Friendship and Money: She's fired, you're not


Any major life change--including an unexpected job loss or other threat to economic security--can increase the risk of a once-close friendship falling apart. As such, the global recession is challenging untold numbers of female friendships. In the first of a two-part series, I interviewed journalist Emma Johnson, who covers money and finance topics for MSN.com and other national publications, to find out her thoughts on this topic:


In the current economic climate, where job loss is rife, how can getting a pink slip or being furloughed challenge friendships?

Women can be very competitive with each other. Traditionally women have competed for male attention and loyalty. The species depended upon it. The more women's sexual partners were loyal to them, the better off the women and their children would be since men were the breadwinners and women had few economic opportunities.

But the game is different today. We compete in other areas of our lives, including professionally. Even if we aren't in direct professional competition with our girlfriends, that rivalry can still be there. Of course it isn't always the case, but it often is, and worst of all, most of the time we don't realize it.

So if two friends are engaged in even a friendly contest about who's ahead in her career, a layoff can give the other woman the edge in this unspoken game. That can create resentment from the unemployed party--who is already distraught about her new economic situation.


How can women minimize the risk of losing their friendships if one friend is spiraling downward economically?

I'm a big fan of talking it out, though all the psychology experts don't agree with that. If the employed friend can say, "I'm so sorry you are going through this. What can I do to be supportive?" Then, give her friend some time to think about what she needs; that can go a long way. Likewise, the unemployed friend might need to talk to her friend and say, "I'm really worried about money right now. Would you mind if we find some less expensive ways to spend time together until I get back on my feet?"

There are other things to think about. Unemployment and financial worries are top factors in stress, sleep loss and depression, which can take a big toll on one's overall well-being, including their relationships. If everyone is aware of the realities of the situation, tough times can strengthen friendships. But the working friend needs to be willing to be supportive, and sometimes the friend in the tough situation needs to allow themselves to be vulnerable and cared for.

To be continued...

Emma Johnson is a New York journalist who writes about business, finance and money topics for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and Psychology Today. Her series on MSN  Money, "Jump Start Your Life," explores money topics for people in their 20s and 30s. 

*A version of this post appears on The Huffington Post



Reader Q & A: Unable to let go


Dear Irene,

About a year and a half ago I broke up with a friend and I'm still not over it. I was hoping you could offer some insight. I’ve known this girl since 6th grade when she stopped speaking to me over some boy. We became friends again in 7th grade but she always needed a new best friend. She moved out of state in 8th grade and made me promise to go to college in her state.

Well, I did move there and got married (she got married too). The four of us would hang out some but she did the same things as she did in elementary school: she'd just stop calling or she would ask for rides or a babysitter when she needed something and we'd be there to help. But if we needed something she'd just whine and complain. We moved a couple times within the same city and she was always negative about were we lived, saying we lived in a bad neighborhood (when we didn't and we had a brand new house).

Finally my husband and I stopped speaking to them because we felt like we were being used. About 3 years later, I started feeling guilty so I called her to see how she was and she was happy to hear from me. We started hanging out again and things seemed all right. I actually helped her to get a job at the same place where I worked with my husband.

My husband and I started to have problems and were considering a divorce. It turns out that she HATED my husband. She kept encouraging me to divorce him and spread rumors about him at work. Apparently she was talking about me, too, and spreading our personal problems to everyone we worked with. It made work very uncomfortable but she denied saying anything. She told me I shouldn't have told her any of my problems if I didn't want them to be known!

I ended up getting my own place and separating from my husband. I was very depressed and could hardly get out of bed. She was always mad at me for not “snapping out of it”. I eventually went to a doctor and got on anti-depressants and starting seeing a therapist, but she kept talking about me, saying that the anti-depressants weren’t good for me. She told me that I needed to convert to her religion to find happiness and get over the depression.

I agreed to go to church with her a few times but after a couple months decided it wasn't the place for me. When I began studying with a Rabbi she began saying horrible things about Jewish people and constantly told me how “sorry” she was that I was going to hell. I ended up moving out of state for a new job and to start a new life: I had planned to remain friends with her and talk to her from out of state.

Once I moved, she started sending me bible tracts and told me that Hebrew was a “bad language” to learn. Then I received an email with childish insults and name calling from both her and her husband. I just couldn't take it anymore and didn't want to fight, or call names so I just stop talking to her altogether. I deleted all the emails I got from her without ever reading them and changed my phone number.  Now she has befriended my mother on Facebook and constantly leaves my mom messages about how great she is. I feel like she's crossed the line by trying to be friends with my mom or she's displaying some passive aggressive behavior.

I feel a lot of guilt over this and feel like it is immature for me to stop being friends with someone. My life has improved A LOT since I stopped being friends with her and my self-esteem has climbed. Should I feel guilty over this? I feel like it is something that some middle school girls would do but I never imagined adults would stop speaking like this. Should I say something to her about being Facebook friends with my mom? Or do I just let this go?

Unable to Let Go


Dear Unable to Let Go,

I hope that by posting your dilemma on this blog and reading it in black-and-white, it helps clarify your answer to the question you posed: Should I just let this go? When other women write about their friendship dilemmas, the answers are often in shades of gray. This one isn’t.

It sounds like your ex-friend has been possessive, self-centered, negative and controlling from the time she was an adolescent and she still hasn’t outgrown it. While you tolerated her for some time, you and your husband appropriately decided to end the relationship. The same attitudes and behaviors you overlooked in middle school were less acceptable when you saw them appear in an adult.

Like most women, you tried to put a positive spin on your friendship when you attempted to renew it three years later. Then your friend began to encourage you to leave your husband, spread rumors about you and your husband to your colleagues, and betrayed confidences about you to people at work. I can’t help but think that she was alienating you from him and your co-workers so she could have you for herself again. Then she tried to dictate your religious beliefs and showed little sensitivity to or understanding of your values or emotions. Besides, people generally don’t “snap out” of a clinical depression.

Don’t you remember you changed your phone number to avoid contact wit her and even deleted her emails? Why would you ever feel guilty for cutting off a friendship like this one? You deserve so much better.

Why would you want to re-friend someone who has been such a negative influence? Yes, she crossed the line by trying to befriend your mom and there is no point in initiating contact with her over this. However, you should let your mother know how nasty your friend has been to you so she doesn’t get sucked in. The rules of friendship on Facebook are often pretty murky but I would think your mother wouldn’t want to maintain a relationship with your ex-friend if she knew how much pain she had caused you.

Clearly, you are feeling happier and more self-confident since you broke off with her. Yet you are guilty and ashamed about separating from a long-time friend. You seem to be tied to they myth that “best friends are forever” but generally, this isn’t the case. Being able to let go, in this situation, wouldn’t be immature; in fact, it would be a sign of your maturity. You need to let go and move on. This woman sounds like a toxic friend.

Hope this is helpful.

My best,

Girlfriendology: Inspiring Female Friendships

Girlfriendology is an online community for women that aims to celebrate, appreciate and inspire women with blogs, a weekly podcast and BlogTalkRadio Show (interviewing inspiring women), contests, reviews, shopping and more.

I was pleased to recently interview Debba Hauppert, the “girl” behind Girlfriendology. She has a background in corporate marketing, is an award-winning author, and has been a television spokesperson and contributed to dozens of magazines. “Girlfriends make us healthier, happier, less stressed, live longer and feel more beautiful so our goal is to help women prioritize and appreciate their friendships,” says Debba.

Why did you start Girlfriendology.com?

After a second girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer, I felt helpless and scared for them and for me. I decided to record my girlfriend love and appreciation in a blog. Wondering why I felt so strongly about friendship, I did research to justify my efforts and time. My search led me to a book that details the need for close social bonds between females (The Tending Instinct, by Shelley S. Taylor). It gave amazing examples of how the need for female friendship is part of our DNA – we actually NEED friends.

That book and the support of a great group of girlfriends energized me to grow Girlfriendology. Girlfriends make us healthier, happier, less stressed, live longer and even feel more beautiful so I somewhat look at Girlfriendology as a public service announcement or even a ‘magic pill’ to making us all live better lives – with our friends by our sides.

What are the most popular posts on your site?

Each month we hold a contest where we request women’s stories about their friendships. These are then recorded in a podcast that is just good girlfriend inspiration! We also share ideas on girlfriend celebrations (like alternative ideas for Super Bowl Sunday with your girlfriends), gift ideas for girlfriends, the podcasts and BlogTalkRadio show interviews with inspiring women (like you Irene!) and more.

What affect has the growth of social media had on female friendships?

I’ve spoken on women and social media to several groups, and work with companies to assist them in reaching women through social media. Research shows that women are social (who knew? Right?!)  and so we’re the future of social media. Some of us are Twitter-buddies (follow me at Girlfriendology) while others are Facebook friends and have reconnected with friends and family on Facebook and other social media sites. Social media can be an excellent way to make and stay in touch with friends. How else would we all be able to share photos of our kids, updates on our adventures and insights into our lives with so many of our friends? However, it can also be overwhelming and may even make them feel isolated because they need face-to-face connection with other women.

Personally, I recommend a good mix of both. Often you can take online relationships offline by meeting your local Twitter friends or contacts from a LinkedIn group at social events or arrange meetings at conferences, etc. You can stay in touch with your local friends and family on Facebook and stay aware of their updates and more. The basics of friendship online or off are the same – to listen, care, assist and support and just be a friend to someone else. That doesn’t change so it’s still just a simple one-to-one connection.

What advice can you give to women who are balancing career, family, and friendship?

One of the goals of Girlfriendology is to inspire women to ‘be the kind of friend they’d love to have.’ We really do HAVE to make time for our friends and to prioritize them. We have to make the extra effort to remember their birthdays, listen - even when we want to talk, go out of our way to make their life better and to tell them how much their friendship means to us. I know that may be overwhelming when we have crazy busy schedules but just a few of the benefits of girlfriends are stress reduction and health so spending time with your girlfriends is very much worth the time and effort.

My girlfriends are very important in my own life. They really do inspire me every day and help me so much with Girlfriendology. Friends are always sharing ideas, contacts for the podcast/BlogTalkRadio show guests, etc. In addition to Girlfriendology, they help relieve me of the stress of being an overly-committed entrepreneur! I meet girlfriends Jill and Becky every week for a coffee date, I email with three college girlfriends every Friday, I connect with dozens of women on Twitter and I try to sneak in some time for walks or talks with other female friends.

What is the most important friendship lesson(s) you’ve learned from your readers?

I’ve learned how friendships make us stronger. Stories submitted to us (through our monthly contest and just through comments on Girlfriendology.com) share sad, overwhelming and amazing tales of women helping each other through huge challenges from cancer to the loss of a child, marriage, partner or job. If not for friends, often we wouldn’t have the strength to go on, but we do, and we find that inner strength often times from a friend who helps us bring it back to life. This alone is a reminder to build friendships. Someday we may really need them or they need us and, if we’re blessed with friends, we don’t have to face hard times alone. That makes a HUGE difference.

Check out Girlfriendology!

Girlfriends with pink slips


The support of female friends can help a woman get over the traumatic emotional and financial losses associated with being fired or let go. What can friends do?

Read my latest post on The Huffington Post.


Reader Q & A: Dumped Times Two



Hi Irene,


My name is Veronica and I live in the UK, I’m not sure if you take emails from people from the UK, but I felt compelled to email you about a situation that is bothering me involving of a couple of girls who I thought were friends of mine.


I have known these two girls for a number of years. We have boyfriends who are all friends and would go over to each other’s houses for christenings and on nights out for birthdays, etc. I saw them during the week as one of them has kids, as I do. Last year all seemed okay, until this year when things seem to have fallen by the wayside with the girl who has the children.


Every time I asked if she would like to meet up, she was 'busy' or working. I got a bit paranoid after the fifth time and thought, “What have I done?” She is on good old Facebook, so I removed her from my friends list.


These two girls are best mates, very close, but thought I got on with both of them. When the one with the kids was avoiding me, I concentrated on still being mates with the other girl, who I had always assumed was the nicer one and who did not gossip, etc. I was wrong. Recently, for my b-day, I asked if they could make it out for a drink but they were both too busy. I always make the effort for theirs---but not even a happy birthday did they wish me!


I made up my mind there and then that they are not worth it, but still spoke occasionally to the girl without children. She was feeling down and I said I hope she was okay and if she ever wanted to pop round and talk she’s more than welcome to. She told me hadn’t gone out for ages.


A week later I saw her and the other girl with three other girls I know, out on a night out. They did not talk to me until one of the girls came and got me. The other day I emailed the girl who was feeling down asking, “So, how are you?” Then she told me to stop hassling her! I was upset by her reaction and admittedly I panicked and send her three texts saying I hope we can sort things out and a voice message.


The next morning she said she can’t be bothered with me anymore, so I went ahead a deleted all these girls off my Facebook friends, I know that sounds petty, but why have them nose at my profile when they are not my real mates? One of them told me I was weird for doing so. I am fed up with these girls’ attitudes. They have tried phasing me out for ages and have now managed it but I want to know why.


The only thing I can think of is that I attended a wedding of the cousin of the girl who has the kids and she was not invited, as they do not get on! Hope you can advise me, this may sound so shallow but it’s doing my head in!!


Yours faithfully,


Dear Veronica:


When you ask a friend to get together five times and she comes up with one excuse after another, it means she doesn’t want to get together. I know this feels disconcerting because you were good friends in the past. And I’m not sure what accounts for the change in your ex-friend’s behavior but, as painful and confusing as this feels, it is common for people and friendships to change over time.


In terms of the second girl, you were supportive to her when she was depressed—and then she accused you of hassling her? She is telling you quite directly that she doesn’t want to be involved with you. Again, you can only guess the reasons why. One possibility: Since she is best friends with the first girl, it may be difficult for her to maintain an independent relationship with you.


These girls sound mean, insensitive, and SHALLOW. Defriending them, both in real life and on Facebook is the right thing to do because they are no longer your true friends. Stop trying to understand their motives because that really doesn’t matter. Move on and find another friend who is interested in a more reciprocal friendship.


I’m sorry this has happened to you and hope this is helpful. By the way, being dumped by female friends is a universal problem! The only cultural difference is that you call them “mates” and we call them “friends.”




Graduating? Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving


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. 


Motherhood is a friendship-killer

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.

Splitting Hairs: The difference between talking and yakking


From his hometown and mine---Chappaqua, New York---New York Times columnist Peter Applebome recently chronicled the impact of the Bear Stearns crisis (Metro Section, March 20, 2008) on the local folks. With great sympathy, he described the economic woes of the predominantly male commuters boarding the 6:13AM Metro North train into Manhattan---those affected directly and indirectly by the downtown on Wall Street.

But then his comments turned nasty. He wrote, “At Donna Hair Designs in Chappaqua, the financial meltdown barely registered on the yakometer when compared with the embarrassment of riches from the political world….,” referring to the discussions taking place all over the western world about the Spitzer sex saga.

I don’t know why Applebome’s vision of what women talk about is so skewed and limited. Perhaps, his foils were hanging too low over his ears while he was eavesdropping on our conversations.

Yes, men accuse women of “yakking,” a condescending term (oddly enough, derived from the long-haired ox of Tibet). But when it comes to clinching hard-to-get appointment at a hair salon, it isn’t simply about getting your hair done. Just like old-fashioned barbershops once were for men, contemporary hair shops are vital epicenters of in-person communication for women. Sometimes, the wash, cut, color and highlights are ancillary to other reasons for the visit.

Women truly connect in a hair shop. They form close emotional ties with their stylists, male and female. Like dating, if the personalities don’t click, the relationships break up quickly and the client moves on until she lands “the one.” When stylist and client do connect, the relationship is likely to be meaningful and long-lasting. Clients move out-of-town but they come back to Donna’s to get their hair done. Donna has blow-dried three generations in some families. She’s attended their weddings, christenings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals.

The hair salon is one of the few places (other than a blood bank) where multi-tasking women finally get to sit-down, think about the important issues on their minds, and talk about them to someone who is ready to listen. The stylist hovering over a head is in a perfect position (except for the din of the dryers) ---to question, counsel, and provide advice and information.

What do talking heads---reds, blonds, brunettes, and grays---talk about? They discuss marital and sexual problems (not only Spitzer’s, but also their own). They talk about their health problems, some of which are too embarrassing to talk about to their boyfriends or doctors. They ask where their friend undergoing chemotherapy can get a natural-looking wig and where they can find a financial advisor or lawyer.

They complain about unfair teachers in the elementary schools, bullies in the middle schools, and high school kids gone wild. They solicit recommendations for finding a responsive pediatrician for their children, a therapist for their kid sister, or a compassionate geriatrician for their parents. They whisper about husbands who have been laid off or who work incessantly, and network with other successful career women---often finding serendipitous ways to enhance each other’s careers. They confess when they haven’t been a good friend or when a friend has dumped on them.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in Paris, many sophisticated women gathered regularly at a “salon” in the home of a gifted hostess to learn from one other and refine their tastes. The same traditions of the “salon” of yesteryear bring women together at hair salons today. It’s place where women can let their hair down, talk, and share accumulated wisdom on a range of topics affecting them and their families.

Some balding men just don’t get it.

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