Defining Friendship

The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships

We all want friendships, but most of us don't even know what that means. How Do You Define Friendship?

When I ask audiences to define the word I get things like:

  • "Someone you like."
  • "Someone who makes you laugh."
  • "Someone who's always there for you."
  • "Someone who knows the worst of you and still loves you."
  • "Someone you trust."

Those all sound warm-and-fuzzy, but none of those are a definition by which we can measure a relationship with another person:

  • There are a lot of people I like but who haven't become my friends.
  • Plenty of people make me laugh-- some I only know via TV, does that mean we're friends?
  • No one is always there for me... nor am I for them... does that mean we aren't friends?
  • Yes, we want to be accepted by being loved by people who know us, but if this is our litmus test then does that mean we all have to confess our worst sins before we can be friends with someone?
  • Trust? Trust them to do what???  I trust the Starbucks barista not to spit in my drink-- does that make us friends?

And the dictionary doesn't help much by basically just stating that a friendship is a "relationship between friends." ha! SO helpful!

A Definition of Friendship

I've taken the liberty to create a working definition of friendship (based on compiling/summarizing the research of many sociologists and psychologists) so we can all better identify and evaluate the qualities and actions of a friendship.

"A friendship is a mutual relationship between two people that is satisfying, safe, and where both people feel seen."

  1. In order for a relationship to be satisfying, it must have a foundation of positivity While positive feelings are necessary in all healthy relationships; they are paramount to our friendships because these are the relationships we are entering by choice. We all want our friendships to add more joy, peace, and support to our lives.
  2. In order for a relationship to be safe, it must develop consistencyConsistency is the action of repeating our time together which in turn develops our trust as we begin to create and modify expectations of each other. The more consistency we have, the more we feel like we can anticipate how a person will behave in different situations. Consistency is what gives our new friendships momentum to get to know each other and, over time, it's what builds a shared history and increases our commitment and feeling of support in each other.
  3. In order for a relationship where both people feel seen, it must develop vulnerabilityAs we spend more consistent time together, we are also incrementally revealing and sharing more of who we are with each other.  The more we let someone see us (always increasing our positivity with responses such as affirmation, acceptance, and empathy) then the more loved we'll feel for who we are.

If you don't have all three: then you don't have a healthy friendship.

And the flip side of that is equally true: if you have any friendship that isn't feeling meaningful or healthy, I can guarantee it's because at least one of these three requirements is in lack in that relationship.

In other words, if you just have positivity and consistency (fun times that are repeated often) but lack vulnerability then it's just a social group that lacks you Frientimacy the three requirements: positivity, consistency, vulnerabilityfeeling really known and supported.  Or, if you have positivity and vulnerability (a meaningful time where you felt seen and appreciated) but lack consistency so that it's not ever repeated, then it was just a really special moment with someone, but not a friendship.  Or if you have consistency and vulnerability (deep sharing happening all the time) but lack positivity, then it's just a draining relationship that leaves you feeling weary.  We have to have all three.

To that point, consider this quote I recently came across from The Atlantic:

"I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and [there are] three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course,” says William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. “Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy. These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they’re accomplished change.”

Did you catch the three?

  1. Someone to talk to (vulnerability),
  2. someone to depend on (consistency), and
  3. someone to enjoy (positivity).

Now that we have a definition we know what actions can start, build, repair, or end any friendships in our lives.

Want to know which of the 3 Requirements would make the biggest difference in your relationships? Take this quick Frientimacy Quiz!

Note: These Three Requirements are unpacked, at length, in my book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.

 

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How Do You Get Lucky In Love and Friendship?

"How do you get lucky in love?" a gruff voice asked from behind me. I was standing at a teller window at the bank so it seemed an unlikely place for someone to be asking for relational advice. And yet he repeated his question even more loudly. You could see several of us looking around somewhat awkwardly, trying to figure out if he was serious and sane. He was waving a magazine and gestured toward it as he made eye contact with the teller closest to him.  He asked a third time, with a mix of irony and laughter: "Seriously I've been married three times and would love to know how one goes about getting lucky in love?"

The tone lightened up a bit as we could tell he had just seen a headline on a magazine that had been innocently lying in the bank lobby that must have triggered his friendly zeal. But he kept his gaze on the young teller, presumably awaiting an answer.  The teller couldn't have been more than young twenties and after laughing nervously, finally said, "I guess you just haven't yet found the right person."

I nearly choked.

How DO You Get Lucky In Love?

Seriously?!?! There's a guy waving a magazine in the bank lobby telling everyone who is standing within earshot that he's been married three times and the best we can do is assume he hasn't met the right women?

I forgive the teller.  He was young and idealistic. But it's a view that far too many of us still hold.  And when it comes to friendship-- it's no different.  We assume that if the relationship isn't working that it's their problem.  Or if not their problem, then at least that who they are doesn't match up with who we are.  We shrug our shoulders and cheer ourselves up with the words of the teller:  I guess we just haven't yet met the person who could be our best friend.

Like a needle in a haystack we think we need to keep looking for that specific and rare person who can love us and whom we can love back.  Now don't get me wrong-- I've been accused of being the biggest romantic who believes in soul mates and love and chemistry and deep connections-- the whole big love enchilada.  But, and this is a serious but, love isn't something we go around discovering in people, something that they either have for us or don't.  No, love in all forms, is something we can develop with people.

That man in the bank... I'll bet all three times he married he believed he was in love.  He had "discovered" love. But it's more than simply finding someone you love, it's choosing to practice the actions that develop that love, that matter most.

What Friendship Is and Isn't

I notoriously say in front of nearly every crowd I speak to, "Friendship isn't about how much you like each other; but rather it's about how much you practice the behaviors that make up friendship."

frientimacy_quote_1

In other words:  I can meet someone instantly and like them and talk for hours with them and want to be best friends with them, and they with me. But that is not a friendship.  If we never see each other again then we were merely two people who had a great evening together and were friendly with each other, but that is not friendship.  There is a VAST difference between the people we're friendly with and the people we develop a friendship with.

What makes a friend is less about how much we like them instantly or even how much we like them over the long haul.  We aren't all closest to the people we actually love and admire the most. No, we're closest to the ones with whom we're willing to practice the actions that make up a friendship.

In my new book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, I am thrilled to be teaching the three actions that make up a friendship.  For far too long we have left love to luck and chance, bumping into each other and hoping for the best.  It's time to actually understand what intimacy is, what actions lead to it, and how much power we have in actually leading every relationship in our lives toward greater love.

What I wish I could've said to the man at the bank was, "That's awesome that you haven't given up on still wanting more love in your life.  And the good news is it's not like playing the lottery where you have to get married for several years before finding out if she is the one or not.  You can take responsibility to develop the relationships that indeed leaving you feeling lucky in love."

We all need more love in our lives.  We don't have to leave it to chance.

xoxo

The Friendship Formula

On Sunday I sat at the front of the room, with my phone in my hand keeping time, and I looked out a room-full of women laughing, talking, and leaning in toward each other. Only an hour earlier they had arrived as strangers, here they were looking a lot like good friends.  I knew that given a few more hours... I'd see women hugging each other good-bye with words like "See you next week!" excitedly hanging in the air.

Friendship Accelerators Bonding Women

There are actually few things more gratifying than facilitating Friendship Accelerators. Undoubtedly, speaking and writing are two of my favorite things since I love communicating and teaching, but the Accelerators give me a chance to go beyond inspiring and instructing an audience to actually helping cultivate the very connection people crave.  They're magical for me. All the motivational speaking in the world can't deliver friendships to people... but the Accelerators can; and for those results, I love them.

I, in fact, have joked that I feel a bit like a scientist in a lab inventing friendships.  Like any passionate scientist who might pour a little of this concoction, a dash of that, and a sprinkle of something else to create something greater than all the individual elements, I have learned that the very high possibility of meaningful friendships is something I can create.  Over the years I am perfecting the recipe, but the fact that the results are more predictable than ever has never dampened my glee when I watch it work, again and again.

Is there a Formula to Love?

Perhaps because I've been vocal over the years that I believe there is more of a formula to friendship than most of us want to believe, several women sent me the recent article in The New York Times titled, "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This" and said variations of "This reminds me of what you do with friendship!"

In the article Mandy Len Catron shared the story of falling in love with someone through answering the same 36 questions that researchers had used in a study to analyze what helped people feel close to each other.

In that study, they developed a list of questions that were designed to help two people self-disclose in increasing intensity and included questions that helped the subjects talk about their relationship and each other.  The connection to each other was big enough for the researchers to conclude:

"One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure."

Notice that the basis of the connection is self-disclosure and sharing, but that it also has to be consistent, mutual, and incremental.

Just as interesting as what did work in bonding people in a lab is what didn't work that they also tested:  1) leaving two people to engage in small talk for 45 minutes didn't work, 2) being matched with people who agreed with you on important views didn't result in an increased connection, 3) being told the goal was to feel close didn't make a difference in helping the pair reach the goal, and 4) being led to believe that mutual liking was expected based on them being a good match didn't help it pan out.

Think about how much of our dating includes those four things: hoping it will work, believing we're a match, both having the goal of finding someone, and spending time on a date talking... but none of those factors lead to intimacy as much as intentional and personal self-disclosure that escalated incrementally.

Is there a Formula to Friendship?

Similarly, while their research was more focused on romantic intimacy, it confirms what I have long known to be true in friendship, as well:  There are actions we can take to foster a bond.

In other words, it's not just "chance" that will determine whether we'll feel a connection, nor is it only if the other person proves to have the "right" qualities we think we want in someone.  Bonding has far more to do with the verbs we engage in with someone than the adjectives they possess.

It's why the women who join GirlFriendCircles.com attend ConnectingCircles: small groups of 3-6 women who gather at a local cafe and pick questions off a list of Sharing Questions to ask and answer.  We have found the success rates of women feeling connected to others increases when they engage in sharing questions about themselves rather than just let the conversation drift from movies to men to jobs.

And it's why I developed the Frientimacy Triangle which teaches that all relationships start at the base of the triangle and bond when they increase both their time together and the self-revealing they're willing to do. (Read another post or buy book for more explanation.)

Regular time together (leading to commitment) and increased vulnerability is what will help two people bond.

What's so encouraging is that these actions are within your control!  You can 1) initiate time together with people you want to bond with and 2) you can ask questions and share about yourself in a way that helps the two of you bond.

It has far less to do with you both needing to be moms with kids the same ages, both needing to be retired, or both single 30-somethings-- you can build a close connection that is meaningful with far more people than you believe you can.  I've seen it time and time again.

And that's why the Friendship Accelerators work: they commit to a whole day together that I facilitate to help create intentional sharing and then they commit to 4 weekly get-togethers where they will increase their time together and continue to share their lives.

Last summer I was invited to attend the one-year anniversary of a Friendship Accelerator group who was still getting together weekly 52 weeks after they met. I went to a birthday party last month where three women there had all met at one of my Accelerators a couple of years back.  I regularly see Facebook photos of another group who seemingly gets together all the time for fun stuff all over the city.

Last week I received an email from a woman who had been in one of my Friendship Accelerators a couple of years ago who said, "Two of the friends I met at our Accelerator 3 years ago are still very dear to me and an important part of my life.  Even though one moved farther away, we are still in regular contact and get together often.  In fact, I had dinner last night with one of those friends and the 3 of us are going to the theater to celebrate the other one's birthday next week. Thank you!"

The Two Necessary Ingredients in Bonding

Indeed, whether it's romance or friendship-- they both are built upon helping bond people-- we all too often expect more from the things that don't work and are too busy or too nervous to try the things that do.

If you want meaningful connections:

Time together + Intentional Self-Revealing = Feeling Close to Others.

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p.s.  If you want me to come to your city to lead a Friendship Accelerator you can add your email and zip code to our list to be notified when we schedule one in your area!

 

5 Types of Vulnerability: It's Way More than Skeletons in Your Closet!

I believe that our greatest fear is rejection-- the worry of what people think of us, the desire to be accepted, the craving to feel like we are good enough. So anything that risks us possibly feeling rejected is going to feel vulnerable.

What is Vulnerability?

Vulnerability, as defined by the dictionary means "capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt."

Some psychologists use words like disclosure, sharing, uncovering, and revealing to describe the act of being vulnerable.

One of my friends the other day described vulnerability as the willingness to let someone else impact us. A willingness, then, to actually be touched or moved by others.

Brene Brown, the Queen of Vulnerability (author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead) defines vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure."  After decades of researching shame she has helped make the connection in our culture that if we shy away from vulnerability (thinking that it protects us from shame) that we are, indeed, shying away from the core of our feelings, including many of the "good" feelings we want to feel!  She says,

To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.

For me, I often think of vulnerability as showing up with less of a filter on expressing who I am. I recognize that it's not appropriate to share everything with everyone, but by the same token, I believe I can always share parts of me with everyone, and I strive to share more of me with a few, worrying less about what they will think of me as we built a mutual and safe relationship with each other. (Here is an old post that gives a visual for how we can incrementally increase our vulnerability in appropriate ways.)

Whatever words we use to define vulnerability-- more importantly, is what it looks like when we practice it.

To that end, I want to emphasize five different expressions of vulnerability that are crucial to building healthy relationships.

Five Different Expressions of Vulnerability That Are Important

These five expressions all take practice.  None of us is immune from them feeling like a risk.  By definition, the very idea that we could get hurt will cause some of us pause.  Like I say in my book, it's valuing the connection, intimacy, and meaning on the other side that helps us value the possible gains over the possible disappointment.

I invite you to look at these five and ask yourself the question, "Which one of these could I practice more of in my life?" Knowing that when we find the one that might be the most difficult or scary, we have likely also found the one that could be the most expanding, meaningful, and freeing!

  1. New Ways of Interacting: For many of us, this one is surprisingly hard, though we don't often view it as a new way to practice vulnerability since it's less about sharing something and

    All relationships start with a tiny circle and incrementally become bigger and more meaningful as we practice widening our circle by expanding the ways we interact.

    more about acting on something, but anytime we "put ourselves out there" and extend an invitation, it is an action of vulnerability. A growing friendship depends upon us showing up willing to keep pushing the friendship into new territory-- the first time we start texting each other, the first time we extend an invitation, the first time we meet each others families, the first time we get together outside of a business premise, or the first time we just pick up the phone with no obvious excuse. The gift in initiating these new ways of being together is that these courageous actions are necessary to build the meaningful connection.  We initiate and our chances increase exponentially that we end up with more friendships that matter.

  2. New Areas of Conversation: This might mean adding topics

    Expanding what we talk about-- new subject matters become safe topics-- helps us widen the capacity of our friendships.

    such as politics, compassion, books, spirituality, body image, parenting, marriage, or goals to the conversation that is usually limited to the 2-3 safe topics already established. The gift in this type of sharing is it gives your friendship the chance to practice connecting on a wider range of life interests and experiences, helping you practice being interested even when it's not your thing, and glues the two of you together as more of your lives are shared.

  3. All relationships are rooted in us feeling accepted for who we are which comes when we share our insecurities.

    Areas of Shame & Insecurity: This is the expression we most often associate with vulnerability, but it's just one piece.  This certainly couldinclude the fear of revealing events from our past, actions we regret, and moments that made us feel un-lovable or unworthy; but far more significant than what happened to us back then, is practicing sharing where we feel insecure or worry with our lives now. There is healing in sharing these things with people who we have developed a safe relationship with as speaking our shame brings light into the darkness and disproves the voice that says those things make us less-than.  The gift is being reminded that we are worthy even when we feel shame.

  4. Accomplishments, Achievements, and Pride: I've noticed a trend among women that sometimes we're more comfortable sharing our complaints and frustrations (usually about others, than about ourselves) than we are to share our accomplishments and

    Just as it's important to go deep, it's also important to go high! Healthy relationships bear witness to our power, our happiness, and our talents.

    joys. We are so fearful of being seen as arrogant, or so desperate to want to fit in and relate (shouldn't talk about how fulfilling my marriage is when no one else seems happy in theirs...) that we minimize ourselves or dim our lights. We fear being judged for our positive traits as much as we do for our negative ones, frequently. I love asking my friends, "What's energizing in your life right now?" Or, "What are some of the highlights of your summer?" Or, "Tell me something that you've done recently that made you feel proud?" The gift is giving permission to ourselves that it's okay to shine, to choose happiness, and to love who we were created to be-- it gives permission to others, and helps us practice so we can shine brighter in this world."

  5. Asking for What You Prefer, or Need: For this one I draw a heart in the center because it starts with being in touch with myself

    It doesn't matetr how far out our circles grow or our arrows expand if we can't keep the core nourished with knowing ourselves and expressing ourselves authentically.

    to know what it is I need and prefer in any situation.  Sometimes it's as light as saying to anyone, "I so appreciate your advice, but what I really need right now is you to just listen and tell me I'm not crazy for feeling this way;" and sometimes it's an ask we make of some of our safer relationships, "Right now, I need you to come over here.  I'm falling apart.  I know it's a big ask as your life is full and busy, too, but if there's any way you can be here, it would mean a lot." The gift in this is learning to hear our own wisdom whisper what we need, what would be meaningful, and developing friendships where we don't have to be mind-readers but can come to trust each other to tell us how we can best love each other.

In my next post I want to show more how all these five areas work together, and are dependent upon each other.

But for now, are you willing to be brave enough (practice vulnerability!) and post a comment just sharing which of the five feels most important for you to practice right now in your friendships?

I Believe in Making Friendships Happen

I believe in making friendships happen. To me, that means:  I will be brave.

Brave enough to believe, to hope, and to admit that I want meaningful friendships that support my life.

Betsy from Dallas believes in making friendships happen!  :)

Brave enough that I can acknowledge when I'm lonely and see that as an invitation, not an indictment.

Brave enough to look in the mirror and say, "I am worthy and capable of creating intimate friendships."

Brave enough to initiate.  And then to do it again.  And then to not take it personally when she can't, or won't, or doesn't.

Bravery means showing up when it's scary because we believe in something that matters more.  And I do.  I believe in making friendships happen.

To me, that means: I will foster my joy.

I want my joy to first sustain me.  I will foster a joy in my life by growing, seeking, creating, playing, learning, praying, and laughing.

In fact, I want to laugh more.  God, help me to laugh more.

GirlFriendCircles t-shirt

But I also want-- deeply want-- my joy to nourish others. That when they leave my presence they feel more hopeful about their lives, more loved for who they are, and more joyful for what we experienced together.  May my quiet joy remind me to show up with love to give, rather than with attention to steal.

Because I believe that what you seek is what you find.

And I want to find joy.  So may I remember to look for joy in my relationships.

I believe in making friendships happen.

 

Which means acknowledging that they don't just happen.

I swallow bravely, and then I whisper what I know is truth: "I make them happen."

They don't happen to me.

Nor would I want them to...I am not a victim in this process. No.

I am a powerful, capable, strong, loving person who creates my destiny, invites community, and facilitates the relationships I crave.

Now instead of a whisper, I speak with volume, my voice getting stronger in my conviction.

I will be a creator, a maker, a sustainer of that which matters to me.

And friendships really matter.  Romance isn't enough to capture all the laughter, joy, and memories I want to share.

I will courageously set aside time for friendships.

Courageous because it means no longer falling for the scarcity myth, pretending that I don't have enough time.  For I do.

I have all the time in the world; it's mine to spend, it's mine to savor, it's mine to prioritize, it's mine to invest in. And I choose to invest in people, and moments, and laughter, and honesty.

I will own the fact that if I want relationships then I must initiate.

And then do it again.  And then not take it personally when she can't, or won't, or doesn't.

I will intentionally ask questions.  And listen to the story she weaves.  Not listening

GirlFriendCircles t-shirt

just until it triggers another story for me to tell.  Not listening while judging her for her choices.  Not listening to look for differences between us.  Just listening with a curiosity; seeing her as another wonder in this world.

Oh and I will share... and I'll practice doing it with vulnerability.  I say practice, because few of us do so with ease.  But I will practice showing up with less pretense, less need to impress, less agenda, less PR-mode, less worried about how I am coming across, less committed to an image.

It's scary... but that's the kind of friendships I want to make happen; so I know it's the kind of person I need to be.

I believe in making friendships happen.

And this girl, this woman, this queen-of-my-heart, lover-of-life, powerful and sacred vessel-- yes, I am all that more... and I am going to make my friendships happen.

A-men.  And it is so.

 

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This cute t-shirt is available at www.ConnectedGifts.com

If you're a member of GirlFriendCircles.com then that means you also believe in making your friendships happen!  YAY!  Take a step today to remind yourself you believe this-- call someone, RSVP to a ConnectingCircle, send a friendly email to another woman in our community-- let's make our friendships happen!

Want a t-shirt?  You can get it for free if you're an active member of GirlFriendCircles or you can buy one here at www.ConnectedGifts.com.  Welcome to the movement!  xoxo

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!

 

 

 

 

Frientimacy: The Intimacy of Friends

This is a posting that was originally posted April 26, 2010 on my former blog. Because I've been writing more about Frientimacy, I wanted to re-port this illustration of how it's played out in my life. ________________________

Sitting in that circle of six women was powerful. There is nothing like being seen by friends you love and who love you back. Intimacy is a word that just brings up too much romance, so I call it "Frientimacy."

We all live in different cities, but this last weekend we had all flown into Seattle for our Annual Girlfriend Get-Together. And so there we sat catching each other up on our lives. Our real lives.

Frientimacy Is Authentic We listened as one shared that's she not sure she wants to stay married. Another, found out her husband cheated. And another just broke up with the man she wanted.  One is trying to decide if she wants kids. Another is due next month. Another just found out her baby isn't developing on schedule. Another isn't sure she'll find someone to marry before she has that choice. Another is struggling with weight and another with financial security and still another with contentment.  We shared our pains and disappointments.

We also listened as we went around the room sharing 3 things we celebrate about our lives in the last year. It was spectacular: The risks. The wins. The accomplishments. The completions. The new beginnings. The Ph.D, the new baby, the new business, the new office, the new love. The big anniversary.

It was beautiful to be among friends who have history sharing both. These are six beautiful, amazing, professional, intelligent women who live life fully and are committed to truthful friendships.

Frientimacy is Awkward And while it sounds so good to be honest, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge how hard it can be go there.

We are far from being a homogeneous group: some married, some single, some divorced, some with kids, some with step-kids, some with none.  Through the years many us have traded those roles-the married one becomes single and the single finds her love. Often at the same time.  And we have to celebrate one and grieve the other. It is hard being the first or only in the group to have kids, and equally hard to be the last or only to not be in a relationship.

Even with people we love and respect, there is no way to be friends without bringing our personal insecurities, fears and baggage to the relationship. It's hard to celebrate each others joys even when we're jealous.  To hold their pain without projecting our story into it.

There were definitely awkward moments. Moments where you want to judge, give advice, justify your decision that's different than hers, wallow in self-pity rather than give her a high-five.

But we've practiced. We've made commitments to be generous with each other. Honest. We trust the commitment is bigger than the pain. We trust the history is deeper than the present moment. And we're still practicing.

We forge on. There will be lots of awkward moments we will witness and hold.

Frientimacy is Developed We can only trust our future because we've experienced our history. It wasn't instant.

It was due to consistency that we have fostered this.

Seven years ago, we were mostly strangers to each other. I invited a few women I had met to commit to a weekly group in my apartment. Some invited someone else. And over time, with one leaving here and another joining there, we had a group that was consistent. We didn't all necessarily feel like we would be friends with each individual in the group if it weren't for the collective time, but we knew the value of going deeper with other women so we kept coming.

What we celebrate now has taken effort. It has taken consistency. Far more than most women are willing to put in. Most of us think if we get together once a month with a new friend that a friendship will blossom. And I'd say once a month is enough to keep liking each other, but probably not enough to build enough history that when your lives change (and they will) that you have enough history behind you to stay connected through it. Once a week for one year gave us the gift we'll enjoy the rest of our lives.

I no longer live around those women so I've become part of another group of local women who meet weekly. We don't have the same history yet, but we will keep meeting and keep sharing and we are definitely developing our own new Frientimacy.

Who are you being consistent with? How can you schedule in some consistent time with other women? How are you building upon the new friendships you've started?

Frientimacy is Worth it You may not feel the potential after your first time together. Or your next time together.

You may doubt it. You may feel like they're too different from you. Or that you're not sure you like each of them.

You may feel insecure around one of them or find that one annoys you. It's likely.

But you will also begin to know you have a group that sees your life. That knows it. That you don't have to update but can simply share. You will feel the difference it makes to have close friends. Local friends. Not the kind you have to impress, but the kind you get to be real with. It's likely.

I had an amazing weekend with the women who have known me and loved me for seven years. And I'm committed to building more of that in my life, locally and on a weekly basis.

Frientimacy is authentic. It can be awkward. It takes time to develop. But it is so worth it.

Defending the Introverts, Defining Mutuality

If I had to put money on the table next to what I thought was a primary barrier to women building new friendships, I'd put it next to a mistaken view of what mutuality means. Sure, lack of time will be listed as a more common excuse, but when a woman decides to be more proactive about fostering healthy friendships around her, the fear of unequal give-and-take can stall many budding friendships before they have a chance to get started.

Our Fear of Unequal Give-and-Take

We use language like "the ball is in her court" and "I don't want to impose" and "I invited her last time so this time I'll wait to see if she reciprocates." We justify our wait-and-see approach by reminding ourselves that we sent the last email or initiated the most recent plans, and we conclude that we're always the ones doing the inviting.   Not this time, we say. This time it's her turn.

While we may not call it a fear of rejection, we are in part acting out of that fear. We don't want to come across as desperate. We don't want to feel like we're putting ourselves out there all the time, unsure if it's wanted.  We've been told we don't need to put up with any behavior that isn't perfectly mutual. We want to feel like they like us too.  We want to feel wanted. We definitely don't want to be the ones who give more than we receive again.  So we protect our egos and wait her out.

In the meantime, our budding relationship never gets momentum so it never really happens.  And we're left complaining that no one out there seems to be interested in a mutual friendship.

Our Misunderstanding of Mutuality

On Friday evening I was sitting in a room with two friends.  Both lean toward introversion when it comes to interacting with people.  (Which means they have amazing people skills but being around people can cost them more energy than it gives them.) I was basking in the glow of how intimate those relationships felt, both of them so able to engage in deep, beautiful, meaningful conversations.  Their questions were thoughtful, their intuition spot on, and their love so genuine.

But if it had been up to either of them to get the three of us together it wasn't likely to have happened. I initiated.

As I had the week before.

And as I had the week prior to that.

The truth is that there are just many, many people out there who have so much to offer a friendship-- but initiating and scheduling may not be their forte.  That doesn't mean they don't love us or want to be with us.  And it certainly doesn't mean they don't have other meaningful ways to give to us. It just means they aren't going to assertively send out the invitation. Or if they do, it won't be as frequently as it might be for some of the rest of us.

This is not limited to introverts.  Take any self-awareness inventory and there are always types of people where scheduling and initiating will not come naturally for them. I've been studying the Enneagram which has nine types of people, and three of the types are withdrawing types, which means they tend to step back or retreat when there is stress (which any new situation can cause.) So that's at least a third of our potential friends who won't be out there trying to schedule time with us.

Even beyond personalities and types, we know that we all have different love languages.  Someone with the love language of quality time might tend to be more aware of reaching out with invitations than someone with the love language of gift giving.

Just add stress and busy-ness to any of our lives (even those of us who are extroverts, schedulers, and assertive types) and we may not reciprocate in the way you want, when you want.  But that also doesn't mean we wouldn't make great friends who will give to you in other ways!

What Does Mutual Really Mean?

As I sat there Friday evening thinking how lucky anyone would be to have these two individuals in their lives, it occurred to me how few people will get that opportunity if they only build a friendship with someone else who reaches out an equal amount.

Mutuality cannot be confined to 50/50 scheduling.  Equality doesn't mean sameness.  Being in a give-and-take relationship doesn't mean we give-and-take in the same ways.

For those of us who live with someone-- we know that having someone else divvy up the household chores doesn't mean we each vacuum half the room and cook half the meal. It means I tend to track our finances and he tends to make sure dishes don't pile up in the sink. Balance doesn't mean we split up every chore, but that we both contribute to the overall picture.

Somehow, in friendship, we have elevated the scheduling and initiating "chore" to becoming the litmus test for an equal friendship.

What we risk if we wait for equal initiations is missing the gift that introverts or non-initiators can bring to our lives.  And we risk feeling rejected if we wrongly attach that meaning to their lack of initiation.  And worst of all, we're still left without the friendships that we crave because we just sat and waited, allowing the momentum to falter.

Give. Give. Give.

I am all for balanced friendships.  I don't want you to feel used.  I want you to be in a relationship that feels mutual.

But if you are a GirlFriend who is good at initiating-- then do it. Generously. Invite her five times in a row.  Be the one who is okay calling to start the conversation. Give where you're best, knowing you will be blessed by how she gives to you in different ways. And know how lucky you are that you have the ability to give in a way that starts friendships!

And if you recognize that you're someone who struggles to initiate-- then at least be sure to tell your friends/potential friends how much you appreciate it when they do. Express your gratitude, lest they ever feel that you're not interested. Tell them what it means to you that they keep calling. Recognize that this gift they give is a necessary ingredient in the building of a friendship.

What we need is a little less judgment of each other and a little more hopeful curiosity to discover and appreciate who the other person is.

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I blogged on the perceived imbalance in give-and-take friendships for a two-part series for the Huffington Post: In Friendship, Do You Give More than You Receive? and Six Ways to Bring Balance to Your Relationships if you're interested in more reading on this subject.

Healthy Friendship: How to Be the Best Friend Possible

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  Today I'm hosting two posts: one from a therapist highlighting four qualities of emotionally safe friendships, and the other from someone who has never written a blog but was willing to share how she's learned this in her own life. Thanks to both Lisa Brookes Kift and Kelly Cape! _____________________________

What is Emotional Safety?

by Lisa Brookes Kift

Emotional safety is the level of comfort two people feel between each other – and though I’ve written much about how couples can benefit from this, let’s take a look at how this translates to friendship and ways you can be the best friend possible.

Because emotional and relationship health are so intertwined it’s important to take stock of not only how you behave with your friends but how you feel around them.  Do you support and lift each other up?

Not everyone is clear in their understanding of what qualities make up a healthy, nurturing, supportive friendship.  This lack of clarity may be the result of never being modeled this type of relationship.  Whatever the case, it’s never too late to take stock of the people in your life – and how they experience you as well.

Emotionally safe friendships have some things in common.  These friends typically:

  • Listen well and attempt to understand where the other is coming from – rather than dismiss, appear disinterested or shift the topic back to them.
  • Offer validation and empathy when appropriate – rather than behave without compassion when sensitivity is required.
  • Respect each other and are supportive - rather than be competitive and undermining.
  • Trust each other and feel safe – rather than be unsure of whether the other is there only when it suits them.

Human beings are relational.  We are born seeking secure attachment with our primary caregivers and we continue to seek emotional safety through-out our lives, with our partners and friends.

I am very grateful to have a group of girlfriends who I feel totally at home with.  Some go back as far as kindergarten and a few I’ve made in the last five years or so.  The friendships I put the most energy into are the ones where there is a mutual felt sense of being able to truly relax, be ourselves and know that neither of us would do anything to harm the other.  It just feels safe.

It’s like being wrapped in a fuzzy, warm blanket on a cold, winter’s day.

This is a little of what emotionally safe friendships feel like to me.  Just like intimate relationships require effort to maintain, the same goes for friendships.  You get what you give.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the author of The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples and The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples.  She’s also the creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com with tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.  Lisa has a private practice working with individuals and couples in Larkspur, California. Twitter:@LisaKiftTherapy

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What I've Learned About Becoming Emotionally Safe

by Kelly Cape

When one friendship door closes, another opens.  But, unfortunately it has to hit you on the ass first.

I didn’t truly realize this until recently.  I’ve always hated goodbyes. And I cherish having lots of friends, especially close friends.  You know what I mean: the ones who know you in-and-out, and vice versa.

So naturally I felt reluctant to end a friendship even if I wasn’t getting anything out of it.  But because I never wanted to say goodbye, I confused myself into thinking that was because it was feeding me, even if it wasn't!  Hmm... a curious ego-driven, self-fulfilling cycle indeed. Sometimes, even as the friendships were in full swing, the connections I felt seemed forced or awkward.  Meaning that for me, I wasn’t getting exactly what I wanted in the way of a reciprocal friendship but I ignored my gut and just forged ahead making more plans for the next dinner or movie.  If these gals were spending time with me then I was getting something rewarding in return, right?

Well, it wasn’t until a fall-out with two separate friends in overlapping periods of time in my life that made me rethink what friendship meant to me and forced me to have my aha moment of discovery.  This experience took me down the necessary path of self-introspection, ultimately leading me to new enlightenment and more fulfilling friendships.  And most importantly, this included the most significant friendship of all—the one with myself.

I realized that I consciously contributed in the friendships’ demise because I felt needy (hence forcing myself even with internal alarms going off—danger, danger!) and desperate to keep these friendships at almost any cost.  In turn that fear gave off negative vibes.  Additionally, I was also unwilling to listen to my heart that told me I was putting in way more than what I was getting.

And it wasn’t just about ego.  I was keeping these friendships alive at the expense of my self-esteem and value as a person and as a friend. Which wasn’t doing service to them either because when I spent time with them, I wasn’t being fully honest or authentic.  I discovered that felt more awful than pretending I was their BFF.

After a lot of journaling, grieving and healing, I have since become not only a more grounded person, but also a more genuine and present friend, which naturally brings about positive and joyful reciprocity.  I listen to me more now and let go of forcing or acting like someone I’m not just to have friends, or to be invited to a party.

And as the Universe does so profoundly, I “coincidentally” and effortlessly have forged a wonderful new friendship that is both light-hearted and meaningful at the same time.  We are our genuine, honest selves with each other and we laugh a lot together.  My friendships of the past are gone... but never forgotten.  The lessons they taught me will live on and be carried in me with each new budding friendship.

Kelly Cape, 41-years old, lives in Campbell, CA where she consistently strives for an expansive life, including learning to follow her bliss—personally and professionally.  This is her first blog. 

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....

What Types of Friends Do You Need?

As we start Friendship Month, I'm stepping into my commitment to start vlogging too!  I'm planning to regularly upload up a clip on YouTube since sometimes it's easier to teach on video than in writing.  (I'd be honored if you'd subscribe to my channel!)

Not All Friends Are the Same

Recognizing that we have different categories of friends is not to minimize the uniqueness that each one brings, rather it helps us both to honor how we’re energized in different relationships and identify where some of our hunger for more belonging might be coming from.

I developed a Connectedness Continuum that I use when I'm coaching women to help provide have a visual snapshot of our sense of connectedness. Here is a very brief outline of the five different circles of friends we all need to foster.

The Continuum begins on the left with the most casual of friends and moves to the right as the bond and commitment deepens. While there are some parameters to each quadrant, much of it will be subjective based on your own sense of bond.

Contact Friends:  We share an introduction with these friends. We are somehow linked to them whether it’s through facebook, because we went to school together, because a mutual friend introduced us, because we met them while doing something we both participate in, because we have at least one thing in common, etc.  This is not the same as ALL acquaintances.  We may know the names of all twenty people in our association meeting or at church, but these are the 2-3 that we gravitate to and would consider ourselves friends when we see them.

Common Friends:  We share occasional time spent together in the area we have in common. The difference between this quadrant and the former is that we have actually spent time together in a way that connects us deeper, we have our own one-on-one relationship with these individuals. It can be in our mom’s groups, because we work together, sing in the same choir, belong to the same club or we are frequently in the same social circle but we know these individuals well within the area we have in common.

I’m going to come back to Confirmed friends in a minute: There are two things that begin to shift when we cross that center line: the regularity with which we spend time together and the broadening of what we share together.

Community Friends: We share regular time spent together beyond the area we have in common. When we enter into In-Community Friends we have crossed the lines of our original relationship boundaries, whether it was your gym-buddy, a fellow mom, a scrapbook partner or a work colleague—we now share our lives beyond our original shared common interest.  We may be meeting people from other areas of their lives and revealing life stories beyond the original bonding subject.  (Note: we can be “intimate” with people on the left side—AA friend, weight loss buddy—sensitive subjects, but they stay on the left side as long as our area of connection is limited to that original bonding area.)

Commitment Friends: We share our lives with each other and our commitment extends beyond the things that hold us in common. The far right quadrant is reserved for the friends we regularly share our feelings with and have a commitment to be present for each other, no matter what. You may have bonded as “In-Common” friends because of your kids, you worked at the same place or you were both single, but these are now the friends that if those original common categories were to change it would no longer risk your relationship—they could switch jobs, get married, change interests, move away or the kids could all grow-up, but you will still be in each others lives.

Now, go back to the middle:

Confirmed Friends: We share a history with these friends that has bonded us but our connection is not regular. These are the friends that we used to live close to and love but we only talk occasionally now. This middle is reserved for the friends that go much deeper than the left side—we in fact would have at one point placed them on the right side of our spectrum—but we no longer have the regularity with them that we reserve for our right side. These are the women that we know we can pick up where we left off, they are dear to us and we will stay in touch occasionally with them, but they are not engaged in our day-to-day lives and in the creation of regular new memories together.

We all tend to find some circles come to us more naturally. Some of us love socializing and meeting tons of Contact Friends but have a harder time building enough consistency with a few to move into the real intimacy of Commitment Friends, whereas others of us have a few close friends but hate going out and meeting people.  But we all need people in every circle.

Write the names of people you consider your friends along the Continuum.... where are you hungry for more relationships? What types of friends do you most need right now?

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Update on 10/18/2011: There ended up being 5 short videos (3-4 minutes each) to this topic series:

  1. What Types of Friends Do You Need? (Overview of Circles)
  2. Who Are Your BFF's?(Commitment Friends)
  3. Our Used to be Closer Friends (Confirmed Friends)
  4. Four Values of New/Less Intimate Friends (Contact & Common Friends)
  5. Five Common Imbalances in our Circle of Friends (Assessing Your Needs)

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel to receive updates of any future video posts.

My Prayer: Who I Want To Be

I want to show up in life in such a way that you feel greeted in my presence.

Welcomed. Worthy. Accepted. That means when I see you I start with love.  It means I refuse to  wait until my ego can determine your value to me.  Forgive me for my impulse to judge, I want to un-learn that behavior. The truth is that you are human--my sister, my brother-- and that is enough. Your value is exponential and I greet the lessons you will teach me. Thank you.

I want to show up in life in such a way that you feel abundant in my presence.

hands holding a heart

Abundant in the awareness that you are enough.  More than enough, in fact. Where for a moment, you can find refuge from your inadequacies, insecurities, fears, and judgments.  For I want to see you; the part of you that is innocent, beautiful, perfect, and true. I give you my word that I will seek that in you, knowing that those who seek, find. I desire to be someone who sees your best, even when you can't.

I want to show up in life in such a way that you feel loved in my presence.

For you are. I believe in a God that loves you.  A God that asked me to do the same.  I regret how frequently I do it imperfectly.  Nonetheless, I will keep trying.  For it's never because you're not worth my love; rather, it's always because my own fears get in my way of expressing it.  I don't bestow upon you your loveability, I only affirm what is already there. You are love-able and loved.  May I remember that truth that you might feel it when I'm around.

I want to show up in life in such a way that you feel gratitude in my presence.

May my words and actions remind us both that not only are you enough, but so am I.  And so is this world.  There is enough joy for both of us. I can promise you that when I feel lack -- as I sometimes do -- I will own it as my own hunger; refusing to devalue what you have, or who you are.  You deserve all that is yours and I celebrate it.  May I become the person who holds so much gratitude for your life that I invite you to rejoice in it too.

I want to show up in life in such a way that you feel encouraged in my presence.

Not just applauded, but deeply hopeful. I want to hold enough faith in the universe that I can share it with you at any time.  I want you to be able to look in my eyes and see your best self reflected back at you.  May you feel supported in owning your strength, your beauty, your talent, your power, your love, your goodness.  An encouragement that roots itself in a soil of knowing, and branches out in in vibrant action.

It doesn't matter who you are-- you deserve these things from me.

  • You can be someone I walk by in the grocery store, or someone I commit my life to.  Both can be equally difficult.
  • You can be someone I am drawn to, or someone I feel repelled by.  Either way, how I show up with kindness should not differ.
  • You can be someone who has loved me well, or someone who has hurt me deeply. My interpretation of my experience with you doesn't change your worth.
  • You can be someone I watch only on TV, or someone I know intimately.  Your inherent goodness isn't dependent on my knowing you.

How I respond to you says more about me, than it does about you.  I know that.  I own it. Indeed there is a gap between who I want to be for you and who I am. For that, I am sorry.  Life is not a competition where one of us holds more value than another.  And no one, other than my own ego, has given me permission to go around making judgments about your merit. So when I show up, as humans often do, without being all that I want to be, forgive me.  And just know it's no reflection on you.

My prayer is that I keep growing in love, becoming, expanding, inviting, welcoming.  I trust that as I see my own worth more clearly, I might better show you yours.

My prayer is that the best in me honors the best in you. That I can have God-eyes to see you the way you are.  The way you are meant to be loved.

May it be so. Namaste.

 

Today is National Best Friend Day: How to Make a BFF

Today, June 8, is National Best Friend Day. The easy thing to do would be to write a posting on the glories and joys of a BFF.  But, I figure most of us have a sense of how good it feels when we have that best friend... the bigger trick is how to get it if we don't currently have it.

I Want a Best Friend, a BFF

When most of us start craving more friendship-- it's usually for that idealistic friendship. We want the women who see us, know us and love us.  We want that relationship that is comfortable, known, and easy.

Unfortunately, we can't just go out and find that BFF because she doesn't exist. At least not yet. A best friend has to be developed, not discovered. Meaningful friendships simply don't exist before we put in the time to create them.

This one little misguided expectation is what seems to throw off the best of us.

When members in the GirlFriendCircles.com community get frustrated, it is typically around the gap in expectations between what we want and what we find.  Meaning, we want deep friendships that are comfortable and require little energy, but what we find are strangers that require us getting to know each other. And so we are tempted to give up.  We sigh in defeat that we aren't meeting our best friends.

How to Make a Best Friend

Best friends are made up of two non-negotiable ingredients, I think.

Undoubtedly, there are a thousand definitions/preferences/nuances... such as if you think your BFF needs to be just like you, have a certain temperament, share specific interests, live in a defined proximity, or have proven herself to you by any number of tests. All things that can increase chemistry and connectedness, for sure!

But for every rule, there is evidence of the opposite being true, too.  Indeed, when most of us start a friendship we, not surprisingly, want that person to be at our same life stage and be as similar to us as possible.  And yet, as BFF's survive history and time together, it's amazing how different our paths can become, proving that friendship isn't dependent on that which we thought brought us together.  Which then makes BFF's this elusive creature where we're never quite sure what fosters the relationships we most crave. So we walk away from many amazing women because we're not sure how to get from meeting people to making friends, from here-to-there. If it wasn't instant, we doubt the potential.

The Frientimacy Triangle

So, today, on National BFF Day I wanted to blog for a moment on what I call the Frientimacy Triangle. I've modified it from various marriage workshops to be used for friendship purposes.

Shastas Frientimacy Triangle

In a nutshell, we all start at the base of the triangle with every person we meet.  And if a healthy committed relationship is what we desire, then we must move up the triangle by both increasing commitment and intimacy at the same rate. An increase on one side of the triangle begs to be matched by the other side.

As our platonic intimacy (defined, in part, by our ability to be vulnerable, and our giving/receiving of affection) grows, so should our commitment to that person.  And vice versa, as our commitment (defined, in part, by our level of engagement and willingness to protect the relationship) grows, so should our intimacy. Should we accelerate one too fast our triangle becomes lopsided and falls, not reaching the pinnacle.

A BFF then, should be a person we feel committed to and honest with. Which theoretically could take months and years.  For none of us should be walking around committing ourselves to strangers, no matter how charming, fun and engaging they are.  No matter if we perceive them to be our twin.

Commitment has to be raised inch-by-inch up the triangle. The highest level of commitment I can make to someone is "I will stay in touch with you and be a close friend no matter what." And I don't make that lightly.  For I know that as life changes-- divorces, moves, babies, our kids fighting, retirement-- that many of my friendships lower on the triangle won't make the transition.  That doesn't make them less important or devalue what they offer for the time we share.  But it's not realistic that I will stay in touch with every person I meet and like.  It's a commitment that is grown.   Commitment is earned, as is the trust that will invite us to be vulnerable.

So neither should we walk around vomiting our emotional stories on new friends. Many women make the mistake of thinking that just because they share something deep and raw that these two people should now feel super close.  Unfortunately, if the commitment is not yet there, the relationship can actually feel quite awkward and shaky, holding too much emotion, too early.                      

(Note: Here's an old blog I wrote on Frientimacy-- highlighting how important commitment is when you increase the vulnerability.)

Celebrating Your BFF Day

So I'm all for gushing over our BFF's.  And if you have one-- by all means call her today and tell her how much you adore her.  It's a good call to receive!

But should you not have one, or want to foster more than one (or the all too common: "have-one-that-I-never-really-talk-to-so-therefore-actually-wonder-if-we-are-in-fact-BFF's"), then I want to encourage you this National BFF Day to give the gift to yourself of committing to the journey of building that meaningful friendship this year.

Acknowledge how much time it takes to build a healthy friendship where both sides of your triangle are growing stronger.  Simply whispering a secret doesn't do it, nor can you just meet over coffee and pinky-promise yourself into a significant friendship. But you can keep doing both of those things and, over time and continued energy, find yourself a friendship that matters.

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*** Last Invitation to this summer's 21-Day Friendship Journey starting next week.  A tele-course and daily workbook to help you strategize how to foster the relationships around you that matter most.  If you're craving more meaningful friendships-- this curriculum won't disappoint! Join us with discount blog to save $10.

Is He Really a Friend? I'm Doubtful.

I admit I'm a bit more obsessed with the word friend than the average person.  I seem to see and hear it everywhere.  The same way  you begin to notice everyone else has your car once you buy it, how many pregnant women there are when you find out your pregnant, etc.  My antennae is attuned.  Reading through my Oprah magazine the other night... I seemed to circle the word on every page from some health study, research update, celebrity interview or feature story.  I'm probably the only one who does such a thing. I own the fact that I'm a wee-bit more sensitive to its usage. So while I am rarely shocked at my aptitude to hear that word more frequently than others, even I was surprised when I heard it on a serious political Sunday morning news program last weekend.

The Limitations of the Word Friend in World Politics

Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration) at the end of an interview with Fareed Zakaria, (host of CNN's GPS Sunday morning news show) used the ubiquitous word, friend, in what I'd call an inappropriate place.

Fareed, at the end of the interview asked Rice to respond to the repeated criticisms pointed at her by her former cabinet member, Don Rumsfeld, Bush's Secretary of Defense.

Condeleezza Rice on Fareed

Fareed: "Rumsfeld says you were, to put it bluntly, a bad national security adviser.. that produced a lot of the dysfunction... putting the blame squarely on you."

Rice: "Don is a friend and will always be a friend.  But he's a grumpy guy, he really is, and simply doesn't know what he's talking about."

Ummm... er...  Friend?  Really?  Someone who a) isn't close enough to you to know what he's talking about, b) criticizes you publicly in his book and interviews, c) implies in not-so-subtle terms that you're incompetent or unqualified, d) throws you under the bus in front of one of the least popular presidents and all the issues surrounding him, and e) as if that's not enough, he's what you'd call a big grump... this is your friend, the one who will "always" be your friend?

The Limitations of the Word Friend in our English Language

For all the women who go through my 21-Day Friendship Journey, the one thing they thank me for, more than anything else, is helping break down the definition of friendship and clearly seeing the different types of friends that we all need.  I've found that we frequently make the mistake of defining the word too narrowly: feeling like everyone has to be a BFF or nothing. That couldn't be further from the truth.

But even I must say that I have no category for the friendship that Rice is describing.  The Rumsfeld-Rice friendship, to me, is simply not friendship. But it does reveal that we lack enough words that carry the nuances we're trying to describe.

I think that what she was trying to say is that this was someone she knows well, in that they do have a rare bond due to some commonalities and shared experiences.  And certainly there is some platonic intimacy there-- where they know a lot of private things about each other.

But does going through a common experience in a bonding way make someone a friend? It can, yes. But it doesn't automatically mean that anyone you're close to is a friend.

I don't care how close you have felt to someone, or how bonding the experience was that you went through-- friendship is not defined by the external circumstances that pushed you together, as much as it is by how you responded to each other in those moments.

If someone proves over-and-over to not have your back, to not want your success, to point fingers, and to be a bear to be around-- this is not a mutual, healthy and positive relationship.  Therefore, it is not a friendship.

The problem is... I don't know what it is.  Do you?  What word could she have used instead?

  • Colleague is too flat, missing the intensity.
  • Enemy is too strong, communicating some hate or fear that may not be there.
  • Acquaintance or Contact doesn't speak to the intimacy or bond.

What other words do we have?  What words are outside the word friend and yet still communicate the shared relationship? Do we need to make one up?  Any ideas?

I'm not going to get over-anal on policing the use of the word friend. I'm okay over-using it to describe all kinds of relationships, but can't we semi-protect it to at least be limited to people who attempt friendliness?

Okay, off my soapbox.  :)

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Side-notes:

  1. If interested in the next cycle of the 21 Days of Friendship process, use the code Blog to save $10.
  2. I only blog here about once a week, but you can sign up separately to receive notifications of when I post a new article on Huffington Post like my most recent "To the Lonely Married Women."