Month of July , 2008

Resolving the Friendship Deficit: One Day at a Time

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In 1935, the United States Congress proclaimed the first Sunday in August as Friendship Day, which falls on August 3d this year. Put simply: It’s a day to recognize the vital role that friendships play in our lives. You can celebrate the day by getting together with a friend---or by phoning, emailing or texting one who lives far away.

But even the clueless among us know that close friendships aren’t made or celebrated on a single day. They’re nurtured by repeated contacts over time when we share our real selves with others.

A landmark study published in the American Sociological Review (June 2006) reported that the circle of close friends held by Americans over the past two decades has shrunk markedly. During the same 20-year period, the researchers found that the number of people who said that had no close confidants at all had doubled.

So if Friendship Day is approaching and you feel like you are experiencing a friendship deficit, you aren’t alone. Here are some of the reasons why this happens:

1) Focusing on career to the exclusion of friends: You may be a high-achiever who has come to find that it is very lonely at the top of your game.

2) Focusing on family to the exclusion of friends: You may be immersed (or drowning) in caregiving responsibilities for young children, older parents, or be sandwiched in between the two.

3) Forging acquaintances rather than friendships: You may be caught up in a social whirl but never take the time to develop more meaningful relationships.

4) Thinking you prefer the life of a hermit: Given the opportunity, you may choose more solitary pursuits and spend too much time alone.

5) Thinking that just one is sufficient: One friend may have satiated all your needs for friendship but that one friendship may have disappeared, dealing you a terrible blow.

If you feel lonely and don’t have the number of quality of female friendships you want, use the day to reclaim old friendships, nurture the ones you have, and develop new ones, one day at a time. Need some inspiration? The following ideas were emailed to me:

START A TRADITION

Two of my good friends, sorority sisters from the University of Toledo, celebrate our sorority anniversary together every year, which was on December 4, 1994 at 4:50:19 AM. Each year we plan a series of activities to celebrate our friendship over a few days. For the first 12 years, we literally were together in the same room and set our alarms to wake up and wish each other a happy anniversary. Recently, we decided to do anniversary trips. The first year, I planned the trip and we went to NYC. We did a scavenger hunt, saw a Broadway play, and more. This past year we did a trip to Martha's Vineyard and next year the plan is to take a trip together to Costa Rica.

From Dani Gibbs

GO ONLINE

My best friends are a group of working mothers I met online when I was pregnant with my first son. These are women that have been with me in the good times and bad from virtual baby showers, to the death of my dad, others losing jobs, difficult births, divorces, etc. They are women, although most I’ve not meet in person, whom I would trust my life with. Each year, we have a reunion to get together to celebrate our friendship. We are there to support each other each day on our private message board.

From Lois Whittaker

 

LEND A HAND

On last National Girlfriend’s Day, I was recuperating on the couch between chemotherapy sessions, while my girlfriends drove my kids to religion camp and cooked for me. My girlfriends made it possible for me to take care of the business of getting healthy by taking over running my house. My friend Susan organized the neighborhood to cook for us three times a week. My friend Kim sent me a schedule every Sunday night that showed which neighbors would drive my kids to camp, take them home for playdates or get them to swim practice. I barely had the energy to walk, let alone cart kids around town, so I really needed her help, too. Kim and Susan are just two of the girlfriends who helped me through the roughest time of my life.

From Jen Singer

MAKE A DATE

I am a mystery writer and the inspiration for my latest series of books -- the Friday Afternoon Club Mystery (Simon & Schuster) came from my own group of friends. We’ve been getting together on Friday afternoons for about 17 years. And yes – we call ourselves the Friday Afternoon Club (FAC). We have no agenda, no crafts or no service projects. It’s just a chance to chat with women who have come to know and love me for who I really am. I count the friendship of these women as one of the most precious blessings in my life.

From Cyndy Salzmann

BLAME IT ON THE KIDS

We are four mothers of sons who met because our boys were in the same grade in elementary school on the same baseball and basketball leagues and we wanted to socialize without the kids. We created a Dinner with Friends night – every other month; one couple selected a place and we’d all go out to eat. After the boys went their separate ways, we continued the group, albeit less often. The women decided to celebrate birthdays (ended up being 1once a season) and got together for lunch. It’s a chance to connect (no matter how busy things get) and keep in touch (even when life takes us in different directions).

From Joni Daniels

BREAK BREAD

Fourteen years ago I was friendly with two women. Between us we have six children in a seven-year age range. While we met through a business network, we quickly discovered our mommy-connection and decided to meet for lunch to share issues which we might find mutually helpful in the rearing of our children. I'll never forget the first lunch, and maybe the second or third. The food arrived, conversation was lively and, well, fluffy.....until maybe as the check was being paid, one of us would have the nerve to mention something really juicy and challenging that was going on in our lives as mothers. Hardly time left to discuss anything, we learned gradually to trust each other and to open the lunch with the high agenda points. I remember thinking "Thursdays just don't come around often enough."

From Sally Landau

BAKE COOKIES

In 1993, Laura, Julie, Charlene and I met at York University in Toronto. We were all living on the same floor and working at the same pub. As our schooling progressed, so too did our friendship. In 1995 Colleen joined our little sisterhood. Now, 15 years later, a few husbands, a few children, several moves, and lots of long distance phone calls and visits, we make an annual pilgrimage to Ontario for “cookie baking weekend.” This weekend, usually the first one in December, is 72 hours of shopping, prepping, baking, eating, and packaging. We also add in lots of laughter, some tears, a few snarky comments, plenty of hugs and kisses, some beer, wine or other mixology. These four women have been my bedrock.

From Gena Rotstein

I hope Friendship Day enriches your friendhips and helps reverse the deficit!

 

Psych 101: When a close friend is depressed

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It’s depressing to be with a friend who is truly depressed. You may even get weepy yourself. The black cloud of depression spreads over you too, making you feel like you want to escape and be with anyone else but her. But read this first!

I’ve blogged here repeatedly about the importance of female friendships to women’s emotional and physical well-being---and about the perils of toxic ones as well. I’ve talked about friends who are too needy, too self-centered, too angry, too demanding, or too unreliable and have pointed out that some friendships reach a tipping point when it’s time to call it quits. I still believe that relationships that are consistently draining should be ended or at least, placed on hold.

Then I received a post from a reader entitled, Toxic Friends May Be Crying Out for Help, which reminded me that there are exceptions to every rule---and that it is important to distinguish between a toxic friendship (which is pathological relationship) and depression (which is a mental disorder). Here's the post:

Dear Irene:

Thanks for pointing out that there are bad friends out there, However I want to play devil's advocate here and say that in 2006 when ALL and I do mean ALL 5 of my close friends bailed on me like a chain of dominoes I nearly died from the depression it caused. In the wake of that nightmare I found out I had a mental problem and needed HELP. Your call to DUMP Toxic Friendships would be better served by advocating INTERVENTION for people who may possibly be in serious trouble rather than leaving them behind like trash on the street corner.

Signed,

Anonymous

Yes, there are some cases when close friends need to cut a little slack. Could it be that your friendship feels burdensome and painful because your friend is depressed?

Recognizing depression

Clinical depression is extremely common, affecting nearly one out of ten people in a given year, and it’s is twice as prevalent in women as it is in men. It’s more than a case of the blues or a bad mood that passes. Depression profoundly affects a person’s ability to function. And as hard as someone tries to shake it, it recurs nearly every day, all day, for at least two weeks or longer.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the symptoms of depression may include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness, anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, waking up during the night, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Does this list of symptoms and signs make you think of one of your friends? Well, this is a reminder. As much as you might like to, you can’t talk a friend out of being depressed. Even a kick in the pants won’t help. Depression is a biological illness.

What you can do

  • If you are a good friend, there are some ways in which you can help and possibly make a difference:
  • You can listen carefully, provide support, and offer to spend some time doing things you enjoy together (taking a walk or bicycle ride, or going to a movie).
  • You can offer to help her with concrete tasks she can’t accomplish on her own because she feels so overwhelmed or has no energy.
  • Try to be patient---and never be pushy. Don’t dismiss her feelings. Show that you understand them but encourage her to realize that these feelings are only temporary and will eventually pass.
  • Don’t pussyfoot around the issue. Remind her that depression is a treatable illness and encourage your friend to seek treatment.
  • If she resists your initial suggestion, try again but don’t nag. Don’t make demands or set ultimatums. Many depressed people need time to find their way to treatment and some people just want to be left alone.
  • If you worry that your friend may be harboring suicidal thoughts, you have certain ethical obligations. Be direct and ask her if she feels suicidal. If she does, remind her that she is important to you and that she needs immediate professional help. Never allow the burden of having a depressed friend be yours alone. Be sure to inform someone else (e.g. her partner or closest relative.) If you’re her partner, tell her doctor.

Recognize that you can only be a friend, not a mental health professional. There is just so much that friends can do and so much that they can give. You may need to reluctantly cut loose and be there for her when she begins to recover.


Note: This post is about friendship and isn't intended as medical advice.

This post can also be read on The Huffington Post.

 

Reader Q & A: I'm stuck! I don't want to lose my BFF

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene:

I met my friend “Amanda” in high school. I was a junior and she was a freshman, so we’ve been best friends (BFFs) for 9 years. Our friendship over the years has survived a lot. The trouble I am having is deciding whether I should hold on to the friendship or not? And the reason why I am asking is because ever since a certain incident occurred, we haven’t talked. Okay, so here’s the story:

I was talking to Amanda on the phone (on June 30th) and she was telling me about her weekend and she mentioned; “I saw Steve this weekend at my mom’s house.” And I replied “Um…oh yeah and how did he get inside your mom’s house?” and Amanda said, “Oh, my mom invited him over” and I replied “What a f**king whore!!!!”

Amanda gasped and said, “Oh, my god” and I replied quickly “Oh, my god, I’m sooo sorry, I soooo didn’t mean to say those words; I just meant to say… Is your mom not thinking clearly by inviting the man over that had been verbally and emotionally abusing you for four years??!?!?!?”

Amanda answered, “I know you’re sorry but I can’t talk to you right now.” So we hung up and I thought I would give her a couple days to me mad at me and then I would contact her. Well about two weeks later, after no phone calls or e-mails, I decided I would write her and make the first step in fixing what I broke (which I don’t think I should have been doing in the first place because after 9+ years of friendship I would think she knew I didn’t mean those words literally and I didn’t think we had a line drawn in our friendship for me to even cross).

So on 07/14, I decided to write her:

Hey there, BFF, I just want you to know that I love you and will always love you. I support you and will always support you. I will always be here for you when you need me. I know I express my opinions without thinking of the consequences...but you are still my #1.

With no response back I wrote her again on July 17th:

I sent you a Gmail and was wondering if you were ready to talk yet?

Her response 2 minutes later:

Yea, I got it and to be honest I really don’t think that emails and texting is the way to go...When you are ready to call me and give me an apology, then we can talk.

My response 30 minutes later:

I do apologize for the bad choice of words that I used; there was no malicious attempt. I didn't mean what I said literally. It was just bad choice of words.

She hasn’t written back, called, texted …nothing. Soooooo what do I do I am stuck!! Thank you so much for your help!

Signed,
Stuck in Sunnyvale

ANSWER:

Dear Stuck in Sunnyvale:

I don’t think that things are as hopeless as they seem.

Think of it this way: You responded protectively because you care about Amanda and didn’t want to see her getting involved in the same abusive relationship again. Sometimes, it’s hard for women to extricate themselves from bad relationships even though they should. At times like this, having a supportive friend like you can make all the difference in the world.

By the way, I’m not sure what Amanda’s mom was thinking or whether she was involved in this scenario at all but that’s really immaterial to your dilemma.

Amanda realizes she made a mistake and disappointed you (as well as herself). But as you realize, she got caught up in your choice of words rather than hearing your message. That can happen when two people are upset, even BFFs. The fact that Amanda told you about her mistake shows how much she trusts you and counts on you. The fact that you both tried to communicate afterwards shows that you really have a strong relationship.

Anyone involved in an abusive relationship has to feel badly about herself. She is probably having a hard time and needs your support more than ever. Don’t dig your feet into the ground on this one. You are a true friend. Call her and apologize for your choice of language and tell her you really care about her and want to be there for her. You want to TALK, not text or email.

My guess is that you will become “unstuck” before you know it.

My best,

Irene

 

Reader Q & A: Can this teen friendship be saved?

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I’m 15 going into tenth grade and I have known my friend since we were in 5th grade and we have always been really close. My mom is her second mom and her mom is my second mom. We have always had the same interest in everything until just recently. It's like we never agree on ANYTHING anymore.

We are so different now. But it’s like it happened over night. I know people change but I didn’t know how fast it could happen. I want us to stay friends forever and all but lately I don’t feel so hyper and happy around her. I feel empty and different and like it’s not the same. So I am just wondering, should I try and "repair" our friendship or do u think it would be best for me to just end it?

Thank you very, very much for reading this. I really do appreciate it. :]


Signed,

Anonymous Teen in Florida

ANSWER:

Dear Anonymous Teen in Florida,

It always feels bad to drift apart from a bestie with whom you once felt very close. More than likely, however, this turnaround didn't happen overnight. It just feels that way. You are just beginning to realize the differences between you and your friend, and it sounds like they are jumping out at you in living color!

People change all the time---and especially during the teen years when changes can be dramatic. This is a time when our interests and unique personalities emerge, so I'm not too surprised by your story. Even though it's common, it's still disappointing.

Do you think your friend is feeling the same way you do? I suspect that is probably the case.

It might be worthwhile to start a conversation with her and say, “Why do you think we are disagreeing so much? Do you think there is anything we can do to iron out our differences?” It's important to mention that you really treasure all the good times you've had in the past and that you hope you can work things out together.

Be prepared to give her one or two examples of why you are feeling this way. Try not to blame her---say it is something that is affecting you both.

By talking about it, you might gain more insight into what you are feeling and whether or not the friendship can be saved.

If you can't work things out, you just might need to take a breather from each other or maintain a less intense friendship. Next year or the year after, you may find that you are more in sync with one another.

Let me know how it works out.

My best,
Irene