Archive | Relationships

Tips For Adulthood: Five Smart Posts About Marriage

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Following the big splash around Jodi Kantor’s new book – The Obamas – where she provides an in-depth look into the First Family’s marriage, it seems like everyone has an opinion on Barack and Michelle’s relationship and what it has to say about the institution of marriage more broadly.

But apparently, not everyone’s on the marriage bandwagon.

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Institute, marriage is on the decline in the United States and elsewhere. Barely half of Americans over the age 18 are currently married, and the number of couples married in 2010 dropped five percent from 2009. This comes on the heels of a 20% drop in the overall number of married couples in the country since 1960.

These findings mirror those observed in the UK, where researchers found that only 48 percent of adults there were married.

So I thought it might be time – much as I did not so long ago with divorce – to pinpoint some smart posts out there being written about marriage:

1. All The Single Ladies – In addition to being the title of the runaway Beyoncé hit single, this is also the title of a provocative cover story in The Atlantic from November. In it, author Kate Bollick, traces the familiar evolution of marriage from an economic partnership (pre-20th century) to an idealized, romantic “coupledom”  in the 20th century. But she also points to a new trend – the rise of single, non-married women (the result, baldly stated, of an ever-shrinking pool of “marriageable” men.) Bollick makes an impassioned case for why this sociological trend may not actually be such a bad thing, and why it may suit women to seek out unconventional partnership arrangements that stray from the norm. As I watch friend after friend on the brink of separation and divorce, I’m having a hard time disagreeing with her, even as someone who tries very hard to stay married. Well worth a read, if you haven’t already.

2. Generosity is good for marriage – Or at least, so suggest the results of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, which recently studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 men and women. The survey found that men and women with the highest scores on the generosity scale were far more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages. Apparently, even something as trivially small as making your partner coffee goes a long way towards keeping the flame alive. (For me it’s buttering his toast, as my husband would never dream of letting me near his coffee, but it’s the same idea.) And of course, that makes sense. Even when some of us may be inclined to give our partners the ‘death look’ when they fail to pick up after themselves (or in my case, profess not to remember how to turn on the dishwasher – yikes!), it’s important to remember that putting in that extra effort, even on something seemingly trivial, can make a difference.

3. Acceptance is also crucial. I remember when I was applying to my first set of jobs, straight out of graduate school, and one of my advisers sagely warned me: “All departments have their warts,”  which was his shorthand for “Nothing’s perfect.” He was referring to political science departments which might later employ me, but he may just as well have been speaking about future potential spouses. Elizabeth Weil has a great post on precisely this sort of acceptance in the most recent Modern Love column at The New York Times. Weil – for those who don’t remember – is the woman who went public on the cover of a New York Times Magazine a couple of years back about how she and her husband had undergone couples therapy to improve their marriage, even though nothing was really wrong. Now she’s back, explaining that what she learned from that experience is that the key to a successful long-term relationship is to accept that you will never entirely remove your partners warts (my term, not hers.) Yes, you’ll smooth some down, but they don’t go away. And for her, marriage is thus about learning to love your spouse very specifically, not despite – but because of  – his or her specific, individual flaws.

4. Nagging, however, is bad. There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last week arguing that nagging is far more prevalent than adultery in modern marriages, and potentially at least as toxic. According to Howard Markman, a psychologist at The University of Denver, couples who became unhappy five years into their marriage had a roughly 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication. Not surprisingly, nagging becomes particularly conducive to divorce when couples start fighting about the nagging itself. (Can’t imagine doing that. Ever.)

5. Silence can be golden. I was also quite taken with a post by Karin Kasdin on the New York Times Motherlode blog last summer about what it’s like when you grow old with someone and no longer have the multiple distractions at hand – especially with kids in tow – that force you to speak constantly to one another:  the day-to-day scheduling, the finances, the trip planning, etc. She remarked that one the surprising lessons of the empty-nest syndrome is that even while you might fear, as newlyweds, the day you no longer have something to say to one another, perhaps the best sign that your marriage is actually O.K. is when you can grow comfortable with the silence and realize that you won’t fall apart without the chatter.
Here’s to that.

 

Image: marriage by jcoterhals via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Secrets To A Happy Marriage

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood:

From time to time, I post about what makes for a happy, long-term marriage or partnership. In the past, I’ve written about the importance of sharing similar interests, having complementary skill sets and even how much you smiled in photographs when you were younger.

But lately, I’ve stumbled across some interesting new research on the topic which I thought I’d share.

Here are five things likely to improve the longevity of your marriage:

1. Thriftiness.  A recent study of 1,734 married couples revealed that couples who don’t value money very highly score 10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic. According to Jason Carroll, a professor at BYU, and the lead author of the study, materialistic couples exhibit “eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other.”

2. Working Wives. Ironically enough, feminism has also been very good for marital health and stability. At least according to Stephanie Coontz, a scholar of history and family studies who has written extensively on marriage in the United States. In her book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, Coontz argues that the changes that Betty Friedan and other feminists of her time agitated for have actually been good for marriage. The divorce rate has fallen and actually tends “to be lowest in states where more than 70 percent of married women work outside the home,” Coontz reports. What’s more, “The specialization into separate gender roles that supposedly stabilized marriages in the 1950s and 1960s, actually raises the risk of divorce today.” Working outside the home, says Coontz, is also good for a couple’s sex life. The benefits to marriage from working wives is also supported by a recent study from the Pew Research Center. This study also showed that shifts within marriages — specifically, men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have contributed to lower divorce rates and happier unions. One couple found that just shifting their traditional gender roles each summer did a lot to strengthen their marriage.

3. Spending Time Apart. More counter-intuitive wisdom. I think that some couples make the mistake of thinking that the true sign of a happy couple is wanting to do every last thing together. Wrong. Yes, it’s important to have a lot of over-lapping interests. But, as I’ve noted before, you also need to keep a private space – a room of one’s own, as it were. This is the main message of Iris Krasnow’s new book, The Secret Lives of Wives, which is based on interviews with more than 200 women from different educational, social, and economic brackets, all of whom are in long-term marriages (15-plus years). In addition to sex (see below), many pointed to the importance of prolonged separations from their spouses. as crucial to making these partnerships last. The reasoning? Physical distance makes women more emotionally and physically self-reliant and also (surprisingly, perhaps) enhances communication between partners.

4. Sex. Just make that sure you don’t spend *too* much time apart. According to a recent article on The Huffington Post, there are more than 17,000 people who identify with “I Live In a Sexless Marriage” on the Experience Project. But if recent surveys are correct, the author speculates that this number doesn’t even come close to the actual figure, which she estimates as closer to 20 million married Americans. Moreover, couples who are dissatisfied with their sex life are more likely to consider divorce and/or term their marriage “unhappy.” D.A. Wolf certainly hit a nerve when she posted on the importance of sex within a long-term relationship on the Huffington Post’s Divorce vertical last weekend. Have a gander at the comments section. Wowza.

5. Small, recognizable actions matter a great deal. I was absolutely fascinated by this interview in Slate with New York Times health blogger Tara Parker-Pope about her book For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. In it, Parker-Pope reveals that a lot of research shows that the main determinants of happy, sustained marriages are actually small, tangible things like having have at least five small positive interactions (touching, smiling, paying a compliment) for every negative one (sneering, eye rolling, withdrawal)…the presence/absence of sleep problems…how you treat your partner during the first three minutes of a fight…and my own personal favorite: how you recount your own “How We Met” narrative. Phew. At least I have that one covered.

 

Image: With this ring…by Tones Photos via Flicker under a Creative Commons license

Should Marriage Have A “Sell By” Date?

In the months leading up to our wedding some 13 years ago, my husband and I had a series of meetings with the priest and the rabbi who were to preside jointly over our ceremony. These weren’t exactly pre-cana classes – more like a series of “getting-to-know” you sessions – but they were thought-provoking all the same.

We got a lot of good advice from our respective officiants. The Rabbi leaned in and told us that the secret to a good wedding wasn’t the food, but the music. He then proceeded to recommend a band from the South Side of Chicago called The Gentlemen of Leisure which he assured us would rock the house. The priest, for his part, counseled us that we should never go to go to bed angry.

Both kernels of wisdom turned out to be true. But something else the priest said has also stuck with me through the years: “In my opinion, it’s far too easy to get married in this country and far too difficult to get divorced.”

That comment came back to me last week when I read that the major Left wing political party in Mexico has proposed a change to the civil code that would issue temporary marriage licenses. The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stayed happy. The contracts would also include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.

Having lived in Mexico for a bit of time, I’m fairly certain that this bill won’t pass muster in this heavily Catholic country. But it’s certainly an idea worth taking on board, in Mexico and elsewhere.

I consider myself to be a happily married person. But I also know that I’m a minority. Many of my close friends and family members have split from their partners, some bitterly so. And many of the couples I know who have stayed together clearly regret that decision.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not pro-divorce. But the statistics speak for themselves. While divorce rates have been dropping over the past 20 years in the U.S., it’s still the case that for the average couple marrying for the first time, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation remains between 40 and 50 percent. These days, researchers speak of a “three year  glitch” (as opposed to the “seven year itch”) in estimating the average  time before a couple begins to grow sick of one another.

And still – curiously, almost blindly – we continue to idealize marriage.

To be sure, some interesting alternatives to marriage are surfacing on the horizon. Co-habitation has doubled in the U.S. in the last 15 years among 30-44 year olds. In Canada, the new buzzword is LATS, which refers to people who live apart but remain in long-term, committed relationships. According to the 2001 census, one in twelve Canadians falls into this category.

Alongside these innovations – and for the old-fashioned amongst us – we could also  make marriage – like so many other contracts we enter into – fixed-term and renewable. In today’s world, that seems not only practical, but desirable.

Any takers?

Please respond with “I do.”

 

Image: Ring Shot by Corey Ann via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Facts About Siblings

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Earlier this summer, my daughter began reading the Harry Potter series. Like most kids who discover these amazing books, she was instantly drawn to both the plot and the characters. As a result, she now spends most of her imaginary play in the role of Hermione Granger uttering “Oculus Reparus!

But no sooner had she completed Chapter One of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, my son (who read all seven of the books – more than once – two summers earlier) promptly turned around and read the entire series back to back. While I’m sure that her enthusiasm for these stories reminded him of how much he enjoyed them himself, I’m fairly certain that there was also an element of sibling rivalry at play.

It’s not the first time that I’ve witnessed this sort of dynamic between my kids. And there’s a wealth of literature out there backing up the idea that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave.

Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

To wit, here are five recent findings about siblings:

1. Close sibling relationships are good for your health. At least, so says a Harvard University study showing that being close to one’s siblings at college age was a crucial determinant of emotional well-being at 65. I’d read about this study a couple of years ago when it came out. What I hadn’t realized is that the purported benefits of close sibling relationships extend not only to mental health, but to physical health as well. According to relationship researcher Mark Morman of Baylor University, siblings who maintain close relationships in adulthood are less at risk for depression and they maintain lower heart rates as well.

2. But only one third of siblings remain close into adulthood. According to scholars in Europe, another third remain relatively close. And while few adult siblings sever ties completely, about 33 percent drift apart entirely, sometimes describing their relationship as distant or rivalrous. (Earlier studies based in the United States offer more favorable percentages.)

3. Despite sharing similar genes, sibling personalities often differ. This is perhaps not all that surprising, given that in an environment of limited resources (read: parental attention and affection), you would expect siblings to differentiate themselves in order to get noticed. Still, siblings who share the same gene pool do tend to resemble one another markedly both physically and intellectually. And yet, their personalities diverge 80% of the time.

4. The effects of maternal favoritism persist into adulthood. According to one recent study in the United States, recollections of maternal favoritism in childhood were more important than perceptions of current favoritism in predicting tension among adult siblings, regardless of age. And children of mothers who favor or reject one child are also more likely to suffer depressive symptoms as middle-aged adults. (Whether and how this extends to paternal favoritism strikes me as an avenue ripe for research.)

5. Being an only child confers some real benefits. There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of birth order  in shaping personality. I also feel like I keep reading essays by only children who want to give their own children siblings, whether to shoulder the burden of caring for an ailing parent or to relieve the burden of being the only one left when one parent dies. But despite the bad rap being an only child sometimes gets, new research suggests that only children tend to exceed other kids in terms of academic accomplishments, sophistication, vocabulary, and even social skills. Precisely because they have to learn skills outside the home – whether at school or day care and the like, they tend to have a greater ability to make and maintain friends and to resolve conflict. Hmmm. Wouldn’t have expected that.

 

Image: Sibling rivalry by esther gibbons via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Smart Posts About Divorce

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Talk of divorce is in the air this week.

It all began with an article in last Sunday’s New York Times Styles section by Pamela Paul entitled How Divorce Lost Its Groove. The thrust of the article is that, at least among a sub-set of affluent, well-educated couples, divorce is not only less prevalent, but also more stigmatized.

And the blogosphere has been alight with discussion of divorce ever since.

I enjoy reading about divorce. Not because my own marriage is jeopardized (at least at the moment!). But because I have so many close friends and family members who are divorced. So I’m always heartened when people are open and honest about divorce, rather than treating it like cancer. Which is why – among other reasons – I was so pleased when Nora Ephron opened up a divorce vertical at Huffington Post.

To that end, here are five smart posts about divorce for all of us  – divorced, married, single and “to be determined”:

1. Over on Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams endorses Paul’s main thesis, arguing that at least in her own nominally progressive, helicopterish-parenting social circle, divorce does lead to social ostracism. As she writes: “There’s great — and by that I mean terrible — irony in the way that the most supposedly enlightened and liberal of parenting enclaves can feel suffocatingly like a meeting of the Harper Valley PTA.” Williams concludes that we’d all be better off if we treated divorce as a messy reality of contemporary life, instead of as a personal achievement. And it would be better for our kids too.

2. And speaking of kids, over on the Huffington Post, recently-separated Stephanie Dolgoff (of Formerly Hot fame) talks about why, sometimes, you really do need to “put your kids second.” In the aftermath of her own separation, Dolgoff, too, was subjected to the stares and idle gossip of her close-knit neighborhood. She was aghast at how few people could actually hold back from implying that by divorcing, she had completely ruined her children’s lives. In the long run, however, she firmly believes that in securing her own happiness, she will secure her daughters’ as well.

3. Over at Slate’s XX Blog, K.J. Dell’Antonia disagrees with the premise that our attitudes towards divorce have fundamentally altered. Harkening back to her own childhood in the 1970s, she speculates that divorce was always difficult and always stigmatizing for those going through it. She encourages us to think of divorce as a phenomenon that’s still finding its groove, rather than one that’s lost it.

4. Some of the most thoughtful blogging on divorce can be found at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy. Here’s an earlier post that Big Little Wolf wrote called Something Like Marriage, in which she explains how, despite being married, her husband never really “showed up.” This post goes to the heart of the sort of disillusionment with marriage that can drive one to divorce, even absent an affair.

5. Finally, to end on a positive note, I really liked this essay by Katie Brandi in the New York Times Modern Love column last year. In it, Brandi recounts her own disillusionment with marriage, and how she rose out of it – despite the tears, the disappointment and the new-born – to fashion a new, happier life for herself.

As I read these over, I realize that it might sound like I’m pro-divorce. As these essays recount, however, I don’t think anyone is pro-divorce, least of all those who go through it. But divorce is a painful reality of modern marriage and the sooner we face up to its myriad complexities – emotional and practical – the better.

 

Image: divorce by jcoterhals via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

 

The Etiquette Of Friendship

I got an email from a friend a few weeks back. It read something like this:

Dear Delia: I wanted to let you know that I invited X and her husband over to dinner. I feel terribly as I realize that I did this without ever having you guys over first and I’ve known you longer than X. So I wanted to tell you myself in case you heard it from X. I realize that this may sound silly, but I just felt like I needed to tell you. [Husband] and I would love to have you guys over as well…”

I loved this note on so many levels. First, I loved my friend for being so honest and forthright about such a small – but (potentially) awkward – situation. Second, she even gave me (unsolicited) permission to go ahead and blog about it (suggesting that we really are quite compatible as friends.)

Finally, I loved the way that she put her finger on one of those intangible, and yet instantly recognizable, aspects of adulthood: the etiquette of friendship.

When you’re a kid, you don’t worry too much about the spillover effects of your individual friendships. You’re best friends with Suzi one day; the next day, it’s Bonnie. Suzi gets jealous and may even hold it against you, but probably only for an hour or so because she’s now best friends with Gloria. Until, of course, you guys are best friends with each other again. And so on.

As you grow older, however, you come to realize not only most things happen within a wider social context, but that there are certain codes governing such interactions – and they are often unspoken.

Take, for example, the “return” playdate. If one of my kids gets invited to the house of a child that they don’t particularly like and/or they don’t enjoy themselves on a given playdate, they have no real comprehension of the idea that whether or not they had a good time, we’re going to need to have that child over to our house.

But I don’t like Sophia/Johnny/Fill In the Blank..,” they’ll utter in dismay. “Why do I have to have them over to my house?”

As grown-ups, however, we do feel this obligation. We know that it’s the *right* thing to do, whether or not we’ve enjoyed our dinner party/coffee/drink/whatever. It’s just the way things are.

In the case of my friend’s email, there’s certainly no law stating that just because you’ve known one friend longer than another (mutual) friend, or that the third party (in this case, me) introduced the two of you, you are obligated to socialize with these people in order of acquaintance.

And yet, somehow it feels as if you’ve violated a norm when you entertain out of order.

Other times, the underlying social code is murky and you’re caught off guard trying to interpret a situation. Have you ever invited someone to coffee and had them show up with a third party, unannounced? It’s really hard to interpret that, isn’t it? Do they not want to hang out with you…are they trying to be “efficient” with their coffees…or did they just genuinely think that the two of you would hit it off?

 I’m endlessly fascinated by these tacit codes of adulthood that weave our society together.

So, tell me. What have I missed? What social norms have you found yourself obeying/violating/noticing as you go through adult life? Which ones would you readily dispense with? Which ones are useful?

Image: dinner party picture by daralibrarian via flickr under a creative commons license

Adulthood Quiz: How Diverse Are Your Friends Politically?

MSP: Rebublican National Convention by jpellgen

There’s an interesting post over on Salon by Taffy Brodesser-Akner this week. It’s called “I can’t believe my best friend is a Republican.”

Great title.

The author goes on to explain how she – an avowed public radio-listening, pro-Planned Parenthood, California liberal – has a best friend who actually *likes* Fox News, admires Sarah Palin and – gasp – approves of cutting off funding for NPR. Her daughter’s names are Liberty, Honor and Victory. For reals.

The two women met at a weight-loss group. But, really, it could have been anywhere: a  playground…a writing group…a knitting club. The point is that they met because of a common interest and went on to forge a close personal relationship that transcended politics.

I still remember my own “first.” (Er…Republican that is.)

I went to one of those super-progressive, liberal artsy colleges in New England – you know, the kind where people erected shanty towns on the college green to protest the University’s investment in South Africa. (This was back when apartheid was still in place. Yes, I am *that* old.)  While I’d known one or two Republicans during my college years, they certainly weren’t a close or frequent part of my social circle.

Then I moved to Washington, D.C. where I lived for two years with a group of women from another liberal, progressive Northeastern University. And guess what? One of them was a Republican.

I still remember the shock I registered the first time she mentioned, in passing, that she voted Republican.

“Really?” I asked, incredulously.”Really?

“Of course I do,” she explained, shrugging her shoulders. “I grew up in [quintessential Midwestern state]. Everybody I knew was Republican:  my family, my friends, all the politicians. It’s just how it was.”

I remained shocked for several more months. And the shock, of course, had nothing to do with my friend’s politics, but everything to do with my own assumptions about who I was and the kind of people that surrounded me.

And, of course, it’s not really about whether someone votes Republican or Democrat (or Labour or Conservative). Brodesser-Akner’s article might just as easily have been titled “I can’t believe my best friend is an Atheist…Mormon…Jew…Body-Builder.

The point is that it’s about difference.

Since my post-college ideological awakening, I’m pleased to report that I’ve evolved. I’ve added many Republican friends (and family!) to the roster. With some, we avoid topics like health care and Islam in America (or Israel in the U.K.). With others, we engage in spirited debate.

Over the years – and much like the author – I’ve come to see this diversity in political views as a good thing. As my cousin, who lives in Colorado, pointed out to me during the mid-term elections last autumn, “There are real advantages to living in a ‘Purple state.’ It forces you to be more tolerant.”

I learned to appreciate the value of ideological diversity again when I went to work at Politics Daily. When I started writing there, I just assumed that most – if not all – of the women I’d be writing with would be card-carrying, pro-choicers like myself. I was wrong. From the editors on down, there were plenty of pro-Lifers to be found on the staff, and the median writer was – at least on this issue – a good deal more centrist than I.

One of my former colleagues recently observed on Facebook that working at Politics Daily had made her a bit less liberal (by virtue of being exposed to more conservative ideas.) I don’t feel that way at all. If anything, the experience made me more liberal, because I’m that much more aware of what’s at stake in debates over things like universal health care and the funding of Planned Parenthood.

But because that publication required me to listen to and engage with a diverse set of political views that I didn’t necessarily share, I’m also that much more informed. And I’ve had to work harder to defend my views on things like abortion, rather than taking them for granted

How about you? Do you find that you mostly hang out with like-minded folks or get outside your ideological comfort zone?

Image: MSP: Republican National Convention by jpellgen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

PD–

Breaking Up With Friends Online…and In Life

I broke up with a fellow blogger recently.

She doesn’t know it, of course. Because I don’t know her. In that curious Online way in which we now Friend and Follow and Subscribe to many of our “friends,” you can just as easily unfriend, unfollow or unsubscribe to someone’s RSS feed and they won’t necessarily even know that it happened.

It was a weird experience for me, nonetheless – the end of this relationship. She was one of the very first bloggers that I began to follow, long before I launched my own blog. I followed her because she seemed wise and funny and edgy. Most of all, she had super-insightful tips on an array of topics that interested me concerning blogging and career change and work/life balance.

Over time, however, she began to blog less and less about these professional topics and more and more about her personal life. That didn’t bother me, at first. For starters, she has a super-interesting personal life. And she’s also got a terrific voice. And, let’s be honest, blogging is an inherently narcissistic activity. So if you don’t have a strong voice, it really doesn’t work. (Thank goodness for all of us that narcissism is no longer in the DSM…)

Still, the more I read her blog, the more I came to feel that I was going there out of some voyeuristic impulse, rather than than because I was getting all that much out of it. In other words, somewhere along the way, our relationship had changed and I didn’t feel that it was particularly healthy for me anymore.

And that was when I knew that it was time to break up.

Once she was gone from my life, I found that I didn’t really miss her. To the contrary, I felt a sense of relief. It was just like ending a long-standing romantic relationship that’s become unhealthy and unproductive, one where you can no longer remember why – exactly – it was that you first hit it off but, regardless, the chemistry simply isn’t there any more.

Which got me thinking that my Online breakup with this blogger was a bit like breaking up with friends in real life.

We’ve all been there:

*The childhood friend with whom you shared everything – even your chewing gum – but is now embracing social and political causes you can’t quite stomach.

*The co-worker whose banter was fine at the office, but slipped into something more inappropriate after hours.

*Or simply the person you befriended because he seemed cool at the time, but, upon closer inspection, turned out to have several bodies hanging on a meat cleaver in his basement refrigerator.

Sometimes those break-ups can be painful, especially if you didn’t initiate them.

Sometimes they enable you to find a new equilibrium. I wrote not long ago about a semi-unhealthy best-friend relationship my daughter got into – and out of  – last year. Once she severed that tie, I was sure that particular friendship was dead and gone. But now she and her old Bestie are friends again – albeit of a much more casual sort.

A big part of growing up is figuring out what’s important to us in a friend. But equally, it’s about realizing when it’s time to move on.

Image: The Broken Hearts Club by Chrissy Ferguson via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

A Virtual Toast To My Community Of Women Writers

Apologies if you’ve been trying to access the blog and had trouble. The blog is shortly to undergo a re-design and we have hit a few speed bumps along the way. Thanks for your patience. Stay tuned for RealDelia 2.0, coming soon to a theatre near you!

Yesterday I posted on the changes afoot over at Politics Daily and their practical implications for freelance writers like myself in forcing us to be more enterprising.

Today I wanted to address the emotional side of that equation.

As I think I’ve mentioned at several points over the past couple of years, I’ve had an absolute blast working at Politics Daily. When I started there, I’d taken a few years off from journalism to write a novel and launch this blog. So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the brainstorming, research and reporting that goes into being a journalist. It was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar.

And because the website was starting from scratch as a player in Online political journalism, I got to learn by doing about this thing we call ” new journalism” and all of the social media tools and 24/7 news frenzy that goes with it.

In short, it has been – and continues to be – a great learning and growth experience for me professionally.

Above all, however, the main reason that I have loved working at Politics Daily has been the community that grew up around it. It’s true of the publication as a whole and its top-notch columnists and editors. What a super crew. And it’s especially true of my little corner of the world there: Woman Up.

You’ve seen a lot of the work I’ve done for them over the past two years on this very page:  stories about the economics of abortion and the reality of socialized medicine as well as why I think it’s time to life the Cuba embargo and the connection between universities and terrorism.

But what you don’t see is the lovely and supportive community of women that’s grown up behind that space along the way. Most of us didn’t know each other before Woman Up began. Now we chat constantly with each other On line. We share story ideas. We laugh. We argue. We write.

I wrote a  post a few weeks back on this blog about the importance of making real-life friends. Woman Up has by in large been a virtual community of friends for me (although I did have the enormous pleasure of meeting many of the ladies in person at a cocktail party in Washington, D.C. over the holidays.) But even as a virtual coffee clutch, it’s been a vital part of my social and intellectual life for the past few years.

This virtual cocktail party (did you notice how I just seamlessly escalated us from coffee to vodka?) may now come to an end, at least in its present incarnation. We’ll know for sure soon. But even if it carries on under a different banner, it will likely be different.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like change, after all. And the only thing that’s constant in life is change, so they say. But regardless of how things shape up in the future, I’m incredibly grateful to have been a part of this fine group of female journalists.

As I live in London, we  normally “raise a glass” on occasions like this and say “Cheers.”

But my Irish grandmother always said it in Gaelic: “Slainte.”

So Slainte, ladies. It’s been a great ride.

May it continue.

Image: Laura at Computer by panguy100 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friendship In Adulthood: What Do You Look For?

I saw an old friend over the holidays while I was back in the States. She moved to a new town a few years back and has slowly sunk roots there, buying a house…putting her kids in school…joining a synagogue. You know, the usual.

When I asked her if she’d made any close friends in her new town, she answered matter-of-factly: “I click about 85% with four or five women I’ve met. And I think that’s pretty good.”

She went on: “And I’ve finally realized what I look for in a friend: ‘Negativity.'”

I laughed out loud. But I knew exactly what she meant, both about the “85%” figure and about the negativity.

The fact is, it’s really hard to find people you connect with. I once wrote a commentary for Chicago Public Radio about the elusive search for female friends in adulthood. The thrust of the piece was to illustrate – by example – what a nightmare it is to have to “date” for friends once you grow up and have kids. So if you’re batting at 75% or over, like my friend is, I’d say that’s a pretty good average.

I can also relate to the negativity point. Despite my penchant for dark films about family dysfunction and self-destructive behavior, I don’t actually look for negativity in fellow friends. But I do look for some combination of intelligence coupled with a sense of humor, preferably on the self-deprecating side (which is actually what I think my friend meant by “negativity.”)

The problem is – even if you know what you’re looking for in a friend – how do you find those friends when you’re starting from scratch? And even if they’re out there…will you take the time and effort out of your busy life to “date” them?

In the hyper-connected world which we all inhabit these days, it’s easy to fall back on virtual friends. Women, in particular, are drawn to Online networking and community-building. I, myself, have made loads of friends Online in the past two years, of all different shapes and sizes.

But you can’t have coffee with a computer. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) And the internet can’t yield the sort of benefits that derive from close, real-life female friendships.

In case you’re wondering whether this entire discussion is academic, it isn’t. I myself, had to dip my toe back into the friendship-dating waters recently.

For months, I’d been trying to have coffee with a close friend of one of my cousins back in New Jersey, who moved to London last summer. My cousin spoke really highly of this guy, but between his schedule and mine, there just wasn’t a ton of overlap, despite the fact that we live about 10 minutes from one another.

And let’s face it. I knew that the probability that we’d hit it off was close to zero. So while I was happy to get together with this guy, I figured that this would be more of a “getting him oriented” in London kind of coffee, not the start of something beautiful.

Well, needless to say I LOVED him. Absolutely adored. He was cool and funny and smart. And we had tons of stuff in common. Not just the surface demographic-y type stuff, but a deeper appreciation for the same jokes, the same cultural references, the same reactions to British education. He was, in short, my people.

I was lucky that I happened upon my new BFF through my cousin. But close friends can just as easily sneak up on you at a book club, or that school function you dreaded going to, or that wine tasting that was so much better than you expected.

The point is to get out there. And experiment.

Who knows?

You might just find your soul mate.

Image: Making Friends by behang via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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