Stephanie Sprenger

  • Book Club With The HerStories Project

    Are you in a book club? Book clubs aren’t always quite as easy or fun as they sound; even our own advice columnist, Nina Badzin, has struggled with book club drama! Some book clubs run into trouble when members disagree about the “terms” (you know, whether or not your group actually reads the book or whether they just sit around and drink wine and talk about their kids), and some book clubs can’t seem to agree on a book that interests all of them. I’m embarrassed to say that every single book club I’ve ever been part of (three!) has dissolved for one reason or another.

    But maybe you are one of the lucky ones and you have the perfect book club. Now all you need is the perfect book! (Do you see where I’m going with this one?) Not surprisingly, we think My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends would make a fantastic book club book. Here are just a few reasons why:

    1. Essay collections make for an easy, enjoyable read: you can put the book down and pick it up as often as you like, reading a whole section of the book in one sitting or just an essay or two at a time.
    2. These stories are real, which makes them even more compelling and relatable. We think you’ll find yourself somewhere in these essays, if not over and over again throughout the book.
    3. Friendship breakups and loss are universal; everyone can relate to the loss of a close friendship, whether it occurred recently or many years ago, and whether you were the one who was left behind or you did the walking. Reading about the friendship endings of others is sure to stir up some memories and feelings, and that makes excellent fodder for book club conversation.
    4. You might actually experience some relief, a catharsis, or an “aha” moment by talking about friendship loss with other women. One of my best friend’s husbands always says, “Have fun at therapy!” whenever we get together. It’s true: women gathering together and talking about the richness, complexity, and pain of relationships can be extremely therapeutic.

    And if that’s not enough to convince you, we have one more fun reason why we think My Other Ex would make a great choice for your book club. If your book club decides to read and discuss My Other Ex for its next meeting, you can have a complimentary Skype call with one of the editors! During your book club meeting, either Jessica or I (Stephanie) will be available for a Skype call where members of your group can ask us questions about the book, the publishing process, the essays, or friendship breakups in general. We already have one lined up, and we think it’s going to be so much fun! Send us an email at info@herstoriesproject.com if you’re interested in setting up a chat for your book club meeting! You can buy the book here, and we’re including some Discussion Questions below to get you thinking:

    book club HSP

    Book Club Discussion Questions for My Other Ex

    • How old were you when you experienced your first friendship breakup? Who ended it? Did it take a long time to recover?
    • Have you had many friendships end? Did they fade away or were the breakups more dramatic?
    • When was the most recent time a friendship with a close friend ended? How did you feel?
    • Have you ever broken up with a friend? Why? Did you feel guilty?
    • Has a friend ever badly hurt you by ending your relationship?
    • Have you ever had a friendship end unexpectedly? Was it more painful than a gradual ending? Why?
    • Have you ever had a friendship end because of a romantic relationship? Did you lose friends after a divorce (yours or a friend’s) or after ending a romantic relationship?
    • Have your friendship breakups affected other friends in your circle? Did people have to take sides? Have you ever been “left behind” when your friends chose another friend over you?
    • What do you wish you’d done differently in the breakup? What do you wish your friend had done differently?
    • What would you say to your friend now, if you could?
    • Did you ever have a friendship end and it brought you relief?
    • Have you broken up with a close friend only to reconnect later? How did it change your friendship?
    • Do you think friendship breakups are more or less painful than a romantic relationship ending? Why?

     

    We would love to hear your reactions to the book! If you’ve read it, please consider writing a review on Amazon– it means a lot to us! And please spread the word to other book clubs you know! Happy reading!

    Connect with us! Are you signed up for our newsletter yet? Sign up in the sidebar to keep up to date on all our news and announcements. (Spoiler alert: We have a big one coming on Monday!) You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

  • HerTake: When Friends Let Us Down

    Welcome back to HerTake: Practical Tips for Modern Connections, our advice column with Nina Badzin! Today Nina answers two more questions from readers about challenging friendship situations. We’d love to have you add your own thoughts or suggestions in the comments!

    HerTakenoavatar

    Dear Nina,

    I have known “Jane” for over 30 years. We became good friends in elementary school and remained close at separate colleges and when we lived in different cities for years after. She was one of my bridesmaids, and I was one of hers.

    When she moved back to our home city after I’d been living there for a few years, we spent a lot of time together. After a while, though, she seemed to “fade back” from the relationship, to use your terminology from last month’s responses [http://www.herstoriesproject.com/hertake-ninas-first-column/%5D. She called less, all the while I heard that she was making plans with mutual friends. We did go out to talk about it, and she genuinely appeared to be in the relationship and sensitive to how I was feeling. However, following that conversation, she seemed to “fade out” and stopped returning calls and even stopped coming over to say hello when we would see each other out. Eventually, I needed to move on. Even though it was a very important and special relationship, there was no reason to keep that type of negative emotion in my life.  Then just as I started to move on, she reached out for plans. We had a nice time (as couples) at dinner and she has begun initiating more communication.

    Now I’m not sure how to proceed with the relationship. Do I confront her about the two years that we missed? It’s hard to include her now as if nothing changed. I would also love to know if there was something I did to make her fade out in the first place.

    Looking forward to your two cents,

    Wanting an Explanation

     

    Dear Wanting an Explanation,

    I understand the deep desire to know if there was something you did to cause the fade back and eventual fade out. It’s only natural to feel hurt, frustrated, and simply curious. Considering that “Jane” did not seem to close herself off to everybody, then it is certainly possible that yes, she felt you did something specific that made her want to create distance. Or perhaps something about the childhood friendship you and Jane shared was making it hard for Jane to establish her place back in town.

    However, I would like to offer another possibility, which I’m not just saying to release you from the worry and wonder. Although what I’m about to say does not make the outcome less hurtful, perhaps the change in the relationship had nothing to do with you at all. You didn’t say whether Jane has kids, or works, or what her life circumstances are, but I think it’s safe to assume she has some–circumstances–and the details of those likely factored into her inability or lack of desire to keep the relationship active during those two years.

    That was all a long way of saying that you will never know for sure why she created that distance for two years. And no, I wouldn’t ask her directly. I can’t imagine anything good will come from that conversation, and I suspect she would not tell you the full answer anyway. As far as I’m concerned, a friend who has faded back and even out gets one more chance. (Two strikes you’re out, not three.) It’s worth giving Jane, a friend for over 30 years, the benefit of the doubt to assume that she had a good reason and wasn’t simply being cruel on a whim.

    Ultimately you have to ask yourself a question: Do you want to be the kind of person who puts yourself out there? If you do, you will get hurt sometimes, but there are rewards, too.

    I’ve had cases in my life of friendships that are stronger now after a break. Nobody is perfect, and it seems Jane feels she made a mistake, or at the very least misses the friendship. Sounds like you’ve missed her as well.

    As a final note, I admit that my gut reaction is a little self-centered in this case. I don’t live in the city where I was raised so as I read your question, my first thought was what a gift to rekindle a friendship with so much history. Jane knew you before you were married, she knows your family, and truly every part of you. Take the long view and err on the side of forgiveness. It may not work, but I believe it’s worth a try.

    Good luck!

    Nina

     

    Dear Nina,

    My husband recently had major surgery. It’s not the first time our family has dealt with a health crisis, unfortunately. That said, each time I am both deeply touched and disappointed by the responses of close relatives and friends in our social circle. Some of these same friends are very content to call on me when they need information or a favor. My question is this: Can you tell an adult friend they hurt you and expect the relationship to survive? I don’t believe my expectations are unrealistic–a phone call, a text, regular checking in during crisis time, and certainly no less than we would do.

    I work full time, have three kids, a busy household, etc. But these are time-sensitive matters and people need support. Saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” is not helpful.

    What to do?

    Analyzing Friendship During a Crisis

     

    Dear Analyzing Friendship During a Crisis,

    Let me answer your direct question first. Yes, you can tell an adult friend she hurt you and expect the relationship to survive. This doesn’t mean you will get the response you want. In your case specifically, as long as your expectations are truly realistic, then I think a conversation is possible. If there are a few very close friends and relatives you have in mind, I think it’s fine to say something along the lines of, “I’m feeling lonely and isolated as my husband recovers. I know everyone is busy, but it would mean so much to hear from you more a little more often.”

    The other part of your question I want to deal with is your disappointment in these friends and family members because I’m not entirely sure that your expectations are as fair or as realistic as you stated. I say this to help “release you” from the disappointment, not to shame you at all. I totally get what you’re saying about noticing how some friends step up so seamlessly as compared to others. It’s hard not to notice.

    However, your friends that are saying, “Let me know if I you need anything,” have probably never been in your situation. They quite honestly do not know what would help. Maybe you have to answer the question case by case. “I just love to know that you’re thinking about us,” is a perfectly fair thing to say.

    I would be careful, however, not to create what I call “friendship tests” based solely on how you would treat someone in a crisis.

    Maybe you are especially good at regularly checking in or generally knowing what to do at the right time (like bring a meal). Also consider that what you want in a crisis is not what everyone wants. I have a friend who does want constant checking in when something is going wrong. Part of the reason I know this is that when I’m dealing with “stuff” on my end, she calls and texts more than anyone else to ask how I’m doing. The truth is, I find all the extra texts and calls overwhelming and over the top. But, that’s me.

    Another situation that comes to mind is how differently I offer to help a friend who had a baby now compared to the way I offered ten years ago before I had four kids. Ten years ago I likely would have said, “I want to see the baby” along with “Let me know if you need anything.” Now, I ask a friend to pick a date for me to drop off dinner. If my friend is having a second or third child and her older kids know me well, I ask her to pick a Sunday where I can have the older kids for the day. I make those specific offers because I found them incredibly helpful and supportive when I had babies. Anyone who would have expected me to make those offers ten years ago was probably expecting too much.

    My conclusion: I would not be disappointed with any particular friend until you have specifically communicated what would be (reasonably) helpful and she has still failed to step up. More importantly, try to feel an extra dose of appreciation for the friends who have really been there for you, all while giving the other ones a bit of a break. Hopefully the members of the latter group are good friends in other ways.

    Hoping for healthier months ahead for your husband and your entire family!

    Nina

    Do you have a question for Nina? Fill out our anonymous form here.

     

    writeyourwaygraphic

    Writers, bloggers, and aspiring bloggers! Have you signed up for our next writing course: Write Your Way to a Better Blog? It starts in a few weeks—read all the details here!

     

     

  • Announcing The HerStories Project’s Next Writing Class!

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    We are excited to announce our next fall writing course, Writing Your Way to a Better Blog, coming October 27th!
    This six-week class will help you develop the skills needed to write high-quality blog posts, including how to blog with authentic voice and purpose, how to write a clear and compelling Bio page, how to incorporate storytelling, how to infuse humor, how to write engaging interview posts, and how to become a better editor of your own writing.

    Co-taught by HerStories Project co-editors Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, this class will feature guest instructors, including many of your favorite bloggers and editors, such as Norine Dworkin-McDaniel of Science of Parenthood, Danielle Herzog of Martinis and MinivansKate Hall of Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine?, and Sarah Rudell Beach of Left Brain Buddha. It will also features tips and advice from Jill Smokler of Scary MommyNicole Leigh Shaw of Ninja Mom, Leslie Marinelli of In the Powder Room, Susan Maccarelli of Beyond Your Blog, writer and HerStories advice columnist Nina BadzinJen Mann of People I Want to Punch in the Throat, Shannon Lell of Mamapedia, Lauren Apfel of Omnimom (and Debate Editor of Brain, Child Magazine), Jenn Rose of Something Clever 2.0, Galit Breen of These Little Waves, Val Curtis of Bon Bon Break, and Lindsey Mead of A Design So Vast.

    It’s not always easy for bloggers to find their way in a crowded, overwhelming blogosphere. Whether you are a brand new blogger or an experienced writer looking for new ideas and techniques to develop and refine your authentic voice, this class is for you! With guidance and tips from a diverse group of experienced bloggers, Writing Your Way to a Better Blog is an interactive online course that will help you gain practical knowledge to improve your writing and your blog.

    One of the most rewarding aspects of online writing courses is the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with other bloggers, and to become part of a community. Bloggers who enroll in the class will also have access to a private Facebook group for members, instructors, and guest instructors—it’s a great opportunity to learn from and connect with other writers in a welcoming environment.

    Classes starts October 27th and end December 5th. SIGN UP TODAY! Please visit our brand new HerStories Project Writing Classes website for more information

  • HerTake: Nina’s First Column!

    We are thrilled to present our first advice column with Nina Badzin today! HerTake: Practical Tips for Modern Connections is a monthly column in which readers can ask Nina questions they have about navigating relationships in an era of social media, blogging, and online connections. The topic for our first column is relationships in crisis or transition. Nina answers two reader questions today—we’d love to hear your thoughts and any other advice you might add in the comments!

    HerTakenoavatar

    Dear Nina,

    How do you know when a friend really wants to stay in touch? We were friends for three years before I moved out of state. Once I moved we spoke several times a year, but she never initiated. We are friends on Facebook, but I consider that a passive friendship. Receiving a ‘like’ is not the same as a phone call.

    I sent her an invite to my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah; she never responded. I knew she probably wouldn’t come, but she has relatives in my state, and I wanted to extend the offer. She, in turn, invited me to her son’s Bar Mitzvah. We didn’t go, but I did RSVP.

    I called a mutual friend who lives in her state (that I have a similar type of relationship with) and then suddenly that day the original friend sent me a message on FB. I responded with joy and asked to make a plan to speak on the phone. She never responded, but she did ‘like’ the pictures of my kids I posted over the weekend.

    So: to call, again, or not? To send a holiday card, or not? Why reach out and say she was thinking of me, when she had no interest in actually speaking to me?

    Please help,

    Sick of This Long Distance Limbo

     

    Dear Long Distance Limbo,

    As my husband once told me, friendship is a game of tennis, not bowling. When you bowl, the ball easily comes back to you. In tennis, you need someone to hit the ball back or you would look like a lunatic trying to race to the other side again and again. Like with friendship, there’s no game without a partner. Not that friendship is a game.

    No offense to my husband, but writer Maria Popova of the popular site Brain Pickings found a better way to reflect on this situation of an unengaged or one-sided friendship in her review of Andrew Sullivan’s book Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival. I recommend the entire article, but I will share a portion of one of Sullivan’s quotes that Popova highlighted in her review.

    Sullivan writes,

    “Unlike a variety of other relationships, friendship requires an acknowledgement by both parties that they are involved or it fails to exist… Friendship uniquely requires mutual self-knowledge and will. It takes two competent, willing people to be friends. You cannot impose a friendship on someone, although you can impose a crush, a lawsuit, or an obsession. If friendship is not reciprocated, it simply ceases to exist or, rather, it never existed in the first place.”

    In this case of your long distance limbo, I would say your friendship did indeed exist while you lived in the same town, but it’s clear to me that your former friend no longer wishes to stay in touch now. I’m willing to bet this is not even personal; rather, it’s a function of the fact that you were friends for three, not thirteen years before you moved. I imagine you both have childhood or college friendships that also require the work long distance entails. Perhaps the connection that the two of you had of three years was not enough to keep her engaged for the long haul now that you live apart.

    You asked how to know when a friend really wants to keep in touch. To me it’s simple: you know because she calls, emails, and sends texts, and so do you. I have friends from high school and college that I do not speak to often, but if too much time passes, you better believe that I pick up the phone or send an email with genuine interest on what’s new in their lives. I’m not sure I could make the same effort for a friend that I’ve only known for a few years when my long distance slots are already taken. I would probably stay in touch via Facebook likes at that point, not because I didn’t enjoy and appreciate the friendship while it existed, but because reality dictates that time is too limited to stay in touch with everyone.

    You also wanted to know why this former friend would reach out in that Facebook message if she doesn’t truly want to be in touch. My guess is that she felt guilty when she heard you spoke to the mutual friend. For a moment she decided it would be nice to reach out, but she couldn’t stick with that plan long enough to respond when you wrote back. I would not see her Facebook message as a desire to keep in touch, but more a desire to let you down easy.

    We do not know why this friend decided to let the connection with you fade out, but I want you to ask yourself why you would want a friendship of any kind with someone who did not RSVP to your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah? You seem like someone who is willing to do your part in a friendship. That lack of a simple, “We are so sorry we cannot attend, but thank you for including us,” is beyond comprehension. Nobody says she had to come, but to forgo the most basic etiquette and not at least check the “no” on the RSVP card is rude and mean-spirited. At that point the question was no longer whether she wanted to keep in touch with you, but whether you wanted to keep in touch with her. And that answer should have been no. I don’t know you, but I know you deserve better treatment than an ignored invitation to such an important family event.

    As for what to do at this point, I would let the friendship stay in Facebook “like” pleasantness if you don’t mind seeing her updates. If seeing her news bothers you at all, then hide/unfollow her (do not unfriend her as that is too aggressive in this case) and make this new Jewish year about finding a great new connection in town.

    Perhaps the HerStories community has another take or additional points to make?

    Hope the conversation is helpful! Nina

     

    Dear Nina,

    I have a friend who was there for me during a very difficult time in my life, one where I needed to vent regularly. Since that situation has thankfully resolved, I’ve found that every time I talk to this friend, she’ll include a little dig about me, like about my housekeeping abilities, or the terms of endearment I use for my children. It makes me feel very uncomfortable, and it makes me not want to keep in touch with her (she lives in a different city).

    I’m so grateful for all the listening she did for me when I needed it, and I don’t want to just walk away from our relationship, but I don’t appreciate being put down every time we talk. I think it’s more about her personality than a deliberate attempt to be mean. I’ve always avoided confrontation like the plague, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea in this situation. What should I do?

    Thanks for some thoughts,

    Tired of the Digs

     

    Dear Tired of the Digs,

    I think it’s safe to say that being there in bad times is a basic tenet of friendship. That said, some friends are especially good at sticking with you throughout a low period. Perhaps a friend is particularly attentive because she has suffered in her life, which makes her more understanding of the next person’s need to analyze a situation for months or even years. It could be that in this case your friend was an excellent listener because she was also in pain and felt palpable relief from her reality by focusing on yours.

    Nevertheless, no matter how much this friend helped and listened or why, you do not owe her a free pass to criticize you. She is continuing to give you advice even though you are no longer asking, which is her way of letting you know the areas in your life where she disapproves. I don’t blame you for feeling fed up with the unwanted commentary, especially over such minutia. What is to her what you call your children or how well your house is organized? They are not her children, nor does it sound like she lives close enough to spend much time in your home. I can only imagine the judgments she’s passing on more compelling matters.

    I understand why you’ve lost the desire to keep in touch. A long distance friendship takes so much time and effort if you’re going to do it right. (By doing it right, I do not include merely “hearting” each other’s pictures on Instagram.) Conversation on the phone is key, and if that conversation is laced with digs, I think you have to decide how much confrontation you can handle to make it stop.

    I believe you have three choices.

    1. Continue with the relationship as is, which allows you to avoid any confrontation. (I don’t recommend this one, but I have to acknowledge the option exists.)
    2. Allow the relationship to fade back from so much prominence in your life. A slow fade would probably include taking longer before returning phone calls and texts and keeping conversation light when you speak. Fading back is different from fading out, which would include ignoring all of her attempts to stay in touch like the former friend mentioned in the question above did to “Sick of the Long Distance Limbo.” I think a total fade out would be unnecessarily cruel before trying to make a fade back reframe the relationship.
    3. Call her out on her actions the next time she makes a dig. She might randomly say, “I know someone who can give you a recommendation for a house keeper.” I want you to respond with a tone of surprise, “Whoa, that’s not a very nice thing to say considering I didn’t ask.” I don’t think you need to go through and point out every offensive thing she has said in the past, rather, you would name her behavior on the spot for what it is with words such as “hurtful” and “insulting.”

    How will you decide which choice is right? I think that depends on whether you believe she is capable of changing. If you think she is, then it’s worth trying #3 the next time she says something rude. If not, then I would go with #2, starting with the fade back and moving to a fade out if things don’t improve.

    I hope that helps! Maybe others in the HerStories community will chime in as well.

    Good luck! Nina

    _______________________________________________

    Have a question you would like to see featured in October?

    To celebrate the release of the HerStories Project’s book My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends I am continuing with the theme “friendships in crisis.” Just know that here at HerTake I am always open to questions focusing on relationships online and in “real life” with all the modern issues that come up these days, even ones particular to writers and bloggers. What do you if you’re always commenting on a friend’s blog, but she never returns the favor? What if you meet a blogging friend in real life and all the good chemistry you have online disappears in person? What if your spouse’s family hates your blog? You get the idea. Submit questions on the anonymous contact form, and feel free to include your email address if you’d like a response from me even if we don’t have space for your question.

  • Teaching Our Daughters About Friendship Breakups

    “Mommy, Olivia and Claire are sitting right over there!” my seven-year-old daughter announced excitedly, tugging my arm. “Let’s go talk to them!”

    I shot a pained glance at my girlfriend, seated across the table from me, and sighed. “Honey, Mommy is not going to go say hi to Olivia today.” My daughter looked confused. When we had made plans to meet friends for pizza that evening, it hadn’t occurred to me to be prepared for this conversation. Why would I expect them to be here? Perhaps I’d hoped I could entirely avoid ever bringing this up with my oldest daughter.

    Taking a deep breath, I explained, “Mommy and Olivia had a fight. We aren’t friends anymore, and I’m not going to go talk to her. But you are welcome to go say hello—I know Claire would love to see you.”

    “But why aren’t you friends anymore? Why did you have a fight?” my daughter persisted.

    “Honey, that’s a grown-up problem and I’m not going to explain it to you right now. But I do want you to know that just because Olivia and I aren’t friends, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends with her, and with Claire.”

    “Can Sophie and Claire still be friends?” she inquired, referring to her toddler sister.

    “Of course,” I lied, having a slightly deeper understanding of the parentally-directed social practices of the under-two-year-old crowd.

    She trotted away happily to greet themand I exchanged glances and sighs of relief with my girlfriend, the third side of the friendship triangle gone wrong. Olivia and I hadn’t drifted apart. To say that we had fought was not an exaggeration—it was an ugly, uncomfortable blowout that had bled into other relationships and had even affected my job. It was awful, and I was never, ever going to be friends with her again. So how did I expect my second grade daughter to grasp such intricacies? Especially when I repeatedly coached her to mend fences when she and her own friends had argued?

    My daughter was no stranger to friendship drama; sadly, even in kindergarten she had struggled with unkind friends, gossip, rumors, and the ever-awkward dynamic of three little girls attempting to play together. I knew she had years ahead of her filled with hurt feelings, exclusion, arguments, lies, and eventual breakups. But what I wasn’t sure of was how to begin teaching her about the realities of those inevitable hurdles and subsequent friendship loss. As I reflected on the many conversations we’d had about friendship, I realized we had already covered a lot of ground about how to navigate social challenges.

    Friendship Breakups

     

    • Openly share your own childhood friendship stories—this is so important to little girls. My daughter loves to hear me share my own tales of trying to balance my friendships with my two best friends who didn’t get along with each other, birthday parties gone wrong, and what happened when the “new girl” came to town and took away my best friend. Knowing that I too had problems, and more importantly, that I overcame them, helps my daughter to feel less alone. As you discuss your own experiences of hurt, anger, and loneliness, you become a more reliable confidante—when children sense that their parents can genuinely empathize, they are more likely to share their feelings, and more likely to listen to your advice.
    • Listen without judgment when your daughter tells you about the friend who wronged her. Whenever my daughter shares a story about an alleged mean friend, I am always tempted to jump in and point out contrary pieces of evidence, offer a solution, or even get angry and “feel her feelings” for her. Women often get irritated when, instead of listening, their husbands try to “fix” their problems—it’s the same with our daughters. Before we can help them sort through their friendship problems, they have to feel heard. Reflecting feelings back to our children often helps them to sort through their complicated emotions.
    • Role play with them. My oldest child loves this, and it has been a positive tool ever since she was in preschool. Whenever she would struggle with a friend who was being mean, rude, or (gasp) bossy, we would practice what we wanted to say to the friend. We took turns playing each role, which helped prepare my daughter for potential retorts and responses. It was so empowering for her to find her voice, her confidence, and stand up for herself, even if that meant walking away from a friend. As she gets older, she may want to involve me less and less in her role-playing, but I’d like to believe that she is developing skills to assert herself, set clear boundaries, and articulate her needs—those skills can last a lifetime.
    • Help her find out when it is time to walk away. Throughout the past few years, my daughter and I have had numerous conversations about one friend in particular; these two girls have split up and come back together too many times for me to count. It is painful for me to refrain from shouting, “Kelly is not a nice friend! You should not put up with this kind of treatment!” I’m afraid the same rules apply to both friendships and boyfriends: often, if a child senses her parent disapproves, it only makes her more determined to make the relationship work. I am mindful not to vilify her pals, but I am very firm and clear when I discuss with my daughter what type of friendship behavior is unacceptable and not to be tolerated. I have had the most success with helping her focus on other friends rather than “banishing” the unkind friend; encouraging my daughter to pursue new friendships has been the most effective way to help steer her away from girls who repeatedly hurt her.
    • And help her cope when someone has walked away from her. Rejection, perceived disapproval, and alienation are extremely powerful and painful experiences for young girls and teens. OK, fine, and for adults, too. Many women carry the pain of an unwanted friendship breakup for years. Remind your daughter of her strengths, of the qualities that make her beautiful and unique. In many ways, losing a best friend is just as painful as losing a romantic partner, an experience that will likely happen multiple times throughout her life; it helps to reinforce the fact that not all relationships were meant to last forever. Help her to reflect on the fun times that were had, the lessons that were learned, and focus her attention on other positive forces and friendships in her life. This is another time when it helps to share your own stories of loss and friendships gone wrong—tell your daughter how you felt, why it hurt, and most importantly, how you got through it. She may not fully understand it for years to come, but you can help to share your perspective that friendships ebb and flow as we grow and change.
    • Teach her when—and why, and how— to stick around and fight for a friendship. Sometimes it may be your daughter who has wronged a friend. One afternoon at the bus stop, my daughter tearfully told me that she and her best friend weren’t friends anymore. She then confessed that she had shared a secret—she had told another friend the name of her BFF’s crush. This is tantamount to ultimate betrayal in second grade. I was chagrined. My daughter felt deeply ashamed, and I convinced her that she had to make things right with her friend. It is humbling to apologize and admit when you were wrong—for children and adults alike. These perceived betrayals will only get more complex as our daughters get older, and as their mothers, we can help them find the clarity they need to make things right when a friendship is worth fighting for. We can help them brainstorm ideas, write apology letters, and support them as they apologize to friends; we can also stand by their side as they find the courage to confront friends who have hurt them, intentionally or unintentionally.

    motherdaughter

    There are myriad resources available to couples who are looking for help to save a broken relationship, but there seems to be a distinct lack of support for women (or men) who want to fix a troubled friendship. While most people (theoretically) practice monogamy in their romantic relationships, the same concept does not apply to friendships, which perhaps sends a message that friends are expendable and easily replaced. However, much like romantic relationships, finding a new partner doesn’t always mean that unhealthy patterns have been broken, and the same problems often play out again and again. Teaching our daughters about friendship is both complex and essential. As mothers, we can give our daughters the emotional and communicative tools to repair damaged friendships, identify when they need to assert themselves, and help them cope with the pain of loss.

     

  • Why Men and Women Handle Friendship Conflicts Differently

    Have you ever thought about how differently men and women approach their friendships, and more notably, how differently they handle friendship conflicts? My Other Ex contributor Shannan Younger asks the question, “What would a male version of My Other Ex look like?”

    Men and women often have disparate approaches in many areas of life, so it is unsurprising that they approach friendships and the conflicts that come with them differently, too.

    My husband and I are perfect examples of some of the ways the genders diverge when it comes to friends. He says that I need to see my girlfriends in a way that he does not need to see his buddies, and he’s right.

    In addition, I come home from an outing with friends with information about their marriages, issues with co-workers, and the scoop on recent life changes. I get the scoop. When it comes to his friends, he gets pretty much nothing.

    When I ask him for the latest gossip from his friends, he looks at me blankly. Turns out, he’s not unique.

    “I’ve played poker with the same guys every Thursday night for 18 years. We rarely talk about our lives. We talk about cards, betting, bluffing,” wrote the late Jeffrey Zaslow, author of The Girls from Ames, a book about female friendship, in the Wall Street Journal.  He asked his poker buddies if they knew his children’s names. They did not.

    The varied approaches my husband and I have to friends recently became very apparent when I received an invitation from a new friend. I angsted aloud about the etiquette surrounding the event, whether my friend felt obligated to include me, and the importance of giving her an out if that was the case, but also needing to do so in a way that made it clear I truly appreciated being included. I made a big, hairy deal out of something simple.

    My husband let me go on for a while and then quietly said, almost to himself, “I don’t get how hanging out with your friend is hard. Guys don’t do this.”

    While my own issues contributed to the drama, it illustrates how men and women experience friendship from differing perspectives and with separate goals. It also shows that sometimes women generate internal conflict that men do not.

    The fact that I mentioned none of my concerns to my friend also illustrates my tendency to keep concerns to myself. In talking about friendship break-ups with other friends, the inability or failure to speak up and air worries, and particularly grievances, is a common thread.

    Admittedly, in that instance I was making friendship hard work when it didn’t need to be. (Side note: I shelved the drama, accepted the invitation, and had a lovely time.) And there are times when I would argue that my husband isn’t working hard enough on his friendships.

    I certainly wouldn’t be the first female to think that men aren’t as good at friendship as women.

    It turns out that there is research to back up that hunch. Men reported interpersonal competition and lower friendship satisfaction in a 2007 study at the College of the Holy Cross. The interpersonal competition indicates a one-upsmanship

    That interpersonal competition may be more prominent in male friendships because men favor side-by-side friendships that allow them to participate in activities together, often athletic activities that are literally competitions. Women, on the other hand, often prefer friendships that are face-to-face so that they can share, exchange and bond with each other, while, according to Dr. Irene Levine, a psychologist, friendship expert and author of the book Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.

    It is also possible that men are more tolerant of their friends, leading to less overall conflict. One study of female college students requested a change in roommates far more often than males, which researchers attributed to men being more accepting of their friends’ failings. That, in turn, leads to less conflict.  They also noted that one possible explanation “could be that women value the friendships more, and so are harsher judges when they perceive a betrayal.”

    There are, however, similarities between male and female friendships.  Men and women both invest in their friends and value time spent with them, as Wood noted in her book, although they spend that time in very different ways.

    Experts agree that both genders derive support from their friends.  Studies have shown that friendship is beneficial to the health of both genders, including this one out of Brigham Young University in 2010 that found that the quality and quantity of individuals’ social relationships has been linked not only to mental health but also to both morbidity and mortality.

    Neither gender has a lock on conflict-free friendship. Issues invariably do arise in male and female friendships. Along those lines, the end of friendships is not specific to women.

    Both genders feel pain at the loss of a friendship. Daniel Duane detailed the pain and frustration he felt when his best friend drifted away after moving to another state in his piece “Do Men Suck at Friendship?” in Men’s Journal.  He even told his friend, “I’m hurt!” While I may not have approached the conflict in the same way, I absolutely related to his experience and found his account was moving.

    Thinking of Duane’s story of his friendship breakup, and how men and women differ in their approaches to friendship and conflict with friends, makes me wonder what a male version of My Other Ex would be like.

     

    ShannanYoungerHeadshotShannan Ball Younger is a freelance writer and blogger living outside Chicago with her husband and daughter. She’s originally from Ohio and received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She blogs at Mom Factually and at Chicago Parent. You can also find her writing in the book The Her Stories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship and several regional publications.

    She has written about the adventures of raising an adolescent at Tween Us on ChicagoNow for more than two years, so it’s probably not a coincidence, then, that her essay in this collection is about a friend with whom she was close in middle school.