initiation

The #1 Thing You're NOT Doing that is Hurting Your Friendships

I know, I know, I know... you're busy.  Life is as full as feels survivable. You're barely keeping up with the inbox that continues to fill up, the voicemails being left, the demands by the people who live in your house with you, and the tasks being added to the to-do list.  And so, oh how I hate to bring this up.... I really do. The last thing any of us needs is to feel like there's "one more thing" we need to be doing.

And yet...

And yet, it's truly the #1 thing that can make the biggest difference to your friendships.  

The Action That Would Make the Biggest Difference

To be sure, there are many different things that hold relationships together, such as doing favors for each other, making fun memories, being present in painful moments, practicing empathy, remembering her birthday, staying in touch, showing up at the big events, sharing a secret with her, and showering her with affirmation, to name a few.

But what if I shared with you the #1 complaint I get that causes your friends to give up on their friendships???  

What if I spelled out for you the #1 action that would make the biggest difference?  

The easy answer is: initiate reaching out.

I swear to you-- there isn't a subject that comes up as often as this one.

I get at least an email a week from someone about to give up on a relationship because they are tired of being the one to always reach out.

To be clear: I'm not one of those who believes that initiation has to be 50/50, and I don't believe in this "the ball is in her court" business. I'm completely fine hitting the ball repeatedly. I know many amazing relationships where one person is the primary catalyst, the initiator, or the scheduler.  I know in our marriages that we settle into "roles" that we each play on behalf of the relationship, without each person needing to every chore 50/50.  In a perfect world-- our friendships could be like that, too. I also think some people find it easier than others to reach out --based on practiced skills, insecurities, and personality types--and I'm all for each of us showing up with our strengths.  

So believe me:  I don't think you have to initiate in order to be in a healthy relationship.  In fact, I know that the only things necessary for a healthy friendship is: time together/consistency so that we can have fun (positivity) and share our lives with each other (vulnerability.) And as long as those 3 things happen-- it doesn't matter who initiated it. (For more on The 3 Requirements of Relationships)

What This INAction Means to your Friends

But we live in a world where aren't just running into our friends automatically and so time together then HAS to be scheduled.  There's no other way around it-- we can't feel close to people without interacting. And that means someone has to initiate it.

And your friends are WEARY of being the one. You're gonna have to trust me on this one: I hear from them on this. Often. They take this very personally. They feel like it means your don't value them or think about them. It leaves them feeling unimportant to you. They create a narrative in their heads that if they mattered-- you would reach out. They feel rejected. They feel like the responsibility of the relationships falls on them... that their initiation is the only thing holding you two together. They feel resentful of this giving and it leaves them feeling that the relationship isn't mutual or reciprocal. They feel used, they feel tired, and they feel unappreciated.

You and I know that probably isn't true.  

And yet there it is.

I can keep trying to remind them that it doesn't matter who initiates as long as it keeps the relationship connected, but at the end of the day-- if you were serious and wanted to do the one action that would leave them feeling relieved, happy, and loved-- you would reach out and not wait for them to do it again.

What You can do

You can set an alarm on your phone to remind you to reach out to them, you can swallow your fear that you're interrupting them or not reaching out at a convenient time, and you can simply know that whether they say yes or no-- they will feel loved because you reached out and thought of them. And that's what they want: to know that they matter to you.

And at the very least-- one thing you will try to do more often is thank your friends when they do initiate.  You will appreciate the gift they're giving and use it as an opportunity to tell them how much it means to you:

“Thank you for keeping the ball rolling on us staying in touch. I know I don’t do it as well as you do, but I want you to know it means a lot.  Thank you for not giving up on me.”  

And with that acknowledgement-- you'll find that they might just be that much more willing to initiate. Yet again.

Not an initiator? Send this to a friend who is with a note of appreciation and expressing your willingness to practice doing it a bit more! :)

And leave your comments-- do you agree? disagree? What stops you from reaching out? 

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..."