For some people, each January brings a strange phenomenon. Their friends disappear.
In their place are strangers who don’t drink, who go jogging, who don’t gossip, who organize their desks and closets, who don’t eat meat, or sugar or carbs. These people, who share a remarkable resemblance to the old pals, are hardly what soap operas used to call evil twins.
Yet they’re irksome. Call them moral twins.
Wearing their New Year’s resolutions like pageant sashes, they parade their newfound self-control, unconcerned with vying for congeniality honors. Unless, of course, they want you to join them in the First Month of the Rest of Their Lives. Then they seem far more friendly than the friends they replaced. Too friendly. Too “better.”
Any of these former friends sound familiar?
Maybe your friend doesn’t intend to stop imbibing forever, but simply wants to jump-start future moderation with a month of abstinence. The idea isn’t new, but caught traction with the popularity of Dry January, a movement that began in the United Kingdom but has migrated across the pond.
How much of a difference can a dry month make?
Last year, some British researchers gave up alcohol for five weeks. Doctor checkups revealed that liver fat levels, which signal liver damage, fell by 15 to 20 percent, and blood glucose levels, which signal diabetes risk, fell by an average of 16 percent — impressive results that were nonetheless not unexpected.
The question is whether your teetotaling friend will again become your drinking buddy, albeit moderately, or whether he’ll return with an eye toward catching up.
The odds aren’t in his favor. Even researchers at the British Liver Trust don’t endorse Dry January, calling the concept “medically futile” and possibly leading to alcohol abuse the rest of the year. They urge adopting a course of, say, Dry Tuesdays and Dry Thursdays, which help the liver recover on a regular basis.
But where’s the air of superiority in that?
The Overnight Olympian
Beware of this stranger, for not only does she want to become your new best friend, she wants you to come to her 6 a.m. kettlebell class, which will give you both time for a quick run around Lake Harriet. And don’t worry about the cold. It just makes the hot yoga class feel soooooooo amazing.
Begging off risks getting the dreaded eyeroll/tsk combo. Worse, you really can’t make a case against exercise. You just also want to have a life.
What your new friend needs to find is her “Goldilocks zone,” a term some Danish researchers are using for a level of exertion that is neither too much, nor too little, but just right. “Just enough” exercise boosts your energy level, which may lead to heretofore unimagined feats such as taking the stairs.
“Too much” exercise, on the other hand, can lead to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle when you’re not working out, mostly because you’re exhausted or — uh-oh — starved after all those calories you burned.
The Danish researchers reported, via the New York Times, that volunteers who worked out for 30 minutes a day for 13 weeks did considerably better than even those who exercised 60 minutes a day, shedding more weight than anyone expected, given just a daily half-hour.
Good luck selling this argument to your Olympian friend. But be patient. She’ll find out for herself in about a month when that new dress is still snug.
The Pursed-Lips Pollyanna
Not that either of you made a habit of this — er, exactly. But your old friend loved to dish. Which is a polite word for gossip. But it never was malicious, really. (Well, hardly ever.) It was just a way of keeping up and staying in the loop.
But suddenly, all she wants to talk about is the new marketing project, or her kid’s violin teacher who is soooooooo amazing, or show you carpet swatches she’s considering for the family room.
She recoils from any sentence that begins, “So did you hear …?” and generally has found a way to say something nice about everyone, or she says nothing at all.
So the question becomes, as a friend, how do you help her overcome this “glad game”?
Huh? Yes. No less than the Harvard Business Review contends that gossip is important.
“We learn who we are through what people say to us and about us,” said Kathleen Reardon, a management professor at the University of Southern California. Informal exchanges of information help you connect with colleagues. “It builds a bond because people think you trust them to share sensitive information. Information is power.”
Sure, there are limits. Gossip about personal lives is frowned upon in a work setting, as well as there being so much gossiping “that everyone’s afraid of being gossiped about.”
But the Review concludes that negative gossip actually is rare, and usually is positive or neutral, thus making it useful.
In other words, don’t gossip about your suddenly self-righteous friend. And keep her in the loop. Someday, maybe as soon as next month, she’ll thank you.
Again with the double-edged swords! Neatness is tough to argue against. But its definition is subjective. One person’s tidiness is another’s disarray.
So why does the New Year’s Neatnik think his freshly adopted standards of organization are something that 1.) he just invented, 2.) are so simple if you’d just try or 3.) the key to a way of life that mere mortals can only imagine. Maybe he should write a book!
Some psychologists regard a hyper-concern about neatness as a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which a lack of order signifies a lack of control. (A childhood incident, of course, figures in here somewhere.)
Writing in Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Ellen McGrath said that “ ‘Neat freak’ is another term for a control freak.” The pursuit of perfectionism continually sets neatniks up for frustration and disappointment.
You can meet your friend halfway — and maybe even improve your life — by taking a hard look at why you seem so messy to him or her. “If you’re not consistently putting things away, it may be that you don’t like its home,” according to the article. “If your drawers are overstuffed, roll up your shirts so that you can see each one.”
In other words, while you miss your old friends, there are worse fates than drinking a little less, exercising a little more, toning down the gossip and organizing your closet.
And there’s a good chance that, come February, you’ll all meet in the middle anyway, BFFs once again.