Types of Friends

The 4 Bonding Styles-- Which Is Yours?

Can you articulate what experiences you need to have with others to feel closer to them?  And did you know that while there are the 3 main requirements of all healthy relationships (consistency, positivity, and vulnerability, taught in Frientimacy), how we each judge our closeness to someone else will look different based, in part, on our temperament? With the December holidays often gathering us with friends and family, and the soon-following New Year that inspires us to prioritize our relationships in the year ahead; let's take a moment to look at how our temperaments can inform the bonding process.

By reminding ourselves how we're each wired differently we can better understand 1) how to increase our chances of feeling connected in our interactions 2)  and hopefully also to feel more aware that others might need something different.

In this group of 5 of us friends-- we have 3 of the 4 temperaments represented!

How Myers-Briggs Informs the Bonding Process

There are so many nuanced and amazing ways to better understand ourselves but since Myers-Briggs Temperament Inventory (MBTI) is one of the most popular, I thought I'd use that one today to illustrate how we are each looking for something different in our interactions and relationships.

While there are 16 different types of people identified within the Myers-Briggs sorter, we all tend to fall under one of 4 major groups: the Artisans, the Guardians, the Idealists, and the Rationals.  With that said, we are all incredibly unique and might have elements of many, or all, of them.  What's most important is simply reminding ourselves to take a moment to assess what it takes for us to feel close to someone else AND to not assume that everyone else feels the same.  :)

(It's not imperative for you to know your type to identify with one the following four explanations, but if you'd like to take the inventory, I know there are multiple free assessments you can search for, and if you want to purchase from the official Myers-Briggs Foundation you can do so here.)

  1. The Artisans, or SP's:  Our fun-loving, optimistic, spontaneous, and creative Artisans (roughly 40% of the population) feel most close to people when they play together. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if there were fun things-to-do, game-playing, and lots of activity. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone they deem boring, or who doesn't share their interests or hobbies. The more they can play with someone or engage in a shared activity together-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.
  2. The Guardians, or SJ's: Our loyal, responsible, hard-working, thoughtful, and organized Guardians (roughly 40% of the population) feel most close to people when they support each other. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if they feel everyone participated in a tradition, followed social or family etiquette by getting along, helped prepare for or plan the events, and basically showed priority to the value of being together. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone if they feel that person isn't "carrying their weight," or "living up to expectations." The more they feel needed and feel that others are playing their roles and contributing-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.
  3. The Idealists, or NF's: Our idealistic, romantic, deep-feeling, and passionate Idealists (roughly 10% of the population) feel most close to people when they feel seen and understood. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if they feel they had meaningful conversations, which included people expressing an interest in their lives, ideas, and feelings; and trusting them to share the same. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone if they feel like the conversations were "shallow" which happens if the conversations stayed on "updating" and "concrete" topics instead of on the sharing of lives and feelings. The more they feel expressed, seen for who they are, and affirmed-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.
  4. The Rationals, or NT's: Our pragmatic, skeptical, strategic, utilitarian, and autonomous Rationals (roughly 5-10% of the population) feel most close to people when they feel intellectually stimulated. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if they helped solve a problem, were asked for their opinion on something they deemed important, or participated in a rousing conversation that challenged them to think. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone if they don't feel like that person values, or is capable of, thinking for themselves, examining abstract subjects such as politics, economics, technology, or the exploration of how things work. The more they feel respected for their intellectual processing and the willingness of others to engage with them in their areas of interest-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.

Maximizing the Bonding Process

It is imperative that I understand what I most need in order to leave a gathering feeling more connected to those I love. When I can articulate what I need-- be it activities, traditions/support, heartfelt conversation, or sharing stimulating ideas-- I can be more thoughtful about how I might foster those moments.

But just as powerful as realizing that I need to take the initiative of getting my needs met is the realization that I will want to also be purposeful in engaging in the actions that will feel bonding to those I love and cherish.  That might mean:

  • Playing games or lacing up ice-skates with my Artisan... even if I am tempted to go clean the kitchen or don't feel very skilled at the activity, remembering that they will feel closer to me by building that memory.
  • Attending the family meal, dropping off a thoughtful gift, or showing up at the religious event with my Guardian... even if I don't find the event "meaningful" or would rather be playing than helping show support or giving in service, remembering I can love them by supporting the people, institutions, and ideals that they love.
  • Staying focused and asking follow-up questions with my Idealist... even if it feels awkward, remembering they feel valued by the interest that I show.
  • Asking what book my Rational is reading these days and exploring what they think about it.... even if the topic is "boring" to me, remembering that they feel respected when we share opinions and thoughts.

Our temptation might be to judge each others way of bonding as "shallow," "boring," "exhausting," or simply as "not me." But being in relationship with others calls us to be intentional about our needs and theirs.

May you end December feeling ever closer, and more connected, to those in your tribe.

xoxo

p.s.  Does this resonate? Is this helpful? In what ways might you apply this information to benefit your relationships?  :)

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The Verdict: Can Men and Women Be Close Friends?

This is a question I am asked somewhat frequently:  Can men and women be just friends? And the answer is always somewhat unsatisfying because as much as we long for a clear-cut yes or no, we all know that the answer is more like "Yes, but...."

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

The Research on Cross-Gender Friendships

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

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

Here are my cliff notes:

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

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

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

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

Reflection Questions For Personal Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

With Whom Should I Be Vulnerable?

Relationship stress, parenting disappointments, financial scarcity, career failures, crippling fears, health challenges, exhausting depression, unmet expectations, identity crisis, paralyzing indecision ... There is so much in this life that hurts. As if those aches weren't enough, compounding the fear and angst, far too many of us suffer alone.

Heart and Key

Why We Don't Reach Out

We stay quiet for any number of reasons, including (but definitely not limited to):

  • It's harder to stay in denial if we have to speak it out loud.
  • We've been hurt before when we've shared honestly so it feels far too risky now.
  • It's important (to our job, to our ego, to our spouse/family) that we keep up a certain image.
  • We can hardly manage our own shame/grief around the situation that we doubt we could handle anyone else's feelings, too.
  • Our greatest fear is being rejected or judged so why would we ever want to look less than perfect to someone else?
  • We don't really know anyone well enough to share deeply.

Why We Must

Unfortunately I have to stay brief on this part since what I really want to talk about is how to determine who to talk with, but it's worth reminding our brains that external processing is crucial for growth.

Self-reflection is limited to that which we are already conscious of in ourselves; interacting with others is what pushes us to new ways of thinking.

Even for people who prefer internal processing (a descriptive of many introverts), they are limited only to their own thoughts (which often just keep spiraling and spiraling) and can't access all the new inspiration, ideas, resources, awareness of blind spots, and reminders of love, acceptance, and normalcy that others can give. (Similarly, I'd tell those who prefer external processing that there is also a huge need for them to spend time checking in with themselves and reflecting more! Both are needed!)

Furthermore, oxytocin, the hormone that helps us feel safe, connected, and loved flows through us when we are sharing, touching, and being seen.  This powerful chemical also prohibits cortisol which is released by our stress, so engaging with others actually protects our bodies from the impact of whatever is causing us pain or stress. Our stressors deplete us, but relationships fill us up. (We can't always eliminate that which is draining us, but we can always be responsible for adding more of the things that energize and heal us.)

So Who Do We Share With?

  • Do we share with the people we like the best?
  • Or the ones who we've known the longest?
  • Or the ones who have been through something similar?
  • Or the ones who appear to not struggle in this area?
  • Or the ones who have opened up and shared with us in the past?
  • Or the ones who seem to have time?

The answer is: none of the above.

While the person we practice opening up with may fit 1-2 of those descriptors-- in and of themselves, they are not a reason to be vulnerable with someone. The chances of backfiring are high with any of them if we don't take into account the real reason to choose someone.

In short the answer is: The person we practice being vulnerable with the big stuff is the person we have been practicing vulnerability with on the small stuff.

What does that mean?  Let me give you an example:  If you'd rate your pain/fear as a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10, then you're better off sharing it with someone whom you've shared with before and appreciated their response.  So hopefully there are a few people you've practiced being vulnerable with regarding matters that you'd consider 5's or 6's? The jump from a 5/6 to a 7/8 really isn't that risky.  You have a history of practicing vulnerability with them in a way where their response was meaningful or helpful so while it may still feel scary to share, you don't need to fear their response or wonder if they will still love you.

You two have practiced vulnerability so it's not a new dance, but rather just a more experienced dance move.

What If I Don't Have Anyone?

The other option if you don't have people around you whom you've practiced vulnerability with already is to intentionally and incrementally start deepening some of the friendships you do have. Think of the scale in your mind and make sure you're sharing only a little bit at a time to then have the opportunity to step back and assess how it feels before sharing more.  In other words, if your pain is an 8, share as much as feels like a 3, before jumping up to 5, and before eventually sharing the 8.

What does that look like? Maybe you're struggling with a possible impending divorce. Before you pour out your heart and dump on someone, see how it feels to share a small piece of it: maybe just a fight you've recently had or acknowledging in broad strokes how hard marriage can feel sometimes. Does she meet you there? Does she judge? Does she listen and ask questions? Does she validate your feelings? If she responds in a way that feels safe to you, then you can up the ante a bit and maybe share something more specific or deep.

But I'd caution you that if you've bottled up a lot and haven't shared too deeply with others, it's probably wise to not go from 1 to 8 in one sitting with someone, even if she is responding kindly and encouragingly. My best advice would be to see it a bit like a first-time at the gym-- don't overdo it; you can always do more next time, building up to higher numbers as you engage more often.  Your goal isn't just to find someone to vomit on, but to build a lasting relationship that can support both of you so make sure you ask about her life, share something positive, and be someone who she would look forward to getting together with again. (If you NEED to talk and don't have those friendships in place, it's usually wise to realize that what you need might be a therapist, pastor, or other professional whose goal is to help you, not to build up a mutually confiding friendship.)

I'm excited for my next book to come out next Spring (the title is Frientimacy) where I talkFriendship cover in-depth about how to deepen friendships, but if you want more now then see pages 163-168 specifically about how to share when you're feeling broken and hurt (and all of chapter 8 on vulnerability for more general sharing) in my book Friendships Don't Just Happen!

What I want for all of you, eventually, is the awareness that you have developed a net of supportive relationship under you, made up of people who have practiced going as deep as possible with you... so that you live with confidence and peace that when the 10 hits (and chances are high it will), you have a couple of people who can support you through it.

Far too many people say, "When I went through such-and-such, I learned who my real friends are" as though it's an indictment against all those who didn't stick by them, but often it says less about the people, and more about what level of relationship was developed.

We owe it to ourselves to develop the relationships that incrementally and intentionally foster safe and mutual sharing. I want that for you!

Leave a comment!  Does this make sense? What questions do you have? Do you have any experience with sharing too much/too fast or not sharing enough to feel supported? We'd be honored to learn with you!

The Myth that Keeps You Lonely

You wish you had the kind of girlfriend you could just text a code word to and she'd know exactly how to respond; the friend who would say, "Let's just hang out this weekend" and you'd want nothing more than uninterrupted time with her; the friend who hears that you're sick and shows up with a pot of soup; the friend who seemingly never tires of listening to you rant about X (insert whatever or whoever you feel like you're always worried about!); the friend who includes you in everything; whispers secrets to you that she tells no one else; and the one who just always seems to want to be with you the same amount of time that you want to be with her. Friendship: What We Want & What We Get

When we're feeling that little nagging angst of loneliness-- it's for her that we want.  It's for the fantasy best friend that we know would be the Thelma to our Louise, the fork to our spoon, the laughter to our jokes.  She would be the finisher of our sentences, the reader of our minds, and the affirmer of our hearts.  Our time together would be effortless, easy, safe, and comfortable.

Most of us just ache for her and keep hoping we'll bump into her one day, doing little-to-nothing to actually seek her out. As if she's a unicorn we just have to hope we'll one day spot!

Some of us go one step further and decide to put at least some energy toward the search-- we join sites like www.GirlFriendCircles.com, sign up for workshops and classes, and attend the parties of our friends with a willingness to connect with new friends. We go out looking for her; as though we're casting agents hosting an audition, employers ready to interview for an open position, or headhunters looking for "our types."

But then, much to our dismay, we discover that the difference between what we want and what we get is vastly huge.

Because what we get in a new friend, 90% of the time, is a stranger that we don't yet know as a best friend so we don't yet love her. We get discouraged when she takes three weeks to schedule, skeptical when she seems to have other friends, doubtful when we see that our lives aren't as similar as we had hoped, and judgmental when we see her choose differently than we would have. She's not quite as vulnerable as we like, the conversation doesn't go as deep as we wish, and we're not laughing quite as much as we think we should be.

We meet a whole bunch of candidates who aren't quite good enough to fit our BFF opening so we quietly reject them and keep looking, albeit somewhat disillusioned.

The gap between the women we're meeting and the women we ultimately want as best friends feels far too great to close.

The Myth That Needs Busting: "I'm looking for the right person to be my BFF"

The gap is indeed discouraging between who we want as friends and what we get from the women we're meeting.

But technically that's only disappointing if you expected it to be otherwise.

The myth keeping most women lonely is that they think having close friends is a product of discovering the right person; when the truth is that meaningful friendship is actually a product of developing the right friendship.

And that, my GirlFriends, is good news. Because now we can recognize that a gap doesn't mean she's not the right one! Rather, a gap reminds us that everyone starts as a new/casual friend and some of them over time (and we won't know which ones for quite a while!) can develop into the friendships we crave.

The Truth: Friendships Don't Start With Frientimacy, They Are Developed

Remember my 5 Circles of Connectedness? In this visual we see how all friends have to start on the far left in the Contact Friends Circle and be developed over to the far-right via consistent time together, increased vulnerability, and broader ways of being together.

Shasta's Circles of Connectedness_updated8-31-11-01

For example, let's use me for a moment.  If you met me today and wanted to be my BFF-- you might judge me against your standards of who you want me to be as a "Commitment Friend."  You could think such things to yourself as: "ugh, she already has her good friends... and she's so busy... I want someone who could meet up with me tonight if I wanted... and when I see her she just doesn't open up about her life that much... and I invited her last time and she hasn't reciprocated yet...besides she's x (married, without kids, too young-- pick the one that doesn't match your life)" and your brain would be tempted to rule me out.

But here's the genius:  Basically as long as I'm friendly toward you-- then I meet the standards for being your Contact Friend so there's NO need to rule me out!  :) For I think I'm a pretty decent friend! (Do I have a witness?!  LOL!)

So you wouldn't want to rule me out because I don't treat you like a BFF when we're not!

Your Take-Away:  Lower Your Standards!

In other words, don't use the standards you'd have for a best friend for a new friend!  For a new friendship: LOWER your standards!

"Lower my standards?" I hear the panic rising in your voice!

Yes, lower your standards.  Release your expectations.  Stop trying to pick and choose so early in the game.  As long as there are no red flags (think abuse, lying, mean spirit) then be open to being surprised by who might develop into a meaningful friend.

Basically, I can let nearly anyone into my Contact Friends Circle.  If you're not biting me or screaming at me-- I accept you!  Welcome to my Circles!

By letting you in, it doesn't mean that I think we'll become bosom buddies, necessarily; it just means I recognize that all levels of friendship are important and acknowledges that I don't always know which women will be the ones I grow closer to.

Open your life to more people (aka: lower your expectations/standards) and let life surprise you with who you end up developing into a deep and meaningful friendship!

(In fact most of my current Commitment Friends weren't necessarily the women I liked more than anyone else I knew at the time... they are merely the ones where the relationship continued to develop, for various reasons.)

From that Circle, some women I'll run into automatically (at school, work, PTA, association gatherings) and we'll eventually make the jump to Common Friends as we grow our friendship.  For others, I may need to initiate some time together so we can keep seeing where our friendship progresses.

The truth is that if you and I barely know each other, then you shouldn't be trying to figure out whether I could be your Commitment Friend as much as you should be excited that we're now Contact Friends.  And as Contact Friends-- everything I named above as reasons you might rule me out are actually appropriate and healthy actions for that beginning level of friendship.  I really shouldn't be expected to be opening up deeply with you yet, dropping everything for you, or feeling pressure to invite you out in order to keep our friendship "equal."  You can't judge me or guess what I'll be like as a Committed Friend by how I treat you as a Contact Friend.  Does that make sense?  Because the truth is that I, appropriately, give different levels of myself to people based on the friendship that has been developed.

Friendship is NOT how much we think we like each other; it's how much of a pattern two people have in practicing the positive behaviors of friendship.

Your job right now is to lower your standards: let friendly people into your life and make time for them without ruling them out because they don't match the fantasy you have for what an eventual best friend might look like.

So stop auditioning women for the starring role of your BFF and start saying yes to people who are friendly and see where it goes.

For in the world of friendship... horses can become unicorns.  :)

I welcome your questions, concerns, and feedback!  Was this helpful?  Did I confuse you more?  Can't wait to hear from you!

How to Find a Best Friend

In teaching the 5 Circles of Connectedness last night for a room full of women, I was reminded again how seeing the varying spread of our different types of friends can prove so insightful.  There are countless friendship principles that emerge when we can begin to answer questions by looking at the model.  One such question is "Where do we find a BFF?"

Where do we look for our Best Friends?

When you see that a Best Friend is someone who is on the far right-side of the continuum, in the Committed Friends Circle, and you acknowledge that every friendship starts on the far left-side in the Contact Friends Circle-- then you quickly see first that every BFF is developed, not just discovered.

Even if you both fell in platonic love with each other upon meeting-- you did not meet as Committed Friends.  These Circles don't speak to how much we admire each other or have in common, but rather to how much consistency and intimacy we have practiced with each other.

It is possible for two of us to meet and both want to be best friends with each other-- but that does not make it so.  For just as often as that happens, if we never get together again, a friendship we do not have.  Time engaging with each other, not just good intentions and high hopes, is a prerequisite to a friendship.

So you've heard me say that every friend begins in the Contact Circle. And that is true.  Then, as we practice being together-- initiating consistency over time and incrementally increasing our vulnerability--we move our friendships from Left to Right.

But one mistake I think many of us are making is that we're "auditioning" women in that far-left circle for the job of the far-right circle-- and that is the wrong place to be looking.  While all friendships start in the Contact Circle, that is not where we go picking who we think might someday be our closest confidantes.  No, all we should ever be evaluating our Contact Friends on is, "Am I curious enough to keep leaning in?"  In other words, is there enough there to keep me open to grabbing coffee with her one more time? Sitting next to her during that class again? Finding her after church to say hi one more time? Making sure I walk by her desk today to ask about her weekend?

In this Circle someone can be twice our age, vote our opposite, or have more kids than we have dates-- and that's okay.  We know we want good friends down the road, but we don't really know who that will turn out to be, and the role of a friend in this Circle isn't for them to be just like us. (Read #2 of this blog that talks about what commonalities we need to have.)

Contact Circle Friends can only "apply" to become Common Friends-- the friends where we practice getting to know each other better in whatever commonality brought us together.  They don't get to skip to any other Circle.

Found them!

If we want more women in the Committed Circle, then it's only one Circle toward the left, in our Community Circle, where our future BFF's can be found.

Women have made it into our Community Circle because we've been practicing the dance of friendship together over some time and in some different ways.  Something originally brought us together--i.e. work, a mutual friend, a class, an event--and from there, we have not only taken our conversations deeper, but we've gone beyond that original commonality.  We may have met through an association, but now we get together on our own. We may have met when our kids went to school together, but now even if one of them switched schools, we still get together for coffee.  We may have met through a mutual friend, but we feel comfortable calling each other directly now.

Our Community Circle has a handful of women-- that given just a wee bit more consistency and/or intimacy could develop into the Committed Circle.  If you want a few more women who are 9's and 10's in your life, then go looking at those who are already 6's, 7's and 8's.

Why This Matters:

Understanding that relationships are developed makes all the difference.

For one, it allows you to show up with less judgment in the early stages of a friendship.  We don't need to dismiss someone because they don't have kids and we do, or because they're retired and we're not yet.  We can welcome them into our Contact Circle and just keep leaning in with curiosity.  We don't need to know now, nor could we know, whether this person might someday be on our Right-Side.  For now, we can welcome as much diversity into our lives as possible, letting go of the need to weed people out.  That's not our job at this point.  We are invited to open our arms wider on the far Left-Side.

Second, this helps us hold healthy expectations about each Circle of Friends. Seeing the development reminds us that we can't compare people on the Left-Side to the friends on the Right-Side; being disappointed when a new-ish friend doesn't act like the BFF we're looking for.  Just because a Contact Friend doesn't call you as much as you wish doesn't mean she wouldn't if you two developed the friendship into Community or Commitment Friends.  We can't dismiss people for not acting like the friend we hope to have when we're not yet anywhere close to having earned or developed that kind of attention, time, and vulnerability.

And third, it showcases how important it is to constantly be inviting people into our Continuums, moving some of them along into more intimate circles.  Our Circles shift, people move, life happens.  To build a strong social support in our lives, we will need to not just foster the friendships we love right now, but we will also want to continue connecting with others that may prove meaningful down the road.

We want to know that when we are in the market for adding another close friend into our lives (as we are more often than we want to admit!) that we have nurtured the possibilities that will make that search a little easier.

 

 

 

Three Things I Wish I had said To Kathie Lee and Hoda on the TODAY Show

We Interrupt this Programming I'm currently in the middle of a series about friendship drifts and rifts with so much more to say (and I know I specifically  committed myself last week to writing another blog about how adultery can impact our friendships-- I won't forget!) but in honor of our 500 new members in the last week, I'm interrupting my own series.  :)

My Trip to the TODAY Show

Last Thursday I was sitting in a plane on the tarmac at the JFK airport at 9 am-- the exact time I was supposed to be arriving freshly showered to the TODAY show green room for make-up and prep.  The production team had arranged for me to fly from San Francisco to NYC on a red- eye because I had a commitment the evening before that I didn't want to break. My plane had been delayed over 2 hours and my chances of arriving at the studio in time for my 10:14 am segment were diminishing rapidly.I had stopped caring about looking under-slept and un-showered on national TV and instead just hoped I'd even make it to the studio with five minutes to change out of my jeans! Sitting in Manhattan gridlock en route to the studio, I whispered the serenity prayer-- the part about giving me peace about the things you cannot change-- and then simply hoped for the best.

Two minutes before we went on air--I hadn't gone to the bathroom, sipped any coffee,  been prepped by any producers, or checked myself in a mirror--I stood as ready as I was going to be.  Three minutes later we were done. With four women sharing moments of rapid fire conversation, one simply cannot say much or say it all the way they wished they had.  Even if I had been more fully awake!

today show clip

Here are Three Things I Wish I Had Time to Say:

1)  Confirmed Friends: When Kathie Lee asked me if it was common to have a wonderful friend that she only talks with once a year since they can pick up where they left off, I wish I could have said, "Yes!  That is common.  And incredibly meaningful. Those friends from our past (Confirmed Friends: the middle circle on my Circles of Connectedness), who we may have intimacy with but lack consistency, play a significant role in our lives with many benefits.

But they are only one of the five types of friends. If we don't realize that, then what else can become too common is a sense of not feeling known, supported, and connected if we haven't also built up the Community and Committed Friends on the right-side of the Continuum--the friends who we consistently make time for and share vulnerably with.

2)  Where do women go to make friends? Way more important than where we meet each other is how we turn our friendliness into a friendship.The truth is we can meet people anywhere.  And we do.  But without starting the five steps of friendship with them-- they risk simply becoming a nice person we meet, rather than a potential friend.

The first two steps of friendship are to 1) be open and 2) initiate contact repeatedly.

The importance for us to be open to new friends cannot be underestimated.  We all too often dismiss people if we can't see us having big obvious things in common-- like both being mothers, both being retired, or both being single. But in the book Click-- the Brafman brothers say that the quantity of things in common is more important than the quality we assign to those commonalities:

"Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring them same political party."

In other words, if we find out we both enjoy hiking, turn our noses up to Top 40 music, and love to eat kale-- those three "smaller" things will actually increase our bond more than any of those biggies we think we just have to have in common.  We can be so much more curious and open-minded about people than most of us are. (In fact, we need to be since it takes a little longer for kale to come up in our conversations!)

And the second step of building a friendship--repeated initiation--is where many possible friendships get stopped in their tracks.  We like each other, or are at least open to getting to know each other more, but if we don't make those next few connections happen sooner, rather than later, we lose any momentum we could have had together.  We simply have to be the ones to email and say, "So great to meet you-- I would love to get to know you better, maybe we can connect for dinner after work one night next week.  Any chance you can do  Tuesday or Wednesday? If not, let me know what dates work for you and I'll schedule in the time!"

My best friends aren't always the ones I simply liked the best initially, rather they were the ones I saw regularly, giving me the chance to feel comfortable with them and fall in love with them.

3). Is it okay to let go of some of my friendships?  I stand by my answer on this one but wish I had more time to explain how friendships shift.  My gut reaction to this question is that we are all getting a little too trigger happy in ending friendships before practicing ways of showing up differently.  Our tendency is to get more and more annoyed with certain people for their behaviors until we can't take it anymore so then we just cut them out of our lives and justify it with a "they were unhealthy or toxic." Whereas most of our friendships could not only be saved, but strengthened, if we learned the skills of asking for what we need from each other, withholding judgment, working on our own self-esteem so that jealousy is inspiring, not frustrating, and learning to forgive each other.

While Kathie Lee joked that usually "it's not us, but them" who is at fault, I actually disagree.  Yes they can be annoying, insensitive, and selfish.  But who among us isn't those things? (And how easy is it for us to interpret their actions with those words when it simply means they just make different choices than we do!)  The truth is that when we can't stand someone-- it's usually showing us something about ourselves.  In those moments of blame we can see more clearly what skills we need to learn in order to best hold our peace and joy no matter what they are doing and figure out to practice showing up with different responses that might yield different results.

With that said, friendships do shift.  In my 5 Circles of Connectedness, just as people we meet can move from the far-left with Contact Friends (the least intimate) to the far-right with Commitment Friends (the most intimate and consistent) so can our friendships move the other direction.  There are good chances that several of the women we feel closest to now might someday shift to circles where our friendship isn't as vulnerable or consistent.  That is normal.  Our lives do change.  But even then, we don't need to replace all our friends with every baby, divorce, marriage, annoyance, frustration, or move.  Our call with some of those women is to figure out how to show up in those awkward transitions, hold what we've shared with an open hand, and work at co-creating something new together.

So until they make time for me to give at least a 20 or 30 minute interview-- I'll just keep blogging!  :)

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A most sincere welcome to all our new members who joined after seeing me on the TODAY show last week or read about us in the New York Times style section.  Blessings on you as you courageously connect with new women, consistently choose to show up with honesty and positivity, and as you turn the friendly people you meet into friends who matter in your life.

Pre-order my Book: Also, my forthcoming book is all about how to meet people and turn them into friendships that really matter, including the skills of forgiveness, asking for what we need from our friends, and how to appropriately increase our vulnerability.  You can pre-order it now on Amazon!

Race and Friendship

Anderson Cooper is highlighting results all week on his CNN AC360 show about kids and race in America.  As adults it's sometimes harder to gauge prejudice and racism since we are trained to be politically correct and don't want to perceive ourselves as buying into any negative stereotypes. In kids there is only honesty and a mirroring of what they have been taught at home and school. The word friend came up multiple times in the study and I felt both thrilled at the value our friendships play in integrating our society, but also convicted at how we still seem to all hang out with people who are more like us than not.

Seeing the Lack of Skin Diversity in My Friends

This last weekend I was with a group of my friends from my days when I lived in Southern California-- a very diverse place. And as we kept gathering for group photos I felt a tinge of embarrassment that four out of the five looked alike-- white and blond. How did that happen, I asked myself.  Our group wasn't hand selected by any one person-- we just all started coming together seven years ago.  We used to have a Latina in our group, but with her dropping out, now it's just one gorgeous black woman and four whites. It made me want to at least dye my hair red or brown...

My defense mechanism went into play as I started naming all my other friends from different places, reminding myself that I know, love, and admire tons of non-white skinned people.  Take a picture of me with my local San Francisco friends and it would look very different.  And I tried to tell myself that diversity is more than skin color-- I hang out with women of many different socioeconomic levels, various careers, a great range of personalities, different sexual identities, and I pride myself that I build relationships with single women and moms-- two things I am not. But still, it bothers me that of my closest friends, most of them are white.

Unfortunately, I'm not alone in that.  As Rachel Bertsche reports in her book MWF Seeking BFF: "In 2004, only 15 percent of Americans reported having at least one confidante of another ethnicity.... Among college students arriving on campus, race and living proximity are the two strongest indicators of who your friends will be."

Study after study keeps highlighting that while we may all self-report more diversity in our network, we still tend to grow closest to those who are most like us, skin color included. One creative study looked at wedding party photos online and assessed that only 3.7% of white brides and grooms have a black person as a bridesmaid or groomsman. Much has been reported about the study that showed that the larger and more diverse a college campus is, the more likely the students sought out people groups just like themselves.  When we live in highly diverse areas, we're less likely to actually engage in all in the diversity and instead use the size as an opportunity to find more people like us.

Three Things I Learned on AC 360 Kids on Race Findings

1.  Black Kids Are More Racially Optimistic than Whites. In the year-long study sponsored by AC360 kids were shown a picture where it wasn't clear what had happened and then asked questions such as "What's happening in this picture?", "Are these two children friends?" and "Would their parents like it if they were friends?"

Only 38% of black children had a negative interpretation of the pictures, whereas almost double -- a full 70% of white kids -- felt something negative was happening.  Melanie Killen, the child psychologist in charge of the study said, "African-American parents ... are very early on preparing their children for the world of diversity and also for the world of potential discrimination," compared to most white parents who tend to avoid the subject and just hope that their kids are color-blind.

It made me super proud of all the black parents who are out there intentionally trying to help their kids integrate, and saddened me that most white parents wouldn't view integration with the same importance or need.

2.  There's a Subtle "Limit" for How Close We Should Get With Each Other.  While black children start out positive, by age 13 they become as pessimistic as white kids when shown similar pictures. Certainly more experiences of prejudice and an awareness of the racial realities would account for some of the growing pessimism of black children, but they also commented on how parents of both races start to change their tune as the children age.  When parenting a 6-year old we want our young kids to play nicely with everyone, but by the time they reach high school we're getting worried about inter-racial dating.  In other words-- the message shifts from "play with everyone" to "don't get too close to someone of the opposite race."

Subtly we can be taught to be friendly, but not to become close friends. It's hard to teach equality when we sense that there is a limit to that equality. That we can only accept each other up to a certain point of intimacy--platonic or romantic.

While the racial distrust seems to show up in both white and black teens, other studies like the bridal party study I quoted earlier still seems to suggest that blacks are more likely to report close white friends than the other way around.  Nearly 96% of white bride and grooms have all-white wedding parties, whereas black brides and grooms are 22% likely to have a white friend stand up with them.

3.  Having a Friend of the Other Color Was Hugely Defining.  Enough studies show that we still flock to people like us even in diverse settings, but being surrounded by diversity still raises our perception of people different from us.  The white kids who were tested at diverse schools were drastically less negative than the white kids who attended mostly white schools.

"The reason, according to Dr. Killen, is about friendships. 'There's almost nothing as powerful as having a friend of a different racial ethnic background to reduce prejudice, to ... have that experience that enables you to challenge stereotypes,' she said."

The whole subject of race is hard to talk about sometimes.  We risk seeing parts of us we'd rather deny and we're scared of saying it wrong or offending each other.  And yet, I think it's crucial that we keep holding up the mirror that reminds us to keep widening our circle of comfort and habit.

I'd love to hear some comments from some of you about the studies I've quoted...  What strikes you as you read some of their findings? Have you found these results to be reflective of your personal experiences? Do you wish you had more diverse friendships? What makes it hardest, in your opinion, to build these close relationships with people who have a different skin color? What have you learned from your relationships with people from a different culture or race?

 

 

 

 

 

My Annual GirlFriend Group: The Benefits of Long Distance Friendships!

Tomorrow morning I fly out to San Antonio for my Annual SoCal Girls Weekend. SO EXCITED! SoCal Girls Group

We used to all live in Southern California (hence why I still refer to us as the SoCal group!) where we would get together weekly for an evening of tea, book talk, and life sharing. I think we met for just over a year before life started moving some of us to new places, but we made a pact that we'd all get together at least once a year for the rest of our lives. We're seven years in to that commitment. I love that we made that decision.

Since I'm always championing local and new friendships, I thought I'd rave today about  some of the pay-offs that come from our time spent with more long-term, albeit long-distance friendships:

  • Provides Ongoing Intimacy: I rate myself pretty low on the "good at staying in touch" with long-distance friends scale.  If it weren't for this annual weekend these would be women who I simply would drift apart from. Sure, some of us see each other here-and-there if we're traveling through each others cities on business or visiting family nearby.  A few texts and phone calls are exchanged between different ones of us throughout the year, and we also try to periodically stay in touch on a group Facebook page and via a couple of scheduled conference calls.  But those are all just updates.  It's staying up all night talking for a weekend that brings us back to real Frientimacy.  These weekends are where we share the real stuff with women who know us.
  • Non-Negotiable Commitment: It's a no-brainer every year to buy the airline ticket. Since we already made the decision years ago that this is going to happen, we don't ever have to ask "Can I go this year?"  We don't get input from our busy calendars, our budgets, or our spouses/kids as to whether we can go this year-- we just say yes. The truth is we can always talk ourselves out of things if we raise the question--work will always be hectic, funds will always feel tight, kids will always need us-- so it's nice to have the important things in life already decided. Our friendship is important to us so we'll keep the weekend short and inexpensive, but we will always be there.
  • Protected From Life Change:  Since our time together is really only a weekend every year-- my friendship with these women doesn't go up in flux if they get married, have another kid, change jobs, move to a different city, or go through a divorce. That's a gift right there.  Most of our local friendships are constantly being impacted by the choices we all make-- we get our feelings hurt when one person is too busy or goes through a big life change. So the downside to our long-distance group is that we may not know each others kids and husbands well, but the up-side is that any of that can change and it won't change the fact that we are getting together for our 3 days.
  • We Know History & See Growth:  One of my favorite parts of our time together is that we all answer a few questions on paper about what our lives look like right now-- things we're grateful for, wounds we're nursing, fears we're feeling, goals we've set-- and we put them in a folder that we only look at this one weekend.  This year, we'll all open our long-forgotten page from last year and see how life has changed from then.  It's like this mile-marker for life, giving us a chance to say "oh yeah, I remember feeling that fear... look at me now" or "interesting that this same thing keeps showing up every year on my page..."  We share with each other what we've written-- sometimes crying, often cheering, but always loving. It's nice to have friends who see us deeply once a year.
  • A Bigger-Picture-Type of Sharing: I love my local San Francisco girlfriends-- we can talk on the phone ten minutes here-and-there, get together for tea, share dinners, and know what we're each facing every week ahead.  There's a consistency there that supports me in the best way ever.  But there's also something really special about the friends who are removed from my day-to-day life, the ones who only see me occasionally. We talk about different things. Whereas friends here might ask what I'm doing today or this weekend, these friends ask about highlights and lowlights from the last year. The conversations give me a chance to think about life in a broader way, to reflect on the bigger issues.  They observe changes in me that might be harder for people who see me all the time to notice. They ask about things I'd long forgotten. They hold a space for me to learn about myself in different ways.

I tell you all this because if you don't have this and want it-- you can make it happen.  We did not all know each other when the six of us all started getting together weekly.  It's not like we were all a clique from college.  I was new to SoCal and just started asking some girls if they wanted to come over for a weekly book discussion. Some of them invited someone else they knew... and our group formed.  You can do that.

For many of you it may be that you already have a few women flung across this country that you love and it may be that you simply need to make the decision to be the catalyst that gets you all together.  It can be affordable-- Southwest has flights on sale all the time, hotel costs decrease when split among several of you, and you can just buy a few groceries to keep it simple.  This kind of friendship is worth the investment.

So tomorrow I board the plane knowing that on the other end will be women that I may not have seen in a year, but that I know will hug me and love me like few others can.

 

Lonely Mommy: How Motherhood Took a Toll on my Friendships

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  Today I’m honored to host Daneen Akers, a good friend of mine honestly sharing how hard it was to make and transition her friendships after becoming a new mom.

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Once a week my 2.5 year-old daughter Lily and I go walking in the woods of San Francisco’s Presidio with several other moms and toddlers. Lately, as she’s been learning the concept of friends, Lily likes to make the friendship boundaries clear.

“I’m so excited to go see my friends,” she says. And then she’ll add possessively, “They’re not your friends, Mommy. They’re my friends.”

Sometimes she’ll toss me the consolation prize of, “You can be friends with the mommies.”

That’s big of her, but I’m afraid I haven’t found adult friendship, especially after becoming a mom, nearly this easy to define or nurture. If only a shared identity was all it took.

Friendships and Motherhood: A Tough Transition

When I became a mom over two years ago, I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to transition my existing friendships to the next chapter, and I really had no idea how hard it was going to be to develop real friendships with other moms.

On the surface, motherhood is the ticket to a whole circle of new communities of belonging. Suddenly you share this profoundly life-changing, heart-expanding, and utterly exhausting experience with women all over the world. I was a mom now—I felt this unspoken kinship with every pregnant woman, new mom, and grandma that I spotted on the bus or at the park. Women just like me were making do on cat naps, feeling lucky if they took a shower, and wearing the same pair of milk-stained yoga pants for days on end. I could spot another new mom a mile away and almost always shared a knowing look as we walked past each other, not wanting to stop and risk waking the sleeping babies that connected us.

There are groups aplenty for moms—support groups, breastfeeding circles, mommy and baby yoga classes, play groups, and a host of online networks. I quickly became a joiner, trying desperately to not feel so lonely in the midst of motherhood.

Despite being utterly in love with my daughter and having a very involved husband, I felt desperately isolated as a mom. Perhaps it was because I was the only one of my close girlfriends to have a baby. Perhaps it was because I worked from home. Perhaps it was because families in our culture have little to no support —we have non-existent or anemic maternity/paternity leaves, often don’t live near family, and have had very little preparation for the grueling work of parenthood.

But even after packing my schedule with support groups and gatherings, I still felt lonely. In fact, I was even more lonely because I was surrounded by women like me and yet I felt that nobody really knew me. We talked and talked, but it was almost always about how our babies were sleeping, how breastfeeding was going (or not), what new thing our babies could do now, what baby-related challenge we needed help with. It was all baby.

Babies change quickly, so our conversations evolved, but often just around the next surface-level baby/toddler topic. I deeply wanted to feel like I knew the women I was sharing this important part of life with and, just as importantly, that they knew me.

It wasn’t at all that I only met shallow women. Quite the opposite, the moms I’ve met are amazing. But conversations are inherently fragmented when a baby has frequent needs, and this only gets worse the more mobile they get. Soon we were meeting at playgrounds and feeling lucky if we could manage two or three minutes of adult conversation before one of our children needed attention, sometimes to be pulled off each other as they inevitably squabbled over a toy or turn. Ironically, we often had more meaningful conversations over email where we could put two thoughts together, but this sometimes made the frustration of in-person meetings more tangible.  I distinctly remember when Lily was two talking to a mom I’d met in a birth prep class and realizing that I had no idea what she had done before she became a full-time mom. All of my knowledge of her revolved around her mommy role.

And moms are just running tired. Whether we work in the home, from home, or out of the home, it feels like everyone wants a piece of us all the time. If I had two moments to myself, I usually needed to be alone or to sleep just to survive (I’m not sure what it says about me as a mother that my last two Mother’s Day requests have been for a day alone!)

Three things helped my lonely-mommy situation improve dramatically.

1)  Foster a Few New Friendships: First, I cut back on most of my mom-related obligations and focused on fostering a few friendships. I had sensed reciprocity with a few women, and I made a point of making these women a priority. Women like my friend Julie, who once managed to start a terrifying real conversation at a moms’ group by asking, “So, can I ask if anyone else is disappointed by who are finding yourself as a mother?” And women like my friend Sara, who asked questions about me as a woman and not just a mom and kept making the effort to find times that we could meet without our babies (luckily a wine bar opened in her neighborhood)

2)  Commit to Time with Current Friends: And second I made a weekly commitment to meet with my non-mom girlfriends. This might seem counter-intuitive at first. I was starved for female friendship but found respite with women who didn’t share one of my most important life journeys with me.  Their lives continue to look very different than mine. But that has turned out to be a blessing for our conversations. There is absolutely no chance that we’ll end up spending an hour talking about potty training.

My time with these women sustains and centers me. These women have shared my life for three hours every Tuesday night for two years over homemade meals in each other’s homes. They have seen me gradually recover a sense of myself in the midst of my motherhood, and I have heard their hearts as we all navigate the vicissitudes of life. (A nice side benefit to this particular practice is that my husband and daughter have developed their own Tuesday night routines.)

3)  Be a Good Friend To Myself: And, finally, I have found that everything in my life improves when I take my required alone time. I’d actually started this post with two turning points in mind, but half-way through writing I went to a yoga class after not making it for one reason or another for the past six weeks.

As I lay in Shivasana, feeling myself relax at my core for the first time in weeks, I realized anew that I am my best self when I truly embrace the concept of putting my own oxygen mask on first so that I don’t pass out while trying to help others, even my own child. When I am keeping my well full, I find my own inner peace and don’t have to project my lack onto others.

I still find myself lonely at times and struggling to feel like I give enough and am fed enough in my friendships, but I am starting to feel rooted again in my community.  I am finding my joy, my center.

An Extra Pay-Off to Prioritizing Friendships

Lily doesn’t make it easy to leave her. It can be difficult to explain why I’m leaving for a night off or a yoga class (or, I hope more often, an evening with my mom friends sans our adorable progeny). Last night her usually joyful countenance turned mournful, and she wailed, “But I want you to stay with me!”

As I gently hugged her and then pried her off of me to hand to my husband, I told myself that I’m setting an example for her. Friendship matters. Making time for a relationship with myself matters. How I model friendship in my life matters as much as the lessons she learns as she walks in the woods with her toddler friends. At least, that’s the hope I’m hanging my diaper bag on.

Daneen Akers writes from San Francisco where she's a mom to a vibrant two-year-old, a documentary film producer, and an occasional blogger at http://www.lifewithlilybird.com with an emphasis on parenting and spirituality. 

 

 

 

Our Used-to-be-Closer Friends on YouTube

New YouTube Clip:

This video explains the value of both our current and our "past" BFF's. In this 3rd video of the series, Shasta Nelson, life coach and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com dives deeper into her Confirmed Circle.

Often a move, a job change, or a life shift will put women into our Confirmed Circle-- meaning we can pick up where we left off with them, that we know they'd do anything for us, and that we still consider them our friends, but we are no longer in a consistent friendship with them, seeing them regularly and sharing life along the way.  It is different to have friends we update every several months from the friends who actually know our day-to-day lives.  We need both.

It also give two ways to make sure you create a current, meaningful and consistent group of friends for wherever you are now.

An overview of Shasta's 5 Circles of Connectedness is a video titled: "What Types of Friends Do You Need?" The 2nd video in the series is titled: "Who Are Your BFF's?"

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Huge thanks to everyone who has subscribed to my YouTube channel to help me get started this month! There's a random drawing for a Flying Wish Paper gift every Thursday in September so subscribe today for 2 more chances to win this month!

 

What I Wish I Knew Then About Friendship... by Cherie Burbach

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  I'm honored to host this posting by Cherie Burbach, one of the most prolific writers online about friendship (bio at the end!). Thanks Cherie for all you're doing to encourage healthy female friendships! ------------------------------

What I wish I knew then about friendship that I know now...is that friendships aren't always meant to last forever, and that's okay. When I was younger, it pained me to lose a friend to the point where I would beat myself up it when it happened.

Now, don't get me wrong, we definitely want to maintain our friendships whenever we can.

Cherie Burbach

But the reality is that sometimes friendships end. People make different life choices, they move, they grow apart, develop new interests, and through it all they change. When a friendship ends during this point, you may experience feelings of guilt or be stuck in a place wondering "why" over and over again. This perception that friendships should last forever comes from a few different places. Ever heard of the term "BFF"? Best friends forever might be a cute saying but it isn't the reality. Or how about people that talk about their long-term friendships? You don't often hear, "I've had three great friends that were in my life for five years" but you will hear someone talk about their "life-long friends" pretty often. If you don't have a life-long friend or two, hearing that may make you feel inept at friendship. But don't buy into that.

Some of my friends have lasted decades, while others have been brief. Most of the time, friends are not going to stay in your life forever, and even if they do, your relationship will probably change over the years. Having one true-blue best friend is great, and if it happens to you be thankful. For most of us, however, there are times when a really great friend only stays in our lives for a short time. After they go, what usually happens? You beat yourself up and wonder what you could have done differently.

But you see, that's the point of friendship: It teaches you about yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, learn from the experience. Being with your friend taught you a few things about yourself. Are there areas to improve on? Work on that. Were there areas you really rocked? Do more of that.

Each friendship you have will mold you into a slightly different, more confident, person, but don't go over the past and wonder what you could have done differently. You might have done everything you could have done at that point in time. Talking about "what could have been" is pointless and a waste of energy. You never know, even if you had done that one thing differently it doesn't mean that it would have prevented your friendship from ending. Sometimes the end of a relationship really is them and not you! If you feel like you would have done something differently with an old friend, use that knowledge to help improve your current friendships.

The point is, a friend can come briefly through your life and that's okay. Embrace each friendship, because there is no one-size fits all when it comes to our pals.

Cherie Burbach is the About.com Guide to Friendship and has written ten books and ebooks. She writes about dating, relationships, health, sports, and lifestyle. You can follow her on Twitter at brrbach.

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Note: I posted a new video blog on YouTube this morning: "Who Are Your BFF's?" that talks briefly about how many confidantes you may want, the importance they play in your life, and how you can develop these meaningful friendships.

Subscribe on my YouTube Channel (ShasGFC) as I'm picking a random winner every Thursday! Congrats to Tamisha Ford-- this week's winner!

 

 

What Types of Friends Do You Need?

As we start Friendship Month, I'm stepping into my commitment to start vlogging too!  I'm planning to regularly upload up a clip on YouTube since sometimes it's easier to teach on video than in writing.  (I'd be honored if you'd subscribe to my channel!)

Not All Friends Are the Same

Recognizing that we have different categories of friends is not to minimize the uniqueness that each one brings, rather it helps us both to honor how we’re energized in different relationships and identify where some of our hunger for more belonging might be coming from.

I developed a Connectedness Continuum that I use when I'm coaching women to help provide have a visual snapshot of our sense of connectedness. Here is a very brief outline of the five different circles of friends we all need to foster.

The Continuum begins on the left with the most casual of friends and moves to the right as the bond and commitment deepens. While there are some parameters to each quadrant, much of it will be subjective based on your own sense of bond.

Contact Friends:  We share an introduction with these friends. We are somehow linked to them whether it’s through facebook, because we went to school together, because a mutual friend introduced us, because we met them while doing something we both participate in, because we have at least one thing in common, etc.  This is not the same as ALL acquaintances.  We may know the names of all twenty people in our association meeting or at church, but these are the 2-3 that we gravitate to and would consider ourselves friends when we see them.

Common Friends:  We share occasional time spent together in the area we have in common. The difference between this quadrant and the former is that we have actually spent time together in a way that connects us deeper, we have our own one-on-one relationship with these individuals. It can be in our mom’s groups, because we work together, sing in the same choir, belong to the same club or we are frequently in the same social circle but we know these individuals well within the area we have in common.

I’m going to come back to Confirmed friends in a minute: There are two things that begin to shift when we cross that center line: the regularity with which we spend time together and the broadening of what we share together.

Community Friends: We share regular time spent together beyond the area we have in common. When we enter into In-Community Friends we have crossed the lines of our original relationship boundaries, whether it was your gym-buddy, a fellow mom, a scrapbook partner or a work colleague—we now share our lives beyond our original shared common interest.  We may be meeting people from other areas of their lives and revealing life stories beyond the original bonding subject.  (Note: we can be “intimate” with people on the left side—AA friend, weight loss buddy—sensitive subjects, but they stay on the left side as long as our area of connection is limited to that original bonding area.)

Commitment Friends: We share our lives with each other and our commitment extends beyond the things that hold us in common. The far right quadrant is reserved for the friends we regularly share our feelings with and have a commitment to be present for each other, no matter what. You may have bonded as “In-Common” friends because of your kids, you worked at the same place or you were both single, but these are now the friends that if those original common categories were to change it would no longer risk your relationship—they could switch jobs, get married, change interests, move away or the kids could all grow-up, but you will still be in each others lives.

Now, go back to the middle:

Confirmed Friends: We share a history with these friends that has bonded us but our connection is not regular. These are the friends that we used to live close to and love but we only talk occasionally now. This middle is reserved for the friends that go much deeper than the left side—we in fact would have at one point placed them on the right side of our spectrum—but we no longer have the regularity with them that we reserve for our right side. These are the women that we know we can pick up where we left off, they are dear to us and we will stay in touch occasionally with them, but they are not engaged in our day-to-day lives and in the creation of regular new memories together.

We all tend to find some circles come to us more naturally. Some of us love socializing and meeting tons of Contact Friends but have a harder time building enough consistency with a few to move into the real intimacy of Commitment Friends, whereas others of us have a few close friends but hate going out and meeting people.  But we all need people in every circle.

Write the names of people you consider your friends along the Continuum.... where are you hungry for more relationships? What types of friends do you most need right now?

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Update on 10/18/2011: There ended up being 5 short videos (3-4 minutes each) to this topic series:

  1. What Types of Friends Do You Need? (Overview of Circles)
  2. Who Are Your BFF's?(Commitment Friends)
  3. Our Used to be Closer Friends (Confirmed Friends)
  4. Four Values of New/Less Intimate Friends (Contact & Common Friends)
  5. Five Common Imbalances in our Circle of Friends (Assessing Your Needs)

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