Mutual

When You're The Only One Making Time for Friendship

Dear Shasta,

I’ve been binge-reading your blog and very happy I discovered it. I think what you are saying mostly makes a lot of sense, but I’m struggling with something: It is so very hard to meet people who are open to new friendships. On the rare instances that I find people who seem like they are, it’s almost impossible to find people who have the *time* to get together regularly. It’s hard to move friends down the pipeline, so to speak. Everyone seems just so very busy.  I can’t find anyone to say yes regularly enough to build meaningful friendships. Heck, it’s hard to get anyone to say yes at all. What do you suggest in situations like these?

Dearest Willing to Make the Time:

First, kudos to you and your awareness, intention, and willingness to foster friendships!  It's awesome and it WILL serve your life.  I promise!  Guard that commitment-- don't let others who are less aware steal it; don't let anyone saying no rob you of it; and certainly don't let apathy drain it from you.  What you know to be true: that friendships are worth the time, will benefit YOUR life.  Regardless of the outcome or of anyone's responses-- you know the truth and it will bless you.  Stay with it.

In fact it's your super power!  Not everyone knows they have it.  You're lucky you do.  SO many women are lonely (and the busier she is often means the lonelier she can feel!) and they don't have the energy, know-how, or motivation to change it-- but you do!  The ability to initiate repeatedly is a super power that will ensure you build meaningful friendships.

What Won't Work

Let's just be clear that what you secretly hope for isn't going to work:

  • Their schedules aren't just going to open up.  If I could wave a magic wand for you, I would, but it doesn't work.  So we can't wait for them to "not be busy."
  • Just because you initiated last time doesn't mean it's their turn.  A thousand potential relationships die every day because someone believes this myth.
  • Taking their silence, their no's, or their forgetfulness personally will never lead to friendship.  And the good news is that in the early stages of friendship-- we don't need to take these as a sign that the person isn't good friend material. No one can make everyone a priority in their schedules.  As your time together (even if it's at your initiation every time) becomes more meaningful, so will it get easier for her to commit her time to it.
  • Resenting them for not "stepping up." You're not initiating for their sake, but for yours! It's not a gift to them, but to yourself! So you don't ever need to resent them for not reciprocating-- this is your goal and need so you just keep leaning into friendships... and you will get what you crave.
  • Focusing all your energy on 1-2 people isn't enough.  Cast a net, not a fishing line, and be open to who might surprise you as a great friend down the road!

    Shasta and her friends

Ideas to Try for Building Friendships with Busy People

Instead of hand picking a couple of people and casually asking them to do something "sometime" and then hoping that *poof* a friendship will develop from that-- what we need to do is try everything and anything that will help us connect with as many women so we can eventually see who is responding with their occasional yes:

  • Extend an invitation to everyone you know for a standing girls night every Tuesday and be happier with the few who show up each week than disappointed with the many who don't.  But keep inviting the whole group each week (and tell them to bring a friend with them if you want more there!) and you'll see that those who show up most often will feel most close by Christmas!
  • Start a 4-week book club (long enough commitment to develop some friendships, but short enough for no one to feel stuck) as the excuse to gather everyone together. (My first book has a free 4-week guide, is written to help the group get to know each other, and has the extra bonus of reminding everyone how important consistent time is together!)
  • Ask for a commitment from a friend who says no. If she can't make the time we suggest, then follow it up with a "When works best for you?  Give me a date or two and I'll do everything I can on my end to make it work." Don't let the ball drop.
  • Build a relationship with unscheduled time. She's too busy to commit? Then just make a note to randomly call her every so often-- call her the first time with a follow-up reason: "Just wanted to call you real quick and hear how x went!" Another time call her "I'm just on my lunch break so only have a few minutes but was thinking of you and wanted to just catch up and hear how x is going!" Another time: "Hi! Hopefully this will just take a few moments but I had a question for you..."  Keep the calls short, ask a specific question to get the conversation started, and let her know you're thinking of her.  This does facilitate bonding and can ultimately make get-togethers more meaningful.
  • Try for spontaneous.  I've found that a lot of my friends feel overwhelmed with their schedule when they are looking at their calendars a week or two out, but that my odds go up if I am willing to try for day-of opportunities every so often. Text her-- "Hey any chance you're up for a 30 minute walk after work tonight?  I'm feeling the need for some fresh air and friendship!"  Or, "Hey, I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow near your office-- any chance we can sneak away for a bite to eat before or after my appointment?"  Or, "I know this is so last-minute... but just thought I'd try to see if there was any chance we could just stick our kids in front of a movie tonight for 45 minutes while we drink wine in the kitchen? Ha! You in?"
  • Invite on social media.  We may not want to post "I need friends.  Help!" but we can certainly post to our local friends: "I want to do x next week, anyone up for joining me?" Or "I'm tired of my walking route and am looking for someone who will take me on theirs! Ha! I'll drive to you!" Or "I'm thinking of having a decorating cookie party this holiday season-- who wants to come?" This helps expose you to possible friends who may not be on your radar, helps you see who might make the time, and shows you as an open and fun person who values friendships and enjoys life.

Do you see the patterns in those ideas?  Initiation With Many + Repeat As Often As Possible, with a Sprinkle of Fun and Lightheartedness = You Soon Having Friends.

The more we can call you "Making the Time" the sooner we can call you "The Girl With Healthy Friendships!"

Good luck, much love, and thank you for being a woman who prioritizes friendship!

Shasta

Update on 11/5: For more on this subject, in part inspired by some of the comments from this post, see the follow-up post: "If my friend really liked me then she'd initiate more..."

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make In Their Friendships

We all want those really easy, meaningful, comfortable, and deep friendships with no drama, right?  And while that sounds fabulous, the truth is that most of us are silently suffering from some form of loneliness as we just keep waiting for those relationships to fall in our laps, the way little girls look for little fairies hovering over flowers. I want meaningful friendships for you.  So very much, I do!  But we have to come to the table with healthy expectations and thoughtful beliefs, rather than with hopes, myths, and limiting beliefs that sabotage us from creating substantial relationships.

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make In Their Friendships

1.  You Hope That Good Friendships Will Be Discovered.  This is still numero uno on the mistake list.  In fact I titled my book Friendships Don't Just Happen to help speak to this very damaging belief in our lives.

But we all have examples of meeting an amazing woman that we connected with, loved, 180279_10151573165137435_1652204527_nand experienced great chemistry with... only to never really see much, or ever again. Simply meeting each other and liking each other doesn't make for a friendship.

And on the flip side, we all have an example of a friend (often someone we worked with or continued to see in some setting) that we grew to love that we didn't necessarily have fireworks with when we first met them.

Friendship isn't finding someone; friendship is developing consistent positive behaviors over time with someone.  And that doesn't just happen.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

2.  You Stop Developing New Friends. You hear me say this repeatedly, but it bears the repetition: We are losing half our close friends every 7 years.

That means that life changes such as moves, career transitions, relationship changes, and different life stages each bring a shift in our friendships that frequently leave us drifting apart from some friends.

Realizing that friendship development from stranger to close friend can sometimes take a year or two, we don't want to wait until we need close friends before we start them.  We never want to stop paying attention to progressing other relationships from our Left-Side to our Right-Side of the Circles.

Just for an example, let's pretend that our Committed Friends are at 100% with us-- as vulnerable, as close, and as involved as we want.  While we may not need to foster any other friendships to that same place right now, we certainly don't want to leave them all at 10%, 20%, or even 40%.

Because the truth is that life happens and there are events that will leave those 100% friends less available (i.e. friend moves away, starts traveling a lot for work, has a baby/gets married and gets caught up in her life).  They might go back to 20% or 40%, and the question that begs to be asked, then, is whether you have other friends at 50% or 60% that, with more time and connection, could develop into more meaningful friendships.

We want to make sure we're always welcoming new people into our Circles and fostering some of them into deeper Circles so that we have meaningful friendships at all levels, at any given time.

We need to see friend-making as an ongoing way of life, rather than as something we do once and then forget about.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

3.  You Think Mutuality Means Equal Initiation.  Oh so many friendships never get off the ground due to the fear in us that whispers, "I invited her last time, the ball is in her court now." So not true.

We all have strengths to give to our friendships; and initiation and planning are just that-- a strength that we all have in varying degrees.

I'm good at thinking up things to do and reaching out when I have the extra time and head space.  I never think, "Oh I had them over last time... it's their turn."  I think, "Oh I want to see them again, let me email them to see if they can come over!"

And they reciprocate in the friendships in plenty of other ways.  They thank me for inviting them over, they helped make a night of meaningful conversation and memories, they asked about my life, they showed interest, they shared their stories with me.  I got what I needed: time with friends.

Mutuality is important.  But mutuality is not 50/50 in each task, but it's whether we both are contributing to the friendship, overall.

If you're the one who wants it, then make the ask.  Don't let your fear of rejection stop you from initiating what you desire.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

4. You Compare New Friends With Close Friends.  I used to do this all the time!  I'd go out with someone new and conclude that the time with them just wasn't what I was looking for.  What I wanted was meaningful conversation, easy time together, lots of validation and affirmation, and just a whole bunch of obvious commonalities.  What I often got was two people trying to get to know each other, both showing up with their own insecurities (expressed often by one talking too much or both being very polite and image conscious), both wishing it felt more deep and less awkward.

What I'd conveniently forget is that all those things I wanted come with time together with someone.  My closest friends have gone through serious life with me and we've had so much vulnerability, history, and time together that it always feels super meaningful.

The awkwardness, or lack of intimacy, isn't a reflection on that person, but rather on that relationship.  In other words, time spent with someone doesn't show what they can become, only what it is now.  And right now it's two people meeting each other so it's actually quite appropriate and normal to not feel like best friends yet.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

5.  You Create a Story About Your Friends Actions.  And this is the most common mistake that happens when we start feeling sour about a friendship-- we assign meaning to their behaviors that usually either devalues our friend (i.e. "she shouldn't make that choice or have that priority") or devalues our friendship (i.e. "she must not care about me or prioritize our friendship") when usually neither of those are the intended message.

When we are feeling the love toward someone, we are generous with them, often assuming the best about them and their actions (i.e. she must be busy!).  When we're feeling like we have unmet needs that they aren't tending to, often we jump to conclusions that end up putting a wedge between us and them (i.e. she doesn't value me!").

Those stories are damaging.  They cover up the fact that there is probably a need there that needs articulating and expressing; and instead comes out in the form of judgment which never helps pull people together.

When we feel ourselves start to devalue people we love, we need to see that as an invitation to step back and own everything we can about what's going on.  Good questions: Am I mad at her because I might be jealous?  Am I judgmental because I'm insecure about my own life so somehow attacking her choices makes me feel better about mine?  Am I feeling neglected because I need more support in my life and I'm erroneously thinking it needs to come from her (remember it's our responsibility to make sure we have built up a circle of support so no one person needs to be everything to us all the time!)?  Am I looking for her faults to justify pulling away for some other reason?  Am I keeping a list of wrong-doing without ever taking the time to share with her what I need?

We all too often start pushing someone away when it's actually a relationship that has a lot of our invested time and resources in it.  I want to protect my investments, not walk away from them too easily!  Far more meaningful, usually, to salvage a relationship than to start over!

More blogs related to this: here and here.

Defending the Introverts, Defining Mutuality

If I had to put money on the table next to what I thought was a primary barrier to women building new friendships, I'd put it next to a mistaken view of what mutuality means. Sure, lack of time will be listed as a more common excuse, but when a woman decides to be more proactive about fostering healthy friendships around her, the fear of unequal give-and-take can stall many budding friendships before they have a chance to get started.

Our Fear of Unequal Give-and-Take

We use language like "the ball is in her court" and "I don't want to impose" and "I invited her last time so this time I'll wait to see if she reciprocates." We justify our wait-and-see approach by reminding ourselves that we sent the last email or initiated the most recent plans, and we conclude that we're always the ones doing the inviting.   Not this time, we say. This time it's her turn.

While we may not call it a fear of rejection, we are in part acting out of that fear. We don't want to come across as desperate. We don't want to feel like we're putting ourselves out there all the time, unsure if it's wanted.  We've been told we don't need to put up with any behavior that isn't perfectly mutual. We want to feel like they like us too.  We want to feel wanted. We definitely don't want to be the ones who give more than we receive again.  So we protect our egos and wait her out.

In the meantime, our budding relationship never gets momentum so it never really happens.  And we're left complaining that no one out there seems to be interested in a mutual friendship.

Our Misunderstanding of Mutuality

On Friday evening I was sitting in a room with two friends.  Both lean toward introversion when it comes to interacting with people.  (Which means they have amazing people skills but being around people can cost them more energy than it gives them.) I was basking in the glow of how intimate those relationships felt, both of them so able to engage in deep, beautiful, meaningful conversations.  Their questions were thoughtful, their intuition spot on, and their love so genuine.

But if it had been up to either of them to get the three of us together it wasn't likely to have happened. I initiated.

As I had the week before.

And as I had the week prior to that.

The truth is that there are just many, many people out there who have so much to offer a friendship-- but initiating and scheduling may not be their forte.  That doesn't mean they don't love us or want to be with us.  And it certainly doesn't mean they don't have other meaningful ways to give to us. It just means they aren't going to assertively send out the invitation. Or if they do, it won't be as frequently as it might be for some of the rest of us.

This is not limited to introverts.  Take any self-awareness inventory and there are always types of people where scheduling and initiating will not come naturally for them. I've been studying the Enneagram which has nine types of people, and three of the types are withdrawing types, which means they tend to step back or retreat when there is stress (which any new situation can cause.) So that's at least a third of our potential friends who won't be out there trying to schedule time with us.

Even beyond personalities and types, we know that we all have different love languages.  Someone with the love language of quality time might tend to be more aware of reaching out with invitations than someone with the love language of gift giving.

Just add stress and busy-ness to any of our lives (even those of us who are extroverts, schedulers, and assertive types) and we may not reciprocate in the way you want, when you want.  But that also doesn't mean we wouldn't make great friends who will give to you in other ways!

What Does Mutual Really Mean?

As I sat there Friday evening thinking how lucky anyone would be to have these two individuals in their lives, it occurred to me how few people will get that opportunity if they only build a friendship with someone else who reaches out an equal amount.

Mutuality cannot be confined to 50/50 scheduling.  Equality doesn't mean sameness.  Being in a give-and-take relationship doesn't mean we give-and-take in the same ways.

For those of us who live with someone-- we know that having someone else divvy up the household chores doesn't mean we each vacuum half the room and cook half the meal. It means I tend to track our finances and he tends to make sure dishes don't pile up in the sink. Balance doesn't mean we split up every chore, but that we both contribute to the overall picture.

Somehow, in friendship, we have elevated the scheduling and initiating "chore" to becoming the litmus test for an equal friendship.

What we risk if we wait for equal initiations is missing the gift that introverts or non-initiators can bring to our lives.  And we risk feeling rejected if we wrongly attach that meaning to their lack of initiation.  And worst of all, we're still left without the friendships that we crave because we just sat and waited, allowing the momentum to falter.

Give. Give. Give.

I am all for balanced friendships.  I don't want you to feel used.  I want you to be in a relationship that feels mutual.

But if you are a GirlFriend who is good at initiating-- then do it. Generously. Invite her five times in a row.  Be the one who is okay calling to start the conversation. Give where you're best, knowing you will be blessed by how she gives to you in different ways. And know how lucky you are that you have the ability to give in a way that starts friendships!

And if you recognize that you're someone who struggles to initiate-- then at least be sure to tell your friends/potential friends how much you appreciate it when they do. Express your gratitude, lest they ever feel that you're not interested. Tell them what it means to you that they keep calling. Recognize that this gift they give is a necessary ingredient in the building of a friendship.

What we need is a little less judgment of each other and a little more hopeful curiosity to discover and appreciate who the other person is.

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I blogged on the perceived imbalance in give-and-take friendships for a two-part series for the Huffington Post: In Friendship, Do You Give More than You Receive? and Six Ways to Bring Balance to Your Relationships if you're interested in more reading on this subject.