2 Ways to Respond to Friends Who Annoy or Frustrate

While these two steps won’t fix every friendship, they are certainly the first two steps we should practice in our attempts to repair or enhance a friendship that isn’t feeling super meaningful.

All too often we become increasingly frustrated or hurt by the actions of a friend– albeit that she only calls us when it’s convenient to her, that she talks too much, that she isn’t vulnerable enough, or that she hangs out with a mutual friend and doesn’t invite us.  In almost every friendship, there will be certain things that we believe could improve the depth of our friendships IF that one action were changed.  Certainly it’s our responsibility to examine what meaning we assign that behavior, where that need comes from, and recognize it’s our responsibility to get the need met as opposed to someone else’s job to automatically know how to meet it… but there is also room in there for us to learn how to ask for what we need.

Having a need isn’t the problem… we all have needs.  How we go about getting that need met can be what hurts us and our relationships.

In this video blog I share what I think should be the first two steps to having our needs met and I apply it to three different examples to help us see how we can apply these steps to our own friendships.

 

Posted in "Toxic" Friends, Conflicts with Friends, How To?, Maintaining Friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Verdict: Can Men and Women Be Close Friends?

This is a question I am asked somewhat frequently:  Can men and women be just friends?

And the answer is always somewhat unsatisfying because as much as we long for a clear-cut yes or no, we all know that the answer is more like “Yes, but….”

The age old question: Can men and women be just friends?

The age-old question: Can men and women be just friends?

The Research on Cross-Gender Friendships

We have our own personal stories that count as evidence for most of us:  If our best friend is a guy then we cheer on others, convinced they can enjoy these friendships, too; but if we’ve had a friendship end after awkward confessions of love or after one gets married then we seem convicted to whisper caution.

And the experts and research seem just as mixed.  I’ve been following the studies, the experts, and the opinion pieces for quite some time now– and while everyone seems to agree that the answer isn’t anywhere close to “No, these friendship never work,” neither is the evidence causing a resounding “Yes these friendships are for everyone!”

Here are my cliff notes:

  • Yes, of course it’s possible be friends with the opposite sex.  If we practice the three requirements of friendship– positivity, consistency, and vulnerability (from Frientimacy) –with anyone, we will become friends with them, regardless of gender.  The more we do those three things– the closer we’ll feel to someone.
  • Yes, sexual attraction is an issue when our friends are of the same gender we also want to date. A big study in 2012 showed that in the majority of platonic friendships, there was usually sexual attraction present.  This was especially true from the men who were more likely to not only be attracted to their female friends, but also to assume those friends were attracted to them. There are countless stories of “friends” having to decide at some point whether to “risk” their friendship to see if there is “more,” and just as many stories of friendships drifting apart once one of the individuals pairs up romantically with someone else. The relationships where there was no reported attraction do seem to last longer, and lack of sexual chemistry (or competition) is credited with the bonds that happen between gay men and women, and vice-versa.
  • Just because there is risk doesn’t automatically mean it’s to be avoided. All relationships require some risk. Furthermore, we build friendships with heightened risks all the time even in our female friendships:
    • Friendships in the workplace are crucial to our happiness even if we do need to be extra mindful of possible hazards.
    • Friendships in temporary locations (while on vacation, traveling for work, or in a summer-away program) will contribute to our joy in those places, even if we know it makes saying good-bye more difficult.
    • Getting to know the friends of our friends is meaningful to helping create a feeling of community or tribe, even if it does increase the chances of someone feeling left-out.

We don’t need to avoid risks, we just need to be mindful and form friendships with as many healthy behaviors and appropriate boundaries as needed to help protect the friendship.

  • However, the deeper the friendship, the greater the need for honest awareness. There is a big range of depth and intimacy between the guys we are friendly with at work or those who are in our social circles versus those we are calling to confide in regularly and would consider to be one of our best friends. Most of us would agree that the more meaningful the friendship (read: vulnerable and reliable) the more need there is for honest communication and self-awareness as there is also greater potential for some confusing boundaries at some point, either between the two of us and/or from our current or future romantic partners.

Be honest with yourself as you reflect on the friendship, or the potential friendship.  The more self-aware we can be, the more growth we can experience and the healthier our expectations can be in all our relationships.

Reflection Questions For Personal Awareness

  • What is the level of friendship (maybe on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most meaningful, deep, vulnerable, committed) that I am comfortable forming with a guy/this guy? Based on that, what boundaries might I need to set for myself or expectations I might need to shift?
  • What are my honest feelings about the physical attraction between us? Is is important to me to not ever act on those feelings or am I secretly hoping/open to exploring that?  Would it feel safer to me if we could get beyond that attraction or is it the attraction that keeps the relationship compelling to me?
  • Even if I’m clear that I want him as a friend only, am I okay with his feelings be the same or is part of my enjoyment from knowing he likes me? In other words, if he falls head over heels with someone else, will this friendship still be meaningful to me to maintain?
  • Even if we’re just friends, is this friendship limiting me in any way from dating others?  Is the friendship supporting me in my goals to find a romantic partner or is subtly, or blatantly, discouraging me from pursuing that desire?
  • Are there aspects of our friendship that would need to change or shift, in any way, if either of us got seriously involved with someone else?
  • If I’m romantically involved with someone else, am I clear what they each provide me and comfortable with the differences and boundaries of each relationship?  (One study showed that the more attractive we find our friend, the less satisfied we may feel with our romantic partner.)
  • Am I friends with guys because I’m uncomfortable being friends with women?  If so, why is that? Is that how I want it? What am I gaining/losing by that belief?

Bottom-line: Our lives can be enhanced from all types of relationships.  Our goal isn’t to limit what type of love and community we can create in our lives, but rather to do so in the ways that feel the healthiest and more supportive possible. How close we each are comfortable developing cross-gender friendships will depend on a variety of personal circumstances, our ability to engage in honest conversations, our needs outside our romances, the risks we’re willing to take, the opportunities that present themselves, and the motivations we’re willing to examine.

Indeed, it’s a question that simply has no clean and comprehensive answer other than the unsatisfying, gray, and messy answer of “Yes, but….” that we each have to wrestle with for ourselves.

What has been your experience? What tips would you give? On a scale of 1-10, what level of friendship are you comfortable developing with a man?

Want more on the subject?  Medical Daily wrote up a great round-up that highlights a lot of the studies and weaves in some great expert advice!

Posted in Mens Friendship, Research, Types of Friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Cost of the Constant Catch-Up Cycle

Lunch with a friend? Yeah it was okay…. nothing amazing.

Phone call with a friend? Glad we got that out-of-the-way for another 2 months….

Dinner with an out-of-town friend? Meh.

She’s texting me to see when we can get together next?  hmmm…. three weeks from now is fine.

For many, the time with our friends isn’t all that meaningful and amazing.  I mean it feels good to know we got together and caught up, but it’s not like we’re clearing our calendar in excitement for our next get-together.  We feel good about ourselves for keeping up with them, but it’s hard to always be sure it’s worth the extra money spent on drinks or the time away from ______ (the kids, the TV series you’re currently bingeing, or the hot romance).

When the time together isn’t super meaningful, it makes sense that we’d pull away a bit over time, let more time pass in between catch-ups, or not prioritize that friendship over everything that keeps us busy.

But for some of our friendships the answer may not be pulling away and spending less time with each other as much as it is to lean in and spend more time together.

For far too many of us, our friendships are caught in a vicious cycle of not spending enough time together to feel really meaningful. I call it the Constant Catch-Up Cycle.

This vicious Cycle is what happens when our time together is either too infrequent or too short to even get us across the line into really meaningful time together. It has less to do with her and more to do with the fact that the two of you aren’t spending enough time together to get to that place where deeper conversations can happen.

Constant Catch Up Cycle

What is the Constant Catch-Up Cycle?

This Constant Catch-Up Cycle is what happens when we get together with friends and spend the whole time catching up (Read: updating and reporting) with each other since the last time we met, be it a month ago or a year ago. How are you? How’s work going? How’s your family? How’s so-and-so? Are you dating? By the time we both give a cliff notes version to our lives, the check has come (or the commute is over so the phone call is too) and our time together is over, until next time.

What does feel good about this experience is that we can check that person off our list of people we need to “catch up with” and we feel accomplished in some way that we’ve now fulfilled a friendship responsibility.  Furthermore, and this is no small thing, it does keep us in touch which helps us feel like we’re a wee bit closer to each other if we, or they, ever needed it.

Unfortunately, what doesn’t feel good about this all-too-common experience is that these drive-by catch-ups rarely touch our hearts or enhance our lives.  Chances are high that we drove home, or got off the phone, and felt relief, but not necessarily love and joy.  It’s more likely we alleviated some guilt than found ourselves excited to repeat it again. In other words, while they may now know how we feel about our job and we may know how their kids are doing, there are many things we simply can’t experience when the time is too infrequent or too rushed.

The Price of Catching Up

Getting caught up in the Constant Catch-Up Cycle means that every time we’re together we’re focused on what has happened in our lives, which means that there are many feelings, topics, and experiences (usually all the ones we most crave!) that aren’t as likely to happen.

Here are some of the things we often sacrifice when our time is limited or infrequent:

  • Pursuing the Transcendental and Philosophical Themes: We probably don’t take the time to meander into topics like fears, ideas, politics, injustice, creative process, or personal growth since those don’t come up in the first three questions we ask and answer. And even if we did mention them as part of an update… when was the last time we got into a long conversation where we both were sharing, prodding, growing, and learning?
  • Sharing the Unspoken Vulnerabilities: We are less likely to share our secret worries or dreams because we tend to stay on what’s concrete and has happened, rather than on what really matters and what might happen. And the shorter our time together is, the less willing we will be to open something that feels big to us. We may have withheld something that is unfolding in our lives because we reasoned that it would take too long to catch them up on the back story.
  • The Opportunity for New Memories: We rarely create new memories together or have genuine fun together when we’re “just grabbing a meal” or “calling real quick.”  When was the last time we actually did something together that felt fulfilling, fun, and something to put in the memory bank?
  • The Feeling of Being in the Flow: We may not have been present enough to be ready to laugh, to pause, or to feel whatever needed to be felt since those things so often come from the part of us that is present, relaxed and open, not the part of us that is multi-tasking, rushed, and thinking about where we have to be next. When was the last time we were together without needing to do something or be somewhere afterward? When were we just sitting back ready to let our time together unfold and flow?
  • The Probability of Feeling Relaxed and Easy: If we don’t see each other often then we have to spend our time “catching up” instead of watching movies, relaxing together, or just hanging out in each others homes. If we haven’t talked in a while then it feels weird to call for 10 minutes while we’re making dinner to ask her what she’s cooking tonight. The more rare our time together is the less likely it is to feel like we’re doing life together in a relaxed and easy manner. Sometimes talking about “nothing” is a hallmark of intimate type of friendship.

Chances are high that when most of us crave more meaningful friendships– that it includes some of the things on that list above? I rarely am thinking, “Wow I wish I had someone to just call and update!” Instead, we’re pining for laughter, long and deep conversations about life, the feeling of safety and ease, the relaxed feeling that spaciousness and intimacy creates.

The Invitation to Move Beyond Catching Up

I call this tendency a Cycle because just as it can be true that the less we see each other, the less meaningful our time together will often feel, which then reinforces the infrequency; so too is the opposite: the more consistent we are or the more we allow longer periods of time with those friends– the more meaningful those friendships can often feel.  All it takes is one amazing long evening of laughter and authentic sharing and we’ll be more excited to schedule it into our lives with a “yes please! I want more of that!”

We obviously can’t do deep and consistent time with every friend in our lives, but we most certainly need it with a few.  Which friendship in your life isn’t feeling super meaningful right now because you two are caught up in the Constant Catch-Up Cycle? And what might you do to increase the odds of the two of you getting past the “catch-up” so you can actually move into the enjoying of this friendship?

Posted in Circles of Connectedness, Consistency, Maintaining Friends, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How to Respond to a Friend’s Pity Party

I woke up early yesterday morning unable to go back to sleep, which is unusual for me.  But my mind was so busy hurling accusations at me that no lullaby could be heard above the ugly words.

In the dark hours my critical voice sounded strong and empowered as she told me what a loser I am.  She grabbed my new book, my business, my classes and projects, and everything she could get her hands on and tore them up in front of me by telling me how they weren’t good enough, how I wasn’t doing enough, and how I could have done better. Her words were plentiful as she made her case for my lack. She used my own dreams and fantasies against me reminding me that not only had I not yet lived up to them, but that I probably never would. Her convincing words echoed through me this time in a way that resonated with my own deepest fears.  So even as the sun came up, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she had been right: I’m failing.

Now I can defend myself with the best of them by jumping into the game and trying to name my successes or by assuring myself that the ruler she used to find me wanting wasn’t measuring the right things.  And I typically am a pretty positive and hopeful person. But as a girlfriend arrived later in the day for our early dinner plans, I welcomed the back-up by exclaiming: “Oh I am so glad you’re here– I’m being bullied by a bunch of inner mean girls!”

The Five Amazing Responses of My Friend

I am sharing this story with you primarily because I want to share how my friend responded so we can all feel inspired to show up for each other when we feel under-attack by ourselves.  But I also am pushing myself to share this because it’s important that we all hear reminders from each other that self-doubt and fear of failure are on every playground, even (or especially?) in lives that have stretched, dreamed, and succeeded by some measurement. frientimacy_quote_4 For me, right now, it’s centered on the gap between the impact and teaching I want to be doing versus what I feel I am currently achieving; but for you or one of your friends, it might be about hoping you’d be married or have kids by this age, feeling like a failure because you don’t have x (fill in the blank: a 401k, a book deal, or a corner office) yet, or feeling discouraged because while you are making good money you aren’t pursuing your creative work, or vice-versa.  Unless we’ve reached pure enlightenment, we tend to fan a desire for something more that we’re secretly convinced will make us feel better about ourselves and more peaceful about our lives.

Here are some of the ways my friend loved me well and brought me home feeling more hopeful:

  1. She Took It Seriously…
    Before I had interrupted her with my current condition she had been walking up the stairs to my apartment exclaiming, “There’s the amazing and famous author and teacher who has been out traveling the world!”  But when she heard my panic, she pivoted quickly and instead of dismissing my feelings and telling me I was crazy, she validated them, “Oh no! I am so sorry. Those voices can be so cruel. What awful things are they saying?”  I felt supported, seen, and heard; not crazy, weak, or silly.
  2. But Not Too Seriously…
    But as we started walking into the neighborhood to find a spot for dinner, she also helped put it into perspective: “Shasta, I don’t know a single author who doesn’t feel depressed at some point after their book comes out.  It’s a post-adrenaline drop after working on something for so long, your heart is still trying to catch up to your body as you traveled all over the country in the last few weeks, and everyone has higher hopes for their work than the immediate response. It makes sense you’re feeling this way.”  She helped again to validate my feelings but also subtly reminded me that how I feel now isn’t the final answer.
  3. She Matched My Vulnerability Without Taking the Attention Off of Me.
    Upon sitting down in our chosen cafe, she shared with me how she had a similar attack over the weekend, feeling like a complete loser because several of her friends were buying their dream houses or had just moved in to new homes recently.  Her mean bullies said all kinds of awful things about her as she compared herself to others in that department. She confided how she had pouted, how she had hurt, and how she had eventually been able to hear her own wisdom. I felt closer to her for her willingness to reveal her own insecurities and felt peace that I wasn’t being judged; she understood.
  4. She Invited Me To Find the Joy that Mattered. 
    When our drinks came she asked me to share with her 5 highlights from my book tour.  Five!  Most of us would simply ask someone how it went or to share a highlight or two… but she asked for five.  And somewhere between thinking up the 4th and 5th one, I had given myself enough evidence of how much had gone really, really well.  She cheered for me, toasted me, and found joy in my answers.
  5. She Brainstormed With Me. 
    Knowing full well that I was undoubtedly being too hard on myself, she also knew that there was some truth(s) to what I was saying mattered to me. Much like when we’re menstruating–our feelings might be heightened or we may have less reserves–it doesn’t mean that what we feel isn’t real or that what upsets us shouldn’t. She started asking me questions about my business and my book to see what actions I might want to consider in the weeks and months to come.  She didn’t try to solve it; she just opened up the space for me to feel like I could respond to these feelings in productive ways at some point.

In my book I have an entire chapter on the five acts of vulnerability, three of which my friend and I practiced in a big and beautiful way yesterday:

  1. Know Yourself to Share Yourself
  2. Shine In Front of Each Other
  3. Share Your Shame & Insecurities

We both shared honestly about what we were feeling, we revealed the fears we hold and what those mean or symbolize to us, and we invoked each other to shine, to be successful in other areas, and to dream.  Which is significant because when we say we want to be loved it includes accepting both the amazing and insecure pieces of us.

I was willing to show up as I was; and she met me right there in the most affirming and generous of ways. As we practiced vulnerability with each other, we not only bonded our relationship in deeper ways, but we both left that time together feeling seen, safe, and satisfied– which is what friendship can give us that matters so very much to our lives.

Thank you, dear friend.  And may your kindness inspire all of us to show up with others knowing that even in success, there may lurk doubts and fears that we can witness.

xoxo

 

 

 

Posted in Best Friends, Career & Work, Feminism, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Other 3 Most Powerful Words

One of the highlights of being on book tour (for Frientimacy: How to Deepen Your Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness) is meeting so many amazing women across the country who resonate with the need for healthier friendships. I’ve learned so much from all of you– from your questions, from your stories, and from your own powerful work in this world.  Your encouragement, resonance, and conversation feed me.

One of those amazing women I met is Tricia Andor (her new blog), a big-hearted and fun therapist. While I was thrilled by her passion for learning more about friendship, moved by her affirmation of my work, wowed that she attended 3 of my 4 book events in Denver (driving nearly an hour each way, every time!) and touched that she brought me a goody bag that included snacks for the road… (great illustrations of how we can build friendships with positivity!) what I really wanted to share with everyone was a comment she offered during the Q&A time at the end of one of my presentations.

Her words reminded me how simple and easy it can be for all of us to practice opening up conversations with our friends where we might feel some tension, distance, or frustration.

The “Other” 3 Most Powerful Words

Certainly we know that saying “I love you” can be three of the most healing and transformational words on the planet; but what do you say when you’re actually feeling anything but loving?

women talking

nversations, while awkward or uncomfortable feeling, may help deepen the friendship and grow our emotional muscles!

During every Q&A we all hear stories of women who are feeling disappointment with their friends: we wonder what to do when we learn the 3 actions that build friendships but are then dubious that our friends will contribute as much as we will, we feel frustrated that long-time friendships aren’t feeling meaningful anymore, and we feel angst with our friends whose annoying habits have put distance between us.

As I highlight in my book that maturity and spiritual growth are connected to our willingness to lean in to our friendships with honesty–as opposed to our default mode of simply tolerating something for as long as possible and then just giving up–our palms can start to sweat at the thought of actually confronting our friends.  When it comes to our romantic relationships– we are far more practiced at having the conversations where we talk about our relationship: whether it’s meeting our needs, whether it feels fair, or what we feel needs to change.  But when it comes to our friendships we all too often withdraw.

And that’s where Tricia’s three magic words can help us!  🙂

She offered up an easy and beautiful way that has helped many of her clients over the years as they engage in repairing conversations:  “I’ve noticed that…”

  • I’ve noticed that we don’t talk with each other as much as we used to…”
  • I’ve noticed that when we get together I sometimes leave feeling like I didn’t get a chance to share with you what is going on in my life…”
  • I’ve noticed that when we make plans I feel worried about whether it’s really going to happen since you’ve had to cancel several times…”
  • I’ve noticed that I tend to be the one reaching out trying to get our time scheduled…”

“I’ve noticed that…” is:

  1. Casual sounding (as opposed to “I need to talk with you about something that’s bothering me.”);
  2. Uses non-blaming language (as opposed to you “You never…”);
  3. and Focuses on an observation (as opposed to assigning a motive or starting with a tough feeling)

Additional Tips:

Starting a conversation that shares an observation is an awesome way to open up a dialog with a friend.  Here are a couple other tips, I’d offer:

  1. Get to a question as quickly as possible. The goal here isn’t to dump on her, give lots of examples, or share all your feelings, but rather it’s to start a conversation. Therefore, in order for it to be a conversation, we need to invite their sharing early. After sharing the observation, consider asking a question like, “Have you felt that, too?” or “Have you noticed that?” or “Do you have any ideas of how we can improve this?”
  2. Avoid using global language such as always or never.  Even if it feels like always or never, if this is one of our first times approaching this subject, it invokes less defensiveness to underplay it a bit and leave some grace in the air by saying, “Sometimes” or “a couple of times.”
  3. Assume the best–give them grace.  As we all practice having honest conversations, I find it feels best to speak as though we assume the best of the other. We may feel like it’s the last straw, but if we haven’t broached the subject before then we have to realize this is the beginning of the repair work and treat it gently and with hope. After making an observation, statements like “I’m sure that’s not what you intended” or “I know you’ve been so busy” helps us extend an olive branch and increases the chances of them feeling safe enough to be vulnerable.  Our friends need to feel our love if they are going to own their failures or share their own hurts with us.

So those three magic words could lead to something like:

“I’ve noticed that we don’t get together as much as we used to…. I know we’re both so busy and you’ve been working so hard on such-and-such, so I don’t want to put any pressure on you or your schedule, but I do miss you!  Do you feel like there’s a way to connect more frequently that would work for you?”

Or,

“I’ve noticed the last couple of times that it feels like there might be some tension between us. I don’t know if I did something to frustrate you or if I’m just imagining things, but I’d love to talk about it if anything is in between us. Do you feel like anything has changed?”

It’s not our responsibility to have it all figured out or solved, not worth the time and energy of writing out some long script with all the grievances and feelings, and not our responsibility to guess how they are feeling.  All we are being invited to do in our relationships as we practice speaking up is to lean in a bit more and at least get the conversation started.

May many meaningful and restorative conversations occur in all our lives,

Shasta

p.s.  I have lots of other scripts, tips, and ideas for how to open and facilitate awkward, but courageous conversations in my book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Difficulty & Challenges, Forgiveness, How To?, Personal Growth/Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment