break up with friends

The Ebb & Flow: Friendships Move in Both Directions

While teaching a Friendship Accelerator last weekend (sign up here if you're interested in me coming to your area to teach/facilitate) I made a note to myself, while standing at the whiteboard with marker in hand, that I wanted to remember to blog about how friendships move in both directions. Mental note remembered.  :)   We often talk about ending a friendship or drifting apart from friends as though they are being, or have been, "removed" from our lives.  But that's not usually the case.  Most frequently, our friendships aren't as cut-and-dry as someone simply being "in" or "out", bridges aren't always burning behind us, and there isn't always this declaration of the friendship ending permanently. The truth is, that for most friendships there is simply a shift that happens, often without intention or awareness.

I want us to visually see what that shift can look like.

Increasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

If you're a long-time follower of this blog, a past attendee of one of my workshops, or a reader of my book, then you know that I teach the 5 Circles of Connectedness as a visual tool for helping us see the movement of our friendships from those circles on the Left-Side to those circles on the Right-Side, from Contact Friends to Commitment Friends.  From the most casual of our friendships that depend upon a specific context for us to be connecting (i.e. work, association meetings, children's school) to the most intimate of friendship where we are confiding in them regularly, there are steps along the way.

5 types of friends image

For example, during my workshops, I find that the majority of women long for more Committed Friends when they find themselves wishing for more connection in their lives.  For them, it's not just knowing more people that appeals to them, but actually experiencing Frientimacy (the intimacy between safe and known friends) with a few of them that matters most.  Seeing where their current friendships fall on this continuum helps them assess which friendships could be moved to the right (from other Circles) to the far right where they want them, with an intentional increase in consistency, interaction, and revealing.

To be clear, all friendships start at Contact Friends.  We never meet someone and put them in any other circle, no matter how much chemistry there is, how much we like them, or how many things we have in common with them.  All friendships start on the left when they are new and then move to the right as we put into place the repeated positive behaviors that will become our friendship with that person.  Only as we get to know each other more (in new areas and in deeper ways), which comes with time together, will we move friendships to the right.

Decreasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

But most of that isn't new to you.  :) What I talk about less, but am determined to start talking about more, is that friendships go the other direction, as well.

This is huge for us because it gives us more options than to just ending friendships!  We now have a visual that illustrates for us that we can decrease vulnerability, time together, and ways of interacting to move friendships from the Right-Side to the Left-Side.

For example, women will often say to me a variation of "I'm going through a break-up right now... my friend is x (fill in the blank with any number of circumstances that aren't some obvious friendship failing but are exhausting the woman who has long called her a friend: having an affair, obsessed with losing weight, going through a divorce, dating some guy I think is horrible to her, or letting her entire life be run by her kids) and I can't take it anymore so, unfortunately, it's over."

But with the above Circles of Connectedness, we can mentally say, "X makes it hard to be close right now, with the amount of time we're spending together (or the limited amount of time I want to spend together right now), it's important for me to no longer see this friendship as a sustaining, meaningful, and supportive Community or Committed Friend right now so that I have appropriate expectations and boundaries with her.  With the decrease in time and pulling back of confiding in her right now-- she's probably more accurately in X Circle."

Moving someone to the left does two important things for us:

  1. First, it helps us acknowledge that something has shifted and the friendship isn't going to be as close and safe as it has been.  That means I don't need to feel guilty for not giving as much and I can definitely be more gracious to her as I won't be expecting as much. It means that we don't have to refuse to ever see her again, but neither do we need to pour energy into staying in touch with her as much as we have previously.  Now, just getting together once a month during this time is fine.
  2. And second, it helps us recognize that we need to make sure we have the close and safe friends in our lives that we need for right now.  It's not her fault for not being everything we wanted her to be as much as it is our responsibility for making sure we have the friends we need in our lives.  So if she left a vacancy when we moved her left, then we need to look for other friendships to nurture.  We need to start investing that extra time and energy into other friends.

This works for all kinds of circumstances-- even if it's a behavior of hers that isn't linked to a circumstance or isn't likely to change (i.e. talking about herself all the time, not opening up with you, gossiping about others, one-upping you).  Technically someone with behaviors that we can't stand shouldn't have made it over the Right-Side of our Circles, but if they did, then we can just as easily move them back to the Left-Side if we feel like our attempts to repair or enhance the relationship haven't worked.

There are many reasons to keep these women in our lives.  Just because she tends to squirm when the conversation gets too personal doesn't mean she isn't still a fabulous and thought-provoking museum date.  Just because she can get insecure and jealous doesn't mean she's not a super fun addition to your mom's night out group.  And just because she's not the person who responds without judgment to your secrets doesn't mean she can't keep you inspired as a fellow artist. In short, we can move the relationship back to where we're not over-sharing with someone we don't trust or spending too much time with someone who exhausts us, without having to let go of parts of them we do enjoy.

Our friendships don't have to be all-or-nothing.  This isn't "find one to be all to us" as much as "find several who can each meet different needs of ours." The most important thing being appropriate and healthy expectations of each other.

Relationships ebb and flow, wane and wax, drift and shift.

And you never know... someone you move Left today, may move back Right this time next year in a super meaningful way.... All things are possible on this Continuum!

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Other pertinent blog posts:

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Friendship Break-Ups 4: Holding On or Letting Go?

This Friendship Is Going Negative, What Do I Do?

Three Things I Wish I had said To Kathie Lee and Hoda on the TODAY Show

We Interrupt this Programming I'm currently in the middle of a series about friendship drifts and rifts with so much more to say (and I know I specifically  committed myself last week to writing another blog about how adultery can impact our friendships-- I won't forget!) but in honor of our 500 new members in the last week, I'm interrupting my own series.  :)

My Trip to the TODAY Show

Last Thursday I was sitting in a plane on the tarmac at the JFK airport at 9 am-- the exact time I was supposed to be arriving freshly showered to the TODAY show green room for make-up and prep.  The production team had arranged for me to fly from San Francisco to NYC on a red- eye because I had a commitment the evening before that I didn't want to break. My plane had been delayed over 2 hours and my chances of arriving at the studio in time for my 10:14 am segment were diminishing rapidly.I had stopped caring about looking under-slept and un-showered on national TV and instead just hoped I'd even make it to the studio with five minutes to change out of my jeans! Sitting in Manhattan gridlock en route to the studio, I whispered the serenity prayer-- the part about giving me peace about the things you cannot change-- and then simply hoped for the best.

Two minutes before we went on air--I hadn't gone to the bathroom, sipped any coffee,  been prepped by any producers, or checked myself in a mirror--I stood as ready as I was going to be.  Three minutes later we were done. With four women sharing moments of rapid fire conversation, one simply cannot say much or say it all the way they wished they had.  Even if I had been more fully awake!

today show clip

Here are Three Things I Wish I Had Time to Say:

1)  Confirmed Friends: When Kathie Lee asked me if it was common to have a wonderful friend that she only talks with once a year since they can pick up where they left off, I wish I could have said, "Yes!  That is common.  And incredibly meaningful. Those friends from our past (Confirmed Friends: the middle circle on my Circles of Connectedness), who we may have intimacy with but lack consistency, play a significant role in our lives with many benefits.

But they are only one of the five types of friends. If we don't realize that, then what else can become too common is a sense of not feeling known, supported, and connected if we haven't also built up the Community and Committed Friends on the right-side of the Continuum--the friends who we consistently make time for and share vulnerably with.

2)  Where do women go to make friends? Way more important than where we meet each other is how we turn our friendliness into a friendship.The truth is we can meet people anywhere.  And we do.  But without starting the five steps of friendship with them-- they risk simply becoming a nice person we meet, rather than a potential friend.

The first two steps of friendship are to 1) be open and 2) initiate contact repeatedly.

The importance for us to be open to new friends cannot be underestimated.  We all too often dismiss people if we can't see us having big obvious things in common-- like both being mothers, both being retired, or both being single. But in the book Click-- the Brafman brothers say that the quantity of things in common is more important than the quality we assign to those commonalities:

"Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring them same political party."

In other words, if we find out we both enjoy hiking, turn our noses up to Top 40 music, and love to eat kale-- those three "smaller" things will actually increase our bond more than any of those biggies we think we just have to have in common.  We can be so much more curious and open-minded about people than most of us are. (In fact, we need to be since it takes a little longer for kale to come up in our conversations!)

And the second step of building a friendship--repeated initiation--is where many possible friendships get stopped in their tracks.  We like each other, or are at least open to getting to know each other more, but if we don't make those next few connections happen sooner, rather than later, we lose any momentum we could have had together.  We simply have to be the ones to email and say, "So great to meet you-- I would love to get to know you better, maybe we can connect for dinner after work one night next week.  Any chance you can do  Tuesday or Wednesday? If not, let me know what dates work for you and I'll schedule in the time!"

My best friends aren't always the ones I simply liked the best initially, rather they were the ones I saw regularly, giving me the chance to feel comfortable with them and fall in love with them.

3). Is it okay to let go of some of my friendships?  I stand by my answer on this one but wish I had more time to explain how friendships shift.  My gut reaction to this question is that we are all getting a little too trigger happy in ending friendships before practicing ways of showing up differently.  Our tendency is to get more and more annoyed with certain people for their behaviors until we can't take it anymore so then we just cut them out of our lives and justify it with a "they were unhealthy or toxic." Whereas most of our friendships could not only be saved, but strengthened, if we learned the skills of asking for what we need from each other, withholding judgment, working on our own self-esteem so that jealousy is inspiring, not frustrating, and learning to forgive each other.

While Kathie Lee joked that usually "it's not us, but them" who is at fault, I actually disagree.  Yes they can be annoying, insensitive, and selfish.  But who among us isn't those things? (And how easy is it for us to interpret their actions with those words when it simply means they just make different choices than we do!)  The truth is that when we can't stand someone-- it's usually showing us something about ourselves.  In those moments of blame we can see more clearly what skills we need to learn in order to best hold our peace and joy no matter what they are doing and figure out to practice showing up with different responses that might yield different results.

With that said, friendships do shift.  In my 5 Circles of Connectedness, just as people we meet can move from the far-left with Contact Friends (the least intimate) to the far-right with Commitment Friends (the most intimate and consistent) so can our friendships move the other direction.  There are good chances that several of the women we feel closest to now might someday shift to circles where our friendship isn't as vulnerable or consistent.  That is normal.  Our lives do change.  But even then, we don't need to replace all our friends with every baby, divorce, marriage, annoyance, frustration, or move.  Our call with some of those women is to figure out how to show up in those awkward transitions, hold what we've shared with an open hand, and work at co-creating something new together.

So until they make time for me to give at least a 20 or 30 minute interview-- I'll just keep blogging!  :)

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A most sincere welcome to all our new members who joined after seeing me on the TODAY show last week or read about us in the New York Times style section.  Blessings on you as you courageously connect with new women, consistently choose to show up with honesty and positivity, and as you turn the friendly people you meet into friends who matter in your life.

Pre-order my Book: Also, my forthcoming book is all about how to meet people and turn them into friendships that really matter, including the skills of forgiveness, asking for what we need from our friends, and how to appropriately increase our vulnerability.  You can pre-order it now on Amazon!