How to Deepen the Long-Distance Friendship

Unfortunately, many, if not most, of the people we claim as our best friends don’t live near us. I haven’t seen statistics to back up that claim, but since we’re moving, on average, every 5 years, I think it’s safe to say that chances are high that we have moved away from friends we’ve loved dearly.

And all too often, it doesn’t matter how many monthly lunches with local friends we schedule, it’s hard to feel as close to them as we do with those long-distance friends with whom we once logged massive hours getting to know every day in school, at that job, or when we lived as roommates.

For those of you familiar with my 5 Circles of Friends— I call these dear friends our “Con

5 types of friends image

All our friends fall into 1 of these 5 circles; the most casual on the left and the deepest on the right.

firmed Friends” and they frequently reside in the middle circle because we are too intimate with them to warrant them being on the more casual left-side, but we often aren’t as consistent with them as we’d need to be to feel as close to them as we do with our right-side friends. This post is about how to move them to the right, into greater frientimacy.

How to Deepen the Friendship

So what if you actually want to develop a closer relationship with these long-distance friends? What if you want to keep building the friendship, rather than just do the minimum to maintain it? What it you want to feel like you know what’s going on in each others lives more often than your infrequent phone calls or more deeply than what you can read on social media?

There are three requirements to all healthy relationships, as I teach in Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness:

  1. Positivity: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must bring more joy and satisfaction than exhaustion or stress, in fact research suggests we need to keep the ratio above 5:1.
  2. Consistency: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must be repetitive and have some regularity to it because this developing history is what fosters our trust in each other.
  3. Vulnerability: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must incrementally and appropriately increase in sharing as our consistency increases with each other. It is through vulnerability that we feel seen and known.

And they are just as true for long-distance friends as they are for local friends. (Bonus: They also are the same three requirements for starting friendship as they are for deepening it!)

Specific Ideas for Applying the 3 Requirements to Our Long-Distance Friendships

I can guarantee that any relationship that isn’t feeling as meaningful as we want is because at least one of these three requirements is lacking.

So how we can practice these three requirements from a distance?

Positivity:

  • Send an encouraging card: Take 5 minutes to send a little tangible love through the postal system telling your friend why you admire her.
  • Recall a good memory: Find an old photo of you and your friend that will bring a smile to your faces, and text it to her with a little note of gratitude for the history you two share.
  • Refrain from giving advice: Most of the time, when we’re sharing, we just want validation and affirmation.  Advice can leave us feeling judged or defensive. When you do have time to share, make a point to respond to her in a way that leaves her feeling better about who she is and how she’s navigating her life.

Consistency:

  • Embrace texting: Even the shortest text exchange in between get-togethers reminds us gives us the sense of the other person being close. When you think of her— text her and tell her.
  • Schedule a regular time to catch-up: We feel far away from long-distance friends when so much time has passed in between conversations that we’re convinced it would take hours to catch-up. Instead, see if she’s up for scheduling a reoccurring 30 minute call every 1st Monday evening of the month, or every Sunday afternoon.
  • Prioritize the Slumber Parties: We don’t need as much consistency to maintain friendships as when we are building them, but it is still in time together that we can create new memories; so no matter how broke we are, or how busy we feel, we have to visit each other to protect and deepen the love we’ve already developed. These overnighters can be a game-changer for deepening that relationship.

    long distance friends

    Daneen, currently a long-distance friend, just randomly texted me to see if there was a Tue/Wed combo in May when she could jump on a plane and come visit me for 1 night! How cool is that? I can’t wait!

Vulnerability:

  • Get to the heart of the matter quickly: We may not talk to, or see, our long-distance friends as often so let’s not waste our time by asking all the typical update questions and risk us not sharing what really matters. Instead, suggest, “I know we don’t have a ton of time, but maybe we can each share one highlight and one lowlight since we’ve each see each other?” By leaving it open-ended, we give each person the chance to share in the life areas they want to, while inviting honesty.
  • Risk being an “inconvenience”: We so often talk ourselves out of calling each other when we feel down because we don’t want to be a burden or intrude on their busy lives, but it’s only by calling and saying “I just needed a friend” that we will feel the benefit of having a good friend, give her the permission to call when she needs, and help bond the relationship deeper by letting her help.
  • Invite her “bragging”: Part of vulnerability is sharing what we’re proud of… this can be hard because none of us want to be seen as bragging.  So make it easier and ask her: “Share with me something you’re really proud of these days?”

Just because there are miles between us doesn’t mean that we can’t keep developing these friendships.  In fact, because we’ve invested so much in each other at one time– and have the benefit of already feeling close to each other– we’re smart to do everything we can to protect those investments!

What other ideas have you tried? What sounds meaningful to you?

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Posted in Best Friends, Circles of Connectedness, Consistency, Long Distance Friends, Maintaining Friends, Practical Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Key to Starting a Women’s Group

By: Katrina Emery

Katrina Emery, a freelance writer from Portland, OR, occasionally interviews a member of GirlFriendCircles and writes a guest post about their friend-making journey so we can all learn from, inspire, and encourage each other in our own quests for better friendships.

It was while she was volunteering at her local hospital that retiree Kris Trainor knew she needed to focus on friendship more. Her role was to talk and sit with people before they go into the Cath Lab, sometimes helping them fill out forms. “Many of them didn’t have anyone reliable to put as a contact on the form. This is Prescott, Arizona–we’re friendly. People know their neighbors,” she recalls. “but then I thought,

Kris Trainor (and her dog Magic) live in Prescott, AZ where she’s committed to fostering the friendships that will not only benefit her life, but will also be a gift to all who attend.

‘Who would I put down?’ And I had to admit that I needed somebody.”

After 10 years of living in Prescott Kris had plenty of acquaintances, but not many close friends. Spurred on by GirlFriendCircles, she started a group dedicated to forming new friendships for older women. They meet at her local Starbucks for an hour every single week. Consistency, one of the three requirements of friendship, is the most important thing for them, since it’s hard to get to know each other or built up trust without it. And as Kris says, “consistency can be the hardest to establish with new friends”  so the commitment to meet weekly has helped her group connect.

The ladies chat and share every week, using GirlFriendCircles Sharing Questions to dig deeper. Kris laughs that she often has to bring the topic back. “People want to have meaningful conversations, but they’ll drift.” To make everyone more comfortable and ease them in, she’ll often read a list of values and goals she wrote down when she started the group. “I wrote what I wanted to get out of this. It includes 1) don’t take anything personally, 2) practice being open and transparent, 3) learn to express my love and appreciation of others, and 4) be madly in love with yourself. Part of what we’re doing here is learning to be good friends with ourselves.” The first time she read it the group responded better than she thought they would, and now it’s a common way she starts. “They love it!”

It hasn’t all been easy for Kris. The group has been meeting since August, but she’s not sure she can claim any of the ladies in her Committed friends yet. “I didn’t expect it to stay this hard. I didn’t realize I’d have to be kind of like a mom, in a leadership role.” To help, she reminds herself of the natural ebbs and flows of groups, rather than take it personally. “It’s been winter lately–bad weather, sickness, holidays, and the group naturally shrinks.” Going back to her list of what she wants to gain from the group helps, too. “I figured out that I had to go back to my sheet to know what I want.” Even on her end, consistency is a must.

One of the reasons she’s committed to the group is a memory of when she moved to Prescott and was looking at other ladies’ groups. “When I asked to join, they said no!” She was shocked. Her group has committed to staying open for anyone interested in joining. “I’m serious about always remaining open to new people. We’ve got to continue to widen our personal circles.”

Because they’ve all committed to meeting every single week, they’re rapidly getting to know one another. Consistency is key, knowing that they’ll continue to see each other without having to match up schedules. Outside of their weekly meetup, the group has taken classes together at the community college. One makeup class, Kris recalls, ended up to be a thinly veiled sales pitch, but the ladies all had fun anyway and they now laugh at the experience. They’ve started planning other events amongst themselves. Kris loves that, since she doesn’t feel she has the capacity to plan more. “I couldn’t do a bigger event every month,” she says, “but I know that it’s easy to get a friend to meet you for coffee.”

And that’s what she’s done, every week, consistently.

Let’s cheer for Kris and encourage her as she continues this commitment! And let’s take inspiration from her: What is one way you could increase the consistency (regularity/repetition/frequency) in one of your friendships?

Posted in Circles of Connectedness, Consistency, GFC Member Stories, Group Friendships, Guest Blogs, Interviews, Making Friends, Practical Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Help! I Have Too Many Friends

Dear Shasta,

I’m completely overwhelmed when I look at my schedule. Most of my scheduled events, in and of themselves, aren’t things I would typically dread: coffee with a possible client, a call with someone who wants some advice, dinner with some friends from my husbands work, a lunch with a friend who’s in town, dinner with my brother, date night, a quick happy hour with some girls I work with, weekly Sunday call with my parents, meeting a good friend for a walk; but collectively it is TOO much!

Honestly, after working with people all day, trying to stay in intermittent touch with my family members, scheduling the people in my inbox who “want to connect,” and keeping up with all the networking… I don’t even have the energy or time to call the people I actually want to feel the closest to.

How do I shorten the list? How do I say no?

–Sincerely,

Too Many Friends

Dearest Too Many Friends,

Let’s start with the reminder that “people we’re friendly with” and “people we’ve developed friendships with” are two different categories of people. This might actually be a case not necessarily of too many friends, but perhaps of too much socializing?

In fact, you even said it: the biggest problem is that you don’t have the time for your close friends.

We have to figure out a way to say no even to people we care about, like, and consider to be friends, in some way or another, so that we have the energy to say yes to the relationships that we know sustain us,

So here’s what I think we need to do:

  1. List the relationships you want to prioritize. Who are the friends you want to talk to often so that you really feel supported and not just scheduled with intermittent “catch-ups.” Who are the relationships (including kids, spouses, parents, siblings) that are important to you to stay in touch with?
  2. Group them together by ideal consistency. In other words, who are the names on the list that you want to connect with daily? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Keep in mind that the more consistent we are, the more “intimate” those relationships will feel as those are the people who will really know what’s going on in your life.
  3. Schedule them in first. If you can find the consistent blocks of time–driving home from work, happy hour after work, lunch– to give those people, do it! Or at least block that time off with “Call one of my closest friends.”
  4. Then comes the really tricky part: figuring out what relationships/types of relationships you have time or energy to add in.  For me, I have a second list of friends who I love and want to stay in touch with but with whom I haven’t developed the intimacy/consistency that I have with my first list. I also want to leave a few slots a month for networking contacts, and a few slots for doing favors for others (i.e. a phone call for a friend of a friend).  What other groups/types of relationships do you need to pay attention to? I think for us to actually look at our calendar/life and see how limited those spots are can help us be more strategic with who we give them to and how frequently we give someone one of those slots.  The truth of the matter is that whether we end up feeling like we have 1 extra slot a day to give, or only one each week: we need to know it and offer it strategically and thoughtfully.
  5. Think through your strategy for how to decide with whom you give your extra space/time. If you don’t decide then it will end up being the squeaky wheel (i.e. whoever asks the most or will be the most upset if you say no) or simply first-come, first-served. Which puts other people in charge of our schedule instead of us.  Some possible questions could be: Does this person interest me? Am I clear what the objective is of why we’re getting together? Do I think I can be helpful to them? Do I think they can be helpful to me? Can this be scheduled with ease (i.e. without me having to travel far?) Is this the best way to connect with this person (or can I meet them at some event I need to go? Or can it be an email instead of a get-together?)

And then comes the hard part of learning to kindly say no to everyone else.  Which we simply have to do. (Here’s a blog post I wrote last year about How to Say ‘Not Interested’ Nicely)

Our time is finite with only so many slots and its our job to make sure that the relationships that matter most to us are the ones with whom we are making time.

The most important other piece I can say is a reminder that you can’t use whether it feels “good” to determine whether or not to be honest with them.  For most of us, saying no to someone, or disappointing them, won’t feel good. But neither will it feel good to be overwhelmed, exhausted, or unavailable for the people who fill us up the most!

I am the master, not the victim, of my schedule, my calendar, and my life. Shasta Nelson

This is maturity at it’s best: women learning that they aren’t victims of their calendar, but are in fact, in charge of them.  So we if we don’t like how it looks then we have the power to do life differently.  But the calendar won’t look any different until our behaviors reflect what we say matters most.

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Posted in Break Ups, Conflicts with Friends, Dear Shasta (advice), Difficulty & Challenges, Maintaining Friends, Our Mistakes | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships

We all want friendships, but most of us don’t even know what that means.

How Do You Define Friendship?

When I ask audiences to define the word I get things like:

  • “Someone you like.”
  • “Someone who makes you laugh.”
  • “Someone who’s always there for you.”
  • “Someone who knows the worst of you and still loves you.”
  • “Someone you trust.”

Those all sound warm-and-fuzzy, but none of those are a definition by which we can measure a relationship with another person:

  • There are a lot of people I like but who haven’t become my friends.
  • Plenty of people make me laugh— some I only know via TV, does that mean we’re friends?
  • No one is always there for me… nor am I for them… does that mean we aren’t friends?
  • Yes, we want to be accepted by being loved by people who know us, but if this is our litmus test then does that mean we all have to confess our worst sins before we can be friends with someone?
  • Trust? Trust them to do what???  I trust the Starbucks barista not to spit in my drink– does that make us friends?

And the dictionary doesn’t help much by basically just stating that a friendship is a “relationship between friends.” ha! SO helpful!

A Definition of Friendship

I’ve taken the liberty to create a working definition of friendship (based on compiling/summarizing the research of many sociologists and psychologists) so we can all better identify and evaluate the qualities and actions of a friendship.

“A friendship is a mutual relationship between two people that is satisfying, safe, and where both people feel seen.”

  1. In order for a relationship to be satisfying, it must have a foundation of positivity While positive feelings are necessary in all healthy relationships; they are paramount to our friendships because these are the relationships we are entering by choice. We all want our friendships to add more joy, peace, and support to our lives.
  2. In order for a relationship to be safe, it must develop consistencyConsistency is the action of repeating our time together which in turn develops our trust as we begin to create and modify expectations of each other. The more consistency we have, the more we feel like we can anticipate how a person will behave in different situations. Consistency is what gives our new friendships momentum to get to know each other and, over time, it’s what builds a shared history and increases our commitment and feeling of support in each other.
  3. In order for a relationship where both people feel seen, it must develop vulnerabilityAs we spend more consistent time together, we are also incrementally revealing and sharing more of who we are with each other.  The more we let someone see us (always increasing our positivity with responses such as affirmation, acceptance, and empathy) then the more loved we’ll feel for who we are.

If you don’t have all three: then you don’t have a healthy friendship.

And the flip side of that is equally true: if you have any friendship that isn’t feeling meaningful or healthy, I can guarantee it’s because at least one of these three requirements is in lack in that relationship.

In other words, if you just have positivity and consistency (fun times that are repeated often) but lack vulnerability then it’s just a social group that lacks you Frientimacy the three requirements: positivity, consistency, vulnerabilityfeeling really known and supported.  Or, if you have positivity and vulnerability (a meaningful time where you felt seen and appreciated) but lack consistency so that it’s not ever repeated, then it was just a really special moment with someone, but not a friendship.  Or if you have consistency and vulnerability (deep sharing happening all the time) but lack positivity, then it’s just a draining relationship that leaves you feeling weary.  We have to have all three.

To that point, consider this quote I recently came across from The Atlantic:

“I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and [there are] three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course,” says William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. “Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy. These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they’re accomplished change.”

Did you catch the three?

  1. Someone to talk to (vulnerability),
  2. someone to depend on (consistency), and
  3. someone to enjoy (positivity).

Now that we have a definition we know what actions can start, build, repair, or end any friendships in our lives.

Want to know which of the 3 Requirements would make the biggest difference in your relationships? Take this quick Frientimacy Quiz!

Note: These Three Requirements are unpacked, at length, in my book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.

 

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Posted in Best Friends, Consistency, Defining Friendship, Making Friends, Qualities of Friendship, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships

Matchmaker Advice: How to Attract & Bond

I am fascinated by the similarities, and differences, of romantic and platonic relationships. This Valentines Day, I thought it would be fun to inspire our friendships a bit by interviewing a professional Matchmaker to see how we can improve all our relationships. 

Joy Nordenstrom, a certified matchmaker shares tips that can help our friendships, too!

Joy Nordenstrom is the Founder of Joy of Romance, Inc. and Chemistry of Connection.  She’s a relationship coach, certified matchmaker, love story preservationist and romantic event planner. 

Shasta: We often treat romantic and platonic relationships as filling two different needs, but in some ways they can speak to the same human need, right?

Joy: Yes, all relationships speak to our need to belong.

Positive Psychologist Christopher Peterson’s research found having healthy relationships with family, friends, and coworkers turns out to be the strongest predictor of happiness, and often health, in most studies on human wellbeing. In a study detailed in an article titled “To Belong is to Matter: Sense of Belonging Enhances Meaning in Life,” the authors found:

“… correlational, longitudinal, and experimental evidence that a sense of belonging predicts how meaningful life is perceived to be.”

So in short, to belong equates in our mind to having meaning in life: If I matter to others, my life matters.

That sense of belonging can be found both in our intimate partnership and in our purely friendship driven relationships.

We’ve been studying and prioritizing romantic relationships for longer than friendships so I am always fascinated by the idea of what we can learn from those relationships that might be helpful to our friendships.

Anything that jumps out to you about how we attract others?

Absolutely.  Whether it’s for romance or friendship, we still have to attract each other and connect. So when I work with my single clients to help them get ready for finding a partner, there is an exercise I have created to help them get into the right mental and emotional mindset to exude an air of self-confidence, positivity and receptivity.

It is inspired by my favorite quote:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Taking action in the direction of what pushes you a little, or a lot, out of your comfort zone helps create in your brain a chemistry similar to being in lust or the early stages of falling in love.

With the Scary Things’ Exercise, I ask an individual to work with the process for a minimum of 21 days in a row, in order to begin establishing a habit. The essence of the exercise is to be mindful and challenge yourself to do something a little out of your comfort zone every day.

All that we know about facial gestures and body language combined with neurosciences, shows us that what’s happening in our minds is being broadcast to others through our face and body. Once someone looks at us our spindle cells and mirror neurons wire us to connect and for them to “feel” to some extent what is internally happening for us.

Note that as humans, we gravitate towards individuals who are fascinating, curious and have a zest for life. In short, whether for romance or friendship, we want to be in relationships with those who are interesting and happy.

Love that!  That philosophy of staying engaged with life so that we’re “more interesting and more interested in others” leads to a mindset that opens us to more connection.

And then, when we’re with someone we are open to connecting with, what is one behavior we can be mindful to practice that can help our interaction?

Well, one easy tip is to know the impact of left eye gazing because our success in bonding resides in our ability to put others at ease.

You mean looking at their left eye?

Well if you gaze from right eye to right eye, it activates the left side of the brain, the side that analyzes, picks things apart, and looks for ways to get something out of the person or situation. Your facial expressions harden and become more intense. I call this the used car salesman gaze. Subconsciously, it makes the other person uncomfortable. This may be good as a tactic for hardcore negotiation but not for the art of connecting.

But when you engage in a gaze with someone utilizing your left eye you are tapping into the right side of your brain allowing you to access your full emotive self. With a left eye to left eye gaze, your mind will concentrate on where there is synergy and how you can work together. By gradually turning your face to the right, even by 5-10 percent, your left eye becomes more dominant. When you gaze at someone with your left eye, the corners of your mouth and the wrinkles around your eyes soften making the person you are looking at feel more at ease.

Again, the more someone is at ease, the easier it is for two people to feel safe, accepted, and be receptive to bonding.

Joy, thank you for sharing this wisdom about how we can attract others by paying attention to our own growth and exploration and connect with others by something as simple as left eye gazing.

May we all continue to pursue our human need of belonging in the healthiest and most intentional ways possible!

Want to connect more with Joy? Follow her on Twitter at @JoyofRomance or on her Joy of Romance Facebook page.

Posted in How To?, Interviews, Making Friends, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments