugs and kisses.

Go to the Hallmark beta site and take a peek. You don't pay for the download but you may have to pay for one or two text messages. I'll let you know when I get my bill :-)




Valentine’s Day: Also a day for friends


The first hand-made Valentine’s Day cards in the 1800s weren’t intended only for lovers. They celebrated affection between friends and relatives as well. The card shown expresses such a sentiment inside:

Friendship. Friendship, how dear thy name, How pure thy transports are, Blessed, fair, unsullied flame, Be thou my leading star.

It’s designer was Esther Howland. One of the pioneers of the greeting card industry in the US, Howland was charmed by an ornate English Valentine she received from a friend. So she began a business of importing lace and floral decorations from England and turning them into lacy cards. She advertised in the Worcester, Massachusetts paper, The Daily Spy, in 1850, and her business grew so quickly that she had to enlist friends in an assembly-line operation to meet the demand. Her sales are reported to have exceeded $100,000, a handy sum at the time for a female entrepreneur.

Even Hallmark has an ecumenical Valentine’s Day card with a cover that reads “Friendship is Forever.” The message inside:

Romance fades, chocolates grow stale, but friendship is forever. Happy Valentine's Day.

On February 14th, people in Finland celebrate Ystävänpäivä, which is translated as Friend’s Day. In Mexico, it is called the Día del amor y la amistad, the day of love and friendship.

Admittedly, the day has been over-commercialized but it still remains a fitting day to express love and appreciation to the important people in our life---which, of course, includes our friends.

With love to my dear husband, son, and friends
In memory to my Dad who died on Valentine’s Day, 2006


Lipstick Jungle: A lesson in friendship?


Like life in Manhattan, the premiere of Lipstick Jungle was fast-paced and engaging. The show’s message about female friendships, however, wasn’t all too clear. With both TV series and friendships, it’s hard to know what you are getting when you’re right at the beginning.

Only over time do casual friends turn into close friends---and do our friends begin to reveal themselves to us, warts and all. The same can be said about the ties that bind Wendy Healy (Brooke Shields), Nico Reilly (Kim Raver) and Victory Ford (Lindsay Price). We will learn more about their lives, relationships, and struggles as women in a male-dominated work world next week.

For now, we have seen a glimpse of the three friends celebrating their sorrows and their successes with one another. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about the potentials and pitfalls of female friendships as the series progresses.

P.S. Was I the only one irritated by all the Maybelline commercials?


Lipstick Jungle: Tres Amigas or BFFs?


The long-hyped premiere of Lipstick Jungle is scheduled for 10PM EST tonight on NBC. Following on the heels of Sex and the City by the same writer (Candace Bushnell), the show is described as a tale of three female friends in NYC who are a little older, wiser, wealthier and successful than the Sex and the City babes---but who are still juggling their personal and high-powered professional lives.

I’ll be watching this evening to see what I can learn about female friendships. Are the Tres Amigas good friends, close friends, best friends? Are any of their relationships toxic? How do they balance friendship and work? Friendship and romance? How intimate are their relationships? Here are excerpts from some of the critic’s reviews (which have been mixed), which I've selected because they focus on the show’s take on female friendships.

Shoe-Savvy Friends Against the City
New York Times Review by Allessandra Stanley

The women are one another’s confidantes and best friends in a nasty world teeming with younger, envious rivals and vengeful enemies.

Lipstick Jungle
Los Angeles Times Review by Mary McNamara

Here's Wendy Healy (Brooke Shields), the nicest movie executive you'll ever meet (she doesn't even swear), dutifully struggling to fill her roles as deal maker, mommy, wife and BFF. Needless to say, she's on the phone a lot.

The creators seem to think their show is saying something new, only it's not really clear what that is. That women can be just as power hungry or libidinous as men? Or female friendship trumps every other relationship save motherhood? Or it's tough to be a working mother? If this show had run 10 years ago, maybe. But now?

Lipstick Jungle: NBC's Thick Application of Gloss
Washington Post Review by Tom Shales

Now and then, the three dear friends meet -- on a rooftop, say, or for lunch at the inevitable trendy eatery, or to take a walk in Toronto (which appears to be playing New York City again). Their get-togethers might include deep thoughts on a woman's plight in the modern world…

Please comment. What did you think about the show? Are these real friendships or ideal ones?