making friends

Women who bicker over books


A recent article in the New York Times, Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?, by Joanne Kaufman recounted the story of a woman, named Jocelyn Bowie, who was invited to join a book club shortly after she moved back to Indiana. She had hoped she could find a sisterhood of women in the group with whom she could network.

When the women began bickering about their choice of books, she decided to defect. The article goes on to describe the acrimony that is rampant among the 4 to 5 million book groups across the U.S. (predominantly made up of women)---but explains how it isn't just about the book. They disagree about "the rules" and refreshments, and butt heads over politics. I'm sure the recent polarizing election killed off more than a few groups.

I had a similarly disappointing experience in joining a short-lived writer's group. Although we all loved writing, there weren't enough ties to keep the group together and we dispersed as soon as we could, explaining it away as a summer hiatus. We were at different stages of our writing careers and at different phases of our lives---and our personalities just didn't seem to click. One person was an incessant talker and another always came late, expecting us to rewind from the beginning. No one wanted to intercede, possibly alienating another member.


I found out that a shared love of writing doesn't always cut it when it comes to maintaining a writer's group---just as forming and maintaining female friendships are partly a matter of luck, too. When I interviewed more than 1200 women about their female friendships, a large number of them talked about how best friends just seem to "click." They described how it felt easy and comfortable to be together from the beginning, like slipping into a worn pair of jeans, and it didn't take any work.

Friendship circles like book clubs and writers' groups are more complicated than one-on-one friendships, perhaps, because there are more personalities added to the pot. Some of us are lucky to find groups that "click" while others have to try more than once---to find the right one.


You may also want to read The Book Group and the Bitch Fight, a blog post by my writer friend, Joanne Rendell, author of The Professors' Wives' Club.


Elective Friendships


One political poll reported that a large majority of voters said they would be frightened if the presidential candidate—other than the one they supported—won the election. It reminded me of how we live in our own little worlds.


The differences between the parties’ candidates were great and I have to admit: Most of my friends have similar political leanings to my own. It isn’t that we agree on every issue but, in general, we have shared values--which I consider an important component of close friendships.


To tell you the truth, my world is actually so small that I even have a hard time relating to people who don’t like some of my favorite movies or television shows. How can we be friends if we don’t even laugh at the same jokes? Well the election is over and, hopefully, most of my friendships will remain intact.


Depending on how opinionated and strident a person is—whether the topic is politics or popular culture—it’s natural to feel alienated from people who aren’t like us. But just as politics has the power to make strange bedfellows, if we focus on what we have in common rather than what sets us apart, it’s a great way to build and strengthen our friendships.



Reader Q & A: Finding a Best Friend



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


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.



Mommy Friendships


My writer friend, Kathy Sena, has an award-winning blog called Parent Talk Today. She recently interviewed me for a post on the topic of mommy friendships. Click here to see the post, which discusses several ways for multi-tasking moms to make new friendships. While "'mommy friendships" can pose challenges, sharing the experience of parenting with other women also presents opportunities to forge close female friendships that can last a lifetime.

Coincidentally, my friend Diana is coming for a sleepover tonight on route from Washington, DC to drop her daughter, Nikki, off at college. We first bonded as we worked out the kinks of breastfeeding while we were both on maternity leave from work.

Anyway, check out Kathy's excellent blog!




A Friend in Every Port?


One of the nice things about traveling is that every trip offers opportunities to make new friendships or nurture old ones--if you make it a priority and take the time. You could ask an old friend to travel with you or simply engage in conversation with a potential new friend you meet across the aisle on a plane.

You can rekindle an old friendship by making plans to meet someone from your past who lives en route or at your destination (perhaps someone you knew from childhood or college).Or you can take a chance and catch up with someone you only knew virtually.

Every connection starts with one person being brave enough to make a move---to take the initiative and hope the other person will respond in kind. As scary as it might feel at the moment you do it, it usually works.

Last weekend, I was visiting family in Westlake Village, California and took advantage of a serendipitous opportunity to meet Victoria Clayton-Alexander, another writer whom I knew lived just a few blocks away. I invited her to visit me at their home and a few hours later, she arrived with a smile on her face and a box of yummy Italian pastries. We all sat around the kitchen island drinking coffee and the conversation flowed effortlessly. I soon realized that she and I had many more connections than our writing.

High on that experience, a few days later when I got to a meeting in Phoenix, I emailed another writer I had only known virtually before. Jackie Dishner, a fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, responded enthusiastically and was willing to meet at my hotel. We were soon sitting on lawn chairs drinking iced tea in the warm Arizona sun while we exchanged stories about our work and our lives.

Yes, instead of making these connections, I could have visited another museum, spent more time with my husband, gone shopping, or fallen into the trap of staying on top of my email in my hotel room, but these brief interludes turned out to be amongst the most memorable of my trip---and I have every hope that the friendships will be lasting ones.

Do you have any stories of travel and friendship to share? Have friends enhanced your travel or has travel enhanced your friendships?


Reader Q & A: Sex and the City is Coming: No gal pal to go with!



Dear Irene:

I love your blog (well, love it AND hate it, because I see myself in too many of these posts!). You concentrate on "fractured friendships" and right now I'm feeling low because the Sex and the City movie is about to appear in favorite series, and I have no gal pal to go with.

While others are organizing SATC movie parties, my two best girl friends long ago "fractured" (well, they were complete breaks) our friendships. One was my girlfriend since high school days who was my maid-of-honor, and lives far away from me; the second, a more local gal who took her place, and then gave up on me over a year ago. Inboth instances, they ended the longtime friendship because they disapproved of my having an affair (an affair that's lasted longer than either of these friendships, I might add...over 20 years). I never put any limits on my friendships with women OR with men; I love them for who they are, both the good and the bad traits. I don't judge.

But now with the SATC movie out, I guess I'll just have to go alone to a matinee andgrin and bear it. I even asked my (woman) hairdresser yesterday when I was getting a haircut/color if she wanted to go with me (she's half my age, and we are friendly but not quite "friends") and she replied she "hates going to movie theaters." [Darn those Gen Xers!]

Just wanted to bring this to your attention. This can be tough for women sufferingfrom "fractured friendship syndrome.” I have plenty of male friends -- much to my husband's chagrin -- none of whom would be caught dead in that movie theater with me next Friday! Keep up the good work.

Signed, Anonymous


Hi Anonymous,

Thanks so much for reading my blog and sending your note.

Sounds like you are experiencing a friendship deficit, something that many women experience from time to time. It's been there but reading my post about Sex and the City probably made you more aware of it. That's good! Now you know you want to make more new friends. And just like relationships with men, you have to kiss a lot of frogs until you meet a prince.

Not wanting to see the movie with you doesn't mean your hairdresser rejected you. Instead, it may suggest that the person you selected may be a poor fit for you. I find that I have a hard time being friends with people who don't laugh at Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, two of my favorite TV shows. It's not a fatal flaw but often is suggestive that there may be too many differences between me and someone else to be really close to one another. I do think that you can tell a lot about a friend by the entertainment she likes.

My suggestion would be to go see the movie alone. I'm sure you won't be the only "single" there. Sit next to someone else who is alone and start up a conversation. If you can't find an empty seat that fits the bill, having seen the movie will still serve as fodder for conversation with another potential female friend.

You seem to have no problem making male friends so you certainly have the relationship skills you need. Just put yourself in more situations with other women and give your relationships time to grow.

My best,


Rx for making friends: One small step at a time


Anyone who is shy knows how difficult it can be to enter a room, a cocktail party, a classroom, or any other new situation and come face-to-face with a room full of strangers.

I recently experienced this discomfort when I signed up for a Scrabble course at my local library. I immensely enjoy playing the game whenever I can muster up a partner. Although I am nowhere near the level of a tournament Scrabble player, I play well enough that no one I know likes to play with me...


Retro Friends: A blast from the past


A recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail notes the growing number of women who are rekindling friendships from the past. One explanation for the trend: Technology is making it easier to find that best friend from high school that you haven’t heard from for ages. You can Google her; search for her on a reunion site like or; or perhaps find her on one of the popular social networking sites like My Space or Facebook...


Six degrees: A friend of a friend

Psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a landmark experiment at Harvard University in the 1960s that looked at the “small world” phenomenon. Using snail mail correspondence, Milgram asked his study participants to forward an information packet about the study to the person they knew---who was mostly likely to know the person ultimately targeted to receive the correspondence...

New Kid on the Block: Mastering the motherhood-friendship mix

Most new mothers (whether working or stay-at-home)---who are saddled with responsibility for one or more kids while managing a home---are likely to feel isolated and overwhelmed. Often during this stage of life, changing circumstances (e.g. having single or childless friends who aren’t in similar situations) make it challenging for women to rekindle the common ground that they once shared with female friends...
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