Confirmed Friends

Friendship Break-Ups 3: "Was She Really a Friend, Anyway?"

The other night I was out with some new friends and, as often happens when someone finds out that my work is all about female friendships, women I barely know start to tell me their friendship woes. One very friendly woman in her mid-forties was explaining to me that she doesn't have time for friends anymore now that she's a mom. (sound familiar? read this post.)  She went back-and-forth between defending her perceived reality and also sounding incredibly wistful. Like many of us in denial, we try to convince ourselves we're fine while simultaneously wishing things could be different. But then, her closing lines were, "Well I found out most of my previous friends weren't real friends anyway or they'd still be around.  So who needs them, right?" She tried to laugh as though she didn't care.

A Refresher on Shasta's Circles of Connectedness

One of my favorite things to teach in workshops, which is also a big part of my upcoming book, is about the Five Circles of Connectedness.  It's most often put to use when it comes to evaluating our current friendships or figuring out how to add new ones or deepen others.  Today, I want to talk about it in the context of break-ups and unmet expectations.

You'll want to go catch up on the abbreviated definitions of Shasta's 5 Circles of Connectedness if you're not familiar with them already: Watch YouTube or Read a Previous Post.

But basically, the friends on the Left Side in the Contact and Common Circles are friendships where we more-or-less have one way of being together, one commonality holding us together. That is to say our friendships are largely dependent upon the fact that we both attend the same church, are part of the same mother's group, are both single, or because we work together.

To move someone over to the Right Side in the Community and Committed Circles means that we have added new ways of being together (i.e. brunch on the weekend in addition to whatever our original commonality was), have spent considerable one-on-one time together, and have increased our intimacy.

Confirmed Friends in the middle are for the women who used to be in our Committed Circle of best friends, but we no longer have the consistency with them that our Right-Side friendships require.

If we mistakenly believe that all our friendships are more-or-less the same then we may not have realistic expectations in place.  Unmet expectations lead to disillusionment, and possible blame and anger toward the friends who aren't "there" for us.

There are SO many applications to our friendship Rifts and Drifts in these 5 Circles, but in the sensitivity of article length, I'll just mention the two most common misconceptions that can disappoint us if we don't understand our different types of friendships.

Two Common Misunderstandings in our Circles that Lead to Disappointment:

1)   Assuming a Common Friend is a Commitment Friend. We can feel so close to someone at work, church, or our mothers group and mistakenly believe that they should "be there in big ways" for us just because we both really like each other, get a long well, and see each other consistently in that common setting.

But the truth about Common Friends is that unless we have co-created a friendship that extends beyond that shared commonality-- when that commonality ends, the friendship will inevitably Drift apart if someone doesn't intentionally try to create a new way of connecting. And that doesn't always work due to time, priorities, interests, etc. These friendships don't end because we don't like each other, but because we haven't yet practiced being together in new ways, outside of that commonality.

We get our feelings hurt when we stop attending church or change jobs and no one calls us anymore-- but if that place was what we had in common, then no matter how close we felt, we're the ones who left that friendship structure. If the thing we have in common is getting our families together on the weekends to go camping, but then we go through a divorce, unless we had another way of being together just as women, we risk Drifting apart when it's our ex-spouse who has all the camping equipment.

It's not her fault, even if the changes were in her life.  In a friendship-- when we blame, we risk a Rift; if we decide we want to initiate consistently, we may be able to avoid a Drift.

If we can be honest in these moments and see them for what they are-- losing structures or commonalities that connected us-- then we can either find more peace in the Drift without us taking it personally or we more clearly see that we'll have to co-create new ways of being with that person. Which doesn't happen automatically.

2) Not realizing a Confirmed Friend is no longer a Commitment Friend. The other misunderstanding that can get the best of us is not realizing that just because we used-to-be-best friends, that while we still love each other so much, we no longer live near each other, talk regularly, or are present for each others lives in the same ways.

And if we haven't fostered new Commitment Friends where we now live, we're likely to make the mistake of wanting those Confirmed Friends to act like them.  We'll be hurt when they don't know what's going on in our lives, forgetting that it is our responsibility to build up local friends who can care for us on the consistent basis.

Because of the intimacy and trust we've built with these women back in college or in a previous life phase, we certainly make decisions to call our Confirmed Friends to stay in touch with them better to support us through a season or to tell them honestly what we need.  But hopefully they've developed close local friends that they are giving to so we want to be careful to not blame them for not reading our minds or knowing how to help us.

If we don't have strong relationships on the Right-Side, it becomes so easy to look to our other friends in the other Circles and begrudge them for not "being there" for us. It's so easy, when our life changes, to want everyone to be there for us that we sometimes forget that we never practiced that with each other beforehand or had yet built up to that Circle of Commitment.

If "she" wasn't "there" for you, was she really your friend?

To the beautiful woman who wondered aloud, "Well I found out most of my previous friends weren't real friends anyway or they'd still be around.  So who needs them, right?" and to all of us who ask a variation of that rhetoric question, I say this:

I am so sorry that you were hurt and disappointed by what you hoped someone would be for you.  That sucks. However, we don't have to devalue who they were or what we shared together.  It's entirely possible they were a "real" friend, even if they weren't the Committed Friend we had hoped they were.  Furthermore, the answer to previous disappointments isn't to give up on friendships altogether, but rather, to be sure to take responsibility for co-creating even stronger--more consistent and intimate--friendships this time around.

 

If you have questions-- ask them in the comments.  It's sometimes impossible to be comprehensive on such a big subject in one posting! Hope the outline at least helps though?

 

 

 

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.

 

Frientimacy: The Intimacy of Friends

This is a posting that was originally posted April 26, 2010 on my former blog. Because I've been writing more about Frientimacy, I wanted to re-port this illustration of how it's played out in my life. ________________________

Sitting in that circle of six women was powerful. There is nothing like being seen by friends you love and who love you back. Intimacy is a word that just brings up too much romance, so I call it "Frientimacy."

We all live in different cities, but this last weekend we had all flown into Seattle for our Annual Girlfriend Get-Together. And so there we sat catching each other up on our lives. Our real lives.

Frientimacy Is Authentic We listened as one shared that's she not sure she wants to stay married. Another, found out her husband cheated. And another just broke up with the man she wanted.  One is trying to decide if she wants kids. Another is due next month. Another just found out her baby isn't developing on schedule. Another isn't sure she'll find someone to marry before she has that choice. Another is struggling with weight and another with financial security and still another with contentment.  We shared our pains and disappointments.

We also listened as we went around the room sharing 3 things we celebrate about our lives in the last year. It was spectacular: The risks. The wins. The accomplishments. The completions. The new beginnings. The Ph.D, the new baby, the new business, the new office, the new love. The big anniversary.

It was beautiful to be among friends who have history sharing both. These are six beautiful, amazing, professional, intelligent women who live life fully and are committed to truthful friendships.

Frientimacy is Awkward And while it sounds so good to be honest, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge how hard it can be go there.

We are far from being a homogeneous group: some married, some single, some divorced, some with kids, some with step-kids, some with none.  Through the years many us have traded those roles-the married one becomes single and the single finds her love. Often at the same time.  And we have to celebrate one and grieve the other. It is hard being the first or only in the group to have kids, and equally hard to be the last or only to not be in a relationship.

Even with people we love and respect, there is no way to be friends without bringing our personal insecurities, fears and baggage to the relationship. It's hard to celebrate each others joys even when we're jealous.  To hold their pain without projecting our story into it.

There were definitely awkward moments. Moments where you want to judge, give advice, justify your decision that's different than hers, wallow in self-pity rather than give her a high-five.

But we've practiced. We've made commitments to be generous with each other. Honest. We trust the commitment is bigger than the pain. We trust the history is deeper than the present moment. And we're still practicing.

We forge on. There will be lots of awkward moments we will witness and hold.

Frientimacy is Developed We can only trust our future because we've experienced our history. It wasn't instant.

It was due to consistency that we have fostered this.

Seven years ago, we were mostly strangers to each other. I invited a few women I had met to commit to a weekly group in my apartment. Some invited someone else. And over time, with one leaving here and another joining there, we had a group that was consistent. We didn't all necessarily feel like we would be friends with each individual in the group if it weren't for the collective time, but we knew the value of going deeper with other women so we kept coming.

What we celebrate now has taken effort. It has taken consistency. Far more than most women are willing to put in. Most of us think if we get together once a month with a new friend that a friendship will blossom. And I'd say once a month is enough to keep liking each other, but probably not enough to build enough history that when your lives change (and they will) that you have enough history behind you to stay connected through it. Once a week for one year gave us the gift we'll enjoy the rest of our lives.

I no longer live around those women so I've become part of another group of local women who meet weekly. We don't have the same history yet, but we will keep meeting and keep sharing and we are definitely developing our own new Frientimacy.

Who are you being consistent with? How can you schedule in some consistent time with other women? How are you building upon the new friendships you've started?

Frientimacy is Worth it You may not feel the potential after your first time together. Or your next time together.

You may doubt it. You may feel like they're too different from you. Or that you're not sure you like each of them.

You may feel insecure around one of them or find that one annoys you. It's likely.

But you will also begin to know you have a group that sees your life. That knows it. That you don't have to update but can simply share. You will feel the difference it makes to have close friends. Local friends. Not the kind you have to impress, but the kind you get to be real with. It's likely.

I had an amazing weekend with the women who have known me and loved me for seven years. And I'm committed to building more of that in my life, locally and on a weekly basis.

Frientimacy is authentic. It can be awkward. It takes time to develop. But it is so worth it.

Used-To-Be Friends or Still Friends?

We all know those fabulous women we have loved over the years, the ones where our shared history with them puts them in that special category of proven friends. When we talk to them, we  pick up right where we left off.  They're the kind of women we don't have to explain ourselves to, apologize for the time lapse or call them all the time to know we're still loved. So certainly it pains me to pop that bubble of idealism, but sometimes it must be said: Just because you can call her and know she'll be there for you doesn't mean you do.

One of the most common traps that keeps us in denial about needing more friends is that we used to have good friends.  And, the greatest risk happens when we think of them still as our closest friends.

Used-To-Be-Friends Or Still Friends?

This trap throws off the best of us.  We can quickly name 5 amazing women we call friends, and often feel better with our sense of connectedness. But then we still hear that nagging voice whispering that we think we need more friends. We feel lonely.

If you’re only sending Christmas cards, seeing each other once a year, calling every couple of months and giving little sentence updates on facebook—that may be why you still feel a sense of loneliness?

Risking redundancy, it stands to be pointed out that your current loneliness is not because you haven't had amazing friendships before. Rather, it's because you may not be engaging in them now.

I know for me, when I moved to San Francisco, I pushed away my awareness that I needed to make new friends by telling myself how awesome my friends were.  And yet, even though they were only a phone call away.  They were still a phone call away.  A phone call I didn't make with most of them frequently enough to keep it intimate and easy.

southern cal girls

And I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have these "former" friends.  (And by former, I only mean that the intensity & consistency may have been more in the past than the present.)  My girlfriends from Southern Cal lived through some of my worst and best moments with me-- I will always want to stay connected with them.  Those friends give to us in many ways by knowing who we used to be, giving us a sense of a wider net in our lives and helping us feel less alone in this world.

It's life-changing to know you have these friends you can call if you are diagnosed with cancer. You need to know you have people you can count on in the "big things."

However, I often talk myself out of calling these friends because while I know I can pick up where we left off... that's part of the problem.  I have so much updating to do with them to catch them up to life right now, that I often decide I don't have the time for a long conversation.

What Do We Most Need to Add to our Connectedness?

But what most of us crave are the kind of friends you can call to just ask her what she's making for dinner. Or how her day went. Or what she bought over the weekend. Or whether she wants to go get drinks tomorrow night. The "small things."

We usually feel more intimate with the people we can talk about nothing with as easy as we can talk about something with.

For the truth is, fortunately, that we make dinner more than we get cancer.

No matter how many women you used to be close to—you can still feel lonely now. And sometimes just knowing that you can call isn't enough. To abate loneliness we actually need friends we can go live life with, not just report life to.

SF girls

I ended up having to start over with local women.  It doesn't mean I don't still meet up with my used-to-be-friends every year for a weekend together.  Or that we don't call when the big things happen.  But it means I now have friends to call for the small stuff.  The small stuff that actually feels more important on a day-to-day basis.

So by all means, love those used-to-be women for the history they hold and the way they make you feel known, and by all means stay in touch with them!  But I invite you to own the fact that your loneliness may be your hearts way of saying “I would like some women who can journey with me more regularly.”

And perhaps 1-2 of them can step into that role. I called up one of the women in this circle for me a few years ago, told her how much I missed her and asked if we could schedule a weekly standing phone call to live life together a bit more.

But maybe that's not enough.  Maybe you still need new friends?

But either way, don’t confuse who used to be your best friend with the fact that you might need additional ones (or rekindled ones?) in that place now.