GirlFriendCircles

The Key to Starting a Women's Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship Trends & Changes

I'm feeling a bit reflective this week as we are re-launching GirlFriendCircles.com after our initial opening nearly 8 years ago. In a few ways now feels very similar to then as every new beginning is fueled with both a sense of calling that change is needed and a slight vulnerability as one puts a new offering into the world.

And it's also got me thinking about how culture has changed during that same amount of time.

I've seen some big shifts in the world of friendship since 2008:

  • Increase in Research and Studies:  I wish I had actual numbers to offer up here as proof, but what I can say is that back then it was easy to read everything that was being published (or had been) on friendship, and now it seems like there is a new study every time I turn around! (Which I love, obviously!)  I think Facebook and social media sites have helped heighten the interest in exploring friendship and social interaction (whereas our romantic and parenting relationships seemed to take precedence before), as well as giving researchers an easier pool of people to study.
  • Renewed Desire on Quality, Not Quantity:  With the rise of social media, we ran headlong into a greater number of connections than most of us had ever attempted to manage.  And as time wore on, we started hearing more expressed hunger for deeper connections, not just more of them. Social media has adjusted by giving us "groups" and creating algorithms to highlight the people we know, more than ones we don't.  We got what we wanted: connection to everyone; and then realized we were full, but not fulfilled.
  • Creeping Awareness to our Loneliness: The stereotype of loneliness used to be someone who was isolated, reclusive, and lacked social skills; but the loneliest people today are those who seemingly know everyone, are too busy to go deep, and are talking to people all day so they lack the energy to really connect with a few.  My own studies show repeatedly that our loneliness isn't due to not knowing enough people as much as it's because we don't feel known by a select few.  We are slowly admitting that we're lonely even though we aren't alone.
  • More Openness to Online Friendship Sites:  Remember back in the day when people would feel shame and lie about meeting a romantic partner online and how now it's commonplace?  It'll be no surprise then that the same path is  happening with friendship.  I won't go so far as to say that there aren't people who fear meeting friends online, but now our members are much more likely to share their involvement on social media without feeling like they need to hide it!
  • Growing Media Interest in our Friendships: When I started in 2008, the most common response from TV producers and magazine editors was something along the lines of, "Oh we covered friendship in a piece last year" as though that were all that was needed for another year or two! Ha! (And yet they think we need to learn how to "lose 5 lbs" every single month!) But I have been so encouraged by the growing number of books, segments, and articles on friendships in recent years!  The New York Times alone has published countless op-ed pieces calling out our loneliness!  And one major national magazine, in an interview with me in May, said "We have decided to cover friendships more than romance this year!"  That, my friends, is progress!
  • An Inflation in Bad Advice: With the increase in interest and heightened awareness of our lack of depth comes an escalation of bad advice from people who respond more to our fear than to our growth.  If I had a penny every time I see "advice" telling people some version of "get rid of your toxic friends" then I'd be rich!  The truth is that it's less about who is toxic and who isn't (research shows that 86% of us claim to have a toxic friend so that would imply that we're all friends with the same 14% of toxic people or that some of us are considered toxic to someone else!) and more about how to teach people how to create healthier friendships. In other words, if someone does something we don't like (which is 100% likely in every relationship at some point!) let's learn how to communicate that and develop greater trust in each other than to simply drift apart, while righteously patting ourselves on the back for being so much better than everyone else.
  • An Uptick in the Desire to Learn About Friendship: Book publishers have long known that women will buy any book that promises love and good sex, and will buy up every parenting book when they are pregnant; but that far and few between are the women who walk into a bookstore thinking they need to learn about friendship. And I can't say this has changed drastically, but I have seen far more willingness by women to come to my workshops, pay for classes, and share my book with their friends. I am encouraged that with the realization that they don't have the close friends they want, more women are willing to start doing something about it.  We've long assumed, wrongly, that we should just know how to do friendship, but I'm witnessing entire audiences walking away in awe of what they didn't even know they didn't know. We are willing to pay to learn in every other area of life (i.e. how to lose weight, how to do social media, how to look stylish) and I'm seeing more women choose to learn over the alternative of staying lonely.

May these trends continue to increase, and more importantly, may your life reflect your awareness of your need and your willingness to learn how to create more meaningful friendships!

What have you noticed and observed in your life and in those around you?

----------------------------------

GirlFriendCircles.com-- Re-opening to meet these trends and needs

GirlFriendCircles.com is being re-opened based upon these needs I see in the world: I want to connect all the women healthy enough to realize they are made to give and receive more love than they're currently experiencing; I want to provide them a place to learn all the things we were never taught about friendship and share the research with them in applicable ways; and I want to inspire them regularly to pay attention to different aspects of their friendship and help hold them accountable to the outcomes they want! 

GirlFriendCircles.com is open to women all over the world and of all ages (over 21) and they will receive:

  1. connection to other like-minded women and introductions to new friends
  2. a new class/worksheet/goal with a different focus each month (i.e. how to set boundaries, how to meet new people, how to practice vulnerability)
  3. and access to coaching and advice from me, other teachers I bring in, and the wisdom of the community!

Why Travel with GirlFriendCircles?

Michelle Scott-- the beautiful GFC TravelCircle host and author of this guest post.
Michelle Scott-- the beautiful GFC TravelCircle host and author of this guest post.

Welcome home to the 15 women who just returned from our 2nd TravelCircle to Cuba!  And a huge thanks to Michelle Scott for not only being the GFC ambassador on this trip, but also for writing this guest blog that gives us a glimpse into the amazing experience you all had!

Also, Michelle is leading TWO of the 9 scheduled TravelCircles in 2014-- GirlFriends Eco-Adventuring in Nicaragua in August and the Women Dancing & Sipping through Argentina & Chile in November. Check them out--you'd be lucky to be in her care!  (All trips are highlighted at the end of the blog and can be found at www.WomensTravelCircles.com)

---------------------------

by Michelle Scott

Planning an adventure is an interesting thing. You can spend months preparing an itinerary, but you never know when those magical moments will occur, or how, and with whom connections will develop. Such was our experience in Cuba.

Our first morning in Cuba, we sat in a circle, looking at 15 unfamiliar faces. Who were these women, who had made group travel to Cuba a priority?

One of many amazing meals we shared, talking and laughing, with the yummy Cuban drinks!
One of many amazing meals we shared, talking and laughing, with the yummy Cuban drinks!

Each of us had chosen to invest and engage in this particular adventure at this specific time. Most came to learn, some came to be inspired or to find direction, and at least one came to honor the memory of a loved one, who valued travel and culture. All were united in our value of friendship and adventure.

GirlFriendCircles (GFC) began TravelCircles this year. While each trip is unique, all focus on two main components. 1) We travel together with the intention of connecting with each other in a meaningful and honoring way. 2) We learn about the lives of women living in that particular country/region.

Our Travel Through Cuba

Because GFC teams with Altruvistas, we are able to experience Cuba or any country we travel to in a deeper, more connected and invested manner. In other words, we’re not there as passive tourists. We show up, ready to engage and build relationships with the people we meet.

A dance class where we got a chance to watch the best perform and then learn to do some of the steps ourselves!
A dance class where we got a chance to watch the best perform and then learn to do some of the steps ourselves!

On this particular trip, we learned from Cubans with firsthand knowledge of history, architecture, politics, healthcare, literacy and education, music, art, community development, and social services. At times, our role was more like new students, soaking up information. Other times, we were colleagues, processing what we were learning and integrating it with previous knowledge. Because there was mutual respect and interactive conversations, it was an engaging way of learning.

We learned about The Cuban 5 and how Cubans view the U.S. embargo/blockade. We learned about diversity and prejudice. We gained new appreciation for murals and the value of art within a community. We learned how to make our own perfume. We learned to dance, laugh and fan our way through Cutumba. While much of our itinerary was full (because learning hours are required for our visas), there were times, when we practiced slowing down enough to listen, engage and experience. And we loved those moments that unified us with little to no effort on our part other than being present in the moment and accepting its gifts.

“Why are you glad you went on this trip?”

But don't just take it from me, I asked some of the other women on the trip to answer the question: “Why are you glad you went on this trip?”

  • Kate S. from Chicago shared, “I have never been on a trip where I connected with so many different people. This trip provided the ability to have personal interactions with Cubans in a way that would not have been possible had I traveled independently. The stories we heard, the culture we experienced, and conversations we had will stay with me forever. The group of girls from GirlFriendCircles were the best people to share this experience with; I truly believe some of the friendships we made will last a lifetime.”
  • Our group!  We love each other.  What fun!
  • Amy from North Carolina responded, “I'm glad I saw Cuba just before what I anticipate to be a period of great change. It's amazing to be surrounded by such history and so little of our ubiquitous consumerist culture.”
  • Jennifer from Wisconsin replied, “I loved the feeling of truly being lost in another time. Some of my favorite moments were in Old Havana, with the bustling streets, amazing cars, music playing in the air, and the colorful patchwork textures and buildings all around. It was a treat for my senses. Cuba has a kind of raw energy that you don't see much elsewhere.”
  • Kirsten from British Columbia shared, “Cuba deserves so much credit for surviving as it has for so long against such overwhelming odds. I was grateful to be exposed to a different truth than the one many of us have learned. In the end I think there is truth on all sides. I was impressed by a different value system, one that places the emphasis on taking care of each other, rather than on individual achievement.”
  • Kimberly from Florida responded, “Mostly glad to meet such an amazing group of American women, but so glad to have seen the resiliency of the Cuban women and people. The countryside and architecture were beautiful!!”

Are you considering travel with GirlFriendCircles? Now is the time to express your interest. Many trips are planned for 2014. (See the list of all 9 trips below!) These adventures are full of great activities and opportunities to meet wonderful people, who also value friendship. What could be better than experiencing a new culture while building connection and friendship?

-------

travelCircle
travelCircle

Ready to Travel, GirlFriend? 

Scheduled TravelCircles that Still Have Availability in 2014:

GirlFriends Eco-Adventuring in Nicaragua August 2-11, 2014

For adventurous and active women this trip is filled with hikes, learning, and beauty! (Also, optional 2-day surfing lessons)

Women and Goddesses in Greece Aug 29-Sept. 9, 2014

Ready to explore the Parthenon, Acropolis, and the Temple of Zeus? This is trip with spirituality, myths, beauty, art, and the divine feminine.

Women of Compassion on Safari in Kenya September 27-October 6

Combine the best wildlife of a Safari with amazing opportunities to learn about social causes and regional issues affecting women in Africa.

Women & Current Affairs in Afghanistan October 4-13, 2014

Ready to understand a country in a more real way than just what we see on TV?  Watch history unfold in an intimate and local way.

Women Dancing & Sipping through Argentina & Chile Nov 1-11

Get ready to dance, cook, sip wine and inhale all the beauty, culture, and history of two amazing countries: Argentina and Chile!

www.WomensTravelCircles.com

brought to you by:

GirlFriendCircles_logo
GirlFriendCircles_logo

My Coming Out as a Feminist

I won a $1,000 ticket to a Ms. magazine fundraiser luncheon featuring Gloria Steinem last week.  With only thirty women in attendance it was a coveted win.

Feminism: a word I didn't like

I'm slowly waking up to feminism.

Half of my readers will be appalled that I feel a need to use the word feminism at all, and the other half of you are probably rolling your eyes that I ever had any hesitation around word.

I was raised in the eighties when the women's movement experienced its backlash after all the progress of the sixties and seventies. To say the least, the word feminist didn't hold positive correlation for me for most of my life, it wasn't something you wanted to be.  I'd repeatedly heard women start sentences with "I'm not a feminist, but...", modeling for me that we wanted to distance ourselves from some scary picture of women burning bra's, hating men, and causing a ruckus.

Adding to the distance I created between me and feminism was the fact that being a girl often proved to be an advantage to me.  I liked being a girl. (shows how much I misunderstood the feminism message!) More than a sense of oppression, I actually felt singled out, rewarded, and applauded.  Being among the first females running for Student Association president in college was an honor, attending seminary with less than ten women in my program felt pioneering, and serving as many people's first female pastor felt like a privilege. It wasn't without gratitude that I recognized that I had those opportunities because of women who had fought the good fight before me, but I didn't see the need to keep fighting.  I wasn't one of them. I thought we had made it.  Or, at least that there was enough momentum to keep us on our way.

I look back now with a twinge of regret that I cared more about being likable, agreeable, and your all-around-good-girl, than I did about being an advocate for women.  But I either didn't see the need or assumed the cause was doing fine without me waving the banner.

My own feminist awakening

Feminism is a loaded word. A word that few of us would disagree with in definition: "the advocacy of supporting women's rights as equal to men." In words alone, who among us isn't a feminist?

But as soon as the word is uttered-- we sometimes back away because we don't sense the urgency, don't relate to those in the media who represent the word, or don't necessarily feel like there is anything we can do, or want to do. I've had an entire career distancing myself from a word while still believing in the concept. Being a naturally positive person has more-or-less allowed me to look away from numbers as I argue that change takes time; choosing to feel encouraged by how many amazing women I knew who were doing so much.

And yet. Positivity shouldn't include denial.

Women still make up only 3% of creative directors, less than 5% of movie directors (that number dropped in 2011!), only 14% of Hollywood writers, and are shown as protagonists in only 17% of films. These numbers aren't all that different from a decade ago. Only 6 of our 50 state governors are women, and of the 535 seats of Congress, only 90 of them are women.  While we celebrate that we hold 22.1% of all statewide elected offices, that number was 22.2% in 1993 so the last twenty years hasn't shown tremendous strides there either.  I can keep going... reminding you that only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO's are women, that we are still earning double-digits less than our male counterparts, and that even though we own somewhere around 30% of businesses we still receive less than 10% of the funding.

So this last year I'd say I'm having a bit of an awakening. An awakening where I realize that we women still need to consciously play bigger games, speak out more, and offer our best in this world.  This has nothing to do with what choices you make--to get married or not, stay home with kids or work outside the home, wear stilettos or reject fashion--it has to do with being honored completely in whatever choice we do make. Not just for our sakes, but because the problems in our world need us.  The ways we engage, make decisions, and nurture those around us is being called out.  The challenges around us need us.

Like Katie Couric said in the documentary Miss Representation: If women spent 10% less time worrying about our weight and appearance, and instead applied that energy to others, she’s pretty sure we could solve all the worlds problems in a matter of months.

We can do that.

Feminism in Friendship

I've always wanted to live up to my best.  And I was always told I could.  In that sense I have always been a feminist.

But it hasn't been until this last year that I'm getting more comfortable with the word and my belief that I need to contribute to what that word stands for. I'd say that one of the forces that has transitioned me into the passion I feel for the cause were my relationships with other women.

When you experience women cheering for you-- supporting you, believing in you, thanking you, and helping you-- you realize how much more powerful you feel.  And you want everyone else to have that.

Whether it was Ayesha (who is pictured with me and Gloria above, who invited me to participate in an entrepreneurs group of women who were committed to helping each other) or Christine Bronstein from A Band of Wives who gifted me the ticket to attend the luncheon and has done nothing but cheer me on in our shared passion for women-- these two women are fabulous examples of women who have modeled their willingness to promote other women.

And when you have been given to, you want to give back.

The word feminism is still an awkward word on my tongue.  But the concept has taken root in my heart.  I hope that those of us reading this can keep living it out in our interactions with each other-- being constant reminders of each others value and potential. That as women who value friends-- we know that we are empowering each other in ways no one else can do. We can hold up mirrors to each other that remind us of our inherent worth.

In that sense, what we are doing in GirlFriendCircles is sacred work.  On the surface it would be easy to think it's just networking and social events.  But it's women showing up ready to commit to each other, willing to invest in the forming of bonds, honoring the fact that friendships with others are important enough to us to do something about it.  That's feminism.  Saying we matter.  Putting actions behind our words. We're ensuring that we don't do this journey of life without a local community, cheerleaders, allies, and friends.

Upon meeting Gloria Steinem-- I thanked her for the path she helped pave for so many of us.  Her response was "the hardest part is still ahead."

Good thing we have each other.

------------

p.s. a couple of good resources:

  1. Find a screening in your area for Miss Representation or plan to order the DVD when it's available late February.
  2. Subscribe to Ms. magazine which is like supporting the cause since it's a non-profit magazine that seeks to tell inspiring stories about women and highlight issues and challenges facing them.

 

 

Nothing Kills a Potential Relationship Faster

Momentum.  The lack of it can kill a relationship quickly. A romantic relationship would never get off the ground if the two of you went out for a date, then ended the evening saying "That was fun... we should do it again next month."

When it comes to love, we clear our calendar for possibility. And yet for friendship it somehow seems normal to only see each other every couple of weeks or months? We schedule her several weeks out, even if for him we'd make it 2 days later. The irony being that the women you meet for friendship have a higher likelihood of actually being in your life longer than most of the men you date.

momentum

We understand momentum clearly in romance.  But why not for friendship? Is it for lack of prioritizing our female friends as important? Is it because we need the assertiveness of the testosterone to initiate? Is it because we don't know how?

Why We Lack Momentum

My guess is that it is partly due to priority and partly due to fear.

The priority part is easy to see.  We are inundated with wanting to be chosen by a romantic partner our entire lives.  We will give up almost anything for "love." We think there is someone out there who will complete us.  We are accused often of neglecting our friends once we start dating or get married.

But the other part is fear, I think.  Almost every hesitation in our lives can be linked to our fear of being rejected in some way, a fear of not being totally loved and accepted. No one wants to feel embarrassed in any way.  Therefore, we erroneously think that to have time/desire to meet you again next week might somehow communicate that I'm desperate, lonely, needy, or unimportant?

Oddly enough, if a guy were were interested enough to see us next week again-- we'd be flattered.  But we're unwilling to give that same gift to a platonic friend.  We don't want to appear more interested than they seem to be.

Interest Is Contagious

But here's the honest truth: we like people who like us.

With romantic dating, we know how to flirt and show interest.

With friend dating, we all too often show up with a reserve that says "Prove that you're interesting first."  We put up our guard until they appear valuable to us.  And if they mirror the same wait-and-watch attitude, then momentum rarely happens.  We feel judged because we're judging.

What would happen if you showed up without fear?  If your self worth weren't attached to how a stranger responded, or didn't?  If you could show up-- give love, interest, compassion and kindness before they "earned" it?  We all want the other person to be that way, but few of us are willing to be it first.  Remember the golden rule.

How You Can Contribute to Momentum

If you're in the GirlFriendCircles.com community, receiving invitations to ConnectingCircles, one easy way to contribute to momentum is simply to RSVP immediately.  You would all completely laugh if you saw how many customer service emails Maci receives from women waiting to see if anyone else is going to RSVP to an event before they do.  Imagine a bunch of women all waiting for 1-2 others to sign up before they feel safe doing so-- and it getting cancelled because none of them actually took that risk.  (And what's the real risk anyhow?  You're in a community where the only people who can see it is other women who are also signed up to meet new friends!)

The worst case scenario? You sign up and no one else can-- the event gets canceled. But that isn't a reflection on you-- except that it shows you're confident, and willing to actually put a wee bit of action behind your intention for meeting new people.

And the best case scenario is well worth the risk of the worst case, in my opinion. For what usually happens is that as soon as a local event has 1-2 women signed up... the rest of it fills up.  And now, because you started the momentum-- 5 or 6 women have the chance of starting a friendship.

This plays out true whether we're talking about ConnectingCircles or any other events.  Be the initiator!  Don't attach your ego to it.... write again, invite for a different date, follow-up.

Our friend dating doesn't have to look like our romantic dating where we schedule something every 2-3 days for several weeks... but can't we at least give 20% of that same energy and intention to people who actually have a higher probability of being in our lives a year from now?

Give the gift of momentum to one of your friendships.  What you crave is a meaningful and comfortable friendship.  Put in the momentum to get there!