lonely

What Is Loneliness? Why Am I Lonely?

As the rest of you know, I upload a new video on YouTube every Thursday, but you may not yet know my theme this month? It's a word most of us hate: Loneliness. 

But if you've been following me for a while then you know that it is a word I talk about a lot as it's my life calling to help end loneliness and create more meaningful connections. And we don't want to just jump to the "meaningful connections" part and skip over the loneliness without gathering up the wisdom that our body is giving us!

So this month I wanted to pop into your inbox and invite you to acknowledge that loneliness.

  • The holidays can exacerbate the feeling of loneliness for many... and I want you to know I see you. You are not alone.

  • This season of extended darkness and long nights can be the perfect time to reflect on that which we fear and lean into the wisdom that comes from those shadows....

  • Or, maybe your New Years goal will be to foster more Frientimacy in your life and you want to get started now so that by the time Jan 1 comes along you have more clarity on your plan?

May you be reminded as you watch the first two videos in this series that you are most definitely not alone in feeling loneliness.... and may you feel inspired to respond to it with love, compassion, and strategy! (And subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notifications when the next videos are released!)

Making New Friends in a New City, by Christie Mims

Note from Shasta: I've been writing so many guest blogs to celebrate my new book "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" that I decided I may need to have a few women guest blog for me until I have more words to share!  :)  Soon, I'm goingto start blogging about any questions you have as you read the book, concepts you wish I would unpack more, or anything you wished I would have highlighted-- post those questions on our Facebook page and I'll answer them here! For now, this is Christie Mims-- a brand new mover-and-shaker here in the San Francisco area. (Her bio is at the end.) Christie Mims

 

Making New Friends in a New City, by Christie Mims

I like to think of myself as a fairly cool person who is easy to get to know. I shower regularly, I smile often, I like dogs (I distrust people who don’t like dogs), and I have a passionate love for 1981 (3?) killer movie: “Staying Alive.” There may have only been about five actual pages of dialogue, but boy do the large hair and hand gestures make up for it. John Travolta, you have my endless thanks.

I also love my friends.  Friendship, for a long time, has been one of my most important life values. My friends are like my family. They are my sanity, and the people who give me joy. I try to write, reach out, communicate, drink, and play with my friends as often as possible. And even when they are scattered all over the world,

I will travel to see them when I can. They matter to me.

So, when I decided on a bit of a whim to uproot my revolutionary Career Coaching business from DC to San Francisco, I thought I would be fine.  My business is global, so it would be easy, right?

Sure, a lot of my friends were in DC, “but - I’ve got friends all over the world!” I thought to myself jauntily as I packed up my car, fresh from a trip to Germany to see some of said friends.

“I’ll be fine!” I said as I drove across country with my mom “I’ve got two amazing friends already in SF, plus all the people I’m sure I’ll meet. It’ll be great!”

“I’m good at staying in touch over email!” I said as I unpacked my stuff, alone in my new apartment for the first time.

“I’ll hang out with my friends here all the time!” I thought, as I sat around wondering what to do with myself...knowing that one of my friends was a new mom, and the other was deep in the throes of an all-consuming start-up.

Making New Friends isn't as Easy as it Sounds

And then it hit me.

I was alone in a new city, far from home and in an inconvenient time zone.  When I was lonely at night in my new home, my east coast friends were fast asleep (to say nothing of the Europeans).  And my friends here, while AMAZING, are pretty busy and not that close to me in terms of location. The bay area is bigger than I realized (I’m really terrible with geography...I blame the US school system. Also, who needs algebra? Really?).

The truth is that it was awful.

Weekends were the worst - I had full days stretching in front of me with nothing but time, and no one to share that time with.  And, I was also working hard on my business, stretching out of my comfort zone, building up my visibility in San Francisco, and learning about the city and the culture.  It was exhausting, and at the end of the day, I just wanted to be with someone who knew me. Who would come over for a glass of wine and watch bad tv and talk about boys or shoes.

I was lonely.

I was sad.

And I felt so lost.

But I Made My Friendships Happen!

So I did what I know how to do.  I networked (I’m from DC, it’s what we do). At events with women.  Hoping that maybe I would meet someone cool, and at minimum I would make business connections.  I reached out.  I introduced myself awkwardly and invited people to lunch or coffee.

I stalked some people over email if I thought we would hit it off.

I signed myself up for Shasta’s Friendship Accelerator (Note from Shasta: see below for description of these workshops!), hoping that I would at least kill some time on a lonely Saturday, and thinking it would probably teach me something interesting. I told myself I needed to smile a lot and enjoy the city that I chose.

And I kept doing it.

It was not easy.  Most of the time, especially in the beginning, it wasn’t even particularly fun.

But I was open to it.  And cognizant of the fact that friendship has to start somewhere - and I needed to keep pushing myself out there so I would go from random coffees to full on friends.  Friendship, as Shasta sagely says, is based on consistency and intimacy.  You need to have both to have close friends.

So I threw myself into weekly dinners with my accelerator group.

I set up regular card nights with old and new friends (trying to integrate groups!).

I asked friends to introduce me to their friends in the area.

I joined new meetups and  organizations such as A Band of Wives (abusing google search in my attempts to find all possibilities).

And I kept going back.

I’ve been in the Bay Area now for roughly four months.  My social life, which felt a little like a broken puzzle when I first arrived, is now starting to snap into focus.

I’ve got friends, and plans, and some consistency with the friends and plans in my life. It matters. I remember when I had a week in the fall where I spent time with old and new friends almost every night, and at the end of it I felt like a new person.  It honestly impacted my health, and made making friends here an even bigger priority in my life.

I feel like I finally made it...and I’m so grateful to be building a life.

I know how difficult it is to just land, so, if you are new to the city - shoot me an email, I’m happy to have a glass of wine and say hello!  And if you are in another city, spend some time to get out there and connect with interesting new people.  Most importantly don’t give up - you’ll get there.  I did (and if I did, anyone can do it. I mean, I love Stayin’ Alive, so that is one strike against me :))!

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About Christie:  Christie holds a BA from the University of Virginia, a MA from the University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies, and is a certified mediator and certified professional coach. Feeling stuck in your job and want free concrete ways to get UNstuck? Get Christie’s free kit here at The Revolutionary Club! And see what else she’s doing that is unprecedented over here!

About Friendship Accelerators: I (Shasta) facilitate Friendship Accelerators which are small groups of  women that I've matched for potential friendship who commit to attend seven hours of a friendship-workshop and group-bonding day, followed by 4 weekly get-togethers as a group. In one month, these groups experience more bonding than what most of us can do over a year with women we've met. They've been fabulously successful with the majority of women saying the value of the workshop alone was worth it, but how thrilled they are that nearly 80% of the groups are still meeting months after their commitment ended!  This is by far the most effective way I've yet seen to introduce women to each other and give them the best chance ever to foster local friendships that matter. I'm considering possible Accelerators in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle the coming months-- but will decide bases on where I have the most interest so sign up here to indicate your interest in being notified if I host a Friendship Accelerator near you!

 

When The Holidays Aren't Always Merry...

Happy Holidays!

Except when they aren't.

For many, this year won't live up to the Christmas dream.

This time of year the expectations are raised so high that we are ever more acutely aware of what we don't have, who's no longer with us, and how imperfect our family can look. While it's one of my favorite times of year, research shows us it's also one of the hardest and most stressful.  Loneliness sky-rockets, heart-attacks are more frequent, exhaustion is more prevalent, and finances feel most strained.

When I used to pastor churches I was acutely aware that the holidays were some of the hardest times for many in my congregation. This time of year--with the huge emphasis placed on family, travel, and being together--serves as a mile-marker that can highlight who we have lost in recent years or fear losing in the year to come. For many it was their first Christmas without a specific loved one.  For some it was a reminder that they didn't have any family.  For others who were suffering with pain, age, or uncertain health prognoses it was a time of wondering if this would be their last Christmas season. And for still others, this holiday will be spent around hospital beds as sickness, accidents, and heart-attacks are known to ignore calendars.

Even without tragedy and loss, the picture of a Norman Rockwell family holiday can seem more rare than normal. Many don't have the money or time to travel to be with family, others don't want to be with their family, and still others will go but will feel like they can't always breathe through their family dysfunction and dynamics. We find ourselves wishing that we had the soul mate we've been looking for, the baby we have been trying to have, or the divorce that we can't bring ourselves to initiate.

The Hallmark commercials showing the whole family coming home with grand kids, happy hugs, and big meals often leave us feeling like we've been robbed this illusive experience. It's hard to always feel happy when the bar gets raised.

Add to all of this the gazillion extra things we take on: shopping, holiday cards, cookie bakes, kids concerts, company parties, extra spending, shipping lines, childcare during school breaks, decorating, and all the extra activities that help us get into the spirit of the season.

Yes, I was very careful what I said up front during the holiday season to a church full of tired-looking people. For as much as we want to just say "Happy Holidays!"-- saying it doesn't always make it so.

Love's Blessing For You

This season I want to anchor us in something that we can all exude regardless of the losses, stresses, and disappointments that are sure to be there, too.

So for all of you, my GirlFriendCircles.com community, whether your weariness comes from planning the perfect holiday or whether you're mourning the holiday that won't be this year-- I invite you to a moment of rest.

Christmas heart

"Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest."-- Jesus, the Love we celebrate this season

You're weary.  I can see it.  I know it.  You weren't created to feel this anxiety, panic, stress, or fear. For one moment, can you release it, or hold it more loosely? Can you hold all your stress in your hand and symbolically open your fingers to remind yourself you don't have to cling to it? You don't have to grip it so hard.  Do you see it there in your hand?  Outside of you? It's not in you... you choose what to inhale.  But see this stress in your hand and know that you can choose what you hold, or at least how you hold it. Take another deep breath. And let it out.....

You were created to feel loved, be loved, and give love. And that you can do without dollars in your bank or extra time in your day.

Rest from your unmet expectations.

Rest from your fears.

Rest from your ache.

Rest from your sense of alone-ness.

I invite you, in this moment, to inhale love, and to exhale worry.

I invite you, in this moment, to name something you're grateful for in your life.

I invite you to look around and whisper "In this moment, I have everything I need.  I really do."

I invite you to put your hand on your heart and say "I am deeply and fully loved."  Because you are.

You can be love even when you're lonely. Release the picture of what you think you need before you can feel loved.  Let go of the limitations you've placed on what form it can take.  Be gentle with yourself and know that there is no shortage of love for you.

You are love.  You were created in the image of Love. We so often forget, but today we can remember it.  Remember that we are love.

Today, let our actions be connected to our love.  Let's make sure that the things on our to-do list come from a place of love.  And stay in a place of love.

  • Rather than bake cookies because we have this picture of ourselves as having to live up to Martha Stewart, let's bake cookies as an expression of love.
  • Rather than sit next to a hospital bed with fear and regret, let's stay in the place of love.
  • Rather than bemoan the family that isn't, let's find others to love.

Let's reach out and tell a far-away friend that we love them. Let's find a moment to remember that we love ourselves.  Let's think of someone we know who might be hurting this holiday and drop a card in the mail. Let's love.

Girlfriends, our lives may not feel perfect, happy, and perky this season.  Jolly and merry may not be within reach. But love is already in us.  We can love no matter what.  Let's be women of love-- women who exude love, women who receive love, women who give love.

May our Christmases be centered around love, no matter the circumstances. With tons of love for you!  Hugs!!!

 

Why I Started GirlFriendCircles.com

My Story...

When I was new to San Francisco eight years ago, I still remember standing at a café window on Polk Street watching a group of women inside, huddled around a table laughing. Like the puppy dog at the pound, I looked through the glass, wishing someone would pick me to be theirs. I had a phone full of far-flung friends’ phone numbers, but I didn’t yet know anyone I could just sit and laugh with in a café.

It hit me how very hard the friendship process is. I’m an outgoing, socially comfortable woman with a long line of good friendships behind me. And yet I stood there feeling very lonely. And insecure. And exhausted at just the idea of how far I was from that reality.

I knew I couldn’t just walk in there and introduce myself to them. “Hi! You look like fun women, can I join you?”

I would have been met with stares of pity. No one wants to seem desperate, even if we are. We don’t have platonic pick-up lines memorized. Flirting for friends seems creepy. Asking for her phone number like we’re going to call her up for a Saturday night date is just plain weird. All the batting of my eyelashes wasn’t going to send the right signals. I wanted to give them my friendship resume, my vast references from past friends who adore me, assuring them how lucky they would be to call me a friend.

But it doesn’t work that way. And so I turned away from the scene of laughter and walked away.

No, unfortunately, friendships don’t just happen.

Her Story....

So several years later when one of my coaching clients said to me in exasperation, "Ugh!  I can line up three dates on Match.com for next week if I wanted to, but far be it from me to figure out how to meet new female friends," it tapped a chord in me.  I remembered the feeling.

I went to bed that night just trying to thinking of who I could introduce her to that I knew, and woke up with the entire GirlFriendCircles.com concept in my head.

I woke up and wondered what it would be like if all of us could share our friends who live far away from us with other women who needed them in those new cities.  I woke up wondering what it would be like if none of us felt any embarrassment at all about fostering the friendships we need.  I woke up wishing there were a way for all of us who were open to new friends to raise our hands and find each other.  I woke up and wanted to make it easier for women to find new friends.

Our Story...

And I knew I didn't want it to be like match.com where we were left picking our best friends from profiles.  For seriously, how many of my current friends would have made that cut?  It was time together that made me love them, not their cute photo or what they did for a job. Besides who wants to be left relying on awkward emails back and forth to set up a first date?

And I knew I didn't want it to feel like big happy hour parties where rooms full of women mingled, shook hands, and made small talk.  Shivers.  I'm an outgoing person and I still hate working a room.  I hate that feeling of looking for the next conversation... feeling like everyone else knows someone except me.  No thanks.

So I decided that the way I wanted to look for friends would be in small groups.  Over real conversation. In casual cafes and wine bars.  With a format where we all got to share a little and hear a little of the stuff that matters.  So we do ConnectingCircles-- small groups of women matched up in local areas for an evening of conversation.  And we provide sharing questions so that everyone gets to participate. (Because trust me, while it may feel awkward to pick questions, it's waaaay more awkward having one talkative woman monopolize the conversation or having everyone talk about their favorite movies all night or having the shy girl leave never feeling seen.)  So it's become our popular process-- 3-6 women connecting, talking not about the weather, their jobs, or the news-- but about themselves.  Love it!

Thus GirlFriendCircles.com was conceived.  It would be a good seven months before I launched the first online version.  And several months from that before I felt like it was working.  And several months after that before I started blogging.  And another six months before we got any press.  And many months later before we were improving our systems based on what we were learning.  And many more months.... you get the idea.  We're still growing and becoming.

And if it's been a while since you've visited our website, we welcome you to come sneak a peek as we just gave her a bit of a makeover today.  :)  And please, help us tell a few more women to raise their hands with us if they want a few more meaningful friendships in their lives.

new site

Today, I'm thrilled that we have had nearly 15,000 women sign up for female friendship in over 35 cities across the U.S.  And we're preparing for our biggest year yet.  Thanks to all those who have journeyed with us, even through growing pains.  We're honored.  We haven't given up on you!  We are looking forward to some fabulous highlights in 2013!

To all of us who have known that feeling of being ready for some good friends but felt at a loss for knowing how to develop them-- this one's for you!

 

 

 

New to the Area: No Friends Yet, by Katrina Emery

Note from Shasta:  This is a guest blog from... (drum roll please).... my little sister, Katrina Emery! She's a fabulously talented writer (see her blog link in the bio at the end) and her experiences going from having tons of friends in Portland to knowing no one after a recent move overseas are feelings we all know well!

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In April this year, my husband was accepted to study at the University of Amsterdam in Netherlands, a long way from our hometown of Portland, Oregon, USA. We packed up and arrived here in August, quickly falling in love with this city of canals, looping bridges, water, and bikes.

Jesse and I have been here for two months now, and I can sputter a sentence out in Dutch, find my way without a map, rattle off my favorite cafes, and giggle if someone confuses a coffeeshop for a cafe (coffeeshops serve the stuff you don't tell your boss you tried). I've developed a taste for gouda and Dutch gin. I've almost mastered the graceful bike dismount. I judge tourists that stand in the middle of the bike path.

I haven't made any good friends.

Shasta likes to point out the health risks of being lonely and not having local friends, and while she means for it to motivate us, usually it just scares me. Great. I can't speak the language and I'm going to die young. It's a lot of pressure! We're only here for a year, and we're already two months in. That leaves only 10 months to find a friend, get to know her, have the time of our lives, and cement best friend status before I leave next summer. Ideally, she would have family in Sweden and invite me over for a Scandinavian Christmas celebration where we would eat homemade food, drink mulled wine, learn to say "cheers," laugh, knit big sweaters, and have that long happy movie-montage moment. I've got it all planned out.

While walking around a few weeks ago, I saw a girl that seemed nice. She was sitting on the steps in the sun, reading. Possibly Swedish. I went through the scenario in my mind:  "I see you're reading. I like to read. May I sit by you? And could we be friends?"

I kept walking. Sweden for Christmas seemed a bit further away.

Another option was a girl I'd met in Portland, who, of all things, was also moving to Amsterdam so her husband could study. It was meant to be, I knew it. When we arrived and felt settled, I sent her an email....and never heard back. "Maybe she didn't see the email. Maybe she's just busy right now. Maybe she's preparing a surprise party for me," I told myself, thinking about the likelihood of pinatas at the party. Then my husband said, "Maybe she's just not that into you." Oh. Right.

Not having friends just doesn't fit in my plan of being here. I'm here to create solid friendships with people who live all over Europe, thus ensuring free places to stay and awesome company for all my future travels. And I've got those all planned out, too, along with my weekly meals and what restaurants I'd like to try in town. A friendship is just one more thing that fits into that plan, right? Not so far. And imagining it hasn't helped yet.

So instead of dreaming, I'm trying to relax. I'm trying to stop counting down the months, worrying about the health risks of being lonely, and instead enjoy my time here, the people and friends I do have, and all those Belgian beers that I get to try. While I do that, I'm trying to smile, be friendly, and talk to people without worrying about what they think of my mono-language upbringing.

Instead of sitting at home planning, I'll get out there more. I'll rely on time, happy coincidences, repeated invitations, and slightly lower expectations. Maybe I won't find a best friend, but I could find someone who'll show me the best Indonesian restaurant in town, or help improve my Dutch vocabulary, or admire Van Gogh paintings with me. And those are the things, amazingly, that are slowly happening in between the time I spend planning.

Just yesterday as Jesse and I were sitting in a cafe, our table-neighbors heard us speaking English and struck up a conversation. They're from Montreal, and visit Amsterdam every year. We're going out for a drink with them later in the week.

And two weeks ago, I forced myself to go to an expat hiking group. I had almost backed out due to nerves and feeling shy, but it turned out to be a beautiful day, and I met a lovely couple from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Which is pretty close to Sweden.

Not that I'm planning or anything.

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Katrina Emery enjoys writing, traveling, cooking, sewing, and riding her bike. Currently she is doing all those things, Dutch-style, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. You can find her musings on her blog at The Penny Farthing.

Used-To-Be Friends or Still Friends?

We all know those fabulous women we have loved over the years, the ones where our shared history with them puts them in that special category of proven friends. When we talk to them, we  pick up right where we left off.  They're the kind of women we don't have to explain ourselves to, apologize for the time lapse or call them all the time to know we're still loved. So certainly it pains me to pop that bubble of idealism, but sometimes it must be said: Just because you can call her and know she'll be there for you doesn't mean you do.

One of the most common traps that keeps us in denial about needing more friends is that we used to have good friends.  And, the greatest risk happens when we think of them still as our closest friends.

Used-To-Be-Friends Or Still Friends?

This trap throws off the best of us.  We can quickly name 5 amazing women we call friends, and often feel better with our sense of connectedness. But then we still hear that nagging voice whispering that we think we need more friends. We feel lonely.

If you’re only sending Christmas cards, seeing each other once a year, calling every couple of months and giving little sentence updates on facebook—that may be why you still feel a sense of loneliness?

Risking redundancy, it stands to be pointed out that your current loneliness is not because you haven't had amazing friendships before. Rather, it's because you may not be engaging in them now.

I know for me, when I moved to San Francisco, I pushed away my awareness that I needed to make new friends by telling myself how awesome my friends were.  And yet, even though they were only a phone call away.  They were still a phone call away.  A phone call I didn't make with most of them frequently enough to keep it intimate and easy.

southern cal girls

And I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have these "former" friends.  (And by former, I only mean that the intensity & consistency may have been more in the past than the present.)  My girlfriends from Southern Cal lived through some of my worst and best moments with me-- I will always want to stay connected with them.  Those friends give to us in many ways by knowing who we used to be, giving us a sense of a wider net in our lives and helping us feel less alone in this world.

It's life-changing to know you have these friends you can call if you are diagnosed with cancer. You need to know you have people you can count on in the "big things."

However, I often talk myself out of calling these friends because while I know I can pick up where we left off... that's part of the problem.  I have so much updating to do with them to catch them up to life right now, that I often decide I don't have the time for a long conversation.

What Do We Most Need to Add to our Connectedness?

But what most of us crave are the kind of friends you can call to just ask her what she's making for dinner. Or how her day went. Or what she bought over the weekend. Or whether she wants to go get drinks tomorrow night. The "small things."

We usually feel more intimate with the people we can talk about nothing with as easy as we can talk about something with.

For the truth is, fortunately, that we make dinner more than we get cancer.

No matter how many women you used to be close to—you can still feel lonely now. And sometimes just knowing that you can call isn't enough. To abate loneliness we actually need friends we can go live life with, not just report life to.

SF girls

I ended up having to start over with local women.  It doesn't mean I don't still meet up with my used-to-be-friends every year for a weekend together.  Or that we don't call when the big things happen.  But it means I now have friends to call for the small stuff.  The small stuff that actually feels more important on a day-to-day basis.

So by all means, love those used-to-be women for the history they hold and the way they make you feel known, and by all means stay in touch with them!  But I invite you to own the fact that your loneliness may be your hearts way of saying “I would like some women who can journey with me more regularly.”

And perhaps 1-2 of them can step into that role. I called up one of the women in this circle for me a few years ago, told her how much I missed her and asked if we could schedule a weekly standing phone call to live life together a bit more.

But maybe that's not enough.  Maybe you still need new friends?

But either way, don’t confuse who used to be your best friend with the fact that you might need additional ones (or rekindled ones?) in that place now.