Girlfriends

  • Book Club With The HerStories Project

    Earlier this week, our contributor Nina Badzin shared her experiences with finding the perfect book club. As her post states, friendships and book clubs don’t always mix. Just because you enjoy the company of certain friends, neighbors, and co-workers doesn’t mean you’d necessarily click as a book club. The dynamics of a perfect book club have always reminded me of finding the right partner: sure, you may enjoy the same movies or share important values, but do you want the same things out of your relationship?

    The first book club I ever joined at the ripe old age of 22  made me feel terribly grown-up- I mean, I was in a book club! Wasn’t that what real adults did? Getting together with other intelligent adults to passionately and astutely dissect literature sounded right up my alley. After I forced myself to endure the torture of Kafka’s The Trial, I decided to spice things up with a new, out-of-the-box (heh heh) book about feminism. I chose a somewhat controversially titled book by Inga Muscio. To my great surprise and outrage, both the men and the women in the group tore my selection to shreds. The verbal evisceration continued outside the monthly meeting, extending into strongly-worded email exchanges. That was it. I was out.

    My most recent book club fell into the all-too-common trap that Nina alluded to: a bunch of women sitting around talking about their jobs and families and spending perhaps three total minutes talking about the book. Half of the group never read the book, and we too did that awkward dance where we tried to discuss the ending without ruining it for the slackers. “You know… when Martha has her transformation?” we would ask pointedly, raising our eyebrows at fellow book-finishers. “Ohhh, right. I agree- that part was very…pivotal.” Not much of a discussion.

    Even when I’m reading a book by myself, I frequently read through the Discussion Questions at the end. For one, if the book was engaging, I’m often in withdrawal already and am anxious to soak up just a few more pages before saying goodbye and moving on my next selection, which I’m already convinced could never measure up to its predecessor. I also enjoy taking a few minutes to process some of the nuances of the characters or plot, and maybe even apply the storyline to my own life.

    Not surprisingly, we think The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship would make the perfect book club book! We love how the book has inspired women to reflect on their own life experiences and friendships, and what better environment to dig deeper into the power of friendship than a (harmonious, dysfunction-free) book club?

    So to help you avoid falling into the traps I mentioned:
    a) The unfocused rant conversation
    b) The vague, unpleasantly brief, lacks direction discussion

    We’ve come up with some book club discussion questions that we invite you to use when discussing The HerStories Project with your book club! We will give them a permanent home in the menu of our website, but here they are!

    1. Which stories resonated with you the most? Why? Did they remind you of yourself, or of a particular friendship or time in your life?

    2. How long have you known your closest friends? Do you have any of the same friends you’ve had since childhood, high school, or college? When did you meet your current friends?

    3. When you think of your current friendships, how did you meet? Why did you decide to become close friends?

    4. Which qualities are most important to you in a friend? What important qualities do you bring to your friendships?

    5. If you are a mother, did you make any new friendships during your transition to motherhood? What did these relationships do for you? If you are not a mother, were there important transitions in your life– graduation, move to a new city, a new job, marriage– that brought new friends into your life? Why do you think we tend to form new friendships during these stages of extreme change and flux?

    6. Have you ever had a friendship breakup? Did you initiate it, or did your friend “break up” with you? How did you feel about it? Were you sad or relieved? Do you still miss your friend?

    7. Are there friends who are no longer in your life that you wish you could reconnect with? What would happen if you did, and what reasons would compel you to try again or keep your distance?

    8. Have you ever mourned the loss of a friend? What helped get you through it?

    9. How are your friendships similar to romantic relationships? How are they different? Are you more or less emotionally intimate with your girlfriends than you are with your partner?

    10. How often do you need to spend time with your friends to feel happy and balanced? What obstacles do you face that prevent you from staying in touch with your friends? How can you stay more connected and still make time for yourself, your family, and your job?

    BookClub2If you haven’t bought your copy of the book yet, you can order one right here, and send your fellow book club members over, too! In the spirit of friendship, consider buying The HerStories Project for a friend for February 14th: International Book Giving Day. We think it is a great tribute to the importance of female friendship in a woman’s life.

    Happy Reading!

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  • “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.

     

  • Friendship Breakup Lessons: Here’s What I Learned

    friendship breakup lessons

    Losing a friend is so painful that it’s difficult to learn any friendship breakup lessons. That comes with time.

    I have often marveled at the parallels between friendship and romantic relationships, especially romantic breakups and friendship breakups. Finding new friends can be disturbingly similar to dating, complete with awkwardness, insecurity, and butterflies. Really connecting with a new friend can feel much like falling in love, as you find yourself bringing the other person up in conversation when you are not together. And breaking up with a close friend can be just as devastating as breaking up with a partner.

    Jessica and I have been reading Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend by the “Friendship Doctor,” Irene Levine.  In her book, 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.

    Last week Jessica wrote about toxic friendships: how to spot them and how to handle them. This week, I am going to share the story of one of my closest friends, and the painful breakup we experienced.

    I met Shannon shortly after I moved to Denver, having completed a post-graduation internship and secured my very first real job. Shannon was interning with the small company of music therapists I worked for, and we found ourselves connecting through our magnetic need to process the intensity and hilarity of the groups we were learning to lead. After co-teaching a music class for toddlers and parents, we would often stand in the parking lot for close to an hour afterwards, laughing at our mistakes and the unexpected turns our session had taken.

    I remember the exact day we began to consider ourselves true friends- we met after a monumental work week to celebrate with cocktails at a trendy bar. Over Dreamsicles, we exchanged stories, laughed, and disclosed personal details that further cemented our connection. We continued our “first date” long into the evening, and emerged from this rite of passage as kindred spirits. Each subsequent year, we acknowledged that anniversary by returning to the bar and ordering the same drinks.

    Shannon soon became a staple in my life; each Wednesday, along with another girlfriend, we honored Ladies Night, and took turns hosting and cooking for one another. Our raucous evenings included lots of wine, dessert, laughter, and profuse oversharing. We often spent hours on the phone together after our work days, debriefing each other on our challenging clients, commiserating about our incompetent boss, and of course, laughing until we were breathless.

    We traveled together, briefly lived together, and were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. Even after the birth of my first daughter, we maintained our tradition of Ladies Night, though we had a tiny new member who was passed around each week. My transition to motherhood definitely impacted all of my friendships, and also inspired me to seek out new friends who were experiencing similar struggles and challenges.

    Girls NightWhen my daughter was about eight months old, Shannon and I broke up. It was not a gradual fade, though I’m certain my transition into motherhood along with my decision to file for divorce from my first husband was a burden on our relationship.

    But our breakup happened suddenly, in the most dramatic and unmistakable way possible- a blowout. I will refrain from sharing the details of our blowout, because I don’t believe it is productive or appropriate to rehash it; suffice it to say, hurtful words were exchanged, and both of us walked away from the experience feeling wounded and misunderstood.

    We did not reach out to each other. My life was changing significantly, and I was swept along by the inescapable wave of single motherhood, navigating new roles, and eventually, finding a new relationship with my husband. I thought of her frequently; I no longer enjoyed Ladies Night on Wednesdays, I didn’t have anyone who would fully appreciate my music class anecdotes, and her absence was felt sharply at my daughter’s first birthday party.

    Months went by, and though I had other friends, I did not have Shannon. I missed her intensely, with the deep ache of someone who has become a refugee from their home. But I clung to my sense of justice and wounded pride, and did not contact her. And then one Christmas I received a text message from her. Merry Christmas. Missing you. It was late at night when I saw the message, and my heart began to pound with shock and elation. I called her the very next day, and we made plans to get together for dinner.

    I will always remember where we went, what I ate, and even where we sat. We filled each other in on the tremendous changes and tiny joys that we had missed out on.

    Avoid rehashing old arguments.

    We carefully navigated the tender details of our breakup, and were able to hear one another, understand things with a fuller perspective, and make amends. That was over five years ago, and we have stayed close ever since. We do not often revisit the context of our breakup; I still maintain that it is unproductive to rehash old arguments, no matter what type of relationship you are in. Unless you have found yourself in an unhealthy pattern that continues to reappear, it is often enough to acknowledge the isolated disagreement and move on.

    However, I do think it is possible, and beneficial, to learn from a friendship break.

    Think about the balance between honesty and support.

    In our case, Shannon and I learned a lot about what lines to avoid crossing in terms of offering advice, appearing judgmental, and speaking our fullest opinions. Dr. Levine refers to the importance of finding a balance between honesty and support. My friendship break helped me to clarify my own opinions and practices when reconciling the role of honesty vs support in relationships.

    Severing ties (temporarily) in times of flux can help a relationship.

    While it was never my intention to end my friendship with Shannon, when I reflect back on our breakup, I feel that it served a purpose for us both. Sometimes when we are experiencing great flux in our lives, be it the transition of motherhood, career change, divorce, or even a move, we need to temporarily sever ties with a friend in order to fully move forward and reinvent ourselves.

    Dr. Levine devotes an entire chapter to friendships in flux, discussing the various life changes and transitions that can take a toll on relationships. I saw this happen with several of my best college friends, many of whom are an important part of my life today; we simply needed to break away from one another, learn who we were outside of the context of our friendships, grow up a little, and then assess whether we still belonged in each other’s lives. And unless the friendship has become toxic, is no longer relevant, or irreparable harm has been done, it is often possible, and even therapeutic, to find your way back after a friendship break.

    In an earlier HerStories essay, Nina Badzin shared her insightful perspective in The Case For A Friendship Break. Her piece deeply resonated with me, as I have successfully rebounded from several friendship breaks, including Shannon’s, as well as others that were more gradual. I think that sometimes they are necessary, and provide the space and perspective to grow, process, and reevaluate the role of the friendship.

    Wedding shower 419I will be forever grateful that Shannon reached out to me that Christmas night; she was present when I remarried, celebrated with me when my husband adopted my daughter, and supported me after the birth of my second child.

    She is the friend who keeps me grounded- the friend who knew me “back when,” who understands who I am at my core, and who knows me apart from my children. She makes me feel appreciated, celebrated, and listened to. Shannon is a friend who brings out my sense of joy, a friend that I laugh with more than almost any other person, and a friend who isn’t afraid to get muddy wading around in the depths of our own psyches.

    She is not my fellow mom friend, nor is she a friend of convenience. We have to work hard and put forth a lot of effort to make time for each other. Shannon is the proof that some friendships, the ones that are truly meant to be, can survive a break-up and emerge even stronger.

  • Ping!: How Social Media Saved My Friendship

    We’re so delighted to include a friendship essay from Allison of Go Dansker Mom.  She writes about why friendships can actually flourish with the help of social media.  When new mothers have little time to sustain old and new friendships, social media can help us keep connections with those we care about.  Have you ever had a friendship thrive or reignite online?

    Here’s Allison:

    I don’t keep friends well. 

    I am a stubborn, loyal Scorpio who hates loss and distance but I’m also not the type of person who keeps a close-knit group of friends for life. (I never was in a sorority for a reason.). 

    I am not sure why I have this flaw.  Maybe it is because I was a military brat through elementary school; maybe it is because I went to three different high schools and three different colleges; maybe it is because I really, truly love meeting new people and get excited to hear new stories; maybe it is my sense of adventure that causes me to move on too fast; maybe it is because I hate feeling like a friend is clinging to me or too needy. (I’ll just let you down, I am sure.).  Whatever the reason (to be discovered only by means of a psychologist’s couch, I am sure), I never wore half of a BFF heart necklace.

    I get caught up in this fact sometimes, and it brings out the ugly in me: jealousy, a little depression, and a lot of self-doubt.  Why don’t I have a group of five friends I sit around a coffee shop with all the time, or a gang of four friends I always meet at a small bar in NYC?

    Yet inevitably when I start to get this way I immediately get a “PING” and a GChat message from the one person who can rescue me from the dark thoughts: Kathy.

    Kathy and I met in elementary school.  In middle school, my parents had me follow my brother and moved me to a local Catholic school to finish out 7th and 8th grade.  In 9th grade I moved back in to the public high school system and I remember reconnecting with Kathy.  We shared the same wild and crazy English teacher.

    When I moved to a different state in 10th grade, Kathy and I kept in touch.  We WROTE LETTERS.  Gasp.  We wrote long letters, sent pictures, sent cards… I have a terrible memory and honestly don’t remember much — that’s why I blog now, it helps me remember — so honestly couldn’t say if Kathy and I were soul sisters when we lived a few miles apart.  But I do know that over the course of a pen pal relationship I confided in her things I didn’t tell others.  Something about the distance of paper, knowing that the words could not provoke an immediate reaction I might not want to see, made me feel safe.  And Lord knows, in the teenage times everyone needs a place to feel safe.

    Over the years she grew to know more about me than any one.  When the digital age made it even easier to connect (remember AOL IM?) we realized that we had even more in common: celebrity snark, online shopping, and career aspirations.

    Then we both had kids.  We had babies relatively close in age to each other.  Before pregnancy both of us confided in each other our fears, hopes, concerns, and worries.  Would pregnancy change us?  What about losing control of our bodies?  The Fashion – Lord, the fashion!  Were our husbands ready for this? 

    But we both jumped, holding each other’s hands in a virtual way.

    Then at the next fork in the road we went in drastically different directions: I decided to stay at home, she decided to stay at work.  I have seen this be divisive in many friendships, creating considerable coolness between once close friends.  After all, working moms and stay at home moms have different concerns, issues, and problems facing them.  Not one is more difficult than the other, they are just so, well, different.

    kd photob&wYet Kathy and I have made it.  Sure, we tend to talk past each other a little at times – me frazzled and just wanting to take a shower, her frustrated that she doesn’t get more support trying to do it all – but we are there for each other all the way.

    I wish I could share our tips with all the mothers out there: how to keep a friendship alive through the very different choices of motherhood.  But I don’t know why we work.  I think it has to do with our deep history.  I think it has to do with our personalities. (We have an ongoing joke that I am like her husband and she is like mine so we clearly know how to handle each other).  I also think it has to do with the fact that we have never been the sort of friends that get together all the time, vacation together, or talk on the phone.  Our friendship grew out of written forms of communication and those forms keep it alive today.  Accordingly, the fact that neither of us has time to talk on the phone at night changes nothing at all.  It isn’t a missed ritual because it was never an expectation to begin with.

    Some day Kathy and I are going to girls’ trip; we always have fun when we are together.  Her humorous sarcasm, honesty, and ability to put down a good margarita make me love her company all the time.  But we know how to maintain our friendship until all the pregnancies, baby birthing, breast feeding, and toddler-demands are finished.  Then it’s Chicago Or Bust.  I do know that until then I will always be hooked in to my social media platforms, waiting for that daily “PING.”

    Allison Carter 11-2012edit

    Allison is a freelance writer who maintains numerous website but talks most freely at Go Dansker Mom (godanskermom.com).  She is a SAHM living the good life amongst all boys and loves to share the laughter, struggles, and love.

     

     

    If you haven’t taken our HerStories new motherhood survey, we’d appreciate it so much you’d take a few minutes to take it now. And share it with your friends!  Also, if you have your own story of friendship or new motherhood, we’d love to hear from you!  E-mail them to us at herstoriesfriendshiptales at gmail. 

  • Female Friendship Resources

    Are you looking to learn a little more about friendship?  Confused about where to learn about how to make and keep friends as an adult?

    Try a few of these resources to get you started:

    Websites and Blogs

    GirlfriendCircles.com:
    Such a cool idea!  It’s a girlfriend matching service!  Created by
    friendship expert Shasta Nelson, this online community helps you to
    expand your circle of friends.  See a group of friends who met using this community on Katie Couric’s talk show during her “friendship” episode, featuring Shasta.  Shasta also has her own friendship blog as well.

    Girlfriendology:  Another online community to celebrate and give advice about female friendship.

    Under a Friendly Spell:  Journalist and former editor Carla Flora’s Psychology Today friendship blog.

    My articles on female friendship:

    Female Friendship:  More Than Just Girls Night Out and Mean Girls

    Are Female Friendships More Intense Than Male Friendships?

    Books About Friendship:

    She Matters: A Life in Friendships by Susanna Sonnenburg.  The memoir of friendship stories that first inspired our reflections about our own relationships.

    MWF Seeks BFF
    by Rachel Bertsche.  This is a memoir about Rachel — a married white
    female — and her quest for Miss Right, a new best friend, after she
    moves to Chicago to be with her new husband.  Also, check out her blog based on the book.

    Friendfluence:  The Surprising Ways That Friendships Make Us Who We Are by Carla Flora.  An examination of friendship based on research evidence and women’s own stories by a journalist and former Psychology Today editor.

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

    Twisted Sisterhood:  Unraveling the Dark Mysteries of Female Friendships by Kelly Valen.  After the public response to a New York Times essay about her own painful girlfriend experiences, Valen began a national survey of female friendship and came up with some tough conclusions about the legacy of female friendship.

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