Difficulty and Challenges

You Answered: The Most Challenging Part of Making New Friends

This post is written by Katrina Emery, a member of GirlFriendCircles.com who lives in Portland, OR.

One of the most popular questions in GirlFriendCircles, that our new members answer is “What specific aspect of making new friends feels the most challenging to you?”

I read through all 750+ answers (I promise, I did!), and am here to report with your answers. Because this friendship thing is hard, we all know that. There are aspects of it that we all struggle with, so while 750 of you out there may have commented about how hard it is to make new friends, you’re not the only ones. Solidarity, sister. We’re here to figure it out together.

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Top 5 Challenges:

#1: Time.

Let’s be honest, this one’s a bit boring. Everyone’s got time constraints, we all know we’re busy, there are a million apps promising to fix that, and none of them do. But we’re all here because we know that friendship is important anyway.

#2: Meeting People Initially.

The hardest part for a lot of you is the simple act of figuring out how to meet someone. You’ve carved out your time, but aren’t sure where to go. Or you’ve figured out where to go, but can’t tell what to say. Many of you also noted how hard it is to break into an established circle of friends. And a lot of you mentioned how hard it is to combat shyness and gather the courage to speak up.

“Just meeting people can be a challenge--and it sometimes seems that everyone already has friend group and isn't really looking for new friends to add.” - D

“The most challenging aspect for me is the initial putting myself out there. “ -T

#3: Moving Deeper.

Lots of commenters said how much they hate small talk, and how difficult it can be to move past an initial meeting into something more meaningful. Shasta would describe it as moving circles, and it’s tough to bump folks up from acquaintances to something better. Even someone who can blaze through the first two challenges might get stopped up here. There were so many thoughtful and poignant comments around this topic, which shows that we all spend a lot of time really thinking about this.

L says, “It’s that invisible wall that seems to stand between friendly chit-chat with other women and becoming actual friends - how does that happen?”

And J put it nicely: “Keeping a momentum of friendship other than “Hey how are you?” back and forth all the time.”

And another L noted, “The actual approach to making new friends is very hard. I've met people who I thought "OK, I could totally see being friends with this person."  However, I never make the transition to friendship because I don't know how.”

#4: Finding the Right Kind of Friend

This was an interesting category to me. A lot of commenters mentioned that they were looking for a certain type of friend--one who fits with their own idea of what they’re looking for, or one that shares all the right interests.

One commenter, A, summed this up nicely: “Finding people I like.”

This makes sense. We all want people we like, who understands where we are in life. Because we’re all going through struggles, and we think that no one can help unless they’re going through that same struggle. Many commenters wrote about how challenging their own situations were, and their barriers to making friends. And here’s what I noticed: they were all different, and often contradictory. Having a demanding job, working a weird schedule, not working at all, working as a stay at home mom, having teenage kids, having kids under 3, being a single mom, being single with no kids, being married with no kids,… everyone mentioned how hard it was for them. Which just goes to show… it’s hard for us all. It really is. We’re all kind of freaked out by it.

So, what if, instead of looking to make friends who are in our same situation, we branch out and open up? Don’t get me wrong-- I know this is crazy hard. And I understand many times it’s a matter of practicality rather than preference. But it might be worth it. Here’s what M. had to say about it:

“[I’m challenged by] making new friends with people who are different from me — like a whole lot different. They have a different culture, different ways of doing things, different dialect...this has been a challenge for me for so many years. I feel like I don't "click"...but this year, I am determined to be more open and welcoming.”

To sum up...

#5: Fear.

Other than time (though, we could make an argument for that), this one sums up all of the above challenges. They’re all about being afraid of being judged, of being not enough, or too much. That’s why I thought #4 was especially tragic. We’re all looking for a specific kind of friend and telling ourselves that those who don’t fit our categories aren’t good enough for us, while being inwardly terrified that we’re not good enough for other people’s categories.

“When opening up to new people I feel vulnerable to judgment from others.” -A

“Being vulnerable and wondering ‘will they like ME?’ “ - S

“Reaching out. Initiating. Suggesting a get-together and having the other person say no or cancel. Rejection in all of its many forms.” -C

“Feeling like I am too much. Being fully accepted. Feeling like I’ll let others down.” -A

First, let’s all take a moment to congratulate ourselves on admitting that stuff. Good job!

Now that we’ve done that, let’s congratulate ourselves on being here, wanting to do something to tackle those challenges. It won’t happen immediately, but the more we reach out, send an invite, risk chatting to a new person, or move past our shyness to be a little vulnerable, the better we’ll get at it.

And while you practice those things, read up on the Friendship University-- it’s loaded with all sorts of tips to tackle these challenges and more, such as:

Making Time for Our Friendships, with author Samantha Ettus

Friend-Making Overwhelm? 5 Strategies for Starting Right Where You Are, with author Sam Bennet

The 3 Requirements for Starting Friendships or How to Make a New BFF with our own Shasta Nelson

How to Connect with Others: The 4 Laws of Authentic Conversation, with author Michelle Tillis Lederman

Because if there’s anything that reading these 750 comments taught me, it’s that these challenges aren’t so unique, after all.

How to Respond When You Feel Betrayed

On a pretty regular basis I hear so many of us share how we feel betrayed by our friends.  Have you felt betrayed by friends? Disappointed by their actions (or inactions)? Here are some examples I hear pretty frequently:

  • "We used to see each other at work all the time... now she never even reaches out to me."
  • "I can't believe she's not coming to my wedding. She says she doesn't have the time off work but if she really cared about me..."
  • "After my divorce, she stopped calling and inviting me to things..."
  • "She knew how important this event was to me, but you wouldn't have known it by her actions."
  • "When I needed friends the most... she was too busy. Guess she wasn't the friend I thought she was!"

Does that pain tempt you to want to pull away and protect yourself? Do you tend to devalue the other person and assume they're phony, fake, toxic, or not a good friend?

In this video-- I share with you some big things that have been rolling around in my heart on this topic for quite a while.  I challenge you to listen to them, hold them with a non-defensive heart, and consider what might be done to help foster a healthier relationship! 

xoxo

Making Friends When We are Wired to Assume Rejection and Danger

"She doesn't like you..."

"You'll sound stupid if you say that..."

"She's stuck-up, she thinks she's better than you..."

"Why don't people every write me back or respond to my invitations?"

"What if I share something vulnerable and she judges me?"

The negative voices in our heads are relentless.

And they are, unfortunately, a very common, even normal, human experience.

Our "Negativity Bias"

Science consistently shows that we've been wired with a bias toward negativity.  We're much quicker to asses, even expect a threat; than we are to look for opportunities.  It's a matter of survival. If an animal misses an opportunity to eat-- he can find another one; but if he misses a threat of someone trying to eat him-- then that's pretty much a done deal. We are instinctively more worried about our protection than we are about our growth and pleasures. 

These are some great examples from The Happiness Hypothesis:

  • "In marital interactions. it takes at least 5 good or constructive actions to make up for the damage done by one critical or destructive acct.
  • In financial transactions and gambles, the pleasure of gaining a certain amount of money is smaller than the pain of losing the same amount.
  • In evaluating a person's character, people estimate that it would take twenty-five acts of life-saving heroism to make up for one act of murder.
  • When preparing a meal, food is easily contaminated , but difficult to purify.

Jonathan Haidt continues by saying, 

Over and over again, psychologists find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. We can’t just will ourselves to see everything as good because our minds are wired to find and react to threats, violations, and setbacks.

How We Can Respond

Since so much of our reaction is hard-wired and instinctive, the goal isn't to never have these thoughts; but rather what we are aiming for is

  1. Greater awareness that this is, in fact, our tendency, 
  2. Better skills at then processing the information that is coming in,
  3. And, then not making decisions out of fear when we aren't actually in danger.

This reminds me of the research I shared in Frientimacy about what researchers discovered about rejection.  We ALL feel it.  No matter how emotionally healthy we are-- we all feel the pain of being left out, or even the perception of being left out. We can't not feel rejection any more than we can not feel pain when kicked in the stomach. 

What we can do is get better at identifying that pain more quickly--naming what we're feeling--and then figuring out the best strategy for how to move ourselves back to a place of peace. 

Experts in this field suggest that practices that create new thought patterns-- such as meditation, some drugs, and cognitive therapy-- can indeed help us. It is definitely worth the conscious effort of doing what we can to get ourselves out of the trap that so often leaves us feeling rejected, unlovable, or hopeless.

Responding in Friend-Making Situations

Far be it from this blog post to do the work of being able to replace all our thought patterns with loving and healthy ones, but here are a few steps we can take immediately:

  1. Catch Yourself. More Often. More Quickly. Becoming aware of this negativity bias is definitely the first step of growth.  To see where it pops up, what you say to yourself, and how it taunts you is where maturity begins.  We can can't change what we don't see. So with as much compassion as possible, let's start pointing it out "Oooh that's your fear talking..." "Oh that's your Inner Mean Girl* bullying you..." or "yep, that's me totally withdrawing because..."
  2. Show up with Curious Love! As parents watching their 3-year old have a melt-down in a public area knows-- when we see that tantrum we have several options: 1) ignore it and act like we don't see it; 2) scream louder and try to shame them into submission, or 3) get down on their level and ask a few questions. When it comes to my inner critic and fear-- I've found that the 3rd option is the only one that creates change because she usually believes that her fear is legitimate and that she's trying to protect me from something like loss, danger, or rejection. So to the best of my ability-- in that moment or later in reflection-- I try to ask questions such as a) What are you most scared of? b) Because if that were true, what would it mean? c) What are you trying to protect me from experiencing? (And to that one-- I often find myself thanking her for caring!) And that usually leads me into a conversation about what I really want and what I'm willing to do to get it.* (See * below for more info on this process because it really is more than a blog post will allow! Crying tears!)
  3. And remember this is true for others, too THEREFOR don't leave them wondering!  Therefor... let's do all we can to speak words of acceptance, safety, and affirmation louder than their inner voice, when possible. We can assume that everyone is approaching and interacting with us at some level of fear, skepticism, worry, or questioning. They are searching for clues as to whether they are safe and liked. So knowing this, we can make sure to give them as much evidence as possible that we won't bite, judge, or reject them!  We can smile, look them in the eyes, thank them for calling/coming over, show curiosity to them by asking questions, nod our head to indicate we're listening, and always end a conversation by helping answer the question we know they'll have when they leave: "Does she like me??
  • After meeting someone new: "I am so glad we met. I'm looking forward to following up with you to...."
  • After rejecting an invitation: "Oh I wish I could come, but thank you sooo much for inviting me.  I do hope you'll invite me again because I would love to do x with you." 
  • After time together: "That was lovely. Let's do it again sometime!"
  • After someone shares something vulnerable, "Oh I can understand why you would feel x, but I'm impressed with how you did y. That took a lout of courage!"

We can choose so much more kindness toward ourselves as we remember that all of us-- me, you, and even all those women who look like they never worry one iota what others think of them-- want to be liked.  We are prone to worry we're not. But oh how much we want it.

This month, I hope you practice balancing out that negativity bias in our world by showing the compassion to yourself and others that we all crave.

xoxo,

Shasta

***  This theme touches on this month's Friendship Focus in GirlFriendCircles, featuring Amy Ahlers, who is our teacher for the class "Is Your Inner Mean Girl Hijacking Your Friendships?" Join this month for FREE and you can download the class and all of our resources.  Plus, on August 23 I will be doing a live Q/A call on this subject and modeling/sharing how I bring healing to my inner critic voices. All women welcome to join us! xoxo

The #1 Thing You're NOT Doing that is Hurting Your Friendships

I know, I know, I know... you're busy.  Life is as full as feels survivable. You're barely keeping up with the inbox that continues to fill up, the voicemails being left, the demands by the people who live in your house with you, and the tasks being added to the to-do list.  And so, oh how I hate to bring this up.... I really do. The last thing any of us needs is to feel like there's "one more thing" we need to be doing.

And yet...

And yet, it's truly the #1 thing that can make the biggest difference to your friendships.  

The Action That Would Make the Biggest Difference

To be sure, there are many different things that hold relationships together, such as doing favors for each other, making fun memories, being present in painful moments, practicing empathy, remembering her birthday, staying in touch, showing up at the big events, sharing a secret with her, and showering her with affirmation, to name a few.

But what if I shared with you the #1 complaint I get that causes your friends to give up on their friendships???  

What if I spelled out for you the #1 action that would make the biggest difference?  

The easy answer is: initiate reaching out.

I swear to you-- there isn't a subject that comes up as often as this one.

I get at least an email a week from someone about to give up on a relationship because they are tired of being the one to always reach out.

To be clear: I'm not one of those who believes that initiation has to be 50/50, and I don't believe in this "the ball is in her court" business. I'm completely fine hitting the ball repeatedly. I know many amazing relationships where one person is the primary catalyst, the initiator, or the scheduler.  I know in our marriages that we settle into "roles" that we each play on behalf of the relationship, without each person needing to every chore 50/50.  In a perfect world-- our friendships could be like that, too. I also think some people find it easier than others to reach out --based on practiced skills, insecurities, and personality types--and I'm all for each of us showing up with our strengths.  

So believe me:  I don't think you have to initiate in order to be in a healthy relationship.  In fact, I know that the only things necessary for a healthy friendship is: time together/consistency so that we can have fun (positivity) and share our lives with each other (vulnerability.) And as long as those 3 things happen-- it doesn't matter who initiated it. (For more on The 3 Requirements of Relationships)

What This INAction Means to your Friends

But we live in a world where aren't just running into our friends automatically and so time together then HAS to be scheduled.  There's no other way around it-- we can't feel close to people without interacting. And that means someone has to initiate it.

And your friends are WEARY of being the one. You're gonna have to trust me on this one: I hear from them on this. Often. They take this very personally. They feel like it means your don't value them or think about them. It leaves them feeling unimportant to you. They create a narrative in their heads that if they mattered-- you would reach out. They feel rejected. They feel like the responsibility of the relationships falls on them... that their initiation is the only thing holding you two together. They feel resentful of this giving and it leaves them feeling that the relationship isn't mutual or reciprocal. They feel used, they feel tired, and they feel unappreciated.

You and I know that probably isn't true.  

And yet there it is.

I can keep trying to remind them that it doesn't matter who initiates as long as it keeps the relationship connected, but at the end of the day-- if you were serious and wanted to do the one action that would leave them feeling relieved, happy, and loved-- you would reach out and not wait for them to do it again.

What You can do

You can set an alarm on your phone to remind you to reach out to them, you can swallow your fear that you're interrupting them or not reaching out at a convenient time, and you can simply know that whether they say yes or no-- they will feel loved because you reached out and thought of them. And that's what they want: to know that they matter to you.

And at the very least-- one thing you will try to do more often is thank your friends when they do initiate.  You will appreciate the gift they're giving and use it as an opportunity to tell them how much it means to you:

“Thank you for keeping the ball rolling on us staying in touch. I know I don’t do it as well as you do, but I want you to know it means a lot.  Thank you for not giving up on me.”  

And with that acknowledgement-- you'll find that they might just be that much more willing to initiate. Yet again.

Not an initiator? Send this to a friend who is with a note of appreciation and expressing your willingness to practice doing it a bit more! :)

And leave your comments-- do you agree? disagree? What stops you from reaching out? 

Loneliness Can Be A Result of Social Exhaustion!

Loneliness Can Be A Result of Social Exhaustion!

Do you come home from work too tired to do anything except crash on your couch? Does the very idea of calling a friend sound like too much work? Do you panic at the idea of scheduling a social event into your calendar? Do you end your workweeks so tired that you need the entire weekend to simply pull the blinds and recover? Do you wish you had time to go meet new friends but by the time you prioritize your partner, your kids, and others in your family-- you've reached your limit?

Empathy: The #1 Misunderstanding

We all know how important empathy--the ability to understand and share the feelings of another--is to a friendship, but sometimes it's easier said than done!

Do you ever hear a friends complain about her finances and think, "I'd give anything to have as much money as she has! Why is she so worried?!?"

Or, hear a friend complain about gaining five pounds and just roll your eyes and think, "She's so skinny-- she has no right to complain!"

Or, listen to a single friend vent about how busy and exhausted she is, and feel like screaming, "Are you crazy? Try working full time and raising 5 kids at the same time!"

While we want our friendships to be safe places to complain and vent about our lives, the truth is that we often feel more frustrated or annoyed with our friends if we don't feel like their circumstances warrant their feelings.

Since it's impossible to be both empathetic and judgmental, watch this 3 minute video about how to show up with more of the former, even when tempted to feel the latter.

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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How Important are Shared Political Views to Friendship?

"I can only get along with people who have a similar worldview as I have," I've heard a thousand times. Or other variations have included statements similar to "I could never be friends with someone who votes for ________." Because we're on the eve of one of the most divisive presidential elections in history, it seems a good time to remind us what does and doesn't bond us to each other.

What Do We Have to Have in Common with Friends?

Not only are we increasingly convinced what we need to have in common with someone in order to like them-- be it age, life stage, or political party preference; but we're also sounding more likely to have devaluing and disrespectful feelings toward those who aren't like us.

friends feeling divided over politics

But what does the research say about what we need to have in common in order to bond with another human being?

In fact, hard data tell us that it doesn’t matter which particular parts of our lives are similar to those of our friends, only that we end up finding those similarities. The Brafman brothers, who co-wrote the book Click, share research that reveals people bond more deeply over the quantity of perceived similarities than over the quality—the number of similarities matters more than their content.

They wrote, “Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”

In other words, what we consider as the “big” thing we think we need to have in common isn’t as effective at bonding us as having two or three “small” things in common.

The Brafmans further explained, “You’d think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music . . . but it didn’t matter at all which topics underlay the similarity—it was the degree of similarity that was important.”

What might that mean to those of us who are at risk of thinking half the population is disqualified as being someone we might like?  It reminds us that we need to engage in more conversation with people who don't share our political views so that we can eventually bond with them because we took the time to find out that we have both traveled to Japan, both love green smoothies, and both enjoy reading sci-fi.

Why It's Important to Find Those Commonalities

Understandably, similarity matters.  We not only feel closer to the people with whom we can find commonalities--be it fans of the same sports team or voting for the same presidential candidate; but experiments actually show us rating those who we're told agree with us (even if they don't!) as more attractive and better people than if we have to rate those same people but are told they disagree with us. Indeed, we have a bias toward commonality.

In fact, in one study at Santa Clara University, participants were more likely to double their small financial donation if the person asking them for money shared their same name.  In another study, people were twice as likely more likely to sacrifice a couple of hours to help a stranger with a task if they discovered that they shared the same birth date with them; and 80% of them agreed to help if they were told they shared a rare fingerprint pattern!

The truth is that once we accept certain people as "like us", we start to see them differently.  And when we see them as similar to us in some way, we treat them better: we are more kind, more generous, more accepting, and more loyal.

I, for one, don't want to live in a world where we focus more on how we're different and unlike each other if we know from research and personal experience that our inability to find commonalities tends to put up walls, create defensiveness, increase paranoia, and decrease our kindness and generosity.  The answer to feeling safer isn't pushing "others" way, but rather the peace comes when we step close enough to see what we do have in common. (And there is ALWAYS a lot to be found if we're willing to explore!)

Examining Why Some Commonalities Feel More Important

I will not minimize how bonding it can be to any two people to find commonalities and feel closer and more trusting of those individuals. But just as few of us would insist that we can only bond with others who share our names, our birth dates, or our finger print patterns; as hard as it is to believe, who we are voting for is no more important to whether we can bond or not. I find it hard to remember that truth when I'm scanning my Facebook news feed, but just reminding myself that simply finding out someone is voting for the other candidate doesn't prove we couldn't be friends.

And note that in all these studies the bond wasn't actually because of the similarity, but because of how we felt about the similarity.  In other words, participants gave bigger donations not because that person's name was really the same as theirs, but because they were told it was the same as theirs.  They rated their classmates as more attractive or not, not based on real agreement that impacted real people, but because the psychologists simply told them they had more in common, or not. It was all in their heads.  Their kinder actions were based on the belief that they had something in common, even if they really didn't.

When I am reminded of the research, I feel a genuine humility. I am reminding myself how easy it is for me to create an entire narrative or story about people (and how attractive or good they are) based largely on my perceptions of whether they're like me or not. I am reminding myself of all the people I love whose vote I don't understand and am refusing to view them in any way that diminishes them down to just this one difference. And I am reminding myself that while I can't control how someone else votes, I can control whether I'm willing to look for something I have in common with them.

A presidential candidate is going to win and about half our country is prone to feel dismay, disappointment, fear, anger, and/or paranoia. The only way to heal is to practice connecting with each other.  We can do that one relationship at a time. One conversation at a time.  One commonality at a time.

Any tips you've tried that has brought your stress levels down when conversing with others who are voting differently than you are? Anyone willing to try to be someone who repairs and connects people together after the election? Anyone else up for the challenge of reminding yourself that you could still bond with someone even if they are voting for the other side?

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4 Ways to Not Let Politics Ruin Our Friendships

I saw on the news last night that the American Psychological Association says that "fully half of Americans say that the election has been a very, or somewhat significant, source of stress" for us.  In fact, a new term has been coined: Election Stress Disorder.  And more of us are prone to get it, if we're not already among the millions who already have it. Undoubtedly a huge portion of the stress comes from our fear of the "other side."

Certainly how we view the candidates, and subsequently their policies and worldviews, leaves a lot of room for discordant opinions and interpretations. But as an observer of relationships, the part that pains me the most is how this is impacting how we relate to each other.

Relationships At Risks This Political Season

I have caught myself judging others, "How can they believe this?" or "How can they possibly support that?" Perhaps you have, too.  Whether it's on Facebook, in our offices, or around our dinner tables-- the divide has never seemed so huge. Or so very deep.

This cartoon by Tom Gauld illustrates, only too well, how many of us are judging the other side:

b_aii9_xiaa67_tRelationships that experience an increase in judgment, a loss of respect, ongoing criticisms, and frequent misunderstandings are prone to leave us having lost that loving feeling. We know from research that our relationships need to keep a 5:1 positivity-to-negativity ratio in order to stay healthy and I'm fearful that we're engaging in battles and brimming with judgments that aren't being counteracted with nearly enough love, kindness, and empathy. That's a recipe for some serious disconnection.

And it's a vicious cycle because, as we've been studying nuerobiology and relationships in GirlFriendCircles.com this month (see the note at the bottom for more details), we are reminded that the less connection and intimacy we feel-- the more likely we are to feel anxiety, irritability, stress, distrust, rejected, misunderstood, and apathetic. In other words, the less love we have in our lives-- the more likely we are to lash out at others, devalue their lives and opinions, spew distrust, and feel fear.

It's a double-whammy: we have an epidemic of loneliness that is leaving most people feeling more irritable and anxious about others AND then the way we treat each other ends up creating even more disconnection and distrust.

Choose To Be a Facilitator of Connection

In the big scheme of things, I am reminded that indeed friendships can save the world as we'd undoubtedly navigate these political transitions with far more grace if we lived in a world where we felt truly connected to each other; but in the short-term, there are things that some of us can choose to do that will help remind others (and ourselves) that we are all human, valuable, and safe. We can still love and relate even if we see the world differently.

Next time you scroll through Facebook or find yourself in a political conversation, I dare you to try one of these:

  1. Look for Common Ground: What can you agree with this person on? Can you both agree you want fewer abortions? Can you both agree you want less mass school shootings? Can you both agree that sexism and racism is being revealed? What if you and the other person actually could agree on the desired outcome and really only differ on best strategy? Let's not fall for the myth that if we agree with them that we're "giving up ground," or "losing." Challenge yourself to always find one thing you have in common with them.
  2. Say Something Affirming About the Other Side: The last question of the last debate challenged our politicians to say something positive about the other and you could just feel a collective sigh from all of us watching. It's exhausting to always be on the defensive. What if you actually wrote a comment on a friends post saying "you know this is one thing I admire about your candidate..." Challenge yourself to sincerely affirm something with whom you disagree.
  3.  Assume Good Intentions:  This one is so hard as we are so quick to assign motive to each others actions. But we can either assume the worst and be wrong at least 50% of the time; or assume the best, and risk being wrong sometimes in that direction, too-- so why wouldn't we start from a place of hope and trust in each other? Research shows us how blind we are to our own levels of emotional health, almost always scoring ourselves at our highest because we know our justified excuses, valid reasons, and good motives; and that we score others at the lowest of the range because we can't see what battles they're fighting, what wounds they're acting out of, or what hopes that they had for that action. We can afford to be more generous knowing how horribly inaccurate we actually are at judging each other. Challenge yourself to try to defend "the other" as quickly as we defend ourselves and our candidate.
  4. Increase our Positive Interaction:  It's impossible to not feel some angst in our relationships, but whether it's on Facebook or in real life-- let's be cognizant of the fact that those around us need 5 positive interactions for every negative interaction in order to keep the balance.  So plan activities you both enjoy, post positive articles, write affirmations, share jokes, and overall make sure you're not just spewing, fighting, and complaining more than you're loving, shining, and leaving others feeling better about life.

These might sound Pollyanna-ish, or like I'm asking for the impossible.  Your entire ego and sense of "what's right" might feel challenged.  But the truth is-- at this point, with the methods we're using, we're not changing anyone's viewpoint and we're destroying the fabric of our humanity.  Maybe it's time for us to give the "muscles of our best selves" a bit of a work-out and see if we can't get to election day with a bit more love left in our hearts.

What other ideas do you have? Share them with us!

Namaste (the best in me is choosing to look for the best in you),

Shasta

P.S. An illuminating take on this subject that helped inspire this post, also includes some great data and analysis:  The "Other Side" is Not Dumb".

P.P.S. I couldn't be more proud of the emotionally intelligent women who have joined GirlFriendCircles.com as they've committed to paying attention to their relationships in an ongoing way, learning about how to develop healthier connections with monthly classes, and choosing to be counter-cultural as women who practice placing the value on their relationships that science shows makes us happier and healthier. Join today to access this month's class "The 4 Ways to Rewire Our Brain for Safer Relationships" featuring, Dr. Amy Banks, the foremost authority in the combined fields of nuerobiology and relationships.

 

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Dopamine: Relationships are "Supposed To" Give Energy

We keep hearing how good relationships are for us, but what do you do when relationships drain you, scare you, or exhaust you? Or maybe life just feels so blah now that you're left feeling lethargic, stressed-out, weary, or flat? Maybe the idea of peeling yourself off the couch to connect with someone just sounds like way too much work? Maybe you're not getting enough life-enhancing dopamine?

In my latest class for Friendship University I had the awesome fumc-dr-amy-banksprivilege to interview the foremost authority on the combined fields of neurobiology and relationships.  Dr. Amy Banks, the author of Wired to Connect: The Surprising Link Between Brain Science and Strong, Healthy Relationships, walked us through the four ways we can improve our brain function in order to improve our relationships.

Science is continuing to reinforce that every single one of us is hardwired for connection.  Which means that when we feel loved and supported: our immune system is healthier, we recover from surgery and sickness faster, our bodies protect us from the impact of stress, we feel happier, and we live longer. And... in light of our conversation today: we feel more energy when we connect.

How Do Relationships Give Us Energy?

The human brain is designed to give us a dose of dopamine--the  chemical that not only lights up our pleasure center but also helps give us the energy to move toward rewards--every time we do something life-sustaining.

Dr. Banks says:

"Eating, drinking, water, exercise, sex, and healthy relationships are all supposed to trigger feel-good sensations, to make us want to do the things that are good for us."

She is quick to caution us that we "all live from one dopamine hit to another" (because it's natural for us to want to feel good!) but that if the human brain can't get that hit in healthy ways this is what drives so many of us to look for substitutes: shopping, gambling, over-eating, or anything that leads to addiction.

But What If Relationships Don't Give Me Energy?

In an ideal world, as babies we received love, touch, and connection that paired those actions with our dopamine producers.  Studies shows that when that link between relationships and reward was reinforced, it set us up for improved social status and social support.

But for many of us, if our childhood relationships were stressful or harmful, or if we were taught to be fiercely independent or perceived as weak for wanting connection, then relationships didn't get paired with our dopamine reward system as they were supposed to.  Which, according to Dr. Banks, means that "instead of becoming energized by friendships--even good ones--they are drained and depleted by the interaction."

Feeling disconnected provokes our stress response systems which raises our anxiety, provokes irritability, and leads us to assuming that we're being left out or rejected, even if we aren't. Which means what we need the most--connection--is unfortunately not only what we probably fear the most but also what we're least likely to feel energized to pursue.

But Dr. Banks and numerous other voices out there are encouraging us: we can heal our damaged pathways.  (If you haven't yet watched Johann Hari's TED talk reminding us that the opposite of addition isn't sobriety, but connection-- then it's a must see!)  In the book Wired to Connect she says,

But there is plenty that you can do to nourish your neurological pathways for connection. If they are damaged, you can start to heal them. If they are neglected, you can cultivate them. And if they are stressed, you can soothe them."

How To Move Toward More Energy in Relationships

Dr. Banks gives so many brain exercises and activities in her book to practice reconnecting the dopamine reward system to healthy relationships, and our GirlFriendCircles.com community is so enjoying the class, our worksheets, and our conversation this month as we dive deeper on the subject, but let me leave you with just one of her very practical ideas to try.

  1. Identify the relationships that give you energy.  Who are those people for you?  With whom do you feel the safest? What relationships in your life give you some sense of reward or pleasure, even if small?
  2. Try to spend more time connecting with those people. For many of us, depending on our jobs, we might be spending the bulk of our days around people we didn't choose, or with people who drain us. It becomes even more imperative to try to lean in to more time with anyone who does energize us.  It might mean calling our mom a bit more often, initiating time with a friend, or practicing more conversation with a safe person.

It seems counter-intuitive that when we lack energy that we need to then identify relationships to seek out, but Dr. Banks assures us that identifying our "strongest sources of relational dopamine" will give us our best shot at repairing our reward systems. Perhaps knowing that as you reconnect those wires, that what costs you energy now will reward you with energy down the road, will give you courage.

I do want to point out, what I hope is obvious, that "more relationships" aren't the answer to everyone's weariness. Much like how food is good for us and also gives us energy-- the answer isn't just eat more food! Over-eating can make us lethargic, too!  Or not eating the right food.  Or not having a good relationships to food or our bodies.  Or maybe your food is perfect and what you need is more sleep!  :) But please, when you're avoiding people because you don't have the energy, consider the possibility that sometimes, counter-intuitively, we need to connect instead of withdraw.

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  Interested in the Friendship University class? It comes with membership to those in GirlFriendCircles.com.  Every month we offer a new theme, a new teacher, new worksheet, and new friendship actions to practice-- join us in October and get access to this class immediately!

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When Our Friends Disappoint Us: What We Can Do

I listened to a client tell me a story last week about how hurt and disappointed she felt when her friends didn't rally around her after a recent surgery. I empathized with her, expressed regret with her that they didn't wow her and love her in a meaningful way, and then asked, "Do you think they knew that you needed anything from them?" "But it was a surgery!" she said, as though that answered my question.

"Yes it was," I concurred.  "But tell me how you talked about the surgery with them before and after the event.... Did you ask for help? Did you express your fears? Did you tell them what you thought you might need?"

When Our Friends Aren't "There" For Us

I continued, "In other words, if I called your friends now and asked them what they thought you might be needing or wanting, would they be able to tell me?"

After a few more minutes of conversation, her narrative--that many of us can probably identify with in one form or another--emerged:

  1. We want our friends to automatically know our need. She held a belief that if they were really her friends, or even just good people, then they should know what she might need without her needing to tell them.
  2. Even if we haven't yet articulated our needs. Yet, when I asked her what help she needed, she didn't have a ready answer and acknowledged that if she couldn't even articulate it to herself, that it might be asking a bit much to have others guess it.
  3. Even when we know deep inside that they aren't unwilling to help. She acknowledged that chances were high that most of them assumed she didn't help because her husband was taking time off, her adult daughter was home, and she had lots of friends. And admitted that while it hadn't been meaningful to her, a few had said to her, "Let me know if you need anything."
  4. Because we give to them, this is the least they could do.... But she couldn't shake the feeling of betrayal by her friends since she felt like she was always giving to them and this was "the one time I needed them."

Unmet expectations in our friendships lead to massive disappointment, hurt feelings, grudges, and worst of all-- the feeling of not being supported. And if we can't count on our friends, then we feel very alone and vulnerable. We feel betrayed because we thought we had friends and now wonder if it was all a mirage or a waste of time. We feel used... thinking about what a good friend we've been, and wondering what the point of it is if we can't count on the in return.

We Must Learn To Express Our Needs

There are a thousand conversations we can have on this subject (and my book Frientimacy actually has several chapters in it that teach these concepts!)-- including,

  • being in touch with our feelings to know what we actually need (my client didn't actually need help as much as she needed to feel thought of and loved),
  • being willing to let our friends see us with needs and feelings, especially if the pattern of our friendship has mostly been with us looking like Super Woman (possibly calling up a friend and when she asks how you're doing, be willing to be seen: "Well, I wouldn't recommend a regime of being un-showered for 4 days, laying in bed in pain, and watching soap's as a recipe for feeling hopeful. ha!  I'm actually pretty lonely and the days are feeling so long it leaves me wondering if I'll ever recover!"
  • and learning to ask for what we want and need.  Which could look like either telling friends ahead of time "I'm worried that I'm going to go crazy or feel so alone that first week after my surgery.  Any chance you'd be willing to come over for a bit--better yet if you come un-showered--and hang out so I have something to look forward to?" Or even after the fact, "I'm going crazy and miss you.  I wish I could offer to come see you, but since I'm still not leaving the house much-- any chance I could entice you to come over here and hang out, if I were to order a pizza for us?"

Help My Friends Love Me Well

But what I really want to address is our fear that if we have to ask for something that it then defeats the purpose.

My client said as much, "But if I have to ask for it then they'll feel pressure or just do it from obligation or guilt."

Speaking Our Needs Doesn't Make Their Help Less Sincere

And to that I say:

"Actually, in my opinion, the friends who are willing to hear what we need and try to do it, if they can, are the best friends in the world. It's the most sincere expression of love to hear a need and attempt to respond to it.  And the most effective and strategic use of their energy and time, that has the highest chances of feeling fulfilling and meaningful to me, means that we both are as clear as possible what would be helpful. True friends don't read minds-- heck, we don't even read our own minds half the time!-- but rather they say "Yes!" when we reach out."

The goal is to feel loved.  And we can help our friends do that for us if we are willing to help tell them what that looks like. That they then step up is the highest proof that we are supported. It's our job to be in touch with what we need and communicate that to those in our lives who want to love us well.

Pssst: my next post gives meaningful ideas for how we can ideally show up for our friends without them having to ask us!  :)


 

p.s.  Want to learn more about preventing unmet expectations and practice speaking your needs?

We have a brand new virtual class titled "Preventing Expectation Hangovers in our Friendships" that features Christine Hassler, author of Expectation Hangovers, who teaches us how to communicate our needs to our friends to prevent disappointment and unmet expectations. Included with the 1-hr audio class is a worksheet, a monthly challenge to practice, and inspirational mantras!

August_2016_Bundle_GraphicOthers who took the class already said things like, "This class was illuminating. I learned so much!" and "This changed the way I view my friendships in life-changing ways. I can't even begin to describe how helpful this material was to me." and "I listened to this class three times this month just because there was so much I needed to keep hearing."

Buy this Friendship University class here and listen at your convenience!

Note: If you were an active member of GirlFriendCircles.com in August 2016 then you automatically received this class as part of your membership!

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In Sickness and In Health, Part 3: Making Friends While Sick Or In Pain

This is the 3rd post in our 3-part series on friendships with those who suffer with chronic pain and illness. The first one, written by Lucy Smith (pseudonym) shared her experience with us after having been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition. She bravely wrote what she wishes her friends understood about friendship with someone who feels sick or limited. The second one, I weighed in with tips and principles I think are important for those trying to make friends while in pain.  And this final one, is again written by Lucy Smith as she shares her tips, from personal experience, about what she;s learned about making new friends even when limited by her health.  When struck suddenly with a debilitating neurological condition a couple years ago, Lucy Smith's (pseudonym), ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult.

Your situations are all so very different, please take anything that speaks to you, and add your own tips to the comments. It will inspire all of us to see what others are trying and finding helpful! Above all we applaud everyone who dares to connect their hearts, especially when their bodies resist in any way. xoxo

4 Tips From Someone Who Knows The Journey, By Lucy Smith

  1. Create Some Friendships With Others Who "Get It." Finding people with similar struggles in a support group is often a great place to start.   That might be a support group for those living with chronic illness, a local disease-specific group (i.e. the National Multiple Sclerosis Society support group), or maybe some people who were on the periphery of your social network who have had medical challenges that you couldn't relate to before.  In some cases, you might not find those networks you were looking for waiting for you.  In that case, it may be worth creating a Meetup group or some other forum where you can bring people together in the way you were seeking. This doesn't always need to be a big time or energy suck - it might be as simple as stating that the group will be meeting a the coffee shop at 10:00 am on the 4th Saturday of the month and showing up for several months as momentum builds.
  2. Initiate and follow-through, as much as possible. Once you've got a pool of potential new friends, try to follow (as much as you are able) Shasta's normal advice for cultivating new friends: those are the ingredients of a healthy relationship and even if we feel unhealthy, we still want our friendships to be healthy! That means take initiative when you can and have those "open hands" as people with a lot of their plates may not be able to commit as often or may not be able to follow through when the time comes. Though a friend will understand occasionally when you aren't up to getting together as planned, if canceling and rejection is the only interaction you have, that friend may grow weary of making the effort to reach out, even if she understands the circumstances, and may defer to not reaching out but instead waiting for you to make the effort when you are up to it.
  3. Cultivate fun and joy: If you can get a regular group who understands your challenges, work on growing towards cultivating fun and joy where possible through activities that are not illness specific.  Certainly it is great to update each other on your challenges and wins, medical and otherwise, but cultivating activities that aren't centered around the narrowness of illness allows you to reclaim part of your whole self.
  4. Receive, Say Yes, and Appreciate: And for those of us who are sick, it is helpful for us to remember to try to show up on our side when we are lucky enough to have a friend who is willing to stick by us during difficult times.   Allowing others to help you is a gift to the person who is offering to help - both to receive the help and to maintain connection.  We may need to work on being open to receive the gift.  You may repeatedly turn down offers to get together and get out or even to have someone come visit you or bring a meal because you aren't feeling as well as you wished.  Maybe you don't want to be seen when you aren't feeling well, or you haven't showered, changed out of your PJs, and put your make-up on.   Instead of feeling embarrassed about this, it is helpful to remember that you've got a true friend who is putting in the extra effort to show up when things are hard and that she doesn't care much about the shower, PJs, and make-up, but rather she cares about you. Say yes to that.

Thank you Lucy!  I appreciate you reaching out and being a catalyst for this conversation, and for sharing some of your energy with us in such an inspirational and informative way!

And I hope many more of you chime in on the comments!  What tips do you have?

In Sickness and Health, Part 2: Friendship When We're Hurting

While this blog post is the second in a series devoted to friendship with those who live with chronic pain and illness (nearly 1 in every 2 of us!), the principles are such that we'd all be wise to keep them in mind for when any of us are facing pain, loss, or suffering, in any form (all of us, at different times!). We all have to keep practicing friendship even in the midst of our imperfect conditions. Lucy Smith, who has been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition, reached out to me several months ago asking for my friend-making advice for those, like her, who live with pain and illness. Because I don't know what it's like to live with chronic pain, suffer from depression, or feel that my body or health places limitations on me, I asked her if she'd be willing to weigh in, too.  She wrote the first post in this series about what she wishes her friends understood about how that pain impacts their friendshipship, and I'll give her the last word in an upcoming post where she offers up friend-making tips to those who suffer from chronic conditions.  But I also wanted to honor her original request and weigh in with what I know about making friends when we're in pain.

May these tips be received in the spirit they are given: with hope for what we can develop and practice, and a gentleness for what's beyond our control.

hurting friend

4 Tips to Creating Healthy Relationship Even In Pain

  1. Give the Signal for How Much You Want to Talk About Your Condition/Circumstances:  Make it as easy on your friends as possible by either stating your comfort level with talking about your health ("By the way, I'm an open book on this subject-- you always have my permission to ask any question you want that might help you better understand my condition.") or by affirming the behaviors you appreciate ("Thank you for always asking me how I'm feeling-- it means a lot."). Or if you feel like your whole life is your health and that when you go out with friends you want an occasional break from it, then say that, too!  ("It's very thoughtful of you to ask, but I'm honestly just tired of talking about that and would love a night off from it.  Is that okay with you?") Assume that you are way more comfortable talking about these things than your friends are and they're probably worried about asking a dumb question, hurting your feelings, giving advice where it's not wanted, or bringing it up too much or not enough. Your ability to give us permission and make it a safe subject (as opposed to everyone feeling like there's an elephant in the room) will help create a safer relationship. In short: teach and guide us how to best interact with you on this subject, we will fail repeatedly if left to our own best guesses.
  2. Remember the Positivity Ratio:  Research is showing us that our relationships have to maintain a ratio of positivity and negativity that stays above 5:1 in order to stay healthy.  Period. This isn't negotiable for a friendship. No matter how much our lives hurt, we have to figure out how to keep our friendships titled toward joy. In other words, for every withdrawal we make on a friendship, we have to make 5 deposits to not go in the red. Positivity can include such things as saying thank you, affirming who they are, cheering for their successes, smiling, laughing, doing something for them, letting them know we are thinking of them, or giving a small gift. When our lives are full of pain (of any kind), it is perhaps even more important that we stay mindful that our friends still need to leave our presence feeling better about themselves and their lives for having been with us if we want the friendship to stay healthy. We're allowed to complain and express hurt, but it's our job to also bulk up our time together with gratitude and love. This is a tall ask, but to ignore it will kill a friendship with even the best of friends.
  3. Practice the Verb Most Challenging to You: Give, Take, or Receive.  Both giving and receiving are crucial to the health of every relationship, but I've also recently learned about how crucial it is that we also learn to take what we need, which is different from receiving that which is offered, right? All three are important for each of us to practice. My guess is that it would be easy to either be so very aware of your needs that you feel as though you're insatiable and need more than most people can give, or that you so badly don't want to be a "burden" or inconvenience on anyone that you might be at risk of turning down acts of love when you need it.
    • If you're saying no to help because you're embarrassed or scared-- practice saying yes, reminding yourself that your friends will feel more bonded to you and your journey if they can be involved.
    • But if you find yourself asking, demanding, or begging for more-- instead practice figuring out how you can give to your friends, making sure the relationships don't center around your needs. I heard someone say the other night, "When we can say 'I don't need you,' others trust us more when we then say 'I want you.'" Your friends don't want to be "needed" as much as they want to be "wanted."
    • Or if you find yourself resentful or hurt that your friends aren't stepping up, inviting you to things that they "should" know you can't do, or exhausting you with their expectations-- sometimes we need to learn to "take" what we need.  Take the time to stand up to stretch when needed, to go rest when you feel the headache coming on, to ask for what you need. Taking is a skill that can be the most loving verb for your own health and for the health of your friendships.
  4. Prove Repeatedly that Their Pains/Joys Still Matter: When I went through a devastating divorce years ago, multiple friends stopped sharing their lives with me, brushing it off with statements like "Nothing compares to what you're going through." They worried that everything sounded like complaining over nothing or bragging about what I didn't have, whether they wanted to complain about their spouses or be excited about their upcoming wedding plans or family vacations. When we're in pain--any kind-- we have to be the ones who keep giving permission to others to have their lives still matter. We have to stop talking and say, "now tell me all about you" and assure them that they still have the right to be happy and to complain. If they don't feel like they can complain about gaining ten pounds or having a headache-- just because we have it worse-- then we can't be a safe place for them in the long-term.  We have to cheer for them, waving off any of their guilt or concern for our feelings, and mourn with them, even when it seems to pale in comparison. Just because we lost a big part of our lives doesn't mean they should too. We will tap into the feeling they are expressing, instead of judging the circumstances.

Blessings on all of us as we continue to develop healthy relationships even in the midst of unhealthy bodies or circumstances....

 

In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness

Several months ago, I received a thoughtful email from a reader of this blog who asked me to write a blog post that helped people like her-- people who have chronic pain or illness-- to figure out how to make and keep friends when their energy and health often feels limited, challenged, or uncertain. Not entirely sure I felt qualified to give tips to this heroic population, I asked her if first she'd be willing to share, from her perspective, what she wishes the rest of us understood about our friends (or potential friends) whose health issues might impact how we befriend each other.  With nearly 1 in 2 of us suffering from some form of chronic (often invisible) illness, we all want to become far more sensitive and thoughtful in how we interact with one another.

Thank you Lucy Smith (pseudonym) for taking the time and energy to share with us what you've learned since being diagnosed a couple of years ago with a debilitating neurological condition.  Her ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult. She knows she's not alone as she's found some connection with others in similar situations and I'm so grateful she's excited to get a conversation started with this blog post.

When struck suddenly with a debilitating neurological condition a couple years ago, Lucy Smith's (pseudonym), ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult. She knows she's not alone as she's found some connection with others in similar situations. So she's excited to get a conversation started with this blog post.

We welcome the stories, tips, and encouragement from others who have found their health or pain impact their friendships--  we all have much to learn from each other. -- Shasta

In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness

When serious illness or disability strikes, especially at a relatively young age, your whole world gets turned upside down.  Unfortunately, at a time when you need the most support, many people--both family and friends-- don't know what to say or do and, in the wake of uncertainty, err on the side of not reaching out.

After several years of dealing with debilitating illness that completely changed how I was able to interact with friends, here's what I wish they knew:

  1. Let's Talk About It!  It is ok to not know what to say, how to act, or what would be helpful.   But I'd wish we could have a conversation about it instead of wondering how my social circle could evaporate almost instantaneously.
  2. Please Keep Reaching Out: I still need friends, actually more than ever.  However, I may not be able to do what we used to do together at all or I may not be able to do it if I am unwell that day.   It is tough enough to lose the activities that I once enjoyed.   I hope that doesn't mean that I lose you too because I can't do them with you.   Additionally, I need friends who understand that I may not be able to initiate as much (or at all).  Friends struggling with illness may not have any energy or brain power left to initiate and organize but often are feeling lonely and isolated, so initiate more than you might otherwise, even if you've gotten turned down several times.   It is really nice to be thought of and included, even if I don't feel well enough to attend a particular get-together.   If we do plan something ahead of time, I may not be feeling well when the time comes to get together, so I need understanding about adapting plans or canceling.
  3. Practice Empathy, Instead of Sympathy or Encouragement. Empathy is really helpful for maintaining connection.  Brene Brown has some great work on how empathy is different from sympathy.  Empathy fuels connection, while sympathy drives disconnection.  It is a "me, too", rather than "that's too bad".  This 3 minute video gives a great overview:  As she mentioned in the video, rarely does empathy begin with "At least...".  Well-meaning friends often want to cheer you up by essentially saying "it could be worse", but sometimes that just makes you feel like you haven't been heard or understood.
  4. Small gestures mean a lot. A. Lot. This can be as simple as offering to help with some chores as part of hanging out - for example, maybe cooking some good food together so I have healthy meals that are easy to reheat when I'm exhausted and in pain.   Or it might be a call to ask when you could drop by for a quick visit.  Or it might be noticing that a friend couldn't participate in something and asking if any modifications could be made so she could join you next time.
  5. Keep on Sharing Your Life! I really want to hear what is going on in your life - both the difficult parts (even if they seem not to be as difficult as mine) and the successes.   I still care about you and want to celebrate your trials and successes.

Here's the next post in this series, featuring some principles and tips for making friends, even in pain and loss.

 

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

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.

 

 

 

 

Do You Talk Too Much?

My favorite part of all my events is when it’s time for live Q&A. (There’s still time to come meet me on my book tour if you live in NYC, Denver, LA, Riverside CA, or the San Francisco Bay Area!) And as we’ve been talking more about the importance of vulnerability in our relationships (one of the 3 non-negotiables I discuss in Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness) it seems a question I’ve been getting a bit more lately has to do with our friends who are “the talkers.” If You're NOT the Over-Talker:

Their long-winded stories and external processing may have been survivable when we thought we were being a good friend by letting her go on-and-on, but as we realize that we’ll never develop frientimacy with someone unless there is mutual vulnerability--with both of us sharing deeply and feeling seen by the other—the realization that this imbalance must change is sinking in. We won’t ever feel close and supported by her if there isn’t the space in our relationship for us to confide and reveal.

If we’re not the one who is over-talking, we still have to practice figuring out ways to share. It’s not necessarily their fault that we’re not jumping in and sharing and talking—chances are they aren’t waiting for us to ask them questions, they are simply sharing whatever comes to mind and probably assuming we will, too. The invitation is ours to recognize that a friendship needs us to share if we’re going to feel closer to each other. So I do so hope you’ll try to interject your presence whether it’s by saying, “Hey before we finish our meal, I wanted to make sure I told you about x,” or by initiating a phone call with her and shaping expectations by saying, “I wanted to call you to see if you had time to listen and support me through something that’s going on at work?”  Being asked isn't necessary.

But while it’s not necessarily their fault that we’re not taking up our space, this post is directed at the over-talkers as it most certainly is their opportunity to make sure they are doing whatever they can to make their friendship a safe place for you to share.

Are You The Over-Talker?

How do you know if you are an over-talker? Well an easy, though imperfect, rule of thumb is to assess each phone call or get-together with the question: “What percentage of the

We love our friends who talk freely but we may need a few conversation pauses to help ensure we both leave feeling heard and seen.

time was I talking?” and if it’s frequently over 50% then it’s time to open up more space for your friends. Because while you may feel close to her, if she’s not sharing herself then chances are high that she won’t be feeling as close to you.

  • It doesn’t matter if you have more going on in your life—her life still is valuable and matters just as much.
  • It doesn’t matter that you’re witty and entertaining and she seems to like your stories—friendship isn’t about performing but about you both feeling seen and heard.
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert and she’s an introvert—her feelings and stories still need to be validated and witnessed.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can pat yourself on the back for asking her a question or two, if you’re then interrupting her or using her sharing to remind you of another story to tell.

Five Practices For Over-Talkers

Perhaps you've resigned yourself to “that’s just who I am” or maybe you beat yourself up regularly for not being able to stop talking, either way I’d like to share a few ideas. This is important to keep practicing. Your friendships are at risk of not reaching "frientimacy" when your friends aren't practicing speaking up or when you're not listening as much as you're sharing.

  1. Choose reminders that will help trigger you to stop talking and listen.  Most women who over-talk simply do it because they’re used to doing it. They don’t even realize they’re doing it. How can you increase your awareness? Maybe wear a ring or bracelet that you associate with “Ask questions” so every time you see it—you pass the conversation off. Or devote a month to listening so you have reminders on your morning mirror every day.  Or set an alarm on your phone for half way through the night that reminds you to assess how much you're listening.
  2. Invite your close friends to support your intention. Tell your friend, “I am sorry I over-talk sometimes because then I miss out on so much of your life. Let’s get in the habit of starting with your life before I start sharing mine. Are you willing to share with me some of the important things in your life right now?”
  3. Always ask at least 3 questions on the same subject before you give yourself permission to share what’s going through your head. After asking, “How’s work?” follow up with two more questions related to what she shares. Go deeper. Show your interest. Many of us will only give the polite short answer until we’re convinced you really care.
  4. Validate what they share before rifting on what they shared. Women often share their “similar” stories in order to bond with each other but it can feel like one-upping or taking back the conversation. It’s okay to go back-and-forth, but make sure you communicate you heard their feelings first. Instead of “That reminds me of…” start with something that has the word ‘you’ in it such as “Wow you handled that so well, which can’t be said about a time when I was in that situation…”
  5. Affirm, affirm, affirm. If you know you tend toward over-talking, then also be known for being someone who over-loves. We can all put up with talker when we have no doubt that they have our back, love us, adore us, and believe in us. Make sure we leave your presence feeling good about who we are and we’ll be more likely to look forward to hanging out with you again!

We so love you our dear talkers.  You bring us joy, laughter, and we learn so much from you.  Thank you for sharing your heart with us so freely and for modeling how we can trust each other with our lives. You inspire us, you pull us in, and you make time together stimulating with so many ideas and stories.  We do so love you.

May we all feel seen in our friendships, whether we're the talkers or the ones who need to talk up more!

xoxo

Shasta

p.s.  What other tips do you have?  Non-talkers-- what would mean the most to you?  Talkers-- what works for you?

How much do you REALLY want good friends?

Rare is the person who will say "I don't want more from my friendships." Whether that "more" means making new friends, feeling more fulfilled with their current friends, or feeling like they have the time to enjoy those friends-- most of us want more.

And yet... unfortunately all to rare, too, is the person willing to really do something about it.

Unfortunately, the actual process of making friends includes activities and feelings most of us would rather avoid:

  • putting ourselves in situations to meet people (and, unfortunately TV characters don't count)
  • small talk with strangers (every friend starts out as one!)
  • initiating a get-together (why can't they just appear on our door when we have time?!)
  • annoying logistics (back and forth emails, anyone?)
  • feeling our insecurities (what will I say? what if I look nervous? what if I'm too shy?)
  • fearing rejection (they probably won't like me... they probably don't need new friends... they probably won't make time for me)
  • believing the future can be different from the past (ever been betrayed? ever felt de-valued? ever felt like nothing works?)

The very process of making friends quite different from the outcome we hope to experience.

What we want to feel is supported, loved, seen, known, and valued.  What it takes to get there sometimes is awkwardness, small talk, exhaustion, insecurities, and uncertainty.

What we want is intimacy; what we have to start with are introductions.

What we want is familiar; what we have to start with is foreign.

What we want is a best friend; what we have to start with is a new friend.

His Question: Are you willing to suffer for what you want?

A blog post written by a guy named Mark Manson in 2013 is now making it's rounds on Facebook (I had two separate friends send me the article this week!) where he challenges his readers: are you willing to suffer a process for the outcome you desire?

He argues it's the most important question you can ask yourself.  Reminding us that we all want pretty similar things in life: healthy bodies, amazing relationships, meaningful work, abundant money, and realized dreams, but we're not all willing to suffer the process that comes with those things.

Here are some examples, besides the friendship one I started with:

  • In the book writing world, it's said that 81% of Americans say that they want to write a book-- but only a small fraction do.  Understandably... since it's a long road of time and emotion.
  • Most Americans want to be thinner or healthier... but not all of us are willing to go sweat or say no to our pleasures in order to achieve it.
  • Mark said he wanted to be a rock star, but he wasn't really willing to play small gigs, haul his music gear, and round-up a band. It's a lot of work!

He says, "I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love not with the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way."

My Answer: The Price Tag

I agree with him that we do in fact need to ask ourselves what we're willing to give toward the outcomes we desire...

But, and this is a big but: our ultimate goal isn't to suffer as much as it's to invest in what we say matters to us.

The metaphor I often use with myself is that of a price tag:  How much am I willing to pay for this?  Which has to be asked with the question: how much do I value this?

price of friendships

When we go shopping-- we have choices.  We can buy the used, beat-up, 10-year old car for $2500... or we can buy the newest one that boasts a few more zeroes on the price tag.

Which one is the right choice? It depends on what you think you're buying, how much it matters to you, what you most value/prioritize, how many resources you have, and what other things you need to buy with what you have.

Sometimes the "cheaper" option is the right choice and sometimes it's not.  Sometimes the higher price tagged item is the one we choose because we value what we're getting with that extra cost.

We all have things in our lives we're willing to "pay the higher price" for... we do that because we believe the outcome is worth the cost.  We pay more for what we value.

So the goal isn't just to be pay the cheapest price for everything, nor is it to pay the highest price for everything we say we want; the goal is to make sure that we invest our resources in the areas that we say matter the most.  That may mean, since we have limited resources, we have to "spend less" in some areas in order to "afford more" in other areas.

What Price Tag is Worth Friendship to You?

I invite you to really ask yourself this year:

  1. How much do I really want more in my friendships this year?
  2. How important is that outcome to me? How valuable is it?
  3. What price tag or investment am I willing to make for that outcome?
  4. Do the two--the value and the price-- match? (Does the value and price feel fair or am I hoping for "a new car" while only willing to pay for "a used one"?)

The goal, of course, isn't to "suffer" but rather to know that what we're investing in is worth the outcome to us.

If experiencing more in your friendships is important to you... what might be some of the "costs" (see list at top of post for some ideas!) that you think would be the best investments you're willing and able to make toward that outcome?

My prayer for you: that you reach your friendships goals and say "it was worth every cent."

Feeling the Edge of My Circle of Love

The month of Christmas, for all it's wonder and festivities, can also be a season where our "edge of love" can rear its little head. I call it the "edge of love" because even the most loving, non-judgmental, and kind people among us all have a perimeter, or boundary, of who and how we love.  I love easily the people and moments in the middle of my circle of love: girls nights in front of fireplaces, snuggling with my husband, talking on the phone to my sister, getting together with family I adore.

Shasta's Circle of Love

But... certain types of settings and certain types of people (or even very specific people) don't invoke in me the same pure love. I can feel myself show up with a lack-of-love as I reach the outer edges of who and how I love.

My goal, of course, is to make that circle of love so big that I can show up in nearly every setting with absolutely anyone and feel nothing but innocent love for the people in front of me.

But I am still far from that:

  • When I'm tired or have been around a lot of people lately.... I notice the circle closing in and getting smaller.
  • When I hear certain rhetoric or politics on the news... I notice myself feeling tempted to move an entire segment of the population outside of my circle because of my judgments.
  • When I feel forgotten or neglected or uninvited to something... I notice myself closing up a bit, which also shrinks the circle.
  • When I am so focused on my to-do list that I can't sit and be with people in meaningful ways... I know that my agenda is filling up too much of my heart.
  • When I am in certain settings that don't feel obviously meaningful (i.e. school programs, parties with people I don't know well) I am tempted to believe and expect little, therefore not showing up with an open heart.
  • When I am with a certain friend who has felt more draining than fulfilling, I can feel the edge with her where I want to love her but am not feeling expansive.

Maybe you know the feeling, too.  We know we are loving people; there's no question of that.  But if we're honest, every single one of us has an edge to our circle. I invite you to close your eyes and ask yourself where you're seeing the edge of your love show up recently.

It's more important than ever this year.  Practicing loving others is for our benefit as it leads to greater peace and joy in our lives as we watch ourselves judge, worry, or fear less. But this year, with all that is going on in the news, it's not just us that needs to feel more peace and safety, but our entire world is moaning with out it. Fear shrinks and closes us; love expands and opens us.  We need a world where humanity is still showing up with open hearts.

Loving Others Can Include Boundaries. To be clear: we're talking about a circle of feeling love for someone, which isn't the same as having boundaries for what we can give or do for others.  The circle of love doesn't mean I have to seek them out and hang out with them, spend time with them out of obligation, do whatever they ask of me, or give them all my time and energy.  It does mean that we see the value every person has-- that we see them as the innocent and loved people that they are even if we don't understand them, agree with them, or if they act out of brokenness and wounds, like we do, sometimes. It means I can think about people, or see them in person, and want to only send them love and light. It means showing up able to wish every person the very best and mean it.  Even with someone with whom I need to set boundaries with or limit my time with:  I want to be able to think of them and feel love. In fact, I set the boundaries because I love them.

Loving Others Is About My Need for Healing. And when I don't--or can't-- I know it's because there is something in me that is wounded and still needs healing. And I want to see that, own it, and pray for healing in me that I could then show up with greater love for the other.

It's not their fault I have a hard time loving them, it's my invitation to become a more loving person.  It's my responsibility to:

  • Invite in all the love I can from the people and places that fill my tank up.
  • Engage in the self-care and self-love that helps me hold all the love in my tank.
  • Choose self-awareness over blame so that I have more opportunities to ask myself "Why does this really bother me? What is it triggering in me? What's this about?"
  • Practice looking at those who annoy me and silently think "I love you anyway. You deserve love in this world," while simultaneously praying "Keep healing this in me so I don't feel provoked."

Loving Others Is the Work of a Lifetime! Oh I am far from this.  It's one thing to write-up my ideals and quite another to actually reach them.  But I will say that I have seen my circle of love grow bigger over the years, and that's encouraging!  I can think back to people and situations that would have bothered me years ago where now I can stay peaceful or better able to access my joy. I can see the growth in me! That excites me!  It reminds me that whatever "edge" feels impossible right now could feel easy this time next year!

This holiday season--whether you're with your in-laws who exhaust you or reacting to the news we see in this world--if there's anything we all wish we could put on our wish list, wouldn't it be more peace, love, and joy?

My prayer: Oh that we might see our love expanded this season. Replace our judgments with a willingness to see people differently, increase our ability to see people the way God does, and keep healing in us anything that limits our love.

Advice: Drifting Apart: Give Up or Try Again?

Dear Shasta Request for advice! I read your advice on emailing a friend about a drifting friendship and am looking for help! I have a 'commitment' friend (15 year friendship). Our friendship has been drifting for the past 5 years, despite being in each others wedding parties and both having babies recently. The things I attribute the drift to are: - geographical separation (though, c'mon - 30 min is not that far!); busy lives (toddlers and full-time jobs); husbands with slightly different interests (her husband seems to have all the friends he wants). This last point is what I blame the drift on the most, with busy lives and kids I feel it's tougher to connect and I feel more resentful that they don't welcome my husband into their lives. Fearing that we are lost forever (my last-ditch effort to reconnect with our babies has officially failed), I need some advice. The sadness I feel from mourning her loss in my life (and jealousy of the new friends she focuses all of her efforts on) is on my mind constantly. I was a zombie of sadness (not at all like my old perky fun self!) at our last group gathering when I attended her son's 2nd birthday. I even feel that my daughter is getting pushed out. Do I email her? Help?!

Dearest Zombie of Sadness,

Oh my heart breaks for you! It is SO painful feeling like we're losing a friend.  Much like a break-up except sometimes worse in that we don't have the conversations that help bring closure and we try to keep up appearances for so long, unsure what the status really is.  It makes sense that you feel sad-- something feels lost and sadness is the healthy and appropriate response!

And in answer to the question you asked: "Do I email her?" My answer is a resounding yes!

Here's why:

  • You're commitment friends.  My rule of thumb is that the more we've invested in each others lives, the more I'm willing to do what I can to repair the friendship (or at least end well).
  • You still like her!  This isn't a drifting apart case where you two don't like each other-- you're both still in each others social circles and want to be closer!
  • You've both gone through a lot of changes.  Weddings and babies-- either one of those changes can be tough for us to even figure out, let alone all our friends who have to figure out the new normal, too!  It makes sense that it would feel different and a bit hesitant since neither of you have practice at this yet! Be gentle on both of yourselves, if you can!
  • You have a lot in common.  Besides all the history you have, it's actually amazing you both are married, had kids at the same time, and are choosing to keep working.

But.... my read on this (and granted I don't know what you mean by last-ditch effort failing OR how she's feeling and what she's noticing) is that if I were you I'd focus less on the problems right now and more on trying to add more positivity to the friendship.

My next book (Frientimacy) covers this big time because a friendship has to have a positivity:negativity ratio of at least 5:1 which means that sometimes we can't eliminate all the stressors (busy lives, disappointments, jealousy) but we can add more joy.  And as we get that number back up (enjoying each others company, laughing, playing) then we have more room to have tough talks.  It's not to say you can't have that talk now or that you have to keep it bottled up, but it is to say that ultimately what you want is to feel closer to her so the highest priority is strategically figuring out the best way to accomplish that goal. To feel mad at her for her husbands choices (which possibly causes friction in her marriage) or for her making new friends (which is actually healthy and normal and probably a good idea for you, too, no matter what happens with this friend!) may not lead to you feeling closer.

So what I'd suggest, in this case, is an email that isn't focused on the frustrations, but rather on your end-goal: more time together.  Your goal in this email is to solicit her help brainstorming suggestions for your time together-- you show care to her by reaching out and prioritizing her preferences and schedule, and depending on what she writes back you have more information as to what, if anything, she's actually willing to do to keep this friendship in her life.

“I miss you… and I was wondering what you feel like works best for us in terms of staying in touch? In your opinion is it easier/better trying to do more family time together with our husbands included or is it easier/better on you when it’s just us girls or do you prefer trying to include our kids more?  Does it feel better on your end knowing that we have something scheduled regularly that we can count on (i.e. meet for drinks once a month, talk on the phone every Thursday on the way home from work) or does it feel better to keep it organic and spontaneous and just both take on the responsibility of reaching out when we can?  So much in our lives has changed and I'm just trying to figure out what our friendship can look like in this phase of our lives. You’re important to me and I want to do what I can on my end to keep our friendship healthy!  I know it’s realistic that our friendship will ebb and tide, and shift as we keep going through all these life changes, and yet as I hear about so many friendships that simply drift apart, I also would hate for us to lose touch with each other or have our time together decrease in meaningfulness for either one of us…I look forward to hearing what feels easiest and most meaningful to you these days."

The good news with this approach is you're not opening a can of worms or starting a big fight.  You're not blaming or accusing.  You're simply saying that her opinion matters to you and that you want to be intentional about your friendship!

Best case scenario-- it opens up the door for you two to figure out how your friendship needs to change to accommodate your new lives. And hopefully you both feel more valuable to each other in the process!

Worst-case-- you have clarity that she's not going to make time for you right now (which isn't to say that next year couldn't be different.  Remember you have both gone through SO many life changes recently and are both just trying to do the best you can to adjust!) and you can set your expectations accordingly.

I have so much more I could say but I'm already above my word count (no surprise there! ha!) so hopefully that at least gives you my vote that I think it's worth you writing her.

My prayer is that someday you can write me back and it would be signed, "My old perky fun self." With or without her-- you WILL get there.

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s. What about the rest of you GirlFriends-- what advice would you give her? Should she write?

p.s.s. Want my advice? Fill out this form!

If my friend really liked me then she'd initiate more...

I ruffled a few feathers last week with my post about being willing to be the friend who initiates more with others than they seem to reciprocate. Several of us feel like we're making more time for our friendships than others are... So first a hearty thank you to all of you left comments and shared your feelings! My answer was in response to a girl asking how to build relationships when it seemed others didn't make the time.  But for many of you, you expressed that for you this isn't a strategy issue but rather one that actually hurts your feelings and leaves you feeling insecure.

Therefore, I want to jump off from that post to talk about the danger of taking the actions of others personally.

In my upcoming book Frientimacy I share amazing research about how painful it is for any of us to think we're being rejected. It's a very real feeling and it hurts.  I totally understand why we all feel so fearful about being seen as wanting a friendship more than someone else, or worrying about whether this is their way of saying "I don't want to be your friend." But if we take the busy-ness of others as a personal offense then we'll not only stay lonely for a long time, but we'll be miserable and sad, too.

Their Actions Hurt Our Feelings

In my first marriage I cried myself to sleep a number of nights. At the time I was convinced those hurt feelings were his fault. I was in graduate school and had to be in class by 7 am so our needs would clash when he wanted to stay up late watching some new show called The Daily Show instead of come to bed with me. (Ha! Little did I know how much I'd come to love that show year later!) I held an ideal image in my head that couples go to bed at the same time.  I wanted to talk and cuddle and connect with him. To make a long story short-- despite my invitations, my tears, and my begging-- I occasionally went to bed alone. And when I did... my heart would break.

To many others this story might not sound so bad.  He certainly wasn't an awful person for wanting to stay up and laugh. But I had gotten it in my head that he was choosing that over me.  In other words, I believed a narrative that whispered: "If he really loved me, he would see how important this is to me and come to bed with me."

We do this all the time in all our relationships, even our friendships:

  • If she really understood me then she'd know not to ask that question...
  • If she really trusted me then she'd have told me about that problem...
  • If she really appreciated me then she'd have done more to say thanks...
  • If she really valued me then she'd remember my birthday...
  • If she really cared about me then she'd have offered to help me...

And the one that hits a little closer to home from the last post:

  • If she really liked me then she'd initiate us getting together more often...

Our feelings are hurt and it makes sense that we'd be tempted to look for who is causing that pain. When we see them doing something we don't want, or not doing something we do want, then we're quick to assume they are to blame for our hurt feelings, insecurities, or anger.

It's Not About Us

But here's the truth, that's easier to see when it's someone else's narrative (hence why I shared from my marriage) and not our own: how other people act says more about them than it does about us.

And what it says about them isn't the bad that we often assume it is.

Take my ex-husband for example. I valued going to bed together early.  Nothing inherently wrong with that desire, but neither is it better than his needs and desires. Perhaps he valued decompressing after a long day, perhaps his life was draining and it needed more laughter, perhaps he needed more freedom, autonomy and independence in life, or perhaps his body cycle was just different from mine and he wasn't tired yet? All of those are just as valid as my need.

And here's what I know to my core now that I have experience more growth and maturity since those fights long ago: I don't believe for a second that he ever stayed up thinking to himself: "I hope she knows now that I don't love her." I absolutely know that was never the message he was trying to send.

Yet, I cried in bed, suffering, worrying, and shrinking because of the meaning I assigned to his actions.

Many a woman goes to bed before her partner and isn't crying and hurting over it.  I chose my suffering because of what I chose to think about someone else's actions.

The Four Agreements

In the best-selling book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz teaches that the Second Agreement, if we want to live lives full of joy and peace, is "Don't Take Anything Personally." He says,

"Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about 'me'."

In the case of a friend not calling, inviting, and reaching out-- it would be easy to take it personally:  she doesn't like me; or to blame and devalue her: "I don't need friends like that-- I deserve better!"  Our ego is convinced it either means she doesn't think we're good enough or that we don't think she's good enough.  But one way or another: someone is bad.

But no friendship will ever blossom with that fear and frustration.  The best chances we have for creating the love around us that we want is to keep putting out love and ensuring that our actions are in alignment with that desire.  We want to keep inviting and stay as warm as possible.

The Caveats

So am I saying be a stalker?  No.  :) If she is rude, ignores your invitations completely, has never once said yes, or just acts miserable when we're together-- then, you're right: move on. (It's still not about you though!)

But recognize that our tendency to assume others are trying to reject us is just our own made-up story. Most women out there want more meaning relationships in their lives and you can help show the how that's done-- most of them will thank you for it someday. (And in the meantime you get what you wanted: more time with friends!)

  • It's okay to keep inviting if she sometimes says yes and answers our invitation-- it doesn't need to be 50/50.
  • We can't expect a new-ish friend to make the same kind of time for us that she might if we were close friends.  We can keep building the relationship slowly and trust the growth.
  • If you've been friends for a while and she's not as responsive as she used to be, check in with her and see how she's doing... (she may be feeling hurt too!)... it's not stalking to keep trying to engage with those who we are in relationship with.
  • If you're trying to start friendships-- put out a net instead of a fishing line! Don't zero in on one person, but stay open to developing several friendships at once.

We're the ones well aware of how important friendship is to our life... for us to keep reaching out doesn't help them as much as it helps us.  We aren't doing them this amazing favor as much as we are gifting ourselves with the likelihood that with our efforts we will keep developing the intimacy and love with others that we crave. It is a mutual relationship if we enjoy being with them when they say yes.

I'd rather error on the side of having reached out one too many times than to have stopped one time too few? If I can not take it personally then I can go down swinging for love and friendship.

Does that make sense, in general?  I know it's easy to try to find the exception... but overall can you see that it's better to put love out there than to keep track of scores, and better to assume the best of others than take it personally? I'm not saying it's easy but I think it's worth practicing!