being vulnerable with friends

You Answered: The Most Challenging Part of Making New Friends

This post is written by Katrina Emery, a member of GirlFriendCircles.com who lives in Portland, OR.

One of the most popular questions in GirlFriendCircles, that our new members answer is “What specific aspect of making new friends feels the most challenging to you?”

I read through all 750+ answers (I promise, I did!), and am here to report with your answers. Because this friendship thing is hard, we all know that. There are aspects of it that we all struggle with, so while 750 of you out there may have commented about how hard it is to make new friends, you’re not the only ones. Solidarity, sister. We’re here to figure it out together.

top 5friendshipchallenges.png

 

Top 5 Challenges:

#1: Time.

Let’s be honest, this one’s a bit boring. Everyone’s got time constraints, we all know we’re busy, there are a million apps promising to fix that, and none of them do. But we’re all here because we know that friendship is important anyway.

#2: Meeting People Initially.

The hardest part for a lot of you is the simple act of figuring out how to meet someone. You’ve carved out your time, but aren’t sure where to go. Or you’ve figured out where to go, but can’t tell what to say. Many of you also noted how hard it is to break into an established circle of friends. And a lot of you mentioned how hard it is to combat shyness and gather the courage to speak up.

“Just meeting people can be a challenge--and it sometimes seems that everyone already has friend group and isn't really looking for new friends to add.” - D

“The most challenging aspect for me is the initial putting myself out there. “ -T

#3: Moving Deeper.

Lots of commenters said how much they hate small talk, and how difficult it can be to move past an initial meeting into something more meaningful. Shasta would describe it as moving circles, and it’s tough to bump folks up from acquaintances to something better. Even someone who can blaze through the first two challenges might get stopped up here. There were so many thoughtful and poignant comments around this topic, which shows that we all spend a lot of time really thinking about this.

L says, “It’s that invisible wall that seems to stand between friendly chit-chat with other women and becoming actual friends - how does that happen?”

And J put it nicely: “Keeping a momentum of friendship other than “Hey how are you?” back and forth all the time.”

And another L noted, “The actual approach to making new friends is very hard. I've met people who I thought "OK, I could totally see being friends with this person."  However, I never make the transition to friendship because I don't know how.”

#4: Finding the Right Kind of Friend

This was an interesting category to me. A lot of commenters mentioned that they were looking for a certain type of friend--one who fits with their own idea of what they’re looking for, or one that shares all the right interests.

One commenter, A, summed this up nicely: “Finding people I like.”

This makes sense. We all want people we like, who understands where we are in life. Because we’re all going through struggles, and we think that no one can help unless they’re going through that same struggle. Many commenters wrote about how challenging their own situations were, and their barriers to making friends. And here’s what I noticed: they were all different, and often contradictory. Having a demanding job, working a weird schedule, not working at all, working as a stay at home mom, having teenage kids, having kids under 3, being a single mom, being single with no kids, being married with no kids,… everyone mentioned how hard it was for them. Which just goes to show… it’s hard for us all. It really is. We’re all kind of freaked out by it.

So, what if, instead of looking to make friends who are in our same situation, we branch out and open up? Don’t get me wrong-- I know this is crazy hard. And I understand many times it’s a matter of practicality rather than preference. But it might be worth it. Here’s what M. had to say about it:

“[I’m challenged by] making new friends with people who are different from me — like a whole lot different. They have a different culture, different ways of doing things, different dialect...this has been a challenge for me for so many years. I feel like I don't "click"...but this year, I am determined to be more open and welcoming.”

To sum up...

#5: Fear.

Other than time (though, we could make an argument for that), this one sums up all of the above challenges. They’re all about being afraid of being judged, of being not enough, or too much. That’s why I thought #4 was especially tragic. We’re all looking for a specific kind of friend and telling ourselves that those who don’t fit our categories aren’t good enough for us, while being inwardly terrified that we’re not good enough for other people’s categories.

“When opening up to new people I feel vulnerable to judgment from others.” -A

“Being vulnerable and wondering ‘will they like ME?’ “ - S

“Reaching out. Initiating. Suggesting a get-together and having the other person say no or cancel. Rejection in all of its many forms.” -C

“Feeling like I am too much. Being fully accepted. Feeling like I’ll let others down.” -A

First, let’s all take a moment to congratulate ourselves on admitting that stuff. Good job!

Now that we’ve done that, let’s congratulate ourselves on being here, wanting to do something to tackle those challenges. It won’t happen immediately, but the more we reach out, send an invite, risk chatting to a new person, or move past our shyness to be a little vulnerable, the better we’ll get at it.

And while you practice those things, read up on the Friendship University-- it’s loaded with all sorts of tips to tackle these challenges and more, such as:

Making Time for Our Friendships, with author Samantha Ettus

Friend-Making Overwhelm? 5 Strategies for Starting Right Where You Are, with author Sam Bennet

The 3 Requirements for Starting Friendships or How to Make a New BFF with our own Shasta Nelson

How to Connect with Others: The 4 Laws of Authentic Conversation, with author Michelle Tillis Lederman

Because if there’s anything that reading these 750 comments taught me, it’s that these challenges aren’t so unique, after all.

How to Respond to a Friend's Pity Party

I woke up early yesterday morning unable to go back to sleep, which is unusual for me.  But my mind was so busy hurling accusations at me that no lullaby could be heard above the ugly words. In the dark hours my critical voice sounded strong and empowered as she told me what a loser I am.  She grabbed my new book, my business, my classes and projects, and everything she could get her hands on and tore them up in front of me by telling me how they weren't good enough, how I wasn't doing enough, and how I could have done better. Her words were plentiful as she made her case for my lack. She used my own dreams and fantasies against me reminding me that not only had I not yet lived up to them, but that I probably never would. Her convincing words echoed through me this time in a way that resonated with my own deepest fears.  So even as the sun came up, I couldn't shake the feeling that she had been right: I'm failing.

Now I can defend myself with the best of them by jumping into the game and trying to name my successes or by assuring myself that the ruler she used to find me wanting wasn't measuring the right things.  And I typically am a pretty positive and hopeful person. But as a girlfriend arrived later in the day for our early dinner plans, I welcomed the back-up by exclaiming: "Oh I am so glad you're here-- I'm being bullied by a bunch of inner mean girls!"

The Five Amazing Responses of My Friend

I am sharing this story with you primarily because I want to share how my friend responded so we can all feel inspired to show up for each other when we feel under-attack by ourselves.  But I also am pushing myself to share this because it's important that we all hear reminders from each other that self-doubt and fear of failure are on every playground, even (or especially?) in lives that have stretched, dreamed, and succeeded by some measurement. frientimacy_quote_4 For me, right now, it's centered on the gap between the impact and teaching I want to be doing versus what I feel I am currently achieving; but for you or one of your friends, it might be about hoping you'd be married or have kids by this age, feeling like a failure because you don't have x (fill in the blank: a 401k, a book deal, or a corner office) yet, or feeling discouraged because while you are making good money you aren't pursuing your creative work, or vice-versa.  Unless we've reached pure enlightenment, we tend to fan a desire for something more that we're secretly convinced will make us feel better about ourselves and more peaceful about our lives.

Here are some of the ways my friend loved me well and brought me home feeling more hopeful:

  1. She Took It Seriously... Before I had interrupted her with my current condition she had been walking up the stairs to my apartment exclaiming, "There's the amazing and famous author and teacher who has been out traveling the world!"  But when she heard my panic, she pivoted quickly and instead of dismissing my feelings and telling me I was crazy, she validated them, "Oh no! I am so sorry. Those voices can be so cruel. What awful things are they saying?"  I felt supported, seen, and heard; not crazy, weak, or silly.
  2. But Not Too Seriously... But as we started walking into the neighborhood to find a spot for dinner, she also helped put it into perspective: "Shasta, I don't know a single author who doesn't feel depressed at some point after their book comes out.  It's a post-adrenaline drop after working on something for so long, your heart is still trying to catch up to your body as you traveled all over the country in the last few weeks, and everyone has higher hopes for their work than the immediate response. It makes sense you're feeling this way."  She helped again to validate my feelings but also subtly reminded me that how I feel now isn't the final answer.
  3. She Matched My Vulnerability Without Taking the Attention Off of Me. Upon sitting down in our chosen cafe, she shared with me how she had a similar attack over the weekend, feeling like a complete loser because several of her friends were buying their dream houses or had just moved in to new homes recently.  Her mean bullies said all kinds of awful things about her as she compared herself to others in that department. She confided how she had pouted, how she had hurt, and how she had eventually been able to hear her own wisdom. I felt closer to her for her willingness to reveal her own insecurities and felt peace that I wasn't being judged; she understood.
  4. She Invited Me To Find the Joy that Mattered.  When our drinks came she asked me to share with her 5 highlights from my book tour.  Five!  Most of us would simply ask someone how it went or to share a highlight or two... but she asked for five.  And somewhere between thinking up the 4th and 5th one, I had given myself enough evidence of how much had gone really, really well.  She cheered for me, toasted me, and found joy in my answers.
  5. She Brainstormed With Me.  Knowing full well that I was undoubtedly being too hard on myself, she also knew that there was some truth(s) to what I was saying mattered to me. Much like when we're menstruating--our feelings might be heightened or we may have less reserves--it doesn't mean that what we feel isn't real or that what upsets us shouldn't. She started asking me questions about my business and my book to see what actions I might want to consider in the weeks and months to come.  She didn't try to solve it; she just opened up the space for me to feel like I could respond to these feelings in productive ways at some point.

In my book I have an entire chapter on the five acts of vulnerability, three of which my friend and I practiced in a big and beautiful way yesterday:

  1. Know Yourself to Share Yourself
  2. Shine In Front of Each Other
  3. Share Your Shame & Insecurities

We both shared honestly about what we were feeling, we revealed the fears we hold and what those mean or symbolize to us, and we invoked each other to shine, to be successful in other areas, and to dream.  Which is significant because when we say we want to be loved it includes accepting both the amazing and insecure pieces of us.

I was willing to show up as I was; and she met me right there in the most affirming and generous of ways. As we practiced vulnerability with each other, we not only bonded our relationship in deeper ways, but we both left that time together feeling seen, safe, and satisfied-- which is what friendship can give us that matters so very much to our lives.

Thank you, dear friend.  And may your kindness inspire all of us to show up with others knowing that even in success, there may lurk doubts and fears that we can witness.

xoxo