Time it takes

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.

Stages of a Friendship

I'm trying to find vocabulary that increases our awareness of the stages of becoming friends. Romance Stages and Friendship Stages

When it comes to marriage, we know that there is a lot of ground between being interested in someone and getting married to them.  We have terms like "going on a date" which we know is different than "dating."  We implicitly acknowledge that it takes time before we can both simply assume that we're hanging out this weekend without asking each other.

With female friendship we lack non-romantic language to articulate those stages.

Our expectations also seem to be a bit skewed of how fast we should progress. We appear to be at great risk of thinking we need to feel like BFF's within the first couple of conversations, forgetting that there are stages. We neglect the evidence in our memory banks that show us repeatedly that most of our friends developed over consistent time together (i.e. work, school, weekly gatherings).

In romance we know that, on average, it takes 1-2 years from meeting to marriage, but there are always some couples who elope after knowing each other for 2 weeks and others who date for ten years before getting married. In friendship, it's more-or-less the same.  There will always be exceptions due to personality, life timing, willingness, etc.  But more-or-less-- we'd be wise to set our expectations for the journey, even if it means it may take a year before I get to where I want to be with someone.

5 Stages of Friendship.  In Rough Draft Form....  :)

So here are five stages that I've identified so far.  I'd love your input on whether you think this helps capture the process?  What stage am I missing? What has been your experience, over the long-haul with your friendship development?

  1. Curiosity. This is where every friendship begins.  There has to be something that attracts you, gives you a sense of willingness and increases your desire to have more. It doesn't have to be conscious or obvious to us, but at this stage we have to have reason to lean in, even a little, if the stranger we're meeting is going to have a chance of becoming a friend.
  2. Exploratory. Every potential friendship requires time together.  For some of us, that time happens automatically (at a play group, a choir rehearsal, yoga class or work), but for many of us, we'll have to initiate it and pursue it.  For it doesn't matter how much attraction you may feel in that first stage-- if you don't show up for time together-- a friendship it will never become.
  3. Familiarity. This is the stage we often want as stage one.  :)  We frequently want to experience this comfort level with someone upon first meeting them, forgetting that it takes time to build.  In my experience, I find that it takes most women 6-8 times with someone before they reach this stage.  Of course that depends on what you're doing during that time and how you're sharing, but at some point you reach this familiarity.  A trust that you can assume she wants to talk with you when you call.  An ease where you're okay just hanging out spontaneously together without it taking two weeks to schedule.  A sense that you are beginning to be able to predict how they will respond to different life events.
  4. Vulnerability. This stage is tricky since there is a ditch on either side: rushing to it too quickly or avoiding it all together.  Some women rush to this stage early on because they feel closer once they have shared their pain.  But healthy friendships need the commitment to grow in conjunction with the intimacy. We should not be emotionally vomiting on someone in order to feel closer.  It should not be our expectation that friends who are in the first couple of stages need to prove themselves and be there for us in extreme ways.
  5. On the other hand, at some point of consistent time together, if you're not willing to share beyond your PR image, laugh at yourself and express insecurities-- the friendship will stall or disintegrate.  This is where we earn the right to "cry on each others shoulder."   This is where we are bonding in deeper ways, increasing our commitment to each other.

  6. Frientimacy. This last stage is for those who are your BFFs.  And notice that I made that plural.  :)  Best doesn't speak to quantity as much as quality. It's like when a magazine says "Best moments of last year" and lists ten.  There is enough research out there to suggest we need between 3-7 people in this category. Don't limit yourself.  On the other hand, not everyone you interact with needs to move into this last stage.
  7. This Friendship Intimacy stage is my category for the people I trust implicitly.  We trust each others boundaries, have proven to show up as emotionally healthy people for each other and are willing to go out of our way for their benefit.  We love them.  This stage takes time.  Lots of it. For most of us, while you may see the potential and some of the benefits of it 6-12 months into the relationship, it may take even longer than that to really build the required trust and intimacy.

While few of our relationships will ever have clear lines between these stages, does it help to visually see that friendship is indeed a progression?  Is it valuable to differentiate between seeing the potential of a BFF and putting in the time and vulnerability required to foster it?  In general, does this align with your experience? And, if this were true, how could you see it helping you as you start new friendships?