relationships

Feminism is a Team Sport

Something magical happens when women gather in circle. Many of my best ideas over the years have happened in connection with others; when I get to hear myself think out loud, when they say something that resonates, when their brainstorms inspire, and when I feel the energy of validation.

Such was the case last January as I spent a retreat day with one of my mastermind groups, a group that has been meeting monthly for almost three years now.  We began this year by sharing some of the promptings we were each feeling in our hearts for where we were feeling called and led in the year ahead.  I was speaking to my conviction that I want to be a part of women trusting each other again, cheering for each other more, and working alongside each other as we step into our own personal power.

Wearing on the outside the hope I have on the inside!

While processing out loud, I said something along the lines of: "we need to realize that feminism is a team sport, not something we each do alone." And Kimberly, sitting across the Circle from me, said, "You need to put that on a t-shirt."

And so I did.  :)

Feminism Needn't Be Scary

Here's why:

Several years ago I wrote an article for the Huffington Post that they titled, "Feminism: How I Finally Came Out as an Advocate for Women" where I shared a bit of my struggle over the word feminism, specifically; and my own ignorance with the movement, more generally. It wasn't that I hadn't wanted to be an advocate for women, it was more that I had been avoiding being an advocate for feminism-- I saw them as two separate things.  I mistakenly thought you could be for one without being for the other.

Many women still shy away from the word, wondering if we still have need of it.  This word has been used to help us win the right to vote, to fight for reproductive and sexual rights, to make a path for women to work outside the home in any profession of their choosing, and to give us permission to make our own life choices around marriage and motherhood, among many other things.  We appreciate the fruits of movements-past, but so badly want to believe that we have arrived.

Deborah Spar, president of Barnard College and author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, said this when I went to hear her speak last year:

“Feminism was meant to remove a fixed set of expectations; instead, we now interpret it as a route to personal perfection. Because we feel we can do anything, we feel we have to do everything.”

Now we may not have the same laws that keep us down, but our chains of who we think we're supposed to be can feel just as heavy.

In my travels and connections I see just how exhausted, weary, guilt-ridden, fearful, unhappy, and lonely women are, and I am convinced that the call to feminism is still relevant. And needed. It may just need to look a little different from the image seared in my memory of seeing women burning bra's in front the capital.

If I could pick a new image for feminism, it would be women sitting in circles, supporting each other.

Feminism Together

Because it's only when we're in tribe, connected to each other, sitting shoulder-

feminism is a team sport

to-shoulder, face-to-face, in relationship with others that we can practice embodying the equality that we long for.

What we crave is each others acceptance. Why can't we give that fully and easily?

What we long for is for someone to tell us that we're doing enough, we're okay, we're good moms and wives and daughters even if we can always think of more we could do, and that we're making a difference. Why must we keep competing as though only a few of us deserve to hear those words?

We need each other to help us hear our own worth. We can do that!

We need to stop feel judged, and instead feel cheered on.  What a difference that would make in this world!

It's only in relationship to each other that we practice offering love even when we risk rejection; and just as importantly, practicing the receiving of gifts and time without feeling like our lack reflects poorly on us. No, we can't do everything. Yes, we need help. Thank you.

These power house  women live with vulnerability, courage, and conviction; modeling for me the actions I am committed to keep practicing.

It's with my friends that I practice shining my biggest and best self, speaking of my strengths and owning my accomplishments so that I feel more comfortable doing that in a world that isn't as practiced yet.  And it's where I want them practicing for themselves, as well.

Only in relationship do we learn the coveted skills of saying "yes" when scared, and "no" when tired.  It's with each other that we should be able to practice those hard words so that we are more at ease speaking our truth in other crowds.

Who we want to be, must be, need to be-- requires us practicing those skills in relationship. We don't become more confident, loving, patient, and empathetic in a vacuum; we do it in connection with each other.

Feminism now is inviting all of us to love ourselves, our bodies, and each other, just as we are. That's not to say that the external circumstances are equal, for they aren't.  But just as significant, is us feeling our worth on the inside and reflecting that to each other.

Feminism Practiced

I believe so much in being in circle with other women that I have committed to it as a regular practice in my life.  In addition to my friends and social life, I belong to three "mastermind" groups.  Two of them are weekly, via Skype and telephone; the other is a monthly in-person gathering.  Each of them functions differently, but behind every one of them is a circle of women cheering each other on.

I want you to be in circle with women who see your value, your worth, and your joy.  I want you to keep practicing being a woman who cheers others on, judges less, and loves more.

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Two Resources for Cheering Each Other On!

  1. Buy the T-shirt in our store:  I've been gifting these to some of the women

    You can get this t-shirt at www.ConnectedGifts.com

    who have been supporting me saying, "Thanks for being on my team!" Wear yours and spread the love!

  2. Join www.GirlFriendCircles.com:  GirlFriendCircles.com is a women's website that matches amazing women to new local friends.  We believe women are better when connected!  Join us today and meet other women who value having good friendships and are open to meeting new people!

 

We're giving the wrong advice for "toxic" friendships!

When my Google alerts brought a recent Today Show article to my attention with the headline: Here's Another Good Reason Women Should Dump a Toxic Friend, I groaned, and then clicked. In short, the article highlights research showing that "as the amount of negativity in relationships increased, risk of hypertension [in women] also increased." two young girls in a fight

I do not argue against the research at all.  I know whole-heartedly that bad relationships contribute to an increase in risk of high blood pressure in women and can leave serious damage on our bodies.  In fact, we know that to be true of anything that is causing us stress.  I am a very big fan of healthy friendships.

But what I want to speak out against is the advice we dole out alongside this research.

When we plaster a headline that gives the directive to dump a friend on an article about how stressful relationships are hurting us, I am left asking, "Why does no one ever suggest figuring out how we can make this relationship less stressful?"

 

The Traditional Advice for Toxic Friends

For long time followers of this blog, you'll know that I am not a big fan of this trend in labeling each other toxic; nor the common advice that is given that seems to always be fraught with urgent and simplistic commands such as: "Kick her to the curb," "Dump her," "Detox from her," or "End it now!"

And seriously this stuff is on the rise.  It seems we live in a world where the advice is that you're healthiest or most mature when you simply eliminate all non-perfect people from your life. (But look at the most amazing people in the world-- Jesus, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi-- thank God they didn't hear this advice and instead chose to actually engage with and work alongside unhealthy people!)

It'd be one thing if we all had a plethora of amazing relationships, lived in meaningful community, and all felt tons of love in our lives-- then, by all means, I suppose you could get rid of the excess when it wasn't fun and joy-full.  But this advice is being given to an incredibly lonely world of women who are starving for meaningful friendships.  And we're neglecting to not only tell you that meaningful friendships come with some stress, but we're also not mentioning that the other way to eliminate unhealthy relationships is to show up differently and make them healthier!

An Alternative Approach to Toxic Friendships

I've mused about this before when inviting us to own that we are strong enough to be around unhealthy people, taught that it's not necessarily a person who is unhealthy, but an unhealthy pattern that has been developed in the relationship, and shown how I think we can decrease the expectations in unhealthy friendships as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach, but every time I see another expert using the fear of toxicity to encourage women to push each other away, I feel ever more convicted to be, what sometimes feels like, a lone voice continuing to offer a different perspective.

There are definite times when we must end our stressful relationships, or establish strong boundaries around them, so I'm not speaking out against giving women permission to break-up. What I am speaking out against is the popular tendency to make that ending as our first step, rather than as a last step. In most cases, we're at our personal "last straw" before we've ever even tried to improve it!

Step In Before Stepping Out

No one wants a stressful relationship in their life.  I get that.

But neither can we just go cutting out every relationship when it gets stressful!  Friction, disappointment, insecurity, guilt, jealousy, and crisis are a part of life (don't even get me started on how tired I am of this trend to "be happy all the time!") so therefore they are a part of relationships.

Rather than be shocked when our friendships aren't all laughter, cotton candy, and photo-perfect events, what would happen if we actually expected her to annoy us or disappoint us from time to time?  And then, more important than trying to avoid angst, we focus instead on figuring out how we want to respond to it when it does come up?

My invitation to anyone struggling in a friendship that has mattered to you is to make it a practice to step closer to that person, before stepping away.

In other words, acknowledge that some friendships get stronger after talking something through, and choose to play the odds that it could happen to this friendship. It might not, but it could.

I view my friendships as investments-- sacred containers where I have stored up time, energy, love, memories, and vulnerability.  Anyone who has started a business, or made an investment of some sort, knows that there will be times when it would definitely be the easy thing to just close up shop or walk away.  But you only do so after you feel you have done everything you could do to make it work.  We understandably want the investment to pay off.  I want that for your friendships, too!

It takes a long time to foster a friendship.  It doesn't happen overnight or easily.  So when the inevitable disappointments and frustrations show up, I have a commitment to put in as much energy in the saving of these relationships as I feel I have put in to the development of these relationships.  So for a new friend, someone on the Left-Side, someone I haven't invested a ton of time and energy with, I probably won't extend a ton of energy into saving what may barely be built.  But with long-time friends, or intimate and close friends, I am willing to step up, lean in, show up, and give it my all to see if we can find a place of mutual love again.

Awkward?  Probably.  Stressful? Indeed.  Unsure how to do it? Likely.

But it's also courageous, life-building, love-practicing, and emotionally deepening for us to figure it out.  This is where we get to practice being the loving people that we are!  This is where we either make a more beautiful relationship or grow because we tried!

Anytime there is a fight, an unmet need, a slow-boiling frustration, and repeated judgment in one of our friendships, we have the sacred opportunity to try to fix it, repair it, enhance it, and grow it before we end it.

So if I were the expert on the Today Show giving application to the research, I'd be quick to say, "This is awesome that we have this research that reminds us how damaging our stressful relationships can be on our bodies.  Hopefully that incentivizes us to practice our relational skills to see if we can make these relationships not only less stressful, but also more life-giving. Staying in relationships without establishing boundaries, stating our needs, or sharing with honesty isn't serving anyone."

When did trying to fix something that is broken turn into such rebellious advice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendships in the Workplace

Lately I've been fielding more interview requests to talk about friendships in the workplace. Which for many women is still the number one place where you're meeting your friends. Work, much like school when we were kids, is the one place where the same people show up repeatedly without anyone having to initiate, invite, make plans, or schedule around, or follow-up with-- we're paid to be there and we both show up daily.  That consistency breeds friendships.  We report being 96% happier with our lives if we have at least three friends at work, and a whopping 30% of us end up establishing a best friend at work.

But there can also be some mine-fields.  I hear women repeatedly say to me that they don't feel comfortable making friends at work for various reasons and to that I want to gently say: "Hey, we live in a world where we all need more good friends, so take them where you can get them!" In the interview below, I hope I can squelch some of your fears by helping you see how you can build friendships appropriately!

For my blog post this time, I thought I'd re-publish an interview where Jennifer Merritt of  Levo League (a professional community for Gen Y) asked me some work-related questions.  Hope my answers are helpful to some of you!

Jennifer: If you really feel a connection with a co-worker, is it a good idea to try to deepen that relationship? Or should “office life” and “real life” be kept separate? Shasta: No, I don’t think they should be separate at all! In fact, that really is one of the last places to make friends where we have one of the biggest friendship challenges taken care of for us—consistency.  That’s why it felt easy in school–we saw each other every day. In “real life” it’s actually much more difficult to see each other regularly enough to build up that familiarity and comfortableness. The office is perfect, since you both have to spend so much time there. I’d definitely try to deepen that relationship, so much so that I’d encourage you to practice being friends outside of work, too, so that when one of you leaves the job you already have other structures in place for your friendship to continue.

How concerned should you be about making friends in the office, even at the basic level of casual friendship? People who have friends at work are way more inclined to report job satisfaction and companies recognize that that’s one of the best ways to retain employees. We will put up with a lot of stress, lower pay, and non-ideal job descriptions if we like the people we work with, so I’d say it’s worth being a pretty high priority at work. Plus, this is where you spend most of your time, so it make sense that at minimum you want to be surrounded by people you’re friendly with, even if they don’t all turn into consequential friendships.

Are there any “rules” to making friends in the office? I’d say two good principles are to, one, take it slow, and two, don’t let your friendship ever make others feel excluded in the office. The first one is super-important: don’t over-share with someone. Vulnerability—sharing more about yourself with less of a filter— is one of the actions that develops a friendship, but I encourage everyone to engage it step by step so that really you’re never taking a big risk, as much as you are many, many small ones. But that’s even more important at work, where you don’t want to share too much with someone before you’ve co-created a trusting relationship with each other.  And the second rule speaks more to making sure your friendship is adding to the office dynamics, not excluding others or making people feel wary, left out, or suspicious. While at work, invite more people to join in your friendly relationship—invite others to sit with you at lunch—and try to do more of your eventual secret-sharing outside of the office.

What are some good ways to explore deepening a relationship with a co-worker? Probably starts with friendliness and chit-chat, talking about the weekend, and what TV shows you’re watching. Then the next goal is to find a way to spend more substantial time together, so usually an invitation to grab lunch together, attend an event together, or meet for drinks after work will help make that happen. And this is where it may stay for a while—friendliness in the office, friendship for an hour here and there outside the office.  In fact, if this is as far as it goes—it’s an incredibly valuable relationship that will increase your happiness at work. In some cases, you may want to grow it to the next step and that means eventually starting to get together when it’s completely unattached to work, such as brunch on the weekend, a double-date with the boyfriends on a Friday night, or getting together to watch your favorite TV shows one night.

Can you — or should you — ever be friends with your manager? Or, if you are a manager, friends with your subordinate? This one can be tricky because there is not a “one size fits all” answer. Our personalities, company culture, and individual job descriptions will inform the decision. But in theory, I’d say yes. We can be friends with people even if we have different roles at work. Obviously it requires both people respecting the other so much that neither one shares confidential information or asks for favors at work. And the two rules I mentioned earlier–taking it slow and not letting your friendship make others uncomfortable–are even more important. But the first two steps of friendship—being friendly and starting to spend more considerable time together—is definitely appropriate, in my opinion.

Fights among friends are inevitable, and can become even more hot-button if that friend is also a co-worker. What is your advice for dealing with conflicts with friends in the office? This goes back to the second rule—don’t let your friendship make others uncomfortable in the office. That means they shouldn’t know you’re fighting. You don’t gossip about her, talk about her, or take it out on each other. Maturity means trusting each other so that even when we’re mad or disappointed,  we can still trust each other to have our backs. It also speaks to the “taking it slow” part—you should never have shared more than you felt the relationship was ready to support. By the time you fight, you should have some considerable history between the two of you where you can trust you’ll both make up and be closer than ever.

Is it appropriate to get into a friendship with someone who is in a romantic relationship? Basically, should you pursue a friendship with a co-worker if it could be misconstrued by his or her significant other? Wow you’re asking the toughies! Good for you! Again, though, this is not an easy answer. Cross-gender relationships are a wholly different animal in this setting. If the friendship could hurt people— in the office or in either of your lives—then one has to ask whether there are other feelings or motives at work. Because mature friendship wouldn’t want to jeopardize our friends other relationships. At the least, recognize this relationship has a whole different level of complication and drama that may best be avoided simply by fostering other friendships even if there isn’t as much chemistry.

What should you do if you don’t feel a connection with co-workers, on even the most basic level? (Assuming that you enjoy your job.) Bonds can always, always be developed, in some form or another. The best place to start is with having enough conversations that you can start seeing where you both have similarities or where you “get” each other. We all have more things in common that we realize—even if we have a 40-year age gap, opposite political views and are in completely different life stages.  I believe that those who seek, find; which means that if we say to ourselves, “I am choosing to like you, now I’m going to keep looking for the reasons,” we will always find them!

 

I'd love to hear from some of you-- have you met one of your closest friends at work?  What helped foster the friendship?  What advice would you give?

This Friendship Is Going Negative: What Do I Do?

So my last blog post obviously hit a nerve. It is now the #1 post of the last 3 months, beating out popular posts--such as Reflections on my Katie Couric Interview and What Do I Do with My Toxic Friend?-- two posts that have been up for months.  We are apparently very interested in this subject of how to respond to the negative people in our lives!

Two Different Frameworks for Evaluating the 'Negative' People in Our Lives

So, as promised, I am going to share with you two frameworks of how to deal with the friendships that feel negative in our lives. This is a long blog, but I really wanted to cover at least two different paradigms and examples... hope it's helpful!

While we feel so much more mature than we were as children, the truth is that we still get on each others nerves.  Now we use language like toxic, negative, and un-healthy to label each other. *photo from irisclasson.com*

Just so we're clear-- I'm not writing about criminals, drug abusers, mental issues, or those who are willfully hurting us; but rather the vast majority of women that we've called friends at one time or another but now tend to use words such as toxic, negative, or selfish to describe them.  While we can all point out that there will always be a very clear "black and white" to the two extremes of who we can each have in our lives at different times, my desire here is to challenge us to look at what Kathy, in her comments on the previous post called, the "gray area."  The gray area being people who may not be un-safe to us, but certainly may be annoying, depressed, insecure, self-obsessed, distracted, or negligent.

1.  FRAMEWORK 1: Know the Different Types of Relationships So You Create Appropriate Expectations

I don't have room here to cover the entire 5 Circles of Connectedness which highlight the 5 different types of friendships, but basically our most casual of friendships are on the far Left-Side (Contact Friends) and the most intimate and consistent of our friendships are on the far Right-Side (Commitment Friends). I cover this in the most depth in my book but a quick overview can be found on this blog.

5 types of friends image

What's helpful about understanding the various types of friends is that when we do an honest assessment of whether our friend is truly a Committed Friend (someone we've built up meaningful history with over a long period of time, they are active in many areas of our lives, we are as transparent as possible with them) or perhaps is a Common Friend (maybe someone we've only known for a couple of months, someone we are only close to in one area of our life, etc.) it helps us answer the question: Do I have unrealistic expectations on this friendship?

I've observed many women not having a strong Right-Side of close friendships who then place those needs onto friendships on the Left-Side.  In other words, just because she's one of your closest friends doesn't mean you've developed the friendship that warrants the expectations and demands.  A good question to ask: "Am I blaming her for x because I want her to be a Committed Friend but in reality we are still Common Friends?"

Furthermore, it helps me see my commitment to the relationship.  If she's in a dark and needy space and she's my Committed Friend then I am truly committed to going through that phase with her even if she doesn't act healthy, positive, and supportive for a long season.  I can do this because we have a history together that reminds me that this isn't who she is permanently and I know that this is the call to relationships-- to be there for each other, even when it comes with some drama and emotion.  But if she's a Contact or Common Friend acting this way then a)  it may seem more like a red flag because we don't have enough history for me to accurately assess how she's acting now from how I know she's capable of acting, and b) we, quite frankly, don't have the same obligation/commitment to each other to be there for each other in the same ways.

Being clear what type of friendship the two of you have developed helps you better see how invested you are in this relationship and what expectations are fair. What you are willing to give, or put up with, in a Committed Friend might be different from what you are willing to do for a Common Friend.

For me, if whining and complaining is the grievance, for a Committed Friend it would be completely appropriate (though maybe not enjoyable or energizing-- so I need to make sure I'm getting enough of that in other close relationships during this season) for them to call me any time of night or day and sound like a crazy person sobbing and saying irrational things.  But while that would not be acceptable behavior for any friend of mine on the Left-Side, I would be willing to give them the space to monopolize the conversation during a scheduled lunch get-together and I'd give them a pass on complaining... for a time.

Does that differentiation make sense? It means we don't have to cut everyone out of our lives when they are needy and depressed and hurting, but neither does it mean that we're expected to put up with everything from everyone.

2.  FRAMEWORK 2: Know the Definition of Friendship so You Can Repair and Assess

This evaluation method also helps us decide which relationships to move along the Continuum so that you are choosing to nurture the friendships that are healthiest, minimizing the chances of having high-drama and unhealthy behaviors in your Right-Side friendships.

The definition of friendship, put out by Dr. Paul Dobransky, that I highlight in my book on pages 128 & 129 is  that friendship is "consistent, mutual, shared positive experience."  He says that when a friendship is failing it is because one of these four required qualities is missing.  I have almost an entire chapter devoted to each of those concepts but basically a friendship needs to have repeated time together, be seen by both as a friendship, include increased vulnerability, and ultimately add more joy than stress to your life.

For our purposes here, how this definition helps me is to realize at least two things:

1) These are not simply qualities that she possesses or not, but they are behaviors that we together have either developed or not. Here, we are evaluating the friendship-- the pattern and dynamic between the two of us-- not the person.  We're recognizing that something doesn't feel good between us-- but that's not the same as saying that every relationship this person has in their life is identical to our experience.  While we may find that they do something annoying, it's also possible that had we been more honest up front or set different expectations, that this dynamic wouldn't have been created. We hold for that possibility by assessing the interaction, not the individual. Which means it's possible we could do something different and shift the experience of the relationship.

2) It also informs me that if there are relationships that don't meet those requirements then it doesn't necessarily mean that I can't have those people in my life, rather it just means I don't want them to be on my Right-Side.

How These Frameworks Inform My Response

Knowing these two frameworks (both in greater detail in my book) helps us:

  1. Assess the current relationship experience-- what type of friend is this and which of the 4 qualities are most lacking?
  2. Figure out what needs be repaired so we can show up differently to see if that helps.
  3. Identify the investment/depth of the relationship so we can decide if it's worth an honest conversation (confrontation though awkward can be the best gift we learn to give to friends on our Right-Side where we should be willing to try "everything" before letting the friendship just dissolve.
  4. Decide if we can just move these relationships to the Left-Side (see them less often, confide in them less, have fewer expectations) rather than cut them out of our lives.

That's all I have time for today (You'd think I was writing an entirely new book with as much as I have to say! Ha!) but I'll keep writing on this-- next time I'll share 5 questions you should ask before ending a friendship.

Have a great weekend!

Are these helpful? What jumped out at you? How have you seen these concepts play out in your life? How could these have helped your past relationships? I love hearing your feedback so it's more of a conversation.  Jump in!  :)

 

 

I Have This Theory that Friendship Can Save the World

This is my manifesto for doing what I do.  I believe that beyond the joy and health that friendships bring us personally, they also give us the place to practice being the people who this world needs.

I share this today, on 9/11 for two reasons: First, it is the anniversary of the day eleven years ago when we saw what happens when people judge and fear others. In response to that terrorism, we also saw what happens when love and generosity step in.

And second, today is my birthday. I joyfully launch the message that I'm committed to sharing in the year ahead.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by friendship, I mean relationships where we are committed to practicing the best version of ourselves, while simultaneously choosing to abandon pretense, posturing, and insecurity to risk revealing our shadow side, too.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by save, I mean bring greater happiness, less stress, healthier hearts and bodies, an increased sense of personal worthiness, less rejection, and fewer actions initiated by fear.

I believe that our friendships are gymnasiums for our souls.  Gymnasiums where we can practice being the people this world needs: building up our muscle for compassion, increasing our endurance for giving, and stretching our ability to see the best in each other.

*   So we can practice cheering for people even when we’re jealous.

*   So we can practice listening even when we think we’re right.

*   So we can practice empathy even when we’re tempted to judge.

*   So we can practice serving even when we’re busy.

*   So we can practice saying “I forgive you” even when we’re disappointed.

All of these are skills this world desperately needs.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by the world, I mean that if we don't do these things in relationships with people we love, then what hope do we have of doing them with people who live on the other side of the world from us? Who have different religions or political views? Whose values and beliefs differ from our own?

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

Less splintering, less judgment, less criticism, less loneliness, less fear, less pulling away, less war.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

More smiles, more acceptance, more love, more hope, more applause, more joy, more positivity, more belonging.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

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I hope you'll post this blog and video today to your Facebook page to help remind us how important our friendships are! 

And to that point, today the web site for my book goes live: www.ShastaNelson.com. YAY!  Thank you blog readers for your cheering along the way-- it means a lot!

 

 

 

 

Facebook is Not the Problem: Friendship in an Online World

When I'm interviewed by reporters about friendship, I'm often asked about my feelings about Facebook.  And then they seem surprised, and a little disappointed, when I simply answer, "I love Facebook as one of the tools we can use for our friendships."

Facebook Is a Tool, My Friends

I have read many others rant and decry how Facebook is ruining our relationships, but I don't agree.

Can Facebook ruin a relationship? Yes, I suppose so.  But I wouldn't say that it is the fault of Facebook, but rather the responsibility of the people who are using Facebook.  After an awkward face-to-face conversation with someone, we don't then declare that we should never meet a friend for dinner.  After a phone call ended with someone in tears, we don't then say that phones are the demise of friendships.  And the same is true of Facebook. It is a tool that we can use to maintain (or damage) our friendships.

To say that Facebook can be an amazing tool to help our friendships is not the same as saying that it's the perfect tool for every setting and situation and person.  But that's the responsibility of the people using the tool, not the fault of the tool. (see my link at the bottom for a post about some Facebook limitations.)

Facebook is Not to Blame for Your 5 Complaints Here are the five most common complaints I hear from people who have either closed down their accounts in protest or have refused to ever join:

  1. "Facebook is too shallow--everyone seems to only brag about the good in their lives or talk about inane things like what they ate for dinner."  Yes, that can be true.  But how is that different from most of life? Many family get-togethers, high school reunions, networking events, and dinner parties can fall prey to that trap as well. But those events are still valuable for other reasons. There is still a level of bonding and connection that can happen in this realm.  We may not be hearing all aspects of someone, but we're still learning about them.  We can't just refuse to engage with everyone unless it's really intimate and meaningful-- truthfully we can't maintain more than a handful of those relationships and we need more support in our lives than that.  Rather than blame Facebook for simply capturing what we do in real life, react the same way you would if you were at an event-- find a couple of people you want to get to know better and engage with them.  Comment on their photos, write them a personal message, ask them a follow-up question to their status update.
  2. "Facebook makes me feel bad about myself." No,that shows you your areas for growth.  A tool is not responsible for your feelings. Yes, Facebook may show us how many more people are having babies, retiring, going on vacation, or hanging out with friends, but the goal isn't to shut out everything that makes us feel insecure as much as it is to do the work of feeling secure and happy.  That is not Facebook's fault unless we only find our worth in comparing our lives to others.  And that is not the life we want.  We want to be people whose peace isn't dependent upon what someone else is or isn't doing. Rather than blame Facebook for making us feel bad, we can use it as gymnasium for our souls to practice cheering for others (give thumbs up, say congrats!), gather information about what we want more of in our lives, and get clear about how we can show up online and offline with more self-worth.
  3. "It's offensive to find out big news from friends through Facebook." While I do think there are some conversations and friendships where Facebook may not be the best choice of tool, I will say that when it comes to a friend announcing something-- that is her moment, not yours.  You feeling offended means you're making this about you when it's about her.  If she gets engaged and just wants to shout it on the Facebook rooftops-- then let her. Let her have her moment and express it however it feels best to her. That isn't about you or your friendship-- be very careful that you're not taking personally what isn't meant to be taken personally. Rather than blame Facebook, I'd suggest that we remember that the way we find out doesn't limit the way we respond. Be sure to comment and celebrate her when you see it on the wall-- she undoubtedly wants people to know.  But if your friendship is deeper than that, be the one who drops a card of congrats in the mail, leaves an enthusiastic voice mail telling her you can't wait to hear all the details, or shoots off an email to schedule a time to take her out and celebrate her.
  4. "I hate seeing my friends out doing things without me." Okay, I get it-- it's never fun to feel like the uninvited person or an outsider. But, again, getting off Facebook doesn't mean it won't happen, it just means you won't know about it.  And you're stronger than that. It's the meaning we give to those moments that hurt us.  If you believe your worth is in being her only friend, then we have bigger issues than Facebook. I always champion that the healthiest friendships are where both women have other friends.  It would be nice to get to a place where you could be cheering for her as she builds up her support system, and where you know you're doing the same.  Rather than blame Facebook, be appreciative that you can use Facebook to get ideas of fun things you want to invite people to do, be inspired by her making new friends, and do what you can to keep contributing to that relationship with her.  Giving her the space to make friends will benefit you in many ways down the road-- she'll demand less from you and soon enough she'll be able to introduce you to the people she's meeting.
  5. "I got my feelings hurt when she de-friended me."  The number of articles written about this just astounds me. In my opinion we are being way too dramatic about this de-friending option. If you are de-friended-- this isn't your new title, doesn't reflect your worth, nor does it speak to the future of the friendship you can still have with her. What it does say is that the two of you having something going on between you that isn't resolved and forgiven. Rather than reacting from your wounded ego, what can you do to help repair this friendship? Facebook is not to blame for our petty fights, disagreements, and frustrations with each other.  Every relationship has them whether we're on Facebook or not. Being de-friended is the equivalent of needing some space-- it doesn't need to be permanent. Much like the shutting of a door or the hanging up of a phone-- it simply says that we have work to do in this relationship.

So there you have my thoughts on this subject! (Not that you asked me! LOL!) I'm looking forward to your comments and reactions... (I think?!)  :)

And, if you're up for it, be a friend of GirlFriendCircles on Facebook.  It will keep you updated with friendship articles in the news, updates on my books, alerts to friendships events in your area, etc.  And we'll never de-friend you.  Promise.  :)

On a similar note: A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about the five best purposes of Facebook and the inherent limitations.

The Blessing of Open Hands

I wrote this post last year at Thanksgiving on my former blog and have had many requests for it to be re-posted. So here, GirlFriends, is my Thanksgiving prayer for you: Anyone who hangs out with me for long will frequently hear me use the metaphor of an open hand.

It's a hand gesture where each hand is cupped, palms up. Relaxed in a way, and yet, intentional enough that I could bring water to my lips with those fingers if needed.

The very act of making those open hands has become my own little mantra in life, inviting my heart to reflect the handmade sign. It's how I want to show up in life, especially in my relationships.

 

What Open Hands Are Not For when I see those open hands I am reminded of all that they are and, conversely, all that they are not.

  • If my hands are open, then that means they are not limp, by my side, unwilling, un-noticing, or incapable of being ready to receive.
  • If my hands are open, then that means I am not clinging, fists tight, trying to hold, control, keep or grasp.
  • If my hands are open, then that means I am not palms out, pushing away, putting up walls, resisting, defending, refusing to let life in.
  • If my hands are open, then that means they are not flat and stretched, unable to hold anything of value, refusing to be a safe container for that which is given in my life.
  • If my hands are open, then that means they aren't trying to stretch the fingers ever wider to hold more and more. For they would know that as the fingers spread, so do the gifts begin to seep out like sand through the cracks.

No, I want to step into life with gentle, but firmly cupped hands. Not needing to grab, push, cling, force or refuse. Rather, I show up with a readiness that says I will look for things to hold, people to love, life to relish, moments to enjoy, gifts to appreciate.

What Open Hands Remind Me Open hands remind me that I am deserving of goodness. I am worthy, willing and capable. I refuse to let past rejection, fears, insecurities and previous losses stop me from being ready to receive this time. I value living life fully and I will look for moments to cherish and love.

Open hands remind me that if I give freedom to goodness to land in my life then I also give freedom to see those same gifts fly away. In their own time. I can't not control one and then try to control the other. An airport cannot choose to only accept arrivals and not departures, there are valid times for travel in both directions. I cannot force people to stay here any longer than I can force time to stand still. I cannot manipulate, coerce, charm or trap gifts to last forever.

And should I ever be tempted to close my hand around something, I inevitably have just closed my hand to other gifts as well. Ironic, that the very gesture of trying to keep one thing can be the gesture that prevents other good things.

Sometimes we're so focused on refusing to let go of one thing that we miss the other opportunities. We hold so tight that we suffocate the very breath that we never wanted to lose. With tight hands we squish the bug we were trying to save, melt the chocolate we wanted for later or find fingernail marks in our skin because we clenched too hard. That which we wanted to keep, we lost anyhow. And now our hands are just messy and sore.

Open hands remind me to engage, to not give up, to expect, to hope and to cherish. They teach me to let go, to unclench, to find peace. They offer me moments of joy and loss, inviting me to find contentment in both.

My Open Hands Blessings My open hands invite me to embrace, hug and cherish the people in my life now.

My open hands remind me to feel grateful for those relationships even when they have flown away.

My open hands provide me a visual promise that I anticipate a future filled with more love.

This Thanksgiving, I hold my hands open. Grateful for the blessings. Those blessings that I have now, the ones I have had, and those that are still yet to come.

Happy Thanksgiving GirlFriends.

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On a related subject of gratitude, I am pleased to share with my GirlFriendCircles.com community that over the weekend I signed a book deal with Turner Publishing!  Woo-hoo!  You've been so encouraging on my blog (THANK YOU!) and there is so much more structure, process, examples, inspiration and in-depth teaching around healthy community that I want to provide.  So I'll be busy writing the next six months, with a publication date probably sometime in 2013! Keep cheering me on GirlFriends-- I need it!

6 Books to Help Your Friendships

I often quote the research from BYU that revealed just how important friendships are to our health.  The sentiment of the research didn't surprise me at all, but what they compared it to sure did! After compiling extensive relational studies, researchers revealed that if you feel disconnected-- it is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, twice as harmful as being obese, and as damaging as being an alcoholic. What shocks me most is how little training and teaching we get, outside of our own experience, in this ever-important life area of relationships.  Compare how much attention your teachers and leaders have given to the three things listed as less significant than your relationships: obesity, drinking and smoking.  Seriously! We have laws against smoking and drinking, yet it's never been illegal to be isolated! We have  billboards and commercials showing the effect of smoke on our lungs and the aftermath of driving while buzzed, but I've never seen one showing the effects of loneliness.  Even if your nutrition and physical education classes in school left a lot to be desired, at least they had them.  I never took a class on healthy relationships.

In an area that is touted to be most significant to our health, happiness, and longevity-- we just hope healthy relationships comes naturally. Unfortunately, with 85% of us admitting to having toxic friends, I'm not blown away by how well we've taught ourselves.

6 Books that Teach Healthy Friendships

Here are six books I think could help us start being more intentional in our healthy friendship education:

  1. Consequential Strangers, by Melinda Blau and Karen Fingerman, Ph.D.  As the tagline suggests, "The Power of People who Don't Seem to Matter But Really Do," you may not feel inspired to buy this book because you may not realize just how significant your connections through out the day can be in your life.  However, this book is hugely revealing and has much to teach us about our wider networks. For those of you familiar with my 5 Circles of Connectedness, this book is all about just how important the left-side of our continuum can be.
  2. A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.  The middle third of this book is one of the most impressive visions of healthy relationships on the market, not just friendships. While her field is spiritual growth, her case is that all our personal growth happens in our relationships.  She showcases the importance of every interaction we have, from what seems inconsequential to us all the way to the people with whom we have lifetime assignments. Her call to us to give love rather than project fear is inspiring.  To show up with others on a soul level rather than ego level would change the world.
  3. The Power of Female Friendship: How Your Circle of Friends Shapes Your Life, by Paul Dobransky, M.D. This book goes way past warm-and-fuzzy to give you really fabulous scientific charts, graphs, and formulas. His definition of friendship ("Friendship is consistent, mutual, shared positive emotion") is still one I use in my teaching-- helping women know the 4 things that must be present in a healthy friendship. He breaks up friendship in some of the most thought-provoking ways teaching psychology, boundaries, emotional health, and brain function.
  4. Best Friends Forever, by Irene Levine Ph.D. This tagline will sell the book: "Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend."  She's quick to remind you that it's an unhealthy myth to believe that your friendships should last forever, with most of us staying in touch with only 1 out 12 of our friends.  She's also quick to sympathize with why it can, ironically, sometimes be harder and more painful to end friendships than it is to end our romantic loves.  Her guide will help you thoughtfully process which friendships to let go, how to do it, and how to heal.
  5. The Friendship Fix, by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.    This recent book is a fast and fun read as it aims to help women in their "choosing, loosing, and keeping up" with their friends.  I'd recommend this book especially to those in their 20's and 30's still trying to figure out how to do friendship as adults beyond college. Her style is witty and helpful in identifying what kind of friend you are, how to transition friendships through the marriages and pregnancies, and how to think through friendships with exes, family members, and work colleagues.
  6. Find Your Strongest Life, by Marcus Buckingham. This book isn't about friendship per say, but is about how women can live successfully and happily by leaning into your strongest role (9 options, we all have 1-2 primarily).  I put this book on the list for those of you who already have a fulfilling circle of friends as I think this is a fun way to get to know each other better.  The five-minute online test is free, but unpacking the results and learning about how you each give differently in the friendship is priceless. This is a great book to go through with a group of girlfriends as you all commit to cheering for each other as you seek to live your strongest life.

I'm holding spot #7 for a book that is to be released in January (you can pre-order) titled "MWF Seeking BFF" where the author, Rachel Bertsche writes about her year of weekly friend-dating as she went from friendless in Chicago to establishing a local circle of friends.  This will be an inspiring read for most of you who know what it's like to need to make new friends but feel the fear and insecurity of actually starting friendships from scratch.

And then spot # 8?  Well maybe I should write one?  :)

So there you have it.  Gold stars for those of you who actually decide to read one of these!  I really want to remind you that to simply sit back and hope for more friends isn't going to do it. Much like the fact that you have to get off the couch to get healthy, we're truly going to have to learn to keep making and fostering healthy friendships throughout our lives.

To reading that can change your life....

Nothing Kills a Potential Relationship Faster

Momentum.  The lack of it can kill a relationship quickly. A romantic relationship would never get off the ground if the two of you went out for a date, then ended the evening saying "That was fun... we should do it again next month."

When it comes to love, we clear our calendar for possibility. And yet for friendship it somehow seems normal to only see each other every couple of weeks or months? We schedule her several weeks out, even if for him we'd make it 2 days later. The irony being that the women you meet for friendship have a higher likelihood of actually being in your life longer than most of the men you date.

momentum

We understand momentum clearly in romance.  But why not for friendship? Is it for lack of prioritizing our female friends as important? Is it because we need the assertiveness of the testosterone to initiate? Is it because we don't know how?

Why We Lack Momentum

My guess is that it is partly due to priority and partly due to fear.

The priority part is easy to see.  We are inundated with wanting to be chosen by a romantic partner our entire lives.  We will give up almost anything for "love." We think there is someone out there who will complete us.  We are accused often of neglecting our friends once we start dating or get married.

But the other part is fear, I think.  Almost every hesitation in our lives can be linked to our fear of being rejected in some way, a fear of not being totally loved and accepted. No one wants to feel embarrassed in any way.  Therefore, we erroneously think that to have time/desire to meet you again next week might somehow communicate that I'm desperate, lonely, needy, or unimportant?

Oddly enough, if a guy were were interested enough to see us next week again-- we'd be flattered.  But we're unwilling to give that same gift to a platonic friend.  We don't want to appear more interested than they seem to be.

Interest Is Contagious

But here's the honest truth: we like people who like us.

With romantic dating, we know how to flirt and show interest.

With friend dating, we all too often show up with a reserve that says "Prove that you're interesting first."  We put up our guard until they appear valuable to us.  And if they mirror the same wait-and-watch attitude, then momentum rarely happens.  We feel judged because we're judging.

What would happen if you showed up without fear?  If your self worth weren't attached to how a stranger responded, or didn't?  If you could show up-- give love, interest, compassion and kindness before they "earned" it?  We all want the other person to be that way, but few of us are willing to be it first.  Remember the golden rule.

How You Can Contribute to Momentum

If you're in the GirlFriendCircles.com community, receiving invitations to ConnectingCircles, one easy way to contribute to momentum is simply to RSVP immediately.  You would all completely laugh if you saw how many customer service emails Maci receives from women waiting to see if anyone else is going to RSVP to an event before they do.  Imagine a bunch of women all waiting for 1-2 others to sign up before they feel safe doing so-- and it getting cancelled because none of them actually took that risk.  (And what's the real risk anyhow?  You're in a community where the only people who can see it is other women who are also signed up to meet new friends!)

The worst case scenario? You sign up and no one else can-- the event gets canceled. But that isn't a reflection on you-- except that it shows you're confident, and willing to actually put a wee bit of action behind your intention for meeting new people.

And the best case scenario is well worth the risk of the worst case, in my opinion. For what usually happens is that as soon as a local event has 1-2 women signed up... the rest of it fills up.  And now, because you started the momentum-- 5 or 6 women have the chance of starting a friendship.

This plays out true whether we're talking about ConnectingCircles or any other events.  Be the initiator!  Don't attach your ego to it.... write again, invite for a different date, follow-up.

Our friend dating doesn't have to look like our romantic dating where we schedule something every 2-3 days for several weeks... but can't we at least give 20% of that same energy and intention to people who actually have a higher probability of being in our lives a year from now?

Give the gift of momentum to one of your friendships.  What you crave is a meaningful and comfortable friendship.  Put in the momentum to get there!