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FRIENDSHIP Open hearts, open fridges



Published: Mon, March 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



'Refrigerator rights' can symbolize our connection to others, a book says.

By RYAN LENZ

ASSOCIATED PRESS

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hidden deep in the refrigerator, behind a package of bologna on a shelf with a half-empty gallon of skim milk, is a space few have the right to see.

It's nothing spectacular -- just a peeling sticker with instructions on how to operate the vegetable crisper, and it hangs from off-white walls in the middle of most Maytags.

But it's a space that's fairly private to some people, as private as the contents of the refrigerator itself. And, according to the authors of a new book, letting others frolic freely in your fruits and veggies would be breaking a social barrier.

In their book "Refrigerator Rights: Creating Connections and Restoring Relationships" (Perigee, $19.95), Will Miller and Glenn Sparks argue that anyone suffering disconnection from friends and family should look no further than the centerpiece of every kitchen.

"It's kind of a barometer, a simple barometer that we ... use to get people to examine their own life and ask the question, 'How many people do I know that well that if they were in my house, they could get into my refrigerator without asking,'" said Sparks, a professor of media communications at Purdue University.

The comfort factor

The refrigerator, the authors say, is the litmus test of connection, an intimate gauge of a relationship played out when a neighbor or friend stops by and leans in to peruse the produce.

It goes like this. If friends drop by and reach for a beer or a soda without asking -- and it's OK -- they've got refrigerator rights. If tempers flare when they peek at last night's cold leftovers, they don't.

"I think that if you survey your life, if you find that there is nobody who you would feel comfortable allowing in your refrigerator, and if you feel that you don't have that privilege in anybody else's life, I think that could be an important indication that you are not deeply involved in anybody's life," Sparks said.

The book cites widespread exposure to mass media, such as television and the Internet, and increased mobility as among the reasons why relationships have fallen away. People are more familiar with the friends on a TV sitcom than they are with their own.

So how can people get others back into their refrigerators -- and their lives?

The authors say it's as simple as pulling away from "Friends" and "Everybody Loves Raymond": Invite a friend over for lunch, throw the fridge door wide open and scream, "Let's have lunch!"

"Every hour you're looking at a screen is an hour you're not looking at a face," Miller said. "And looking at a face is always better than looking at a screen."




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