Month of October , 2008

Reader Q & A: Feeling like the odd woman out

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I have just come across this website and I must say it is one of the most delightful discoveries I have ever made! I do have an issue with my friends and would be grateful if you could give me your opinion as I have given it a great deal of thought but have pretty much stayed at square one.

I have a group of close friends (four in total). We met at University and since leaving two years ago we talk regularly over the phone and see each other almost every weekend, except for one friend who lives down South and we can't see as often.

Within the group we all have our little roles, mine being the 'listener' or 'mother'. I have always had difficulties opening up so I am also known as the one who 'doesn’t talk about her feelings'. Don't get me wrong, whenever I have needed help or advice they have ALWAYS been there for me and I appreciate that so much.

During these last few months, I have noticed a change. I seem to have lost a lot of patience when talking to my friends. The things I once found so amusing are now things that can irritate me and I find myself thinking that they can be rather 'self-centered' and take me for granted which can sometimes lead to me feeling somewhat upset.

When I try to share this with my friends I get either reactions of guilt from them (which I then feel bad for), surprise (which makes me think I'm I just paranoid) or just get nervously laughed at. After these thoughts I tend to feel really guilty and will usually try to "make up" for things.

I am getting frustrated because I can't seem to solve this issue. Do you think it is just paranoia? I feel so bad for having these feelings towards my friends so if you could give me your opinion it would be great!

Thank you!!
Signed Anonymous Across the Pond, UK

ANSWER:

Dear Anonymous:

It is so nice that you have kept your college friendships alive. It’s natural that each woman in a circle of friends would tend to have a different personality. Although you have much in common that initially brought and now keeps you together, you come from different gene pools, with different experiences, and have different personalities.

You mention that you have assumed the role of ‘listener’ or ‘mother,’ in your group providing advice and counsel rather than sharing your own feelings and emotions. This may be because you have a greater need to maintain boundaries and refrain from sharing intimacies than do your friends. For whatever reasons, you are uncomfortable getting too close to these friends.

It doesn’t sound like you have paranoia but it does sound like you may be feeling impatient and more irritable than usual. Perhaps, you are uncomfortable as a member of a close-knit group or perhaps, there are other things going on in your life---having nothing to do with your friendships----that are weighing on you now.

These friendships sound important to you and worth saving. Seems like you have many options; here are a few suggestions: 1) Take small steps to express you own needs and emotions to these friends rather than relegating yourself to the role of an observer and listener; try out the role of being more of an active participant, 2) Try to figure out if there is something else making you less patient than usual, 3) Skip a couple of weeks and see if you feel better next time you get together, or 4) Spend less time with these women and expand your friendships so that you don’t rely as heavily on this one group.

Only you can tell you whether your discomfort is a sign that you have changed and are itching to move on---or whether something else is going on. If you determine to change your relationship with the group, you should seek a graceful way to do it, creating more distance without completely cutting yourself off from these women.

Hope this is helpful.

Best,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: More than shy---could it be social anxiety?

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QUESTION:

Hi Irene,

 

It's almost funny that I found your site and am now writing to you---as I don't have ANY female friends. I can't keep a friend to save my life. If I hit it off with someone, I end up sabotaging the friendship. I say "yes' to plans and then start panicking about what to do, say, wear, and ultimately end up thinking of an excuse so that I won't have to go.

 

I don't like the phone so I don't call people back. I suffer from severe anxiety and it really cripples my ability to trust. I don't trust girls because I've always been disappointed with them. I should probably also mention that I am in a very happy and fulfilling relationship and am getting married in September...My energy is always focused on my fiancé and I know that in doing so, I relinquish the ability to "give" myself to potential friends. I don't think that is wrong, but then why do I get sad when I don't have a Girls' Night Out to go to?

 

Finally, one other key piece - I have a twin sister who, while we email/speak every day, I am too much for her. She constantly pushes me away and always holds me at arms length. It's really sad, and I do wish for more. This email seems too disjointed to even send, but I might as well put it out there anyway.

 

All the best,
Fran

 

ANSWER:

Hi Fran:

 

It sounds like as much as you would like to have female friends---you just don't feel comfortable making friendships or being around people you don't know very well.

 

One possible explanation is that you are suffering from a condition called social anxiety (also called social phobia). People with social anxiety feel like they are constantly being evaluated by other people and even may become viscerally uncomfortable in the presence of others. Given these uncomfortable feelings, it's understandable that the person would try to avoid or escape from social situations, even ones they would really to participate in, like parties or other social events.

 

The National Institute of Mental Health has an excellent online publication that describes some of the hallmark symptoms of social anxiety. People with social anxiety:

  • are very anxious about being with other people
  • are very self-conscious in front of other people; that is, they are very worried about how they themselves will act
  • are very afraid of being embarrassed in front of other people.
  • are very afraid that other people will judge them
  • worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
  • stay away from places where there are other people
  • have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
  • may have body symptoms when they are with other people, such as blushing, heavy sweating, trembling, nausea, and having a hard time talking

 

You seem to have remarkable insight into your predicament so it would definitely be worthwhile for you to discuss this problem with a mental health professional. There are a range of medications and behavioral approaches that make social anxiety eminently treatable. While you may never be the life of the party, when treated, you may find that you have no problem making friends and enjoying their company.

 

It's great that you have a good relationship with your fiancé but you are missing out on other relationships that may also be rewarding. I'm not sure what the problem is between you and your twin sister---she may not understand how you're feeling or acting. Alternatively, it may be totally unrelated to this problem.

 

It was very brave of you to write. Interestingly, people with social anxiety often feel more comfortable with virtual friends than face-to-face ones.

 

I have every confidence that you will change---because you want to! Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. If you are planning a wedding, it would be great to get this problem in check before then.

My best,
Irene

 

 

 

 

Friendship by the Book: An interview with the author of The Professors' Wives' Club

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One of the things that turns acquaintances into close friends is the sharing of a common bond between them. The Professors' Wives' Club revolves around four women, so different from one another that they might even appear unlikely as friends. But they share the unique connection of living in faculty housing (three of them faculty wives) at the fictional Manhattan U, a thinly disguised version of New York University.

 

In this breakout first novel, Joanne Rendell creates powerful characters struggling to define their roles as women and an engaging plot that keeps you glued until the end. The alternating chapters introduce the reader to Mary, Ashleigh, Sofia and Hannah whose individual stories touch upon a wide range of women's issues, such as infidelity, domestic abuse, intergenerational friendship, homosexuality, and work-life balance.

 

The commonality that brings these four women together is that the beautiful little garden adjacent to their University Housing, which has become their sanctuary and meeting place, The space is threatened with demolition (slated to become a parking lot) by a greedy, self-promoting Dean, a husband to one of the women.

 

In devising a plan to save the garden (in keeping with NYU's reputation as a hotbed of protests), they accomplish far more than they ever hoped: They develop a sisterhood that enables each woman to bravely pursue her dreams and live her life more fully. They evolve into far more than appendages to their accomplished husbands.

 

In the genre of The Wednesday Sisters and The Friday Night Knitting Club, the book portrays a circle of friendship that women crave and need, no matter what their role or station in life.

 

Joanne discussed her book's relevance to female friendships:

QUESTION:

Has it been easy or difficult to find an affinity group among faculty wives? Do you think that it is geographical proximity, similar roles, both, or is it something else that bonds you together? Does level of education play a role in helping you develop satisfying relationships with one another?

ANSWER:

Professors' wives -- and of course there are professors' husbands and partners too -- are in an interesting position. Even if they are not professors themselves (which many are), they are often deeply embedded in the university world. They live in faculty housing, they work out at the campus gym, and/or their kids go to the same university childcare. Geography and a shared involvement in campus life, therefore, means faculty wives interact more often than, say, doctor's wives or engineer's wives.

As a professor's wife myself, I've met some wonderful faculty wives, who are now my good friends, while at playground owned by New York University where my husband is a professor. Also, my husband and I are faculty-in-residence at one of the university dorms and I have met other fabulous wives through this program.

In my experience, professors' wives are an incredibly smart, strong, and spirited group of women. At the same time, we all come from very different backgrounds and have different levels of education. But I think the shared bond of the university is a strong one and provides a great backdrop in which women can find one another and foster friendships.

QUESTION:

The relationships you describe seem to be driven more by sharing a common purpose there than by a sense of intimacy between the women. Is that an accurate assessment/portrayal?

ANSWER:

It's true. The women in my book are brought together initially by the desire to take on the mean dean and save the faculty garden, rather than a sense of intimacy. Yet a real intimacy begins to grow between them as their campaign progresses. They share secrets, they support one another, and find that in spite of their differences they have many commonalities too. The novel takes place over just a couple of months and these are the first months of the women's fledgling friendship. I'm sure these women, with time, would grow deeper and more intimate bonds that would go way beyond the purpose that first brought them together.

QUESTION:

You also stayed clear of discussing any of the jealousies that might occur among a group of female friends (e.g. two becoming more friendly than the rest). Was this purposeful?

ANSWER:

Relationships between women frequently get a bad rap, in my opinion. Women are too often portrayed in film, TV, and books as bitchy, competitive, and at odds with one another. We constantly see the bitchy woman boss mistreating the young female employee; or the woman who treats her nanny like a slave; or the sisters who hate one another; or the mother and daughter who constantly fight; or the "friends" who bitch behind each other's back or betray each other over a guy.

Granted, in real life, women can be like this -- but not all the time. Women, in my experience, also have wonderful, supportive, and nurturing relationships with other women.

QUESTION:

Does playing a supporting role to an academic husband enhance the need for female friendships?

ANSWER:

Most professors' wives' I know would not see themselves playing a "supporting role." On the whole, they are independent women who have interesting and successful careers of their own. However, in many cases, the professor husband is the main breadwinner and thus his family has to follow where his job and career take him. This means many faculty wives move to university towns where they know few people and where they might have to start new jobs. Friendships with other wives or other women on campus are therefore very important -- and sustaining.

QUESTION:

Why were you drawn to write about the power of female friendships?

ANSWER:

Throughout my life, I've always been lucky enough to be surrounded by wonderful female friends. When I was in grad school doing a PhD in Literature, I had some particularly incredible girlfriends. We shared a house, we supported each other, read one another's papers, and of course had a lot of fun together. It was a beautiful time! Even though I'm now married with a child, I still thrive on my female friendships. I'm currently part of a group of mums who are all, like me, homeschooling our preschool/kindergarten age kids. The women in this group are amazing -- artists, activists, doulas, writers -- and so supportive. I couldn't imagine trying to be a mum without them!

From the moment I started writing fiction, I knew I wanted to write something that celebrated these intensely loyal and positive female friendships.

 

Reader Q & A: Is my childhood friendship worth saving?

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene:

My best friend, well ex-best friend and I grew up as next door neighbors...destined to be best friends forever. We were those girls who were inseparable and would laugh at the most silly things no matter how silly we would look. After 19 years, we were still the best of friends and closer than ever. I am the more outgoing one whereas she was always more on the shy side, so a lot of our friends were friends with "us" through me.

I set her up with this guy who was a year older than us and hung out with the same crowd as us. He seemed like such a great guy, but we soon came to learn differently. He started to hit on all of us when my best friend wasn't around. One night at a party he put his hand on my rear, but it was a quick innocent brush, if you will. My boyfriend was there to witness it and so were a bunch of our other friends, including some people that my friend worked with. Unfortunately for me, there was one girl she worked with that did not like me one bit and went back to my friend telling her that I was hitting on her boyfriend when she was not around.

The immature and irresponsible side of my friend decided to shut me out for a few days and not talk to me, but her boyfriend wasn't so shy. He called threatening me saying, "Whatever you told Jessica, you better tell her it was all a lie or I swear I will cut your throat". I had no idea what was said at this point and tried to get him to calm down and explain the situation. Well that didn't go so well, since he was hotheaded and mean.

I got in touch with Jessica's younger sister who told me everything that was going on. I left Jessica voicemail after voicemail and she finally called me back. I told her that if there was ever a problem she should come to me, but that I was really disappointed in the fact that she would think I could do something like that to her. We made up of course, but there was another issue on hand...the way her boyfriend had spoken to me.

She understood, but asked me not to make her choose between him and myself. I promised not to, but I told her that I could not and would not be around him at all!!! I guess you could say that pretty much started our distancing right there. This all happened in October 2006, we did not speak again until the next New Year's Eve. We were all together at a party (yes, her boyfriend was there) and we had realized how important we were to each other. Her boyfriend I guess was not happy with that, found a new way to come between us, and started another argument with me. That was New Years 2006 and we have not spoken since.

She has not been with that boyfriend for about a year from what I can guess and she has tried to reach out to me over the past few months. My life is so much different now and we've been through so much. Can we ever get back to that place?? Should I even let her back into my world after cutting me out for so long?? It's her birthday today and yes, I do miss her, but I've been fine for the past two years and have so many other reliable friends in my life. ADVICE PLEASEEE and I'm sorry for the long entry, but it really is the only way to understand everything that has gone on between us.

Sincerely,
Sandy

ANSWER:

Dear Sandy:

It sounds like your childhood friend was in a "difficult" relationship. If her boyfriend threatened to "cut your throat," it's reasonable to assume that he was possessive, controlling, and angry. It sounds like he was very threatened by your close friendship with Jessica. (Sometimes, men like that don't want their girlfriends to have any friends.) Since he has been out of your friend's life for some time, it sounds like she outgrew this unhealthy relationship.

Since you have so much shared history together, I think you should give the relationship another chance. Can you send her a belated birthday card, telling her that you were thinking of her on her special day, and would love to get together for coffee or a meal to catch up with each other? There's not much to lose and everything to gain.

If she says no, you can forget about the relationship and move on with your life (as you already have). Or you may meet and discover you no longer have much in common---except for your past. Not all childhood friendships last forever.

The best of outcomes might be that you really connect again---even though it may feel a bit awkward at first. Caution: If you get together, don't dissect or ruminate over that unfortunate chapter of your lives---and don't try to get too close too quickly.

Let us know what you decide and how it turns out.

My best,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: The Saga of the Disappointed Diva

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I'm currently going through a friend breakup. She became very emotionally needy at the beginning of our relationship and I always felt compelled to help. She told me that I was distant and needed to let my guard down so that we could be close. I did and we eventually became BFFs.

I sort of became distant from my other friends and probably depended on her a lot more than I liked. We've had 3 riffs in three years. In my opinion that was a telltale sign that "the plane was going down." She is in an odd relationship with a total loser (with a child) who is extremely controlling. I've played the support role and picked her up when ever he tore her down.

The catalyst to prompt me to write was this was the most ridiculous thing ever. One, I was PMS-ing. Two, I had a blow up in a restaurant with a member of the wait staff (they told me to shut up). Yes, I behaved like a total ass and unfortunately, my frenemy's son began to cry.

She became belligerent outside of the restaurant (this was a first) and made a scene for an hour. We both were angry and exchanged some nasty words when she got back into the car.

Unexpectedly she smacked me.....yes, I know. I lost it and we engaged in a cat fight in the back of the moving car. It was a long ride back....and she began to apologize (total half-ass apology) and I said nothing.

Three days later, I texted her because I'm torn up about it. I want to have a face-to-face conversation. She tells me that she needs time and has refused to speak to me. She has made the entire situation about her son and has not addressed me at all. She is passive aggressive and extremely controlling. She also has poor communication skills and avoids confrontation at all costs (who would think after reading this).

I feel dismissed because I know that this is a game for her because she reacted in the same manner with the other two very minor riffs. It makes me so angry because I feel like she is totally breaking the girl rules and is acting like a total man. Unfortunately she is the only friend that I have ever loved and she knows it. Moving forward and changing lanes.... What a bitch!

Signed,
Disappointed Diva

ANSWER:

Dear Disappointed Diva:

It sounds like this relationship with your friend has been stormy from the beginning and you're feeling upset with yourself and with her----because you gave up your other friendships only to get dumped by her in the end. But you do say that you already realized that "the plane was going down," so it shouldn't have come as too much of a shock that the two of you were drifting apart.

Although it's always painful to be the one who is dumped, I think you both need a long sabbatical from this relationship. You can't make her speak to you if she doesn't want to. I worry that if you got together now, things might get worse.

In any case, the friendship sounds too complicated to work. You can't stand her "total loser." I'm sure she recognizes this and it puts her on edge. Also, it sounds like you both have problems discussing your feelings with one another openly. Finally, you need to put a lid on your temper, PMS or not. You can control yourself but you can't control someone else.

When an argument between two friends turns physical---especially in front of a child---both adults need to take a long, hard look at themselves AND their relationship. It sounds like you harbor a great deal of hostility towards one another. This unfortunate incident was totally out-of-control and you have both breeched relationship rules rather than "girl rules." An explosive "riff" like the one you had with your once-BFF will be difficult, if not impossible to overcome.

Hope this is helpful. Try to take away the positive things you've learned from this relationship (e.g. opening up) and apply them to nurture new relationships.I know that with time and self-reflection, you will heal, temper your anger and hurt, and emerge healthier from this painful experience.

My best,
Irene

 

'Girls' Night Out' Takes a Hit with the Economic Downturn

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However and wherever you live, the effects of the economic downturn have been pervasive, leaving few of us unscathed. They're even affecting our friendships!

 

With the cost of entertainment, transportation and meals skyrocketing, there's a natural tendency to hunker down, cocoon at home, and reduce spending. "In times like this, everyone is looking for ways to save," says Jo Gartin, a celebrity party planner and author of Jo Gartin's Weddings. "For many, that means bringing entertaining inside the home."

 

See my blog post on the effects of the recession on Girls' Nights Out in The Huffington Post.


 

Reader Q & A: What to do about a judgmental friend?

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

My friend and I have known each other since college, and we were roommates throughout. We were very, very close when we were younger, but as we got older and moved to different places our friendship became more distant, though we remained good friends. I've moved to her town for graduate school, and I was excited to be living with her again. We have many similar beliefs and interests and we can have a "rhythm" when we're together that feels like family.

However, we've also had a number of major rifts over the years. The ones that I can recall have a fairly similar theme: I wanted to do something without her, I didn't do what she wanted, or I changed my mind about something. The chorus that I've heard over the years is that I am "flaky" (that's a direct quote) and that I can't be counted on to do what I say.

One time that I changed my mind was when I decided not to go on a Southeast Asian vacation with her after a close family member committed suicide. The trip would have used all my vacation time and extra money, and I felt I needed that to be with my family - who were out of town - as we all tried to cope with our unexpected loss. My friend said that I "reneged" on the trip.

More recently, my husband and I chose not to have a legal marriage - even though we had a wedding ceremony - to stand in solidarity with gays and lesbians who cannot get married. I felt very, very strongly that this was what I wanted to do and my husband and I incorporated equal rights into our wedding ceremony as well. My friend is in a same-sex partnership, and she was touched by our gesture, as were other friends.

However, recently I have become worried about healthcare. My husband is a cancer survivor, and though he has great healthcare now, I worry about what would happen if he lost his job. His workplace - incredibly - offers family plans to married couples and to same-sex couples, but not to unmarried heterosexual partners. I worry that other jobs will have similar policies...so, we started reconsidering legal marriage...I have been agonizing over this decision, because it feels like selling out what I believe in and betraying my queer friends and family...but health and safety are important too!

I confided this struggle to my friend, and she responded that "she thought she better not say anything" - ostensibly because what she has to say would not be good. I can understand why her feelings would be hurt, but she didn't even acknowledge my very real fear about a cancer recurrence or my anguish about this decision. In addition, I find it amazing that I would be the person in her life who is criticized for getting married, when all of her friends and family are heterosexuals who are married and didn't give a second thought to gay rights! Of all her friends, I have been most sensitive to this issue.

So here I go again, "changing my mind" and not doing what my friend wants. I get in return the silent treatment, which I know from experience means that she disapproves of me. At this point, I don't even feel angry so much as hurt and just not wanting to talk to her.

I love her and would like to remain friends, but I am tired of her self-centered judgment of my decisions. What should I do?

Signed,
Anna

ANSWER:

Dear Anna:

The subject line of your note read "judgmental friend" but I think you are dealing with someone who is a "possessive and controlling friend". It also sounds like you are very attached to her and have a hard time establishing reasonable boundaries.

The examples you gave about the suicide in your family and about your need to marry to assure continued health insurance for your partner seem like no-brainers. Of course, you need to do what is best for you and your family. A true friend would understand that, not discourage you or be critical. Should your whole world revolve around her?

One other comment: It seems like your friend is quite inflexible and critical of you. Yes, she is judgmental too! I'm somewhat surprised that you remain so adoring of her that you are able to overlook all these negative traits. To others, these would seem like fatal flaws. What is keeping you from moving on?

Hope this gives you food for thought.

Best,
Irene

 

Just for fun: ‘Girls’ Night In’ Photo Contest

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Do you have a great picture of you and your friends hanging out that you'd like to share? Good news: I have three awesome prizes to award.

 

The woes on Wall Street---and the slump on your street---may up the risk of fractured friendships. With the economic downturn, many of us are finding that we will need to work more and harder---just to maintain our current lifestyle. It is obvious each time we buy a container of milk, purchase toiletries, or fill up at the gas station. As a result, there's less money for eating out, taking girlfriend getaways, and visiting friends who live out-of-town.

 

We need to find creative ways to bring friends together on the cheap, to support one another and celebrate friendships. Whether it's organizing a pot-luck dinner, planning to watch a first-time-on-TV movie, or staging an informal get-together to catch up and gab, it's important for women to create and maintain rituals to nurture our friendships.

 

I'm delighted that Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popcorn has partnered with me to award prizes to 3 of my loyal blog readers who submit the best pictures of ‘A Girls' Night In.'

 

Each prize includes an Orville Redenbacher popcorn bowl; a supply of Orville Redenbacher's newest popcorn, Natural Lime & Salt popcorn (pairs well with margaritas), a picture frame and cocktail napkins: perfect ingredients for your next Girls' Night In.

 

Contest rules:

  • Enter your best picture. It need not be recent---pictures of childhood friends welcome. Each entry must show two or more close friends enjoying each other's company, at home or away (after all, there was a day when we had more money to spend ☺.)
  • With your entry, include the first name of each woman shown in the picture and send your own name, snail mail address, and email address to me, so Orville Reddenbacher can mail the prize to your home.
  • All pictures and accompanying information must be emailed to: IreneLevine@gmail.com. By submitting a picture you agree to allow me to use your photograph on blogs and/or in books about female friendships.
  • All entries must be submitted by November 9th, 2008. The photos will be judged by a small committee of my best friends. Please enter the contest and email this contest announcement link to your friends. The three prize winners will be announced on November 15th.

For additional tips on planning a Girls Night, visit Orville.com/girlsnightin

 

Friendship Counts

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When I periodically check out the most popular searches on this blog (yes, I am addicted to Google Analytics), many of them have to do with numbers.

Readers are always interested in how the numbers of their friendships stack up to those of others. There isn't too much new in the number world. And without a real friendship census, counting numbers of friends still remains a very imprecise 'science' because of the wide variability among the groups researchers study, the techniques they use, and the questions they ask.

[In case you can't see the small print: The Friendship Pyramid depicted above has three slices. At the apex are best friends, than close friends in the middle, and casual ones at the base. Generally, women tend to have more friends of that type as they go from top to bottom.]

Friendship numerology: More art than science

Some of the soft conclusions we can draw about numbers from friendship research include:

  • People have only a small circle of best friends relative to close ones and casual ones (as illustrated in the pyramid).
  • While there is wide variability, most women have between 2 and 5 very close or best friends
  • As a group, women tend to favor a smaller, more intimate circle of friends than men.
  • An upper limit of the number of friends someone can maintain at once is called "Dunbar's number." British anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar has conducted research that concludes that humans are functionally hard-wired to handle a maximum of 150 friends at a time.
  • An MSN Messenger study conducted in the UK, still one of the most comprehensive studies of the friendship patterns, surveyed 10,000 people, both male and female. The study found that Brits collect an average of 196 friends over a lifetime. They only keep one out of 12 of them.
  • Ironically, the same survey reported that we tend to see social friends (AKA casual ones) more often than close ones. For example, the survey ound that women see their social friends every 3.5 days while they see their close friends only six times a year.

If you find this interesting, you may want to read some of my 'numerous' older posts related to numbers.

How many friends does it take?

When it comes to friendship who's counting?

Online friending and defriending patterns

Friends in the digital playground

 

 

Reader Q & A: Missing a second mum

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QUESTION:

Hi Irene,

I have a much older friend than myself. She is old enough to be my Mum and I do think of her as a second Mum. We've been through a lot together, and she has fulfilled the gap of being my Mum. I have a family and husband myself but have not been close to my parents. That's another story.

The problem is my friend has been distancing herself from me the last couple of months and I don't really know why. She says she is busy with family and other commitments. I have asked if we could meet up for a face-to-face chat about our relationship but she always says she's busy, however we have been corresponding via e-mail and now our e-mails have become 'messy' and I think I've become misunderstood in what I am trying to say.

I love her dearly and I miss our outings and phone calls. I don't know what to do. I think I have really messed things up or maybe she feels that I'm too demanding. The thing is I don't really know without speaking to her. I think she is trying to give me the brush off without hurting my feelings. I don't want our friendship to end but if it is over I'll have to move on and accept that. Do you have any advice you could give?

Thanks
Alice

ANSWER:

Hi Alice,

When it's nearly impossible to make sense of a situation, it is usually because you are missing a piece of information. Similarly, in your case, you really don't know what is going on, because your "Second Mum' hasn't been willing to share the missing piece of the puzzle with you.

It could be that there are things going on in her life, completely unrelated to you, which are consuming her time or emotions. Or, as you suggest, it could be that you have become too needy or demanding, relying on her too much, and she wants some distance.

Whatever the reasons, it must be frustrating that you can't talk openly with her on the phone or face-to-face, and as you've found, it's very difficult to resolve emotionally charged topics by email.

Could you try writing a letter to her, snail mail, expressing how important the relationship has been to you in the past and how much you value it? You could tell her that you recognize that she wants more space and that you respect her feelings. Then you will have to wait and see what happens. Whatever the outcome, you will have taken an active (and gracious) step in trying to seek conciliation or resolution, and in expressing your love.

Then when you've done that, focus on other people and things in your life so that you aren't completely focused on this loss, which may or may not be permanent.

Thanks for sharing your situation. I hope that it resolves in a way that brings you some closure.

My best,
Irene