Month of November , 2008

Reader Q & A: Help! New friend is too much

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QUESTION

Dear Irene:

 

A few months ago I met a woman and her daughter at a children's event. We hit it off and even though her daughter is considerably younger than mine, we got together for a few playdates. The problem? She calls me everyday to complain about how hard it is to figure out naps and a feeding schedule for her daughter.

 

At first I didn't mind giving her advice, my daughter was nap resistant as well. But every day calls about the same subject is overwhelming. Sometimes I want to go off on her because her daughter doesn't even act out or cry despite being overtired.... she is very mellow.

 

Meanwhile, my daughter is hyperactive, I have an infant son and my husband has recently become unemployed. I think, 'How come I can cope with all of this without wallowing, but her life is comparatively easy and she can't even figure out a schedule for her child without daily support from me?'

 

She always says I'm one of her closest friends, that she appreciates me, values my advice, etc. I'm bewildered because we have only gotten together a few times.... and we've only known each other a few months? She has other friends, she apparently calls them for the same needs. She has even told me that one of her friends told her she is nuts, and doesn't want to talk about naps anymore. I don't feel very close to her, she is a bit abrasive and doesn't really comment when I talk about me (which is not very often). What I want is a very casual friendship with no more than one call a week and a get together every few weeks. What should I do?

 

Signed,
Anonymous

ANSWER:

Dear Anonymous:

 

You answered your own question. You know what you want, a very casual relationship with someone who calls you no more than once a week and with whom you can get together every few weeks. You don't want a relationship with someone who is needy, self-centered, and demanding---and doesn't give you a chance to get a word in edge-wise.

 

Don't let yourself get sucked into this toxic friendship any deeper. You're obviously adept at making new friends. Go to another children's event and find another friend who better fits your own criteria and friendship needs.

 

In the meantime, do whatever you can to distance your relationship from this woman. Say you have to focus on your infant son and don't have time to talk on the phone much. Don't make any plans to meet with her. Tell her you are busy. With any luck, she'll hitch herself onto someone else's wagon.

 

My best,

Irene

 

Friendship born of experience

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A shared experience can bring people together and even create the foundation for life-long friendships. When I first arrived at my position at the National Institute of Mental Health, without any forewarning, my new supervisor told my friend-to-be Risa that she would be sharing an office with me. Surely, no one likes to lose their space and privacy so things were kind of bumpy at the beginning. But after several months we not only learned how to co-habit comfortably in the workplace, we became close friends. I remember bonding with my friend Diana when we were breast-feeding our babies at the same time. We were both on maternity leave while navigating the new waters of motherhood together. We are still friends today.

 

Some life circumstances make times more challenging to befriend than others. Perhaps you're battling depression or addiction, reeling from a divorce or other loss, or someone you love has been diagnosed with a serious illness. At such times, it's natural to feel like you want to crawl under the covers and isolate yourself. Yet connecting with another person who understands your experience firsthand can help you cope and feel less alone.

 

So I was excited to learn about Experience Project, an internet site that provides an opportunity for people to connect and share a sense of community based on similar experiences. I interviewed Armen Berjikly, the founder and CEO, to learn a bit more.

How does Experience Project (EP) relate to friendship?

If you accept the premise that most, if not all, of our friendships are based on shared experiences-- cultures, religions, backgrounds, schools, careers, families, etc. then Experience Project provides the means to turn strangers into intimate friends.

EP harnesses technology to introduce people who could (and perhaps should) be friends in the physical world, based on shared life experiences, but who will either never meet, or never realize the extent of what they have in common. If you think about it literally, you pass hundreds of people a day, and any one of those people could be your next best friend-- if only you knew who to stop, what to ask, and even then if they felt comfortable responding. EP makes that happen thousands of times a day, providing a platform where who you are is all that matters.

 

Can you provide a bit of information on the demographics of your visitors? What proportion are women?

While visitors to our site break down nearly evenly, registered members are two-thirds female. More specifically, our typical member is an American mother in her late twenties.

 

What types of experiences seem to draw women to the site? Are their experiences different or similar to that of men?

Women and men are generally drawn to the site for similar reasons-- experiences around health and relationships. Broadly generalizing, the usage pattern of male versus female users differs a bit in that female members are more likely to build a community among the people they interact with-- exploring their profiles, commenting on their stories-- while male users are slightly more inclined to be problem-solving oriented, getting and giving input to specific questions. These generalities obviously don't hold true across the board, and many of our most active members in the community at large are male.

 

Do you ever hear stories of women who connected on the site and became friends offline? Or are all the visitors anonymous?

Members are required to remain anonymous in their public postings-they are not allowed to post information that could be used to specifically identify them, such as phone numbers, addresses, real names, etc. However, once people begin interacting, they have every tool at their disposal to communicate with other members privately. While they can continue to use the site to communicate anonymously, and indefinitely, some members naturally want to connect in the real world. We just heard about our first EP wedding-- the members were perfect strangers who met, and discovered each other, through the site. Their wedding will be attended by a dozen or so other members. Further, we know of dozens of coffee circles and even a group of members who went on a summer road trip together. So yes, EP can lead to connections offline, though we never push people to feel that they have to take it that far, and in fact do everything in our power to make sure that communicating on the site is comfortable and satisfying.

 

What were your motivations for creating the site?

I wanted to create a place where people could be themselves, and define themselves through all of the experiences in their life that they considered important, including the triumphs and the challenges. The site began after a close friend's diagnosis with a serious illness. After building an online community dedicated specifically to that disease, I saw the real power driving the site was connecting people who shared life experiences. Further, no one person was defined by any one experience, and connecting people who share a combination of experiences provided for the most personalized support, as well as the basis for a long-lasting and meaningful friendship. With 3 billion people on this planet, no one should ever have to feel alone, no matter what they're going through and how unique they feel their situation is.

 

 

 

Reader Q & A: Friends@Work

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene:


A friend and I are about to start different jobs at the same place of business. We'll have different responsibilities and pay but will work on the same team so we will interact fairly often. This will not be a supervisory relationship but I'm anxious about it. I don't want to risk losing a friend (or have difficulty) and I want to do a good job - so does she.


She has less experience on the job and I have more in the field. She'd like me to mentor her when those opportunities present themselves. I'm okay with this but it is a new experience for me off the bat. I'm not sure but my friend seems more relaxed and doesn't understand why I am worrying about things that have not happened yet. I am moving to another state to take this new job. She lives in the state and it's her first job in 15 years. I want to learn what I can and not worry. Do you have any tips?


Signed,
Stephanie

 

ANSWER:

Hi Stephanie:

 

It is always a challenge to take on a new job, but this is particularly so when it involves a move to a new location. So you are wise to think about how it will affect your friendship-since it very well may do so.


You need to explicitly (and perhaps, repeatedly) remind your friend (now colleague) that you are anxious about taking on new responsibilities and that you will try to mentor her informally behind the scenes-but as a friend rather than as a supervisor. You need to get settled in to your new role yourself first. She may not realize that even though you have more experience, your job will be new-to-you. Hopefully, this discussion will ward off her leaning on you too much and she will let you set the pace in terms of how much time and energy you have to mentor her. Because she hasn't worked for 15 years, she may not remember the challenges of starting a new job, which can be formidable.


Having a friend who lives in a new state can be helpful to you in many ways. Those first weeks may be lonely and you may want to depend on her for certain things particularly with the holidays coming up. It sounds like your relationship can be one of give and take---as long as you both keep realistic boundaries.


Always remember that you need to put on your own life vest first before you can help others. It's great that you are aware of the potential pitfalls because that means you are less likely to fall into them. Best wishes for a successful move and transition. Let us know how things go.


Sincerely,
Irene

 

The awkwardness of defriending

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David Spark, a new media consultant and producer, interviewed me a few evenings ago on the awkwardness of social network defriending (e.g, taking someone off your friends list on Facebook, Linked In, MySpace, or Twitter). Here is the link to David's piece called The Awkwardness of De-friending. (You may notice that the jury is still out on whether defriending is hyphenated.)

 

Since there are no commonly accepted rules on the etiquette of how to go about ending face-to-face friendships, imagine how murky the rules of behavior are in defriending in cyberspace. The act of defriending is as easy as hitting a key but your decision can have long-lasting repercussions, both for you and the person you defriend.

 

My advice: Before you defriend someone, face-to-face or in cyberspace, take time to think before you act. Depending on the nature of your relationship, social media defriending can be the emotional equivalent of being jilted or jilting someone else. If the friendship was once meaningful and you change your mind after you've defriended someone, your relationship will never be the same. Don't let your fingers work more quickly than your mind.

 

David also wrote a piece published on Mashable, 12 Great Tales of De-friending and another on his own blog When technology tells us we have no friends. You may want to take a look at one of my earlier blog entries too, Online friending and defriending patterns.

 

 

Send me a 'tweet'

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Although I shouldn't spend one more minute online, I decided to sign up for Twitter.

 

In case you aren't one of the more than 3 million users already enrolled, Twitter is a social networking tool that lets you read and post messages of up to 140 characters (called tweets). Because of its brevity, twittering is considered a form of micro-blogging.

 

My rationale: Maybe it will help me learn to write more tersely. You can read more about Twitter in this article in USA Today.

 

You can follow me on Twitter by going to: www.twitter.com/irenelevine/

Are you a twitterer? If so, what effect has it had on your female friendships?

 

 

 

 

Reader Q & A: One-Upsmanship among friends

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QUESTION:

Hello,

I am a 26-year old female. I have a problem with female friendships. It really annoys me when a friend tries to compete with me. I'll give you an example. My boyfriend recently sent me flowers at work. I told one of my friends and she did not show any happiness for me. Instead, she started talking about her wedding bouquet and how beautiful it was and stuff like that.

I always try to be nice to my friends when something nice happens to them and never start speaking about myself at that moment. I expect the same behavior when something nice happens to me. My problem is that when stuff like that happens it really affects me. Maybe I am overreacting but I just want to find a way of coping with it without messing up my female relationships.

Signed,
Disappointed

ANSWER:

Dear Disappointed,

When your friend heard about the flowers you received, she was only able to think about herself--so she inappropriately spewed out the statement about her wedding bouquet. Sometimes people are so envious of others, or else are so self-centered, that they only think about themselves.

If you want to preserve the relationship with this 'friend,' you need to be honest about how you feel. You could say something like, "Indulge me and give me a few minutes to feel good about the flowers I got---and then we'll talk about your bouquet." Maybe she'll get the hint that it isn't all about her (although I wouldn't bet money on that!)

I suspect that some of your friends are more competitive than others. Don't lump them all together. Perhaps, you can pick and choose. Focus on nurturing the relationships that are more reciprocal. Those are the friends who are more likely to be able to genuinely share your happiness.

You might like to read a prior post I recently wrote about envy among friends. I hope this is helpful to you.

My best,
Irene

 

Reader Q &A: A Foot-in-Her-Mouth Friend

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*QUESTION:

Hi Dr. Levine,

I'm having (and always seem to have) fractured friendships. (Great phrase, by the way!) I'm one of those people who is always trying to make a joke and therefore throw out a lot of one liners when the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, sometimes the jokes unintentionally hurt people's feelings, and sometimes those people are my friends.

The problem for me is that I don't even realize that what I'm saying comes across as mean. Like, literally, I have no clue! (Sounds strange coming from a 47-year-old woman, I know.) I only realize it later when the friend who've I've hurt, is visibly mad or not speaking to me. And even then, I have to wrack my brain to figure out what it was I said this time that pissed them off.

While I have been trying to work on not saying mean stuff by mistake, it's been very difficult since I don't even know that I'm doing it. But, the thing that annoys me about the whole situation (other than the frustration of missing whatever brain part that would make me know better) is that when it happens, the people take it so personally. I honestly don't mean anything by the jokes and certainly am not trying to be mean. In fact, the idea of me purposely being mean to anyone makes me cringe as I would never in a million years want to hurt anyone, let alone the people who are closest to me.

While my friends know this about me, it seems that it just doesn't matter; they get offended. Personally, I think that anyone can become offended by anything if they want to, and I just wish that people would lighten up a bit. (They don't like to hear that, of course, and it just makes me even more insensitive!)

I am also frustrated that one bad joke that comes across as hurtful can seem to nullify hundreds of nice things that I may have said or done. It doesn't seem fair. When I am confronted with the fact that I said something mean, I do apologize and explain that I didn't mean anything hurtful, but that often seems to only go so far, especially if it's happened more than once :(

In general, I am a quiet person, and I think that's partially from years of unintentionally pissing people off. (It's easier to just keep my mouth shut.) I would like to be able to just have conversations and not put my stupid foot in my mouth, but I'm not sure I'm capable of it. If you have any tips or tricks for this, I'm all ears.

In the meantime, I've just had a run-in with a very good friend/colleague and am feeling awful. I'd hate for her to give up on me, but I also know she's tired of feeling hurt by my insensitive comments. I was at a conference with her and the speaker had not received his drink ticket for the cocktail reception. My friend said to another person within the small group in which we were standing, "I can give him mine." And I jokingly said, "Oh sure, suck up to the speaker!"

And that was pretty much the end of it. I could tell later she was annoyed at me, but I wasn't quite positive if that joke was the reason or if it was something else. We work together and she barely spoke to me the next day, and the day after that (today) I finally said something. She said she was through being nice to me as she didn't want to be seen as "kiss ass" since I apparently thought of her as that.

SIGH, I do see now how these kinds of statements come across, and would definitely like to just stfu! Any advice you can give would be appreciated!

Signed,
Foot-in-Your-Mouth

ANSWER:

Dear Foot-in-Your-Mouth,

If you know that your jokes often come off as mean-spirited, you need to be extra cautious and censor yourself before you blurt out something you'll later regret. Whether you realize it or not, you have control over what you say. And if you've already offended someone once, you should be walking on eggshells the next time you encounter them.

Some people are more sensitive to being the butt of a joke than others, and it sounds like your friend/colleague may have over-reacted. At this point, it might be wise to keep your distance from her, of course remaining cordial and polite, and maybe she will get over it. You could even write her a short note of apology saying that you never intended to hurt her feelings.

I'm sure you realize that you can control what YOU say---although you can't control other people's reactions. Therefore, you are the one that needs to change. In the future, if you blurt out a possibly-offensive joke and regret it after it leaves your lips, perhaps you could diffuse your friend's anger by saying something like, "I hope I haven't offended you," giving your friend the opportunity to get any negative reaction off her chest right away.

You mentioned that you are, by nature, a quiet person and I'm wondering whether you feel anxious with people and are using humor to diffuse your tension. Having a quick wit and good sense of humor is a gift because it is a powerful tool for connecting with people. But you need to hone your talent and channel it in positive ways so that it enhances your friendships rather than fractures them.

I hope this helps.

My best,

Irene

*DISCLOSURE - This and most questions are often edited lightly for the sake of brevity and clarity.

If you have any questions you would like to post, please email them to Irene@fracturedfriendships.com

 

Robotic friendship

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What will they think of next? Now there is a therapeutic robot designed as a BFF for people who yearn for companionship but aren't able to take care of living things because they reside in a hospital or nursing home.

The PARO robot takes the form of a baby harp seal. Priced at around $6000 and available in the states in January,2009, the robot is covered in synthetic fur. Its artificial intelligence provides psychological, physiological, and social stimulation, responding to light, sound, temperature, touch and posture, and over time develops its own character. As a result, it becomes a "living" cherished pet that provides relaxation, entertainment, and companionship to the owner.

That there is a market for these high-priced HURI HUMIs, which were introduced in Europe in 2003, shows how important friendship is to healing and wellness.

Source: Press Release, PARO Robots US, Inc., November 20, 2008
PARO Robots U.S. Inc. Brings Hi-Tech Friends to Life

 

Just for fun: HURU HUMI Photo Contest

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This post is about artificial friends. (No, I don't mean the phony kind). Actually, I'm announcing my latest blog contest.

These electronic toys caught my eye because they seem like the season's perfect friendship gift for young women. When the prizes arrived, they were so cute that I was tempted to break into the tamperproof plastic to try one out myself. (I didn't.)

Huru HumisTM (which means ‘HU R U' and ‘HU M I" in text talk) are interactive, artificial high-school friends that talk back to you (or to each other) when you talk to them. The battery-operated dolls turn on and off at the flick of a switch. (If only we could do that with our real friends!)

The ability to be a good friend is something that every woman needs to acquire, and it is through play, that many young girls learn how to befriend. Each Huru Humi has a distinct appearance, style, personality, and voice. Warning: They aren't shy about expressing their opinions. But like all good friends they respect differences, are funny, and have mastered the art of good conversation.

As grown-ups just found out during this very prolonged and polarized election season, we don't necessarily agree with every woman we meet; we are more compatible with some than with others. But by being able to communicate with personalities that are both like and unlike their own, children can learn how to build solid friendships that can potentially enrich and expand their lives.

Huru Humis are intended for kids 10 and older (tweens). I have two prizes to award, Heidi and Sierra, for the best pictures of two childhood friends.

Contest rules:

  • Enter your favorite picture of any two or more childhood friends (pictured together). It need not be recent---old pictures of childhood friends are welcome.
  • With your entry, include the first name of each child shown in the picture and send your own name, snail mail address, and email address to me, so I can mail the prize to your home if you win.
  • 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 28th, 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 two prize winners will be announced shortly after the photo deadline.
 

'Girls’ Night In' Photo Contest Winner Announced

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Congratulations to Claudine Jalajas of Rocky Point, New York, first-prize winner of the ‘Girls' Night In' Photo Contest.

 

Courtesy of Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popcorn, Claudine and the other two winners will receive a 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 her next ‘Girls' Night In'.

 

The photo she submitted shows Claudine, with her friends Pernille and Angeline, drinking cosmos! "I have to admit, finding a picture of me and my friends was NOT EASY," wrote Claudine. "I don't get to see them as often as I'd like and when we do see each other no one whips out a camera. Why is that?"

 

Congratulations, Claudine! Please take pictures of your female friendship moments. A new contest will be announced shortly.