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Reader Q & A: Dumped by a group---what to do?

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QUESTION:

Hi Irene,

I found your blog and it is very interesting!! I recently had a break up with a group of friends. Due to circumstances beyond my control I didn't have much time to spend with them during the spring. Instead of understanding and being happy with weekly dinners or phone calls, they alienated me because I was never free to share a few beers on Fridays or Saturdays. When asked how I had hurt them enough to end a friendship I received nasty lip service that I did not even know these women had in them.

Prior to all of this happening, I was promoted at work and started dating a fantastic guy. Never once in our friendship have I been congratulated on any success I've had. They have never been kind to any men I have dated, and I've always been the first to call and catch-up.

I think due to my age (25) they are extremely immature which has led to cattiness and jealously. Regardless, of my discovery this situation is still very painful. Do you have any suggestions on how to get over this?

Thanks!
Anonymous

ANSWER:

Hi Anonymous,

I'm glad that you stumbled upon my blog and hope that I can give you a few thoughts that may be helpful.

It is always hard to be dumped by a friend but to be dumped by a group is wicked. It reminds me of a scene from Desperate Housewives. It is quite peculiar for grown women to gang up on someone the way these "friends" have on you. It sounds like you've made every effort to stay in contact with your friends even though you have less time available---for good reasons (dating a fantastic guy and getting a promotion at work.)

You have several options:

1) Are you certain that you haven't been flaunting your good luck to friends who are envious of you? It doesn't sound like this is the case but it's always good to step back and think about how you come across to others.

2) Are you sure that you really want to be friends with this group of women? You've characterized them as jealous and catty, and it sounds like they may be more intent on seeing you fail than seeing you succeed.

3) If you are confident that you want to remain friends, here is one strategy to try: Sometimes people show their worst sides in a group---they may be far less willing to act the same way in a one-on-one situation. Take advantage of this. Is there one person to whom you feel closer to than the rest, someone you would feel comfortable approaching and talking to honestly about how badly this situation has made you feel? Or could you develop a relationship with one of the women apart from the group?

4) Another option would simply be watchful waiting: Can you take a breather from this group and see if the problem resolves itself on its own over time? In the meantime, it sounds like you have a full life with work and the guy you are dating. Consider yourself very fortunate. Of course, that doesn't substitute for close female friendships, so try to nurture new friendships with other women.

Finally, don't feel guilty. Friendships often change over time as people grow and mature. You may be entering a new phase in your life; perhaps, it is time to assess these female friendships that you currently have to see if they are still worthwhile pursuing.

I hope you'll let us know how things work out.

My best,
Irene

 

Friendship by the Book: An interview with the author of Time of My Life

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Time of Your Life (Random House, October 2008) is Allison Winn Scotch's second novel. It tells the story of Jillian, a thirty-something, married, suburban mother in Westchester County, New York, who suddenly sees her life playing out a different way than it did seven years ago, and takes the reader along for the ride.

 

This engaging story raises provocative questions about love, marriage, family, friendship, and motherhood. It will grab anyone who has ever had second thoughts about the road not followed. The film rights to the story have already been purchased by the Weinstein Company so watch for it to come to your local theatres!

 

Allison graciously agreed to answer my questions about the role of friendship in Jillian's story:

 

Question:
You did a lovely job portraying Jillian as a woman juggling multiple roles: wife, worker, mother, and friend. What roles did her friends, Megan and Ainsley, play in Jillian's life (lives)?

Answer:
They were really her foundation, her barometers, in both her present and her past. Whatever her crisis, her friends were stable for her - and she tried to do the same for them. I've found this to be true in my own life too: through every various incarnation of myself and my relationships and my careers, my friends have held steady, and in fact, I thank many of my dearest friends in my acknowledgments, saying, "Thank you for reminding me that where we come from is just as important as where we're going." And this pretty much sums up Jill's friendships - they carry her through wherever she might be headed. That, really, to me, is what the best of friendships can do.

 

Question:
Did you derive inspiration for those characters from your own friendships? If so, explain.

Answer:
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I have a few very, very close friends whom I value like family. Second to my husband (and maybe my parents), they get the phone call with any good news that I want to share. So I understood how necessary and invaluable these women were for Jillian. I also understood that there are certain things - secrets, for lack of a better word - that you can share only with these women. In fact, the inspiration for the book came from a conversation I had with my dearest friend - she was having one of those "what if" moments, and we were discussing the paths she could have taken, and I was reassuring her that these questions were entirely normal...we just don't share them publicly too often. Really, only with our most trusted confidantes. So, in that sense, yes, I derived inspiration from my friendships. But neither Megan nor Ainsley are based on my friends or literally inspired by them. But it would certainly be fair to say that my love and appreciation for them is perhaps reflected in Jillian's love and appreciation for her friends and how they help her wade through the muck of her situation.

 

Question:
Your handling of infertility was particularly sensitive. How did it become a dominant theme in the book?

Answer:
Well, the book wrestles with a variety of issues that deal with motherhood, and I wanted to explore what it might be like to want that motherhood so badly - something that Jillian is mildly blasé about - and not be able to achieve it. How would that mold you? How would you cope with it? Increasingly, as my friends and I get older, I hear of friends who struggle with fertility, and my heart breaks for them because, it's the great unknown really: who knows if you're going to get pregnant, and it can really feel like a crapshoot. But what if this was all you wanted in the world for yourself? How do you overcome that? How do you grieve? How do you move forward? Megan's experience and views really stood in contrast to Jillian's, and I thought it was a nice counter-balance and a good way to explore how much motherhood can (or can't) define you.

 

Question:
How did Jillian friendships change with marriage and motherhood? What has been your own experience?

Answer:
Jillian became more isolated, both literally and emotionally, when she married. She left so much of what she was familiar with: her job, her city, her apartment, and headed to the suburbs, and I think this was really disorienting for her, as I know it can be for many women. And then there's the whole motherhood factor: the fact that after we have kids, we might feel less connected with our single or childless friends, or they might feel less connected to us. Not that this always happens. Certainly, there are plenty of times when it doesn't happen. But, and many moms will quickly admit to this, when you have kids it becomes so, so easy to lose yourself in them, and what happens when you meet up with your single friends and all you want to do is talk about potty training or pre-school applications? It's not fair to them, and I guess it's not fair to you either. But the key, for me, has been finding common ground. In my own experience, sure, I've drifted in some friendships (or they've drifted from me) once I got married and had kids - simply because we didn't share the same common ground anymore- but the ones that were most dear, of course we made them work. We go out for dinner, and they listen to me talk about my kids, and I listen to their dating horror stories...and then we move on to gossip, careers, old friends, whatever. I think it's important that everyone make a little effort to find that middle ground - it's not hard to do in solid relationships.

 

Question:
On page 63, you mention how friends can get lost in the shuffle of life. Can you explain how or why this happens based on your own experiences?

Answer:
Sure, I alluded to it a bit above. Sometimes, when friendships are so constant in your life, you almost forget that they're there...it's like you take them for granted. "Oh, I can call her tomorrow because I have to deal with XYZ today." That sort of thing. I know that I'm totally guilty of this. Right now, for example, my best friend and I have been playing phone tag for over three weeks: she moved, I went on vacation, she got wrapped up in her son's new school, I got wrapped up in work, etc. But I've also been lucky. I've surrounded myself with women who don't need daily check-ins - we're always happy to hear from each other whenever the other has the time. I understand that my friends value me, and I also understand that they have a whole set of responsibilities that have nothing to do with me. And that's totally okay. What matters most to me is that when I really need them - with good news or with bad news - they answer the phone and listen.


Question:
Writing a novel can be pretty lonely. How do you handle your own friendships as a novelist?

Answer:
A couple of different ways: One, I have a lot of "virtual" friends! Which sounds crazy, but my writer friends whom I know from various online groups keep me company during the day when I need to connect with someone or need a break. I just head to the forums of these sites and chime in. Two, I make a point to have a girls' night at least once a month. This keeps me in touch with my college friends who have known me for almost two decades. You can't replace that kind of camaraderie, and even when I'm soooo tired and don't feel like going, I'm always so glad that I did afterward: I feel rejuvenated. And three, as I've said above, I have a short list of my closest friends who I call when I have the time...usually this is while I'm walking the dog! But after catching up for 30 minutes or so, I feel like all is well in my world...and in theirs. And that's enough to fuel me over the next few days (or weeks) when we might not have a chance to reconnect.

 

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: Good boundaries make good friendships

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Dear Irene:

Hi, I have a friend who doesn’t have very good boundaries. I live in a small town. I am a fairly private person who is social but also like my alone time. This friend has stopped by my house when I don't answer the phone and once she comes over, doesn't leave until really late.


I have no idea how to tell her nicely that it is now time for her and her children to leave. I really value our friendship, but she and her children are very intense and I don't want to spend every waking moment with her. I think she would spend all the time with me if she could.

Any advice? I want to be able to get together with her without being with her for the rest of the day. Also, she seems to get irritated with me and think something is wrong when I don't do what she wants or don’t see her for a couple of days.

Signed,

Anonymous

 

Dear Anonymous,

The most satisfying friendships are built on a foundation of balance and reciprocity. It sounds like your relationship isn’t balanced; your friend covets more of your time and space than is comfortable for you. Yet, you allow her to show up at your home uninvited---and permit her to stay past her welcome. That’s a recipe for a fractured friendship to come!

Sadly, she doesn’t have the sensitivity to sense when you’ve had enough of her or to read your nonverbal cues. In cases like this, you need to be more explicit and tell her something like, “I hope you won’t take offense but it’s getting late and I have an early appointment in the morning” or “I have to get the kids to calm down before bedtime.”

Another tactic might be to schedule your time with your friend so there is a beginning and an end that it is set firm. For example, you might say “I have about four hours before I need to take care of stuff. We’ll have to wrap things up by 2PM” or “Why don’t we meet at the park for an hour or two?”

Acknowledge (to yourself) that you may have boundary issues as well. You need to start to establish ground rules so you don’t wind up feeling angry and abused. Since you really seem to like this friend, it’s worth the risk of explaining how you feel. Tell her that you treasure her friendship but need more alone time for yourself and your family.

Admittedly, I have only heard a little slice of a long story and I suspect your discomfort over this boundary may be just the tip of the iceberg. I suspect that there are other ways in which she is insensitive to your needs and that you feel like you are giving more than you’re getting. Let us know what happens.

My best,

Irene

 

The unexpected gift

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It wasn’t my birthday or any other day celebrated by Hallmark people.  It was just an ordinary rainy day when a small beautifully wrapped packaged appeared in my mailbox to make the day stand out from the rest.

I found inside a pretty ceramic plaque with purple and pink painted letters that read “Best Friends bring sunshine to each day,’” along with a hand-written note. (I thought of hanging it above my desk but my desk is in the middle of the room so I quickly regrouped---finding a proper place over the kitchen sink.}


I’m a friendship author, friendship scholar, and friendship expert but ironically, like too many busy women I know I never seem to have enough time for my own friendships, to be the friend I want to be.


Anyway, good friends have a gift for knowing what to say and what to do at just the right time. Good friends quietly bestow the unexpected without asking---on a rainy day when it is most needed.

 

A Friend in Every Port?

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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?

 

100 Friends to See Before You Die

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Childhood friends, school chums, colleagues, neighbors, teammates and virtual friends---women accumulate hundreds, if not thousands, of friends based on where they’ve been and what they’ve done over the years. Friends are the living scrapbooks of our lives.

But every relationship doesn’t stick. In fact, very few of them do. It’s easy for friendships, even very close ones, to slip away--sometimes for no real reason at all. It just happens. A study of the friendship patterns of 10,000 people in the UK found that the average Brit collects 396 friends over a lifetime but winds up staying in touch with only one out of 12 of them.

This week a friend with whom I was once very close was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I hadn’t spoken to her in almost a decade and now I fear there might be time for only a brief reconnection, even though she is special to me and our friendship was an important chapter in my life story. Yes, we live in different states and no longer work in the same office. But why hadn’t I kept up the relationship? Was I really that busy? Maybe there wasn’t time to see her, but the ease of staying in touch via cell phones and e-mail make the excuse of being busy sound lame.

I know I’m not the only woman who is dancing as fast as she can. I once tried to introduce a close friend who moved to Washington DC to another close friend who already lived there. I thought they would enjoy each other as much as I enjoyed each of them. “I don’t even have enough time for my own friends so why would you ever think I would have time for yours,” said the DC native. And I understood.

Recognizing that life is finite (is that a new insight?), many of us have started composing “life lists” to set priorities. People are thinking about where they would like to go and what they would like to do before kicking the bucket. It’s not surprising that the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die became an instant best-seller. The same list-making mania has morphed into websites like www.43things.com. The film The Bucket List, which opened earlier this year, chronicles the story of two men, each with one year to live, who escape from the hospital where they meet to hit the open road and live life as they please.

Life is short. My suggestion: Make a list of the friends you truly want to keep in your life. To make the goal achievable, you don’t have to list 100 names and you don’t have to actually see those friends (unless you want to). You can just make ten phone calls or send ten e-mails, whenever it’s convenient, to tell your female friends how much they mean to you, before they disappear from your life.

 

This blog post also appears on www.HuffingtonPost.com/Living

 

Motherhood is a friendship-killer

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Mother's Day celebrates motherhood---as well as children, flowers, candy, and greeting cards. But there's a seedy side to everything---and motherhood is a known friendship-killer. Motherhood challenges female friendships for a variety of reasons:

• You are a mother, and your BFF isn't one and wants to be one. Her fertility problems are making her extremely frustrated, depressed, and angry at you.

• Your BFF is a merry mother of six and you have no desire to even be a mother of one. When you're together, she never stops talking about her brood.

• You and your BFF both have children but they are at different ages or stages (And one of hers is a biter).

• You and your BFF have vastly different views on child-rearing. You're permissive and believe in letting kids be kids. She believes in turning children into little adults.

• Your children and/or spouse don't get along with your BFF's children and/or spouse. When her son punched yours in the nose, her husband said your son provoked him.

• On a practical level, all other things being equal, you have less discretionary time for friendships than high-school or college-age women, married women without children, and older women. With all your responsibilities, you barely have time to shower.

• You are a mother-martyr who places the needs of your children and family above your own social needs.

• You have fewer opportunities to meet new friends than you did when you were younger and more care-free---you only go to noisy, active places with children where it's hard to have heart-to-heart conversations.

At different times of our lives, there are real shifts in the number and nature of our female friendships. Living in a dorm, you may have been surrounded by a circle of close female friends. For one or more of the reasons mentioned above, motherhood is one of those times when you might have more than your share of problems making or maintaining female friendships.

Many of us spend so much time juggling our roles as daughters, wives, workers, caregivers, and mothers that we wake up one morning and suddenly realize we have a serious friendship deficit! We think: If only there was someone we could call---or have coffee with---who could understand the gaping hole it has left.

This Mother's Day, give yourself a little gift that no one else would ever think of. Jot down an appointment on your calendar to have lunch with a friend, or to have a girl's night out. It's the equivalent of putting on your own oxygen mask first.

Taking small steps to build female friendships enhances our own physical and emotional well-being, and makes us better mothers in the long-run.
 

February 29, 2008 - Make Time for Friends Day

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I hereby proclaim February 29th, 2008 as the first Make Time for Friends Day. There are no commercial aspects to the day that you need to worry about. You don’t have to buy cards, send gifts or spend money. You have received the gift of extra time and are free to use it wisely. Let me suggest how:

At various times in our lives, we have more or less time and need for our female friends. Women who are single, divorced, widowed, or retired tend to have more discretionary time than women who are involved in marriage, child-rearing or heavily invested in their careers. Of course, most research looks at groups and talks about averages rather than individuals so these trends certainly don’t apply to every woman. There are many women who are married, raising their brood, or working---who are wise enough to make female friendships a priority in their lives.

However, looking at the trends, you might easily ask: How will women have any friends when they get divorced, become widowed, or decide to retire, if they don’t make efforts to maintain those friendships beforehand? You are absolutely correct in posing that question because research suggests that single women who forgo marriage are more likely to retain their close friendships over the long haul. In a recent post on her blog on the The Huffington Post, social psychologist Bella DePaulo and author of Singled Out states that based on scientific research on loneliness in later life, “…No group is likely to be less lonely in their senior years than women who have always been single.”

I think I have one answer to reconcile the gap for those at-risk: This year, 2008, is a leap or intercalary year. That means that an extra day has been added to the calendar, Friday the 29th, to synchronize the calendar year with the solar year.

This extra day is a perfect time for Make Time for Friends Day. All you very busy multi-tasking women (me among them), take out your Blackberry, Palm, or conventional paper daybook or calendar and give yourself that extra day, February 29th, to catch up with one or more female friends---old or new--- who you’ve not had time to be with.

Take the leap and do it now! Think about the significance of friendships to your well-being, physical, emotional, and spiritual---and give yourself the gift of time with friends. My suspicion is that you may decide that one day every four years isn’t enough---and that it may become a habit.

 

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.

 
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