Circle of Friends

Just Do It: Putting a fractured friendship behind you

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QUESTION:

Hi,                                           

A few years ago, I was a roommate with a woman I will call Marta. She found me by looking at rentals in the paper. She was newly divorced and we became fast friends. I introduced her to my extensive group of friends.

She moved out after I got engaged. We were still friends until we shared a house again after my divorce. I will not go into detail but it did not work out. She seemed to berate me a lot and accused me of stealing. She also is extremely negative and was only in a good mood when she was tipsy. I felt scared and anxious around her so I stayed away which only made her angrier.  

I moved out last May. I sent her an email in September saying we both did things we are not proud of but I wanted to get together IN PERSON to talk about it and put it behind us. I still have not heard from her.

I introduced her to a lot of my friends and they became her friends. When I see her at gatherings, I say hello but that is it; she has made it clear she does not want to engage. How do you repair a friendship enough so that other friends are not uncomfortable when you are around each other?  I am reading a book called Forgiveness is a Choice and it seems to be helping.

Ciao,
Eliza

ANSWER:

Hi Eliza,


Let go of this relationship! It doesn’t sound worth saving. You are describing a “friend” who acted suspicious, angry and negative---and who made you feel quite uncomfortable. You don’t need to do a psychological autopsy of your relationship with Marta to put it behind you; just end it and take away the friendship lessons you’ve learned, both good and bad.

Since you share a circle of friends, it’s best to act cordially to Marta but keep your distance. Say hello---and smile if it feels natural---but don’t go any closer or deeper than that. No one else will be uncomfortable in your presence unless they sense that you are.

Guard against saying anything disparaging about Marta to your other friends; it will only reflect badly upon you and they are already in a position to make their own judgments about her. With the passage of time, I hope things will get easier for you.

Best,
Irene

 

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

 

Graduating? Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving

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If you haven’t yet realized it, graduation from high school or college can be a friendship-killer. When you are no longer living side-by-side or seeing each other every day, it will never be quite as easy to keep up once-close female friendships or to make new ones.

With more than $55 million in domestic box office sales, Sex and the City made its mark as the highest-grossing chick flick in history on its opening weekend. Why did working women and working-at-home women leave their boyfriends, husbands, and kids behind, flocking in droves to see a movie that will likely be available on Netflix and pay-per-view in the blink of an eye? They wanted to see each other.

Sex is the ultimate excuse for a girl’s night out---something that women are desperately craving as our multi-tasking lifestyles leave less discretionary time for female friendships. The march of Stilettos to movie houses across the country was nothing short of a surge. Women clicked on Fandango and lined up for tickets because they were eager to redress their friendship deficit. Regardless of our age or stage in life, many women simply don’t have enough friends to meet their needs for understanding and being understood.

Sex, both movie and the series, hit the nail on the head when it comes to female friendships. We all covet the close friendships like the ones mirrored by Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte. Women went to see Sex but they were more excited about the before and after cocktails, dinners and parties they had planned with each other. They wanted to walk in the footsteps of the foursome.

Getting back to my commencement remarks---Graduation often means going home or moving away, leaving the familiar and making new starts. As a result, it is a time when many of us lose touch with women whom we see every day and call and text in-between---both besties and entire friendship circles that are meaningful parts of our lives.

Make yourself a promise to keep up with your school chums---especially the ones with whom you have been able to share both happiness and heartbreaks. As you age and life becomes more complex and demanding, you’ll realize that you have given yourself the most wonderful treasure. A few of the basics:

1) Always make friendship a priority (right up there after family). If you need a rationale to convince you, here it is: Research shows that social support and close friendships are linked to improved health and emotional well-being.

2) Get rid of toxic friendships that are consistently negative and emotionally draining. We all have one or two gal pals that are annoying to be with, people we feel ambivalent about and who probably feel ambivalent about us. Just let go of them.

3) Find any excuse to create rituals to stay in touch with the good friends. It shouldn’t be a one-time affair. Make a plan to get together every month or at least several times a year. It can be on milestone birthdays or periodic girlfriend getaway jaunts. Or even the opening of a long-awaited chick flick!

4) In-between, use every way possible to stay connected---via cell phones, Blackberries, and old-fashioned letters until the next time your see each other.

Female graduates: Congratulations---Go forth with your friends!

 

This post also appears on The Huffington Post. Sign up to become by fan at www.huffingtonpost.com/living and receive my posts directly in your in-box. 

 

One Girl’s Night Out: An Interview with Jessica Foley

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This weekend Jessica Foley will be celebrating her friendships by joining four friends for dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Brown Sugar, and then see Sex and the City with them at Fenway, a movie theatre near Fenway Park in Boston.

Jessica is an accomplished 30-something trial attorney whose practice at Sullivan and Sweeney LLP focuses on family law, personal injury and criminal defense. She graduated from Northeastern University School of Law (J.D. 2001) and Smith College (B.A. Biochemistry 1997). She is a member of the Norfolk County Bar Association, the Quincy Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association---and she volunteers in local causes including the Scituate Animal Shelter.

Jessica graciously agreed to discuss plans for her SATC Girl’s Night Out.

Jessica, can you tell me a bit about the friends who will going with you?

We are all in our 30’s. Three of us met in law school ten years ago and have been close ever since. The other two are friends we met through each other. My law school friends and I have seen each other through a critical part of our lives. When we met we were young and single and just starting out. If I recall, only one of us had a serious boyfriend. We have seen each other through boyfriends, exams, more boyfriends, break-ups, divorce, marriage, re-marriage and kids.

Do you often have a Girls Night Out?

Sadly, not often enough. When we first met none of us were married or had children. Most of us lived in Boston or the vicinity and were able to get together a lot!

Why are you getting together for the movie?

Sex and the City celebrates female friendships among very unique and different women. We are all followers of the show and different from one another. For me, it’s a chance to connect. I went to Smith, a women’s college, and formed great relationships there. It taught me just how important it is for women to support each other. I feel very lucky that I have such fantastic women in my life!

What draws women to Sex and the City?

The show follows women through their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s---through marriage, divorce, kids, infertility, boyfriends, and cancer. You name it, they cover it! All while dressing fantastically! They also plan a time to get together regularly.

What are some of the challenges you and your peers face in maintaining female friendships?

Sometimes work and life get in the way of making time for ourselves and each other. We are all on crazy schedules and have different focuses – i.e. one friend works part-time and has two little girls; one friend works at a big firm, is newly married and very busy. I am married and work full-time. One friend lives on the Cape and one works full time and has a toddler. Add husbands and extended families into the mix and it’s tough to get together with just the girls!

How important are female friendships?

Very important. In my personal life and in my career, developing and maintaining female relationships are very rewarding and help me keep my sanity.

Any other thoughts you want to share?

Thanks for asking me all these questions, now I am going to email and/or call some of my college friends I haven’t talked to in awhile. Thank goodness for technology or we might never connect.


 

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

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

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

Why are women afraid to ask other women for help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your personal experience in asking for help?

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

 

When it comes to friendships, who is counting?

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When it comes to friendships, it’s not how long or how close or how good. Instead, the latest craze seems to be how many. No one is quite sure how many friends you need or how many you can have. Given the number vacuum, some members of social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, or LinkedIn are accreting new friends like young boys collects baseball cards---acquiring impressive numbers of online “friends” that approach the hundreds and thousands.

Such excess raises the question---How many friendships, real, virtual or a combination of the two---can any one person reasonably handle? It depends on who you are and what it means for you to befriend someone. Are your friendships casual or close? Are they intense or intermittent? Are they brief or long-standing?

Every woman I know has a finite amount of time for friendship (which varies based on how she chooses to balance her social needs with the rest of her life). Additionally, some women are naturally more adept than others in both making friends and keeping them.

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. That number, 150, has been dubbed Dunbar’s Number. The term was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point and has been cited recently in a spate of news articles.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Carl Bialik (AKA the Numbers Guy) suggests that technology may actually enable us to expand the number of friends we can juggle simultaneously. He points out that social networking sites can help us maintain contact with people who are at the outer fringes of our circle of friends. Cell phones, emails, and IMs have similarly expanded our capability to reach out and touch someone.

“Prof. Dunbar isn't sold on the idea that social networks make his number outdated,” writes Bialik. “The research, he says, ‘made us realize people don't know what these wretched things called relationships are -- and that helps explain why we're so bad at them.’”

 

Why women need a circle of friends

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Another reason why the fantasy, Best Friends Forever (BFF), isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: When the all-consuming, all-fulfilling, one-and-only female friendship in your life fizzles out or blows up, you’re left in excruciating pain. And there’s no one to talk to or share your misery with. Generally, you would call your Bestie---but she’s the problem!

If you ever have unexpectedly lost a friendship that you were sure would last forever, you must realize that it is always a good idea to encircle yourself with more than just one best friend...

 
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