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  • College Friends, Forever Friends

    My college friends will always hold a special place in my heart. There’s something about growing up together — the metamorphosis  from a freshman dropped off in the family car to a “real” adult worried about careers, apartment rents, and car payments — that bonds us so completely to our college tribe. Our HerStories Project book contributor Samantha Brinn Merel captures this unique bond in this guest post. – Jessica

     

    Thirty-one doesn’t need a lot of fanfare. It just wants dinner in Manhattan, an amazing dessert, a fun drink or two, and my very best friends all sitting around the same table. It is realizing for what feels like the millionth time that these people I call friends are really my family, and that this path I walk would be impassable without them.”

     

    Samantha's birthday dinner with her best college friends
    Samantha’s birthday dinner with her best college friends

    I wrote these words last Friday on my thirty-first birthday. Sitting around the table the next night for the aforementioned Manhattan dinner, looking into the faces of my very best friends – my college friends – it hit me how true they really are. And it hit me that this coming May an anniversary is on the horizon. Nine years since our graduation from Brandeis University, our safe haven in the tiny town of Waltham, Massachusetts, nine miles outside of Boston.

    In the world of higher education, where reunions are routinely marked every five years, nine is not a particularly momentous number. Almost four years since our fifth reunion. A little more than one year until our tenth. But something about this nine year mark struck me. Maybe because there have been so many changes, both good and bad, since we gathered on campus almost four years ago for our fifth reunion. Or maybe because nine years seem to have passed both slowly and so very, very quickly. Or most likely because, looking around that table into the faces of the women who are like sisters to me, I was struck again by the fact that a mere twist of fate sent me to Brandeis, and to them. And in that moment, I was just so damn grateful for them, and for us, and for the miracle that brought us to each other.

    On the way home from dinner that night, I found myself on my phone, flipping through pictures of our graduation day. And suddenly, I was not in a car driving up the West Side Highway towards home, but back at Brandeis in May of 2005. Lining up to march on a gloomy Sunday morning amid a sea of black caps and gowns. Hoods no one could quite figure out how to attach. A speaker we were too preoccupied to hear. A shower of blue and white balloons. Cameras snapping. Laughs. Smiles. Tears. Excitement over what was to come. Wishing badly for just one more year – or two, or four – in the warm embrace of the campus that had become our home.

    We met as Freshman. Wide-eyed and new. We were finally there. College. A land filled with unknown places and faces, just waiting to be discovered. And in all that vast and unknown territory, we met each other. Together we twirled and navigated our way through those crazy beautiful college days. We learned, and loved, and grew. We laughed until our sides hurt, and we cried ourselves dry. We accomplished and we stumbled in equal measure. We had fun. Huge sunbursts of fun.

    We lived together and studied together. Drank vast amounts of coffee and ate late night junk food together. We analyzed everything in that beautifully complex way that only college girls can. We learned about each other and about ourselves. And we planned for the great unknown future. And hoped that we would still be together.

    Those pictures took me back. And when I looked back I saw us then. Gathering in a freshman common room on that first, terrifying night. Piling into booths in Sherman Dining Hall. Trudging up the Rabb Steps in blinding snow and unbearable heat. Navigating move-in days and frantic housing lottery weeks. Filling Ziv common rooms on Friday nights. Going back to our freshman quad during senior week; walking the halls where our journey began. Staring at those falling balloons on graduation day with a mixture of awe and dread. Coming back to campus five years later for three incredible days to relive it all.

    And sitting around that table celebrating my thirty-first birthday I looked at us now. At all we have accomplished. At our good lives. And I feel so incredibly lucky. Lucky to have had the four years that preceded graduation day; the years that made an indelible mark on who I was and the person I have become. To have the friendships forged during those years. To know that I always will. To have stood for these women at their weddings, and them for mine. To have cuddled their babies and watched them grow. To have celebrated new apartments and new jobs. New houses and new homes. To have laughed together and dried each other’s tears. To have been silly and serious and everything in between.

    And I wondered. I wonder what we will think when we look back on today, many years from now. I hope we’ll feel the same way. Nostalgic for the past. Happy about the now. Excited for all that still lies ahead. Lucky to still have each other.

    As the car turned into our driveway I made a silent toast, the last of my birthday weekend. To the girls we were then. To the women we are now. And to the path we still walk.

    Together.

    Do you still keep in touch with your college friends? How often do you see them? Is your bond still there? 

    Samantha Brinn MerelSamantha is a lawyer, runner, writer and pop-culture junkie living in the suburbs of New York City. Samantha writes at her blog, This Heart of Mine, and was a contributor to our book, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.

  • A New Year’s Update: New Friends and New Beginnings

    2013 was quite a year for Stephanie and me: we both had new blogs of our own, we met, we started the HerStories blog, we compiled a book of essays, we published it, and we continue to be thrilled by the extraordinary relationships and connections that we’ve made through this project.

    During the past few weeks, we’ve been honored to receive kind words about our project from several of our writing “idols.” For instance, Kate Hopper, the memoirist and writing instructor whose book Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers has become a trusted guide for many mom writers (including us!), read our book and left us with a beautiful review. Rachel Macy Stafford, who writes the extraordinary blog Hands Free Mama, took time from getting ready for the release of her new book, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!, to tell us how she moved she was by our contributors’ stories.

    And today Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy is featuring our guest post on her blog. We wrote a guest post about making online friendships. We were so honored that Jill agreed to write the foreword to the book, and she continues to be an amazing supporter of this project.

    In some ways, it’s not surprising that a book about the power of female friendship has led to…. more female friendships and new bonds between new and experienced writers.

    But for Stephanie and me, this has been one of the most gratifying parts of this project: seeing new relationships develop among our contributors as well as making new connections of our own within several writing communities.

    We can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for The HerStories Project! (Hint: This month we’ll be announcing the topic and details of our next project…. Stay tuned for details!!)

    Are friendships and relationships a part of your goals and hopes for the New Year? We’d love to hear about them!

     

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  • Books We Recommend for Every Friend on Your List (At Any Time of the Year)

    herstoriesxmasbooksNeed a last minute gift for a friend, sister, your mom, or a co-worker?

    Books are always my favorite gifts to give. I love trying to choose a book based on someone’s personality, interests, and book genre preferences. And I love receiving books too! To me, nothing says that someone knows me and understands me better than choosing a book that engrosses me and touches me.

    Over the past year I’ve gotten to know several books about friendship. Some are inspiring and motivating, others are beautifully written examples of memoir, and some are informative and practical.

    Here are a few to check out to give to your all of your friends, from your BFF to your co-worker.

    For your friend who loves literary memoirs…..

    She Matters: A Life in Friendships by Susanna Sonnenburg.  The book that started it all for Stephanie and me. This is the memoir of friendship stories that first inspired our reflections on our own relationships and then our HerStories blog.  According to Publisher’s Weekly, “Sonnenberg’s strikingly honest depictions of tumultuous female alliances and confessions about friendships are both moving and relatable; her depth of reflection and incandescent prose marks this exceptional memoir as a must-read to share among friends.” We were hooked from the first of these linked essays.

    For a friend who loves to read fascinating and surprising research

    Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are by Carla Flora, one of our own HerStories Project contributors.  An examination of friendship based on research evidence and women’s own stories by a journalist and former Psychology Today editor.

    For a friend who’s looking to understand how to make more friends

    Friendships Don’t Just Happen!: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends by another contributor, Shasta Nelson.  A guide for how to create friendships in today’s busy world by the CEO of GriendFriendCircles.Com.

    For the friend who likes funny writers

    Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without by Julie Klam. Klam is a very witty writer. She tackles the topic of adult friendship with humorous vignettes. The book is light-hearted but also wise and poignant.

    For the friend who is going through a “friendship breakup

    Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend by “The Friendship Doctor” Irene Levine. In her book (and her blog), Dr. Levine talks about why friendships fall apart, how to cope with getting dumped by a friend, how to end an irreparable friendship, and how to move forward after a traumatic friendship split. She pinpoints many of the various reasons that  friendships can disintegrate and also helps shed light on when it is worthwhile to mend the relationship, or better to cut your losses and move on.

    And finally, for all the women on your list (your friends, your mom, your sisters), don’t forget about our book, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship. Our book is a collection of friendship essays by 50 female writers who reflect upon how a friendship has shaped the trajectory of their lives. We think women of all ages could relate to the power of these bonds and to these stories.

    Which books have you given friends for the holidays, birthdays, special occasions, or just because?

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  • How To Be a Good Mom Friend During the Holidays

    holidayfriends

    The holidays are magical. The lights, the songs, the trees, the joy on children’s faces. All priceless.

    That holiday magic comes with a price, of course. Every parent knows that. Someone has to decorate those trees, bake those perfectly decorated gingerbread cookies, pick up the in-laws from the airport, mail those letters to Santa, shop for those presents, wrap them lovingly, and attend all those holiday fairs and plays.

    The holidays can quickly become its own type of stress, with overwhelming commitments and anxiety. With so much to do and think about, it’s easy to put our friends — our confidantes, our supporters, our sources of advice — at the end of our holiday to-do lists.

    It’s also tempting for the holidays to become more like a competitive sport with Pinterest and toy catalogues as the rule books. (I admit to feeling lazy, jealous, and inadequate occasionally when I see Facebook friends’ pictures of holiday perfection.)

    We think that all of this — friendship neglect as well as holiday envy and competition between friends — are big mistakes.

    Here are 5 tips for how to get through the holidays, while also honoring and strengthening your friendships. We asked our HerStories Project book contributors — all friendship experts in their own right! — for their advice.

    1. DO cut your friends a bit of slack during the holidays. Contributor Nina Badzin says this could be as simple as refusing to read into perceived slights. Nina’s advice: “If a friend doesn’t respond to a text, think ‘she’s super busy’ instead of ‘she’s ignoring me.'”

    Similarly, contributor Jessica Vealtizek describes how she and her friends “don’t keep score” about who owes whom a phone call or a text….”As in, who cares who called whom last, or who owes who a call, etc. If you’re friends, it doesn’t matter,” Jessica said.

    Vicky Willenberg has started doing something similar with her friends. “I am consciously making an effort to have extra grace as my friends and I are all really busy this time of year so we can’t make plans and check in as easily,” she said. “Second, I am making a huge effort to text 1-3 friends each day just to say hi, have a great day, acknowledge something specific I know they have going on or just to say something I love about them.”

    2. DO find a small gift that reflects your feelings and knowledge about your friend. 

    Contributor Alexa Bigwarfe sends her best friend, who lives in France, a small gift that reminds her of her friend. Galit Breen wrote a terrific article this week about small acts of kindness for your friends. Galit suggests giving your girlfriend her favorite treats or bringing a container of a wonderful meal that you’ve made to your friend at her house or work.

    Contributor Alexandra Rosas shares one small way that she shows her best friend that she cares: “I know that my BFF IRL loves McCafe French Vanilla Lates, so every Sunday morning on the way to church, I pick one up for her. She counts on it and it always thrills her to just roll out of bed and have a home coffee delivery Sunday mornings.”

    And I love this idea from Galit: Give your friend a photo. Galit writes, “Moms are rarely in pictures. You can fix that problem for your girlfriend! Snap a photo of her in action with her children or husband and send it to her. You can even edit the photo, but a text photo in the raw is perfection!”

    3. DO give and accept help. 

    At some point or another, many of us get overwhelmed during the holidays. An important work assignment, sick kids, a serious illness in the family… All of these can push this time of the year and its obligations and traditions from busy and meaningful to stressful and difficult. Take friends up on their offers of help can strengthen your friendships, as well as lighten the load.

    “Accepting an offer of help can sometimes make you feel vulnerable, but that’s okay and even important with friends,” according to contributor Shannan Ball Younger. “One time I announced to a friend that I had finished a project that she had offered to help me with. I thought she’d be relieved that I had done it myself and instead, she was disappointed. I’ll never forget that she said, ‘I really would have loved to have been of help to you.’ I missed a golden friendship opportunity that would have benefited both of us.”

    4. DON’T plan events that cause additional stress to your friends.

    Getting together with your friends can be a terrific way to take a break from family holiday chores. But don’t make these events another reason to spend a lot of time and money. Focus instead on getting together and catching up.

    Contributor Allison Carter has a few suggestions: “Have a party where it is expressly forbidden to bring anything that ISN’T store bought – prepared food and things in bottles. Also, a few of my girlfriends and I get together at the mall on weekday evening, do Christmas shopping together (we each come with our lists!) then treat ourselves to drinks and a late dinner out afterwards. My gals and I don’t demand appearance at every single party – we allow each other to say NO, then we spend time emailing or talking on the phone, laughing about the stress.”

    5. DO give our book to your friends! We think that our HerStories Project book is the perfect gift to share with friends. It’s a great conversation starter for discussing and thinking about your own friendship. Talk about which of the stories and the women are most relevant to your relationships.

    What are some ways that you show your friends that you care during the holidays?

    Don’t forget to come to our Twitter party tonight, Tues., Dec. 10 from 9 to 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Follow us at @herstoriestales and use the hashtag #herstoriestales. You could win a copy of our newly released book: The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship!

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  • Launch Day Is Here!

    We are thrilled to announce that Launch Day has finally arrived! Our paperback is now available on Amazon, and you can download our Kindle book for free for the next three days.

    To share a bit more of our journey with you– from the beginning of our friendship blog series to our book launch today– Stephanie has written a little song for you all.

    May we present– “The 12 Days of HerStories”– performed by Stephanie:

     

    So check out these powerful essays from some of the blogging world’s most engaging voices and discover new writers. Read about how friendships have shaped their lives, and we hope you connect to their stories.

    We can’t wait to hear what you think of this collection. Leave us a message here on the blog, write a review on Amazon or GoodReads, or contact our contributors.

    Is there a favorite story that spoke most strongly to you? Did you find yourself thinking about your own lifetime of friendships in a new way?

     

  • “The Girls From Ames” Gave Me a Complex

    We have another brand new friendship essay from one of our amazing contributors, Shannan Ball Younger, who writes for Tween Us. Shannan shares her feelings about her own friendship history after reading Jeffrey Zaslow’s book about a group of women who have been friends since childhood. Did you read The Girls from Ames?

    Am I The Only Grown Woman in America Without a Close Friend From Childhood?

    While I found the book The Girls from Ames to be a good read, it gave me a complex, or at least significantly exacerbated one that I already had. It is the non-fiction account of 9 women who have been friends for decades who all grew up together in Ames, Iowa. They have remained close despite different life paths and geographical distance.

    And as I read it, I kept thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have those kinds of life-long friends?”

     

    Red book.I went away to college and graduate school and then moved even farther from where I grew up. I feel very, very fortunate to have a number of amazing girl friends, but I would not say that any of my close friends are the ones with whom I grew up.

    When I think about female friendships, I often feel like I have failed or that something is wrong with me because I am not friends with my best friend from kindergarten.

    Not that I don’t think of my kindergarten best friend on occasion. I remember the day we met and thinking that I should become friends with her because she was very fair taking turns on the slide at recess. We stayed friends through elementary school and even through middle school, which included a New Kids on the Block lip syncing contest that was broadcast on cable access.

    I feel like this is the beginning to all the great friendship stories, but mine comes to an end in high school. She became a goth as I became a band geek. I realize that it sounds like an episode of Glee; it pretty much was. I remember being in high school English class with her and trying to strike up a conversation as we neared graduation, but there just wasn’t a connection. We haven’t spoken since.

    Even those who were close friends in high school are ones from whom I’ve grown apart. While I certainly enjoy being Facebook friends and the occasional dinner when visiting my home state, they are among those with whom I confide, overshare or ask advice.

    I do have those friends, and I am crazy grateful for them, its just that I met them later in life.

    Why does that make me feel so odd? I wondered if my perception that I’m on of the few without a childhood friend to whom I’ve remained close for decades.

    This is not the first time that my perception is not, in fact, accurate.

    Jeffrey Zaslow, author of The Girls from Ames, wrote in a Wall Street Journal article that “a Harris Interactive Inc. survey in 2004 found that 39% of women between ages 25 and 55 said they met their current best friends in childhood or high school.”

    That means 61% of us do not have that life-long bond with a friend. That’s a pretty solid majority. I am not the friendship leper I feared I was. It’s more that a book about friends of a few years is apparently not quite as exciting to publishers as a friendship story spanning many decades like that of the Ames girls.

    I probably should have realized that I needed to get over my complex before reading that statistic, but honestly, it helped knowing that it’s not just me. I’m certain there are numerous reasons that I do not have those sustained childhood friendships, and those will take more than a blog to explore.

    Instead of wondering what was/is wrong with me, and there is a fair amount wrong with me, I’m going to focus on the close friends I have who remain in my life despite my flaws.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t great benefit and comfort in old friends, but I think I can say that I know that first hand. I find that one aspect of birthdays that I love now that I’m old not young is that it makes my college friends feel like “old” friends. We’re coming up on two decades of friendship and that’s pretty solid, in my opinion. The friendships with those girls are well aged, if you will.

    All this has called to mind the Girl Scout song “Make New Friends and Keep the Old.” (You hear it in your head now, don’t you?)

    A friend from college sent out an invitation not long ago to a cocktail party with the explanation that she knew a lot of “awesome women” (her word choice) and that she thought it was high time that we meet each other. There was no specific pressure to become friends, but we did. I loved the idea of friendships begetting more friendships.

    In the past year I’ve made new girlfriends with whom I’ve instantly clicked. They feel like old friends. I’m as comfortable with them as I am with my favorite, broken in sweatshirt. And for that I am grateful.

    Friendship cannot always be measured by a calendar. I’m wondering if it should be measured at all, or only in the quality and not quantity of smiles shared, ears bended, tissues passed, shoulders offered, hands lended and hugs given.

     

    As we prepare for the release of our book, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, we have a special offer for e-mail subscribers only! We will send a newsletter on Friday to all subscribers with an exciting offer- if you aren’t a subscriber yet, it’s not too late! You can subscribe to our weekly email newsletter by entering your email address in the sidebar.