best friends

A "good enough" friend

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QUESTION

Dear Dr. Levine,

I recently got into a fight with a girl named Linda, whom I considered my best friend. She said I was never a "good enough" friend for her, and I told her that I thought I couldn't be her friend because she was spreading gossip about me.

We both agreed that it would be better if we just tried not being friends for a while, but now I'm sad because I don't have my best friend to talk to. Is there a way I could still patch up our friendship?

Signed,
Ariel

ANSWER


Dear Ariel,

All friendships have their peaks and valleys and when times are rough, even the best of friends may say things that are mean, even if they don’t mean them. However, before you decide to patch up your friendship, you need to think about whether you miss your best friend Linda or you miss having a best friend.

If you decide that you really miss Linda, you need to open a dialogue with her about what happened and how it can be resolved. Depending on what feels most comfortable, you can call, email, or text her and tell her how you are feeling (I prefer email because you are less likely to catch the other person off-guard). If she is open to you, this may not only be an opportunity to patch up but to strengthen your friendship.

If she doesn’t respond or, after you make this overture, she still maintains that you aren’t a “good enough” friend for her, you have to accept her decision and find another best friend who appreciates you as much as you appreciate her. Good friends need to value one another.

Let us know what happens!

My best,
Irene
 

Co-rumination: Is it healthy for adolescents to rehash their boy problems?

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Are you a mom who worries because your teenage daughter seems to be incessantly texting or emailing her best friends about her romantic problems? Your worries may be founded.

When adolescent girlfriends rehash the same problems together over and over, they increase their risk of depression and social anxiety. In a study focused on seventh and eighth-graders, Dr. Joanne Davila and Lisa Starr, MA, psychologists at Stony Brook University, studied the effects of co-rumination, first defined by Dr. Amanda Rose (2002) as excessive discussion of problems within friendships---including repeated conversations, conjecture about causes, and heightened focus on negative emotions.

“The abundance of communication technology available to teens today creates an enabling environment for co-rumination,” said investigator Starr in a press release. “Texting, instant messaging, and social networking make it very easy for adolescents to become even more anxious which can lead to depression.”

Conversely, if such discussions are focused on solving problems rather than ruminating about them, these discussions can generate positive solutions and contribute to emotional well-being. The new research findings were published in the February issue of the Journal of Adolescence.

This study builds upon research (discussed in a previous blog post) by Amanda Rose and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia that also challenged the conventional wisdom: that it’s always good for adolescent girls to get problems “off their chest” by talking about them to close friends. Taken together both of these studies suggest that parents need to be alert to too much of a good thing. Hopefully, future studies will examine the effects of co-rumination among other age groups.

Source: Press Release, January 27, 2009, Excessive Discussion of Problems Between Adolescent Friends May Lead To Depression and Anxiety  

 

Sophisticated Lady

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

First, thank you for a wonderful website. Second, I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps I have a higher need for interaction than most people. I’m turning 40 and when my husband mentioned throwing me a birthday party I realized I have no dear friends to invite. I have never known anyone that I would call a “best friend” and was painfully shy and awkward growing up.

I know many women very superficially. Over the past 20 years, three people have told me that I come across as polished/sophisticated and that it is threatening to others. That has never been my intention and I am not trying to cultivate that image, in fact, to combat it I work at being self-deprecating and watch what I wear to casual events with women I would like know better.

I would like to have friends to go out to a dinner/movie/coffee with 2-3 times per month. Is that unreasonable? I’m at the point of thinking maybe it is. We moved five years ago to a new state and have one child. I’ve tried to organize coffee meet-ups with other school moms, most of whom do not work outside the home, and my invitations have either been entirely ignored, I am asked who else is attending, or I get a “not sure if I can make it, if I can I’ll meet you there.” There are two school mom cliques and I can’t seem to get into either, and it’s been four years. While they are polite, neither my child nor I am asked to participate in their group activities, e.g. a week at summer camp or weekend visits to vacation homes.

I tried to organize a dinner group with neighborhood women and it never materialized. I went a handful of times to a neighborhood gardening club and one woman there clearly had a problem with me as I was on the receiving end many times of her verbal jabs and putdowns. I finally had enough and didn’t return.

Two other women have actively pursued being my friend. One came on very strong and frankly felt like a stalker; the other brags constantly, which I have no interest in listening to. During this same four years, I’ve developed very superficial friendships with six women. Only two of them have ever issued an invitation to me for anything, I’ve always asked and they’ve always agreed. I changed jobs two years ago and invited a few women at work out for coffee/lunch. Two people took me up in those two years and they’ve never invited me again even though we work together peripherally.  

For added measure, my husband and I have no couple friends that are our age – and never really have. All couples that we’ve gotten to know and gone out with have been from his work and are generally at least 10 years older than us. I am very thankful for these relationships, but it strikes us as odd and we can’t figure out why we don’t have any couple friends our age. Sounds like I’m having a pity party here, but maybe I should just start to be happy with what I have.

Thank you,
April

ANSWER

Dear April,

Thanks for reading my blog and posting. It sounds like you’ve done all the right things to nurture friendships with other women. Like you, I’m having a hard time understanding why you aren’t connecting. Yes, you’ve moved and changed jobs over the past five years, but it sounds like your friendship problems started before that.

A few thoughts/questions come to my mind: What are the people like in your community and at your workplace? Are they very discrepant from you in terms of their educational, cultural, ethnic or religious backgrounds? Are these people of your ilk? Perhaps, the differences between you and them are challenging to overcome—and perhaps you or they aren’t accepting or tolerant of differences.

You shouldn’t have to be self-deprecating and to dress-down to garner friends. Best friendships come easily when women feel comfortable being themselves—warts and all. Perhaps it’s your uneasiness in being yourself that other women find off-putting.

Forming couple friends is always a dicey prospect. Instead of two people having to get along with each other, the complexities are multiplied when spouses are involved. Just because two female friends are close doesn’t mean that their spouses will feel the same way about one another. So it’s great that you’ve made couple friends through your husband’s work.

I sense that you feel like you’ve tried very hard to make close friends and feel like you have failed. Would you be comfortable asking your husband what he thinks? He knows you and your situation over time; he is also the person who is most familiar with the cast of characters, and may be able to offer you new insights. Two other alternatives would be to confide in one of the women you feel closest to and to ask her advice, or to seek help from a counselor or therapist. With your motivation and sophistication, I’m certain your problem can be resolved with the help and objectivity of a trusted third person.

Best wishes,
Irene
 

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

 

 

Generation Y Moms: Log on to connect to other moms

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Gen Y moms (born between 1982 and 1995), AKA  babies of baby boomers) are pushing the digital envelope. Compared to Gen X moms before them, they are more likely to use the internet to form bonds with one another to hone their parenting skills. A research brief on MediaPost draws distinctions between the way the two groups use a popular parenting site, Parenting.com.

Generation X women (born between 1965-1982, AKA post-baby boomers) tend to rely on the internet for more practical applications, like shopping and uploading pictures---as compared to Generation Y women, who are more likely to use technology to connect with other moms---by texting, sharing photos and videos, and chatting as members of online communities.

According to the report: “It…reveals a trend among the younger Gen Y moms of relying on the common experience of members of their cohort to help them navigate their journey through parenthood.”

As a baby boomer, the telephone was the tool I used to connect. I would call my one-and-only best friend and next-door neighbor Judy, who had given birth a few years before me, to find out all the tricks she knew and I was yet to learn as a young mother. Now young moms can learn from groups of their peers, 24/7, as long as the baby takes naps and sleeps through the night. But if that were the case, why would they need parenting advice? :-) 
 

Reader Q & A: Finding a Best Friend

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I am a person who has learned to value my female friendships. I've always tended to prefer a one-friend-at-a-time, with a lot of intensity, type of friendship. But it is something I can't seem to find.

Briefly, I had a relationship like the kind I want with a woman who continues to feel like a friend/sister. My "best" friend was someone who lived close by and we had a sister-like relationship (even though I have two sisters!). She felt the same about me and I know she would be there in a heartbeat for me as I would for her. However, she lives three hours away and isn't fond of chatting on the phone.

I have two other friends whom I care about, one who lives 20 minutes away, who both seem totally engrossed in their own lives and rarely contact me. We get together about twice a year. We all have kids who are fairly close in age. One of them was in a serious car accident and I really went out of my way to support her through that time. I find myself resenting that I am the one maintaining the contact and seem to be the one who is "into them"- wanting to go out/get together, to do girls’ nights out, etc.

I can't seem to get the friend thing down without a lot of emotion, longing for more yet not being skillful enough to find it. I am forced to socialize with other parents that I like well enough but can't seem to take any of them to the next level. I get so frustrated that others have a knack that I do not. P.S. You can probably tell that I am not good at small talk! LOL! What I'd like to know is what do others have, what is it that I am missing?

Thanks so much- any ideas will be appreciated.

Starrlife in New England
starrlife.wordpress.com

ANSWER:

Dear Starrlife:

Your situation is actually a very common one: You’re yearning for a best friend and don’t have one at the moment. Friends move (like yours did); get involved in new careers; have children; have fertility problems; get married, divorced or widowed---there are numerous reasons why even very close friendships are prone to change over time. Although you are separated by geography, it’s nice that you have a close friendship to hold up as a measure for the kind you are seeking.

Not to make light of it, finding a best friend is like finding a buyer for a house: You only need one. Your current acquaintances, or mom-friends, are important relationships even though they miss the best-friend mark. Finding a best friend involves 1) meeting someone new, and 2) giving the relationship time to grow and become more intimate---by sharing additional layers of your selves with one another.

You need to create opportunities to find ways to meet new people. Can you get involved in organizations or activities in your local community? Do you have any hobbies? Can you take a continuing education class? Can you join a gym? Are you passionate enough about one political candidate or another that you would like to work on a campaign? Are you involved with the parent teacher association? I realize that your child or children may be young so this will entail finding childcare---either your husband, another relative or a babysitter---for one or two evenings a week. If you need a rationale for yourself---a happy mom is usually a better mom.

In short, you need to put yourself in situations where you can meet new people. I have no doubt that eventually one or two of these relationships will “stick” and grow into the type of best friendship you want.

Best,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: Help! My best friend is driving me crazy!

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Might it be time to call it quits?

QUESTION:

My best friend is finally dumping her jerk husband of more than a decade and I'm glad about that but it's all wearing me to a nub.

Her frenzied dating is making me nuts. She talks about her boyfriends constantly, and about how many men are chasing her. She is convinced her life will be right back on track when she has a boyfriend, even though the divorce isn't even final yet.

She's really into psychotherapy which I hope might help her. I think she needs to stabilize before she gets involved with anyone but who am I to say? I don't know how to be supportive, honest, and not make my tongue bleed by biting it all at the same time.

I used to think that when she finally got away from her husband, who was emotionally abusive, she would grow into the woman she could be and our friendship would deepen. Now I just don't know. I'm feeling distant from her and irritated.

Please help!
Anonymous

 

ANSWER:

Dear Anonymous:

Sounds like you’ve had a hard time supporting your BFF’s choices almost as long as you’ve known her but you deluded yourself into thinking her rotten choice of mate was circumstantial: that she simply picked the wrong guy and had a hard time getting out of it.

In large part, people choose their circumstances, and if they don’t because they’ve fallen into them by mistake, they do have the free will to change them. Eighteen years of abuse must have eroded your friend’s self-esteem completely. What half-normal person would put up with all that stuff for that long?
Admittedly, this is probably a very difficult time for your BFF. She must worry about whether she will eventually land on the ground with both feet standing---and you may be wondering the same thing about her too!

Being indiscriminately “boy-crazy” diverts a woman from thinking about their own life (How do I know? Been there, done thatJ). Her interest in psychotherapy suggests that on some level, she would like to find her true self.

But let’s get back to you. It’s impossible to support a friend when you consistently don’t support her choices, unless she has other qualities that outweigh the negative ones. The value of every female friendship is determined by how well it meets our needs---I like to call this the concept of reciprocity. Friendships usually work when two friends feel like they are giving each other more---or at least as much---as they are getting. Sounds like this one isn’t working for you.

In this circumstance, what are your choices? You can leave things as they are and bite your tongue (but I think you are having a problem doing that or you wouldn’t have written to me). You can tell her things she isn’t ready to hear. Or there is one more approach that I think is the most prudent. I suggest that you take a friendship sabbatical.

You need to step back and give your friend time to work things out---and you need to give yourself time to think about whether the friendship is worth the angst. You can tell your friend that you need some time and space for yourself but you really care about her and what she is going through. In the meantime, spend more time with other friends and see if they can fill the deficit. Let me know what you decide and how it goes.

 

Best, Irene

 

 

The Friendship of Little Blue and Little Yellow

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It’s wonderful to begin teaching young people about the joys of friendship. In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Perrot Memorial Library (Old Greenwich, Connecticut) just published a list of its Youth Services Staff's favorite books about love and friendship. Click here to view the full list.

One particularly lovely book on the list---and one of my favorites---is Leo Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow, a simple but eloquent tale of two best friends who hug each other and become green. This picture book has entertained young children and their parents for nearly 50 years.


 

Friendship on the fairway: Keeping it evergreen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Staying Alive

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What a wonderful milestone it is to reach a 95th birthday---but imagine the added pleasure of being able to share your cake with someone you’ve known for 90 years!

Edith Brook and Una Kilner were born two days apart in 1917, met on their first day of school at Longley Hall five years later, and have stayed connected ever since. Well, almost. There was a brief period when they lost touch with one another as they raised their respective families.

According to an article in today’s UK Telegraph, the two women have vowed never to let that happen again. The article quotes Mrs. Kilner: "We meet every fortnight to catch up. We always phone each other and we'll stick together through thick and thin."

Some say that the pair’s friendship is the oldest one across the pond.

One of my oldest and dearest friends, Diana, has a memory like an elephant. I’m always amazed (and sometimes embarrassed) that she can recount vivid details of things that happened to the two of us several decades ago. She even remembers events I told her about that never directly involved her!

As we age, friendships become more dear---especially old ones. Knowing someone who knew you then is almost like taking a journey back to your youth. Friends can help us retrieve old memories and understand the characters and context of our lives better than anyone else.

 
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