Our Mistakes

Help! I Have Too Many Friends

Dear Shasta, I'm completely overwhelmed when I look at my schedule. Most of my scheduled events, in and of themselves, aren't things I would typically dread: coffee with a possible client, a call with someone who wants some advice, dinner with some friends from my husbands work, a lunch with a friend who's in town, dinner with my brother, date night, a quick happy hour with some girls I work with, weekly Sunday call with my parents, meeting a good friend for a walk; but collectively it is TOO much!

Honestly, after working with people all day, trying to stay in intermittent touch with my family members, scheduling the people in my inbox who "want to connect," and keeping up with all the networking... I don't even have the energy or time to call the people I actually want to feel the closest to.

How do I shorten the list? How do I say no?

--Sincerely,

Too Many Friends

Dearest Too Many Friends,

Let's start with the reminder that "people we're friendly with" and "people we've developed friendships with" are two different categories of people. This might actually be a case not necessarily of too many friends, but perhaps of too much socializing?

In fact, you even said it: the biggest problem is that you don't have the time for your close friends.

We have to figure out a way to say no even to people we care about, like, and consider to be friends, in some way or another, so that we have the energy to say yes to the relationships that we know sustain us,

So here's what I think we need to do:

  1. List the relationships you want to prioritize. Who are the friends you want to talk to often so that you really feel supported and not just scheduled with intermittent "catch-ups." Who are the relationships (including kids, spouses, parents, siblings) that are important to you to stay in touch with?
  2. Group them together by ideal consistency. In other words, who are the names on the list that you want to connect with daily? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Keep in mind that the more consistent we are, the more "intimate" those relationships will feel as those are the people who will really know what's going on in your life.
  3. Schedule them in first. If you can find the consistent blocks of time--driving home from work, happy hour after work, lunch-- to give those people, do it! Or at least block that time off with "Call one of my closest friends."
  4. Then comes the really tricky part: figuring out what relationships/types of relationships you have time or energy to add in.  For me, I have a second list of friends who I love and want to stay in touch with but with whom I haven't developed the intimacy/consistency that I have with my first list. I also want to leave a few slots a month for networking contacts, and a few slots for doing favors for others (i.e. a phone call for a friend of a friend).  What other groups/types of relationships do you need to pay attention to? I think for us to actually look at our calendar/life and see how limited those spots are can help us be more strategic with who we give them to and how frequently we give someone one of those slots.  The truth of the matter is that whether we end up feeling like we have 1 extra slot a day to give, or only one each week: we need to know it and offer it strategically and thoughtfully.
  5. Think through your strategy for how to decide with whom you give your extra space/time. If you don't decide then it will end up being the squeaky wheel (i.e. whoever asks the most or will be the most upset if you say no) or simply first-come, first-served. Which puts other people in charge of our schedule instead of us.  Some possible questions could be: Does this person interest me? Am I clear what the objective is of why we're getting together? Do I think I can be helpful to them? Do I think they can be helpful to me? Can this be scheduled with ease (i.e. without me having to travel far?) Is this the best way to connect with this person (or can I meet them at some event I need to go? Or can it be an email instead of a get-together?)

And then comes the hard part of learning to kindly say no to everyone else.  Which we simply have to do. (Here's a blog post I wrote last year about How to Say 'Not Interested' Nicely)

Our time is finite with only so many slots and its our job to make sure that the relationships that matter most to us are the ones with whom we are making time.

The most important other piece I can say is a reminder that you can't use whether it feels "good" to determine whether or not to be honest with them.  For most of us, saying no to someone, or disappointing them, won't feel good. But neither will it feel good to be overwhelmed, exhausted, or unavailable for the people who fill us up the most!

I am the master, not the victim, of my schedule, my calendar, and my life. Shasta Nelson

This is maturity at it's best: women learning that they aren't victims of their calendar, but are in fact, in charge of them.  So we if we don't like how it looks then we have the power to do life differently.  But the calendar won't look any different until our behaviors reflect what we say matters most.

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In Sickness and Health, Part 2: Friendship When We're Hurting

While this blog post is the second in a series devoted to friendship with those who live with chronic pain and illness (nearly 1 in every 2 of us!), the principles are such that we'd all be wise to keep them in mind for when any of us are facing pain, loss, or suffering, in any form (all of us, at different times!). We all have to keep practicing friendship even in the midst of our imperfect conditions. Lucy Smith, who has been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition, reached out to me several months ago asking for my friend-making advice for those, like her, who live with pain and illness. Because I don't know what it's like to live with chronic pain, suffer from depression, or feel that my body or health places limitations on me, I asked her if she'd be willing to weigh in, too.  She wrote the first post in this series about what she wishes her friends understood about how that pain impacts their friendshipship, and I'll give her the last word in an upcoming post where she offers up friend-making tips to those who suffer from chronic conditions.  But I also wanted to honor her original request and weigh in with what I know about making friends when we're in pain.

May these tips be received in the spirit they are given: with hope for what we can develop and practice, and a gentleness for what's beyond our control.

hurting friend

4 Tips to Creating Healthy Relationship Even In Pain

  1. Give the Signal for How Much You Want to Talk About Your Condition/Circumstances:  Make it as easy on your friends as possible by either stating your comfort level with talking about your health ("By the way, I'm an open book on this subject-- you always have my permission to ask any question you want that might help you better understand my condition.") or by affirming the behaviors you appreciate ("Thank you for always asking me how I'm feeling-- it means a lot."). Or if you feel like your whole life is your health and that when you go out with friends you want an occasional break from it, then say that, too!  ("It's very thoughtful of you to ask, but I'm honestly just tired of talking about that and would love a night off from it.  Is that okay with you?") Assume that you are way more comfortable talking about these things than your friends are and they're probably worried about asking a dumb question, hurting your feelings, giving advice where it's not wanted, or bringing it up too much or not enough. Your ability to give us permission and make it a safe subject (as opposed to everyone feeling like there's an elephant in the room) will help create a safer relationship. In short: teach and guide us how to best interact with you on this subject, we will fail repeatedly if left to our own best guesses.
  2. Remember the Positivity Ratio:  Research is showing us that our relationships have to maintain a ratio of positivity and negativity that stays above 5:1 in order to stay healthy.  Period. This isn't negotiable for a friendship. No matter how much our lives hurt, we have to figure out how to keep our friendships titled toward joy. In other words, for every withdrawal we make on a friendship, we have to make 5 deposits to not go in the red. Positivity can include such things as saying thank you, affirming who they are, cheering for their successes, smiling, laughing, doing something for them, letting them know we are thinking of them, or giving a small gift. When our lives are full of pain (of any kind), it is perhaps even more important that we stay mindful that our friends still need to leave our presence feeling better about themselves and their lives for having been with us if we want the friendship to stay healthy. We're allowed to complain and express hurt, but it's our job to also bulk up our time together with gratitude and love. This is a tall ask, but to ignore it will kill a friendship with even the best of friends.
  3. Practice the Verb Most Challenging to You: Give, Take, or Receive.  Both giving and receiving are crucial to the health of every relationship, but I've also recently learned about how crucial it is that we also learn to take what we need, which is different from receiving that which is offered, right? All three are important for each of us to practice. My guess is that it would be easy to either be so very aware of your needs that you feel as though you're insatiable and need more than most people can give, or that you so badly don't want to be a "burden" or inconvenience on anyone that you might be at risk of turning down acts of love when you need it.
    • If you're saying no to help because you're embarrassed or scared-- practice saying yes, reminding yourself that your friends will feel more bonded to you and your journey if they can be involved.
    • But if you find yourself asking, demanding, or begging for more-- instead practice figuring out how you can give to your friends, making sure the relationships don't center around your needs. I heard someone say the other night, "When we can say 'I don't need you,' others trust us more when we then say 'I want you.'" Your friends don't want to be "needed" as much as they want to be "wanted."
    • Or if you find yourself resentful or hurt that your friends aren't stepping up, inviting you to things that they "should" know you can't do, or exhausting you with their expectations-- sometimes we need to learn to "take" what we need.  Take the time to stand up to stretch when needed, to go rest when you feel the headache coming on, to ask for what you need. Taking is a skill that can be the most loving verb for your own health and for the health of your friendships.
  4. Prove Repeatedly that Their Pains/Joys Still Matter: When I went through a devastating divorce years ago, multiple friends stopped sharing their lives with me, brushing it off with statements like "Nothing compares to what you're going through." They worried that everything sounded like complaining over nothing or bragging about what I didn't have, whether they wanted to complain about their spouses or be excited about their upcoming wedding plans or family vacations. When we're in pain--any kind-- we have to be the ones who keep giving permission to others to have their lives still matter. We have to stop talking and say, "now tell me all about you" and assure them that they still have the right to be happy and to complain. If they don't feel like they can complain about gaining ten pounds or having a headache-- just because we have it worse-- then we can't be a safe place for them in the long-term.  We have to cheer for them, waving off any of their guilt or concern for our feelings, and mourn with them, even when it seems to pale in comparison. Just because we lost a big part of our lives doesn't mean they should too. We will tap into the feeling they are expressing, instead of judging the circumstances.

Blessings on all of us as we continue to develop healthy relationships even in the midst of unhealthy bodies or circumstances....

 

Do You Talk Too Much?

My favorite part of all my events is when it’s time for live Q&A. (There’s still time to come meet me on my book tour if you live in NYC, Denver, LA, Riverside CA, or the San Francisco Bay Area!) And as we’ve been talking more about the importance of vulnerability in our relationships (one of the 3 non-negotiables I discuss in Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness) it seems a question I’ve been getting a bit more lately has to do with our friends who are “the talkers.” If You're NOT the Over-Talker:

Their long-winded stories and external processing may have been survivable when we thought we were being a good friend by letting her go on-and-on, but as we realize that we’ll never develop frientimacy with someone unless there is mutual vulnerability--with both of us sharing deeply and feeling seen by the other—the realization that this imbalance must change is sinking in. We won’t ever feel close and supported by her if there isn’t the space in our relationship for us to confide and reveal.

If we’re not the one who is over-talking, we still have to practice figuring out ways to share. It’s not necessarily their fault that we’re not jumping in and sharing and talking—chances are they aren’t waiting for us to ask them questions, they are simply sharing whatever comes to mind and probably assuming we will, too. The invitation is ours to recognize that a friendship needs us to share if we’re going to feel closer to each other. So I do so hope you’ll try to interject your presence whether it’s by saying, “Hey before we finish our meal, I wanted to make sure I told you about x,” or by initiating a phone call with her and shaping expectations by saying, “I wanted to call you to see if you had time to listen and support me through something that’s going on at work?”  Being asked isn't necessary.

But while it’s not necessarily their fault that we’re not taking up our space, this post is directed at the over-talkers as it most certainly is their opportunity to make sure they are doing whatever they can to make their friendship a safe place for you to share.

Are You The Over-Talker?

How do you know if you are an over-talker? Well an easy, though imperfect, rule of thumb is to assess each phone call or get-together with the question: “What percentage of the

We love our friends who talk freely but we may need a few conversation pauses to help ensure we both leave feeling heard and seen.

time was I talking?” and if it’s frequently over 50% then it’s time to open up more space for your friends. Because while you may feel close to her, if she’s not sharing herself then chances are high that she won’t be feeling as close to you.

  • It doesn’t matter if you have more going on in your life—her life still is valuable and matters just as much.
  • It doesn’t matter that you’re witty and entertaining and she seems to like your stories—friendship isn’t about performing but about you both feeling seen and heard.
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert and she’s an introvert—her feelings and stories still need to be validated and witnessed.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can pat yourself on the back for asking her a question or two, if you’re then interrupting her or using her sharing to remind you of another story to tell.

Five Practices For Over-Talkers

Perhaps you've resigned yourself to “that’s just who I am” or maybe you beat yourself up regularly for not being able to stop talking, either way I’d like to share a few ideas. This is important to keep practicing. Your friendships are at risk of not reaching "frientimacy" when your friends aren't practicing speaking up or when you're not listening as much as you're sharing.

  1. Choose reminders that will help trigger you to stop talking and listen.  Most women who over-talk simply do it because they’re used to doing it. They don’t even realize they’re doing it. How can you increase your awareness? Maybe wear a ring or bracelet that you associate with “Ask questions” so every time you see it—you pass the conversation off. Or devote a month to listening so you have reminders on your morning mirror every day.  Or set an alarm on your phone for half way through the night that reminds you to assess how much you're listening.
  2. Invite your close friends to support your intention. Tell your friend, “I am sorry I over-talk sometimes because then I miss out on so much of your life. Let’s get in the habit of starting with your life before I start sharing mine. Are you willing to share with me some of the important things in your life right now?”
  3. Always ask at least 3 questions on the same subject before you give yourself permission to share what’s going through your head. After asking, “How’s work?” follow up with two more questions related to what she shares. Go deeper. Show your interest. Many of us will only give the polite short answer until we’re convinced you really care.
  4. Validate what they share before rifting on what they shared. Women often share their “similar” stories in order to bond with each other but it can feel like one-upping or taking back the conversation. It’s okay to go back-and-forth, but make sure you communicate you heard their feelings first. Instead of “That reminds me of…” start with something that has the word ‘you’ in it such as “Wow you handled that so well, which can’t be said about a time when I was in that situation…”
  5. Affirm, affirm, affirm. If you know you tend toward over-talking, then also be known for being someone who over-loves. We can all put up with talker when we have no doubt that they have our back, love us, adore us, and believe in us. Make sure we leave your presence feeling good about who we are and we’ll be more likely to look forward to hanging out with you again!

We so love you our dear talkers.  You bring us joy, laughter, and we learn so much from you.  Thank you for sharing your heart with us so freely and for modeling how we can trust each other with our lives. You inspire us, you pull us in, and you make time together stimulating with so many ideas and stories.  We do so love you.

May we all feel seen in our friendships, whether we're the talkers or the ones who need to talk up more!

xoxo

Shasta

p.s.  What other tips do you have?  Non-talkers-- what would mean the most to you?  Talkers-- what works for you?

How I Can Be a Better Friend: Follow-Through

In the spirit of learning from our mistakes, two popular posts over the years have been when I admitted to my four personal biggest friendship failures and when I shared the five biggest mistakes I see other women make with their friendships. Today I add another of mine to the list. I Am Far From the 'Perfect Friend'

It started when one of my girlfriends was sharing with me her deep hurt at how a friend had disappointed her; she wondered aloud if it were a friendship worth saving.

The disappointment was so small thing: My friend had been in the middle of a big personal crisis, had reached out via text to a friend of hers with whom they have a several year history of talking about deep things even if they don't talk that regularly. Her friend immediately offered to call her that evening but later needed to reschedule, and then had never gotten back to her.  A month had gone by and my friend still hadn't heard from her.  "The last she knew, I was in crisis... but she hasn't checked back in," the pain was palatable.

Not a one of us would say that went down the way we'd want a friend to act if it were us in crisis. That hardly looks like "being there" for a friend.

And yet, I found myself sympathetic to this friend. We have all gotten swept up in our own lives and in the relationships and needs that are right in front of our faces. I felt convicted.

As she was telling me this story... I started thinking of far-flung friends that I haven't checked in on in a while.  I realized I hadn't remembered to send a note to a friend on the anniversary of a death that I knew was hard, I hadn't texted my friend who had applied for a big job to see how the interview went, and I hadn't yet reached out to one of my girlfriends who I saw on Facebook had to take her little girl to the emergency room last week. Granted, if any of them had written me I would so be there for them, but.... I wasn't initiating.

I first felt guilt. Then overwhelm. Then some defensiveness.  Then some regret. Then some sadness. And then I felt panic: What if any of them felt neglected the way my friend is feeling about her friend?  What if one of my friends took my lack of follow-through personally?  Or needed me to reach out and I hadn't? Do any of them feel less loved by me? *gulp*

How I will Practice Follow-Through

I've never had any fantasy that I am the perfect friend--and seeing how I can be so present and available to you when you're in front of me, but then not show my love by following up with you--confirmed that I have a lot of room for growth.

Here are the two commitments I have as I embark on focusing more on becoming a friend who follow-throughs when I know big things are happening in the lives of my friends.

  1. Put it in my Calendar or smartphone Reminders. She's

    I'm going to try to show my love more tangibly by putting reminders in my phone!

    scheduled to have a hysterectomy next month? Set a reminder a week before and a week after to check in with how she's feeling.  She called me and confided in a fight she's having with her husband? Set a reminder next week to check in with her.  She mentions how much she hopes she'll get a raise next month? You know the drill. It's no less sincere; in fact I'd argue it shows just how much I care. I will calendar in what matters. We don't feel less thought of when someone has our birthday in the calendar, why would we if they decided we were important enough to remember?

  2. Be as gentle with myself and others as I can be.  Guilt, defensiveness, and remorse don't foster healthy friendships.  I will do what I can, when I can, but it's also not my entire responsibility to initiate; it's also theirs for reaching out and keeping me updated, asking for what they need. I will remind myself to be no more hurt by their silence in the gaps than I would want them to feel by mine. Therefore, I will take every opportunity to tell them I love them and apologize when necessary to ensure that while we may be disappointed by each other occasionally, we hopefully never question whether the other person loves us.

It's that last one that guided me to say to my friend who was struggling with her friend, "Do you believe it was malicious? Was she trying to hurt you?" (A new favorite question of mine to help put into perspective the difference between someone hurting us vs. us feeling hurt by someone!) She immediately knew it wasn't.  I encouraged her to reach out; we can't end friendships every time someone isn't amazing.

They had an amazing talk.  Her friend, of course, felt awful and was so apologetic.  And they built their friendship stronger because they were both willing to show up with honesty and compassion.

I feel a little scared to put this expectation on myself (and am hoping not too many of my friends read this and get their hopes up! ha!) but I'm committed to growing and becoming a better friend when I can. Even if I have to schedule it in to practice.

Wish me luck!

Now, I wonder how my friend who recently filed for divorce is feeling... I'll go shoot her a little note! Anyone you want to reach out to?  :)

On Being Willing to Disappoint People

"I have to go into hibernation mode if I'm ever going to get this book done!" I said to my husband.  I said it with a chuckle, not yet knowing just what that meant. He looked at our calendar and quipped, "Good luck!" when he saw my schedule.

Sometimes No Is the Loving Truth

If I wanted to be in writing mode in January then I probably needed to be saying no to things back in November and December (and probably shouldn't have taken on planning two big surprises weekends to celebrate his birthday last month!) but now I am ready.  I know that to birth a manuscript by May means that I need to be churning out a chapter a week for the next couple of months.  And to churn out a chapter means I need several uninterrupted days every single week.  Every. Single. Week.

But since this is on top of an already full life of seeing friends, running a business, traveling to speak, and keeping up with things that matter to me like blogging, etc.-- something has to give.  I'm not a full-time writer who has the luxury of spending months in a cabin.

So I have to say no.  To a lot of events. To projects. To ideas. To people.

Grateful my friend, Christine Arylo, has been saying this again and again over the years!

Saying No is Frickin' Hard!

Saying "no" isn't my forte.  I'm a recovering people-pleaser. I want people to like me.  And I want to communicate that I like them!

On Tuesday, I looked through my inbox and felt my shoulders collapse a bit just looking at all the requests: one friend wants to schedule our next lunch, another wants to know if I can help promote her book, a reporter wants to interview me for a story, a project partner wants me write a guest blog, a group I'm a part of needs me to RSVP for a lunch, someone who has interviewed me in her community wonders if I can return the favor, another asking me if I'm attending a specific conference, a close friend needs some advice and hopes I can call tonight, a friend of a friend wonders if I have 5 minutes to help mentor her through book publishing, and someone I met a few weeks ago read in my book that we should always set a date instead of putting it off so she wants to know when we can get together next. *sigh*

For almost every single one of them I can tell you why I should say yes: well this one helped me with my book launch so it's only fair I return the love, this one's a really good friend, this one would only take me fifteen minutes, this one is from someone who never asks me for anything so I want to come through so she gets more comfortable asking for help, this one would be fun to do, this one would help promote my business, and this one is a cause I really want to support.  Almost all of them from women I love, or at least know and admire.

I don't want to miss out on anything fun. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  I want to love my friends lavishly. I want to support my network and make time to be a giver.

But I know deep down that I can't birth this book and keep up my own life and do all these things. Even for people I love. Even for relationships that are important to me.

My friend Christine Arylo, the Queen of Self-Love, is like a little voice in my head:

"Stay true to yourself, even if it means disappointing another."

If that's true, then this week I feel like I'm in a graduate course for self-love.  And while love is in the word-- I assure you that when doing it, it doesn't feel like hearts and rainbows; it feels like fear and panic.

How Not to Say No

With the first few emails I found myself sort of saying no, but not really.

I kept falling into the temptation to assuage my guilt:

  • Barter: "No, I can't do that, but I can do this instead." --Which then left me still obligated, even if in a smaller way, but my head space was still committed to that project or person in some way.
  • Justify:  "I'm so sorry <insert long explanation here> but I so support you <insert long gush here>"-- Which then made me realize that in the 15 minutes it took me to say no, slightly defeating the purpose of trying to clear up my days.
  • Delay: "I can't do lunch right now as I'm writing, but let's get something on the calendar for end of May!" which felt like a put-off, required 2-3 more emails to get it scheduled, and then I started dreading the end of May for when I'd be over-committed to all these things when what I'd probably need is a get-away!

I was trying to find a way to say yes while saying no, but I found that I felt just as bad, it wasn't freeing up head space, and it felt like I was still committed to things that didn't reflect the season of my life. Saying one thing and meaning another is not the path to integrity.

How to Say No

The gift of having to say no to many people all in the same time frame is that as I practiced, I got better:

"Dear amazing friend <insert name>-- You are important to me and this ________ <insert project, event, interview, request> is undoubtedly something I would love to do or be at; unfortunately I'm in a season of life where I have to say no to a lot of awesome things in order to do what I've already committed to do.  I'm a fan of anyone who asks for what they want so I'm glad you asked and hope you feel comfortable reaching out again in a few months. With love, Shasta"

What I learned:

  • Keep it short and simple.  A no is a no, they don't need my sob story.  The temptation to drag on is my own issue.
  • Avoid promises. In some cases, the "no I can't do that, but I can do this" is the best approach.  In committed relationships, that is what I'll be doing as needed. But in the vast amount of the requests, my gut knew that I just needed to say a firm and clear no, without getting hopes up or dragging out the process.
  • Affirm them and their request. That's important to me to communicate my respect.  It's possible they'll still get hurt feelings or be disappointed, but I know I spoke kindly.
  • Invite them to ask again, later.  I struggled with adding this one... but finally decided, in my case, that it felt good.  One of the causes I champion is helping women to learn to ask for what they need... so even if I can't always say yes, I'm proud of them for asking.  And I hope it causes them to feel safer asking things of me, as they can trust me to say yes or no, as needed.

Many people fall for the belief that we have to say yes to people we love.  I disagree.  In fact, I believe it's the people we love that can be our safest places to practice.  We know they love us, we don't have to dance and sing to entertain them.  We can practice listening to our intuition and acting on it.

My mantra this week:

"Stay true to yourself, even if it means disappointing another."

And I hope my friends believe that, too, even if it means saying no to me at some point.

------------

p.s. And this doesn't mean I am ignoring all my friends-- that's never okay. I will continue to make time for my closest friends, partly for the sake of the friendship, and partly out of self-care to me.

p.s.s  Next Friday, February 13, is Self-Love Day.  If you live in LA then you can join Christine Arylo live to "take a bold stand to end your negative self talk" or watch from your computer via Livestream!

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make In Their Friendships

We all want those really easy, meaningful, comfortable, and deep friendships with no drama, right?  And while that sounds fabulous, the truth is that most of us are silently suffering from some form of loneliness as we just keep waiting for those relationships to fall in our laps, the way little girls look for little fairies hovering over flowers. I want meaningful friendships for you.  So very much, I do!  But we have to come to the table with healthy expectations and thoughtful beliefs, rather than with hopes, myths, and limiting beliefs that sabotage us from creating substantial relationships.

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make In Their Friendships

1.  You Hope That Good Friendships Will Be Discovered.  This is still numero uno on the mistake list.  In fact I titled my book Friendships Don't Just Happen to help speak to this very damaging belief in our lives.

But we all have examples of meeting an amazing woman that we connected with, loved, 180279_10151573165137435_1652204527_nand experienced great chemistry with... only to never really see much, or ever again. Simply meeting each other and liking each other doesn't make for a friendship.

And on the flip side, we all have an example of a friend (often someone we worked with or continued to see in some setting) that we grew to love that we didn't necessarily have fireworks with when we first met them.

Friendship isn't finding someone; friendship is developing consistent positive behaviors over time with someone.  And that doesn't just happen.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

2.  You Stop Developing New Friends. You hear me say this repeatedly, but it bears the repetition: We are losing half our close friends every 7 years.

That means that life changes such as moves, career transitions, relationship changes, and different life stages each bring a shift in our friendships that frequently leave us drifting apart from some friends.

Realizing that friendship development from stranger to close friend can sometimes take a year or two, we don't want to wait until we need close friends before we start them.  We never want to stop paying attention to progressing other relationships from our Left-Side to our Right-Side of the Circles.

Just for an example, let's pretend that our Committed Friends are at 100% with us-- as vulnerable, as close, and as involved as we want.  While we may not need to foster any other friendships to that same place right now, we certainly don't want to leave them all at 10%, 20%, or even 40%.

Because the truth is that life happens and there are events that will leave those 100% friends less available (i.e. friend moves away, starts traveling a lot for work, has a baby/gets married and gets caught up in her life).  They might go back to 20% or 40%, and the question that begs to be asked, then, is whether you have other friends at 50% or 60% that, with more time and connection, could develop into more meaningful friendships.

We want to make sure we're always welcoming new people into our Circles and fostering some of them into deeper Circles so that we have meaningful friendships at all levels, at any given time.

We need to see friend-making as an ongoing way of life, rather than as something we do once and then forget about.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

3.  You Think Mutuality Means Equal Initiation.  Oh so many friendships never get off the ground due to the fear in us that whispers, "I invited her last time, the ball is in her court now." So not true.

We all have strengths to give to our friendships; and initiation and planning are just that-- a strength that we all have in varying degrees.

I'm good at thinking up things to do and reaching out when I have the extra time and head space.  I never think, "Oh I had them over last time... it's their turn."  I think, "Oh I want to see them again, let me email them to see if they can come over!"

And they reciprocate in the friendships in plenty of other ways.  They thank me for inviting them over, they helped make a night of meaningful conversation and memories, they asked about my life, they showed interest, they shared their stories with me.  I got what I needed: time with friends.

Mutuality is important.  But mutuality is not 50/50 in each task, but it's whether we both are contributing to the friendship, overall.

If you're the one who wants it, then make the ask.  Don't let your fear of rejection stop you from initiating what you desire.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

4. You Compare New Friends With Close Friends.  I used to do this all the time!  I'd go out with someone new and conclude that the time with them just wasn't what I was looking for.  What I wanted was meaningful conversation, easy time together, lots of validation and affirmation, and just a whole bunch of obvious commonalities.  What I often got was two people trying to get to know each other, both showing up with their own insecurities (expressed often by one talking too much or both being very polite and image conscious), both wishing it felt more deep and less awkward.

What I'd conveniently forget is that all those things I wanted come with time together with someone.  My closest friends have gone through serious life with me and we've had so much vulnerability, history, and time together that it always feels super meaningful.

The awkwardness, or lack of intimacy, isn't a reflection on that person, but rather on that relationship.  In other words, time spent with someone doesn't show what they can become, only what it is now.  And right now it's two people meeting each other so it's actually quite appropriate and normal to not feel like best friends yet.

More blogs related to this: here and here.

5.  You Create a Story About Your Friends Actions.  And this is the most common mistake that happens when we start feeling sour about a friendship-- we assign meaning to their behaviors that usually either devalues our friend (i.e. "she shouldn't make that choice or have that priority") or devalues our friendship (i.e. "she must not care about me or prioritize our friendship") when usually neither of those are the intended message.

When we are feeling the love toward someone, we are generous with them, often assuming the best about them and their actions (i.e. she must be busy!).  When we're feeling like we have unmet needs that they aren't tending to, often we jump to conclusions that end up putting a wedge between us and them (i.e. she doesn't value me!").

Those stories are damaging.  They cover up the fact that there is probably a need there that needs articulating and expressing; and instead comes out in the form of judgment which never helps pull people together.

When we feel ourselves start to devalue people we love, we need to see that as an invitation to step back and own everything we can about what's going on.  Good questions: Am I mad at her because I might be jealous?  Am I judgmental because I'm insecure about my own life so somehow attacking her choices makes me feel better about mine?  Am I feeling neglected because I need more support in my life and I'm erroneously thinking it needs to come from her (remember it's our responsibility to make sure we have built up a circle of support so no one person needs to be everything to us all the time!)?  Am I looking for her faults to justify pulling away for some other reason?  Am I keeping a list of wrong-doing without ever taking the time to share with her what I need?

We all too often start pushing someone away when it's actually a relationship that has a lot of our invested time and resources in it.  I want to protect my investments, not walk away from them too easily!  Far more meaningful, usually, to salvage a relationship than to start over!

More blogs related to this: here and here.

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

This week, in the midst of holiday shopping, travel plans, kids' programs, and parties I feel compelled to bring our attention to what could arguably be the most important action on your to-do list this season: forgiveness. Forgiveness.  images

Take a moment and observe your body as you say the word.  What happens?  Does something tighten? Does your breathing change? Does anything feel heavy?  Does life feel expansive and joyful when you say that word or do you feel dread and constriction?  It's definitely a loaded word for most people.

We shy away from it because we feel a little guilt about the grudges and judgment we hold.  We want to roll our eyes at people like me who are calling for us to let go of this thing that feels impossible to relinquish.  Living with the ideal in mind and choosing to stay where we are creates such an exhausting dissonance that to close the gap requires us to either forgive or decide it's not important. So if we can't picture letting go then our only other obvious choice is to convince ourselves we don't need to.

Why Forgive?

Why I'm choosing to write about this today is because I want you to make room for what 2014 can hold for you.  And it's hard to invite more love, connection, peace, creativity, intention, health, and joy into your life when judgement and anger are taking up space, consuming your energy, holding your subconscious hostage.  It's hard to sincerely say to God, or the Universe, "I want a more abundant life", when our very actions are showing that we want to sit here and hug this rock of anger a little longer.  It's hard to show up with love for the new people we meet when the story we play in our heads sings an unforgiving tune of "People disappoint me.  I should be wary.  I need more protection."

There are many motivations to forgive people, but the one I care about today, for you, is that I want you to have more amazing connection in your life in the year ahead.  I want for you more love, more laughter, more revealing, more play, more touch, more understanding, more empathy, more affirmation-- all the things that come with being truly connected to others.  I want that for you so very much.

But you can't move forward with both arms open wide for more connection if you're still looking back, trailing a bag of rocks behind you.

Who to Forgive?

  • Forgive yourself.  Forgive yourself for what you didn't do that you wish you had done; and for what you did do that you wish you hadn't done.  Forgive yourself for playing too small because you were afraid and for dreaming too big because now you're disappointed.  Forgive yourself for the actions you took that don't reflect the person you want to be.  Forgive yourself for acting out of insecurity and fear.
  • Forgive the obvious other.  This is the person(s) who we know off the top of our mind that we're mad at. We were hurt and deeply disappointed by their actions.  Just thinking about them makes us sick to our stomach.  We feel like we lost a piece of ourselves in that event.
  • Forgive the subtle other.  This one can be slightly more difficult to admit because, as I talk about at length in my book, we often feel guilty admitting we need to "forgive" the people we love because the things that cause us angst aren't "wrongs."  We might be mad at her for getting married, jealous that she gets to retire with plenty of financial security, hurt that she moved away, or frustrated because she whines about her marriage but doesn't do anything about it. But remember-- if you feel angst then forgiveness is the answer to peace.
  • Forgive life.  It sounds silly, perhaps, but we have to forgive God, too.  Again, we're not forgiving because wrong was done, we're forgiving to bring peace to us.  I've had to forgive God for letting things happen to me, for not creating a "fair" universe, and for not answering prayers.

How To Forgive

There are entire books on this process (and re-read chapter 9 in my book for more ideas and context) so far be it from me to summarize all that wisdom here, but here are three steps I go through this time of year to make sure I'm processing what is being felt and stored in my body.  By admitting all this we are only acknowledging what is already there in us, and bringing it to consciousness is the only way we can access the wisdom from those experiences and choose to eventually move away from the pain of them.

  1. Be Clear Where There is Angst.  Start with yourself.  List every area of your life where you feel any angst at all-- romance, finances, body, etc.  Now write down every thought that comes to mind when you answer the questions: What do I wish I had done differently? Why am I disappointed in myself? Where might I be blaming myself? This is an exercise of reflection so you don't need to filter yourself or talk yourself out of putting something down. To list something doesn't mean it was wrong, it just means you feel some angst and we want to listen to that.  For example, in the area of tight finances-- I might list things like "I have to forgive myself for not making more money," or for "Choosing to be self-employed." It doesn't mean I shouldn't be self-employed or that it was a mistake-- it simply means that I acknowledge my role in where I am, and that I still need to come to peace with something in that area.
  2. Glean Any Wisdom or Information that Could Be Helpful. Keeping with that example, once I see my thoughts on paper I can then ask myself-- are these things I wish I had done differently? Is there wisdom to learn here?  What information can I take with me that might help me in the future?  What could I do, if anything, to feel more peace in this area?  Is there an action I want to take right now? Is this a circumstance that needs to be/can be changed or is it more important that I change how I look at it?
  3. Lean Into Willingness.  Sometimes in journaling, I'll sit with the pain and it's just as clear as day that I am ready to let this go and feel peace.  It can be that quick.  It can be this ah-ha that has been waiting to happen and my body just knows that I have now harvested the best from that situation and that there is no more value in bringing it with me.  But sometimes I am so not there. The very idea of letting it go scares me and feels way too big.  Sometimes I feel like I'm letting myself or someone else off the hook and that something in me will die or be lost if I do it. In those moments, I lean into that very still and small voice that knows that forgiveness will ultimately bring me peace and all I ask myself to do is say "I am willing to come to forgiveness."  It may not be today.  But I'm willing.  I'm willing to get there.  And that's enough for now.

After you process your own angst... continue your list by doing the same steps for the others in your life that you feel some angst with.

Maybe schedule an evening or a weekend early-morning to just sit, sip a favorite drink, and journal.

The goal is to get to a place where we continue to whisper to life "We are willing to let this go so that something more abundant can enter my life."  For that is so very much what I want for you as you go into this new year of your life.

And it truly is the biggest contribution you can make to your life and to others this Christmas season.  Be the gift of one more person showing up with love.

 

What Are Your Unmet Needs?

If I've observed a common thread to many relationship endings it would be women not asking for what they need from their friends. Why We Go Through Life with Unmet Needs

Sometimes we don't ask because we think it will be less genuine when they actually give it to us, as though their sincerity is linked to their thinking it up on their own.  Sometimes we don't ask because we think it's rude or intrusive or needy, as though we're ignoring the fact that relationships ought to be mutually beneficial.  Sometimes we don't ask because we don't like to think of ourselves as ever needing anything, as though we drank our own kool-aid in our attempts to convince everyone that we're amazing and never have any needs.  Sometimes we don't ask because we fear rejection or don't want to risk the other saying no, as though there would be no choice in that scenario except to take it personally.  Sometimes we don't ask because we simply don't feel worth it, as though we're not good enough or significant enough to think we deserve to have our needs met.  All of these stories have been modeled to us in different ways and we certainly each develop a lens that we then use to validate our reason repetitively.

But in addition to all these more deep-rooted belief systems we've made up in our heads, I'm finding that one of the biggest obstacles to us asking for what we need is that we often don't even know what we need.

Figuring Out What We Need

I mean, we know when we start feeling resentful or frustrated, but we aren't very practiced at pausing and saying, "What is it I need right now?"

And the answer usually isn't what we think we're mad at.  We think we're mad at the kids for not picking up their shoes, but really it's because when they do that we feel something, a meaning that we have attached to that action.  So it may be that we need some cooperation so that we feel more connected to the kids, like we're all working together; or it may be that for our sanity we actually need more order in our lives to contribute to our sense of peace. Two different needs.  Stopping to not just be mad at some action, but realizing what need isn't being met helps us better communicate and problem-solve.  Is it really a peaceful space I need which I could get by making one room off-limits to the junk of others or by hiring housekeeping help?  Or is it feeling like my family is all in it together which can be solved by articulating that need and having the family brainstorm ways that we can each contribute more? What is my need?

I didn't think the movie "How Do You Know" with Reese Witherspoon was that great, but this one scene where the psychiatrist sums up his best therapeutic advice was as good as it gets!

In my book, Friendships Don't Just Happen! I share the scene from the movie How Do You Know where Reese Witherspoon plays a character whose entire life is turned upside down when she is cut from the professional softball team that has been her entire career.  She obligingly goes to see a therapist but before the session starts she talks herself out of it, willing herself to believe she doesn't need it.  The psychiatrist, who knows nothing about the situation that his new client is struggling with, watches her walk out the door before any conversation occurs.And in what I think is the best scene in the movie, Reese sticks her head back in the doorway and basically challenges him to sum up his best therapeutic advice for life before she leaves.  Without batting an eye he responds: "Figure out what you want and learn to ask for it."

I think about that a lot.  When I get upset at someone, I try to stop and think, "What is it I really need?  Not just what action do I wish they did right now.  But what does that action represent to me?  What is it I'm craving and longing for?"

If we would do that, we'd probably realize that half of our needs come down to wanting to feel connected to the other person.  Which could then better inform our response because I dare say most of us, when frustrated or hurt, are more likely to respond in some way that will actually leave us feeling more disconnected; in other words, less likely to actually get our needs met.

We want to feel acceptance, but instead, out of our hurt we judge the other, almost guaranteeing that we won't feel accepted.  We want to feel intimacy, but instead, out of our insecurities we start trying to impress instead of share, almost guaranteeing that we won't leave the conversation feeling deeply seen.  We want to feel harmony, but instead, out of our fear for conflict, we just ignore the problem, almost guaranteeing we won't feel a safe connection to the other because we know we didn't really deal with the issue.

I mention the Nonviolent Communication Method in my chapter on forgiveness as it's a fabulous method for helping use articulate what we need in relationships.  And here I want to actually share with you their list of needs we have, with hopes that it will help you start identifying which ones you might have right now.  When we start the work of being responsible for knowing ourselves, it's helpful to have a list that allows us to try on different words:  Is it x or x that resonates more with me?  With time, we become more familiar with the options, becoming more adept at naming what we're craving.

CONNECTION acceptance affection appreciation belonging cooperation communication closeness community companionship compassion consideration consistency empathy inclusion intimacy love mutuality nurturing respect/self-respect CONNECTION continued safety security stability support to know and be known to see and be seen to understand and be understood trust warmthPHYSICAL WELL-BEING air food movement/exercise rest/sleep sexual expression safety shelter touch water HONESTY authenticity integrity presencePLAY joy humor

PEACE beauty communion ease equality harmony inspiration order

AUTONOMY choice freedom independence space spontaneity

MEANING awareness celebration of life challenge clarity competence consciousness contribution creativity discovery efficacy effectiveness growth hope learning mourning participation purpose self-expression stimulation to matter understanding

Learn to Ask For What We Need

What's super cool about seeing our needs is then we can begin to actually take responsibility for getting them met.  Once we identify the need, we can then brainstorm a list of ways-- Ways I can increase feeling x (i.e. supported)-- to get that need met in our lives from a variety of places, taking responsibility for our own need. It may be that we can then say to a friend, "I need support.  I feel like I'm adrift, feeling more alone since my break-up. Would you be willing to do _______ which would help me feel like I'm not in this world by myself?"

The fabulous things about having identified the need and brainstorming ways we can get that need met is that when we do reach out to her as one piece of the strategy, we're less likely to see her as the one causing the unmet need and more likely to see her as part of the solution to our unmet need.  It's not her fault we all have needs-- even if it's in relationship with her that we often feel the unmet need.  It's our responsibility for knowing what we need and doing something about it!

If indeed the most important advice one could give was to 1) Figure out what you want, and 2) Learn to ask for it; think how many friendships we wouldn't have to simply walk away from, blaming them when it may be that we hadn't yet taken that advice to heart.

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Related blog: How To Ask For What You Need (sample scripts)

 

 

 

What is our Response-ability in Relationship?

While I'm in Cuba with a GirlFriendCircles.com travel circle, I'm posting this thoughtful guest blog from Susan Strasburger, an integrative counselor who works with individuals (and couples) who struggle with self-criticism, are in the midst of transition, or feel stuck in a decision process.  I requested permission to re-port this article of hers since it speaks so beautifully to what we've been talking about the last few weeks on this blog about dealing with negative friendships.

Thanks Susan for sharing your wisdom with us as we seek to grow more loving, healthy, and responsive!

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Two women were discussing recent experiences with their ex-partners: One had wanted her partner to be able to see that she had “turned a corner” in relationship to him, and felt frustrated that he engaged with her as if she hadn’t changed. The other woman was confused by her partner’s actions, and “wished he’d been more overt about telling me his perspective had changed.” Their combined question became:

Questioner: What is our responsibility in a relationship to get a friend or partner up to date on specifically how our perspective has changed?

Susan: The answers to this are actually embedded in the question. If there are “specific” changes about ourselves that we want our friends to know, it’s our responsibility to tell them (unless you have friends who can read your mind). And/but… if we are noticing something different about our friend, and they haven’t spoken to us directly, it’s also our responsibility to tell them our experience and ask to understand what’s going on for them.

At this point, you may be saying, “Wait, wait! You mean, either way, it’s my responsibility?!” Yup! Hopefully you won’t see this as a burden, though, if you’re willing to re-frame what “responsibility” means. The ability to be responsive, rather than reactive, is a cornerstone to our well-being, in any relationship. We want to make conscious choices about how we speak and act, rather than defaulting to defensive or accusatory behaviors. Having this intention means taking responsibility for the quality of our relationships. Of course, we get to feel disappointed if the other person isn’t taking as much responsibility as you would ideally like them to take. All we can do is keep modeling what it is we want, make requests of the other person, and see what unfolds.

Questioner: I really love the wisdom in your response. I find the connection between “responsibility” and “response” evocative, and sense that hearing a little more about this would be very helpful to me!

Susan: Ok, stick with me for a minute, while I dip into semantics: Dictionaries attribute many meanings to the term “responsibility.” I’m choosing: “the act of being answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control or management” rather than other definitions that include words such as “blame” or “moral obligation.”

With this definition, we no longer default to: “You’re responsible for my heartache!” We may feel that phrase, and even want to say it! Yet that would be what I call “reactive” behavior.

Being “responsive” requires us to stretch beyond blame, shame-turned-inward, or just leaving without communication. We know that the other person stimulated something in us that we call “heartache” – perhaps we didn’t feel seen, respected, or loved in the ways we were hoping for. If we’re being “responsive,” we’ll find within us what is most self-caring to do next. That is, we claim responsibility for what we do with our feelings of heartache. It might still be to leave, yet first tell the other person “I’m feeling too overwhelmed to speak right now, I need a little space, and I’ll come back when I’m ready to talk.” Or it might be to engage with the person, knowing we’re “accountable” for what’s “within [my] power” which includes the words and actions I choose. This route of course takes skill, compassion and a lot of practice!

Are we then responsible for the outcome of that conversation? Ahh, semantics again: we’re responsible to each other, but not “for” each other. Perhaps another blog post?!  :)

Today is National Reconciliation Day!

Oh I wish this holiday had been on my radar last week so I could have given you plenty of notice to start thinking about what action you wanted to take today toward reconciliation! Watch the 30 minute HuffPo Live panel regarding Reconciliation by clicking on the link to the left.  (Featuring: Alvin, going through a divorce, Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, and me-- all sharing our experiences and wisdom.

But, alas, it was only when HuffPost Live contacted me and asked if I'd be on a live panel this afternoon on the topic of reconciliation that I was made aware that there was such a day.  Apparently Ann Landers decided back in 1989 that every April 2 should be celebrated with everyone picking up the phone to call with whom we may have had a falling out with, hence it's become the Day of Reconciliation.

I was honored to share on the panel, but here is a more comprehensive post about what reconciliation can look like.

The Two Types of Break-Ups

First, there are two types of fall-outs that I speak to: Rifts and Drifts.

Rifts are when something happens to undermine the relationship; whereas, Drifts are when nothing specific happens to the relationship yet we find ourselves slowly drifting apart.

You undoubtedly have experience with both.  Reconciliation is possible and necessary with both, but they may look quite different.

Reconciling Rifts & Drifts

Let's start with defining reconciliation.  Reconciliation can mean reestablishing the close relationship, but it also means simply the ability to find resolution, or acceptance. In other words, when we speak of reconciliation, it doesn't automatically mean that the goal should be intimacy, trust, and connection with the person we felt hurt by.  Certainly, to come to peace, to forgive the other person, might mean that we'd be open to that re-engagement someday if growth had occurred on both sides.  But more often than not, forgiveness might just mean finding our own peace, reconciling what is real with our expectations of what we want.  The discrepancy between those two causes unmeasured angst.

In my book, knowing whether we're dealing with a Drift or Rift helps me know what path of reconciliation to seek.

Drifts....

If there is Drift in a relationship, the invitation is for us to not only recognize it is happening, but also to check with ourselves about whether we want it to happen.

In one of my recent Drifts, I knew that it was only busy-ness and distraction that was putting distance between us.  In my gut, I knew I wanted this friendship to last.  I didn't need to know whether I needed it as often or as deeply in my life as we had co-created before, but I was clear when I checked-in with myself that I didn't want to lose the friendship. So in this relationship, I wrote her a note and said,

"I miss you! I know we've both been so busy, and I'm so sorry that on my end I've not been as present or available. I know relationships ebb-and-flow, but I definitely don't want to let us get too far from each other since you mean so much to me!  Any chance you're up for scheduling a catch-up call next week?  I'm flexible Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday evening, do you have an hour anytime in there you'd be willing to give me?"

Reconciliation in this case was reaching out with a sorry I've neglected the relationship (it doesn't matter if she has, too, our apology is still true) and a stated desire to re-engage. She was honored and grateful.  Neither of us had meant anything malicious and neither had wanted to put any pressure on the other. But we all like to know that the other misses us and naming it helps us both take it less personally. (Because if you ignore it here, this is where we're more likely to get our feeling hurts with unmet expectations that can then turn into a Rift, all because we didn't address the Drift.)

To contrast it, another Drift in the last couple of years was a relationship where I checked-in with myself and realized that reconciliation actually meant being okay with letting the relationship take a backseat.  I was at peace with it happening because I sensed that both of us were going different directions, our energies pulling us into other relationships and experiences.  To try to re-engage here would have been simply out of guilt, the voice of "you should..."

In some cases of Drifting, it's possible that the two of you simply call less and less and it slowly dissipates.  That's okay, but if possible, I'd still prefer  a little communication if possible, out of respect for what we've shared.  Obviously every situation is different, and is largely determined by whether we sense both people are at peace or if we feel she is still pursuing while we're retreating.  But in my case, in response to her reaching out to me via email to set up a time for dinner, I wrote,

"Thank you so much for thinking of me!  You are someone whose relationship has meant so much to me over the years.  Let's definitely get a dinner on the calendar, and hopefully we can make that happen every couple of months even though I know we're both so busy! I hope that no matter how much time and distance ever separates us, that we can always call each other a friend.  I so admire you."

Reconciliation in this case was two-fold: me being at peace with letting the relationship be something other than "all-or-nothing," and making sure I communicated to her how much I admired her.  My goal is to leave relationships with people feeling better about themselves for having known me.

Rifts...

Rifts, can be a bit trickier, in that our hearts have likely been more bruised and our expectations more unmet.  Her disappointing actions have left us frustrated and questioning the friendship, which is almost impossible to do with out us feeling both defensive and judgmental.  Those two feelings make it hard for us to even want to reconcile.

The second-to-last chapter of my book highlights healthy options for responding to the five friendship threats, but for these purposes today, let me just get on my soapbox for a moment and say this:

GirlFriends--as a rule of thumb, treat your friendships that experience frustration and disappointment with the same courtesy you give to your romantic relationships: consider a mature conversation.

I've yet to hear of the dating break-up where someone disappointed you and you just cut off contact without ever having a single conversation about it! No! We may dislike confrontation, but we step up to it for romance.  We say, "We need to talk..." and then we tell them what we need, how they hurt us, what's okay, what isn't, what we hope for, etc.  Sometimes it turns into this awesome conversation where we both feel heard and we can move into a more meaningful and trusting relationship.  But even the times it leads to a fight, we always expect a follow-up conversation, knowing we need to either make-up or at least facilitate as healthy closure as possible. Sometimes we break-up, make-up, and break-up again.  We give them multiple chances, because we "love him" (or her), or because we know "he's trying...", or because we've "invested so much already."  All valid excuses we should be giving to our girlfriends!

So off my soapbox, while I know full re-engagement of the relationship, recovering from whatever caused the Drift, isn't always possible, I am an advocate of at least trying before a friendship break-up.  Too many of us walk away, unwilling to try again, claiming the other person isn't healthy, doesn't know how to be a friend, or  can never be trusted again.  All of which may not necessarily be true.  As any of us who have been a long-term relationship can attest, we will hurt each other, and that doesn't mean we can't also still love each other well.

Your Invitation:

Since you're getting this blog post so late in the evening on this Reconciliation holiday you may think you're off the hook from having to reconcile with someone?  No way!  In fact, they say the best way to let yourself off the hook is to forgive, to come to peace, to accept, or to resolve.  Who can you reach out to tonight or tomorrow as your way of stepping into a holiday that we should really be practicing 365 days a year?

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More relevant posts:

  1. Friendship Break-Ups 1: A Drift or a Rift  (Defining both, and going into more detail about causes for Drifts.)
  2. Friendship Break-Ups 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift (3 steps to help prevent our Drifts from becoming Rifts)
  3. Friendship Break-Ups 3: Was She Really a Friend, Anyway? (Speaking to when we get our feelings hurt because a friend wasn't there for us...)
  4. Friendship Break-Ups 4: Letting Go or Holding On? (How to decide if the friendship is worth pursuing.)

 

 

 

 

Friendship Break-Ups 3: "Was She Really a Friend, Anyway?"

The other night I was out with some new friends and, as often happens when someone finds out that my work is all about female friendships, women I barely know start to tell me their friendship woes. One very friendly woman in her mid-forties was explaining to me that she doesn't have time for friends anymore now that she's a mom. (sound familiar? read this post.)  She went back-and-forth between defending her perceived reality and also sounding incredibly wistful. Like many of us in denial, we try to convince ourselves we're fine while simultaneously wishing things could be different. But then, her closing lines were, "Well I found out most of my previous friends weren't real friends anyway or they'd still be around.  So who needs them, right?" She tried to laugh as though she didn't care.

A Refresher on Shasta's Circles of Connectedness

One of my favorite things to teach in workshops, which is also a big part of my upcoming book, is about the Five Circles of Connectedness.  It's most often put to use when it comes to evaluating our current friendships or figuring out how to add new ones or deepen others.  Today, I want to talk about it in the context of break-ups and unmet expectations.

You'll want to go catch up on the abbreviated definitions of Shasta's 5 Circles of Connectedness if you're not familiar with them already: Watch YouTube or Read a Previous Post.

But basically, the friends on the Left Side in the Contact and Common Circles are friendships where we more-or-less have one way of being together, one commonality holding us together. That is to say our friendships are largely dependent upon the fact that we both attend the same church, are part of the same mother's group, are both single, or because we work together.

To move someone over to the Right Side in the Community and Committed Circles means that we have added new ways of being together (i.e. brunch on the weekend in addition to whatever our original commonality was), have spent considerable one-on-one time together, and have increased our intimacy.

Confirmed Friends in the middle are for the women who used to be in our Committed Circle of best friends, but we no longer have the consistency with them that our Right-Side friendships require.

If we mistakenly believe that all our friendships are more-or-less the same then we may not have realistic expectations in place.  Unmet expectations lead to disillusionment, and possible blame and anger toward the friends who aren't "there" for us.

There are SO many applications to our friendship Rifts and Drifts in these 5 Circles, but in the sensitivity of article length, I'll just mention the two most common misconceptions that can disappoint us if we don't understand our different types of friendships.

Two Common Misunderstandings in our Circles that Lead to Disappointment:

1)   Assuming a Common Friend is a Commitment Friend. We can feel so close to someone at work, church, or our mothers group and mistakenly believe that they should "be there in big ways" for us just because we both really like each other, get a long well, and see each other consistently in that common setting.

But the truth about Common Friends is that unless we have co-created a friendship that extends beyond that shared commonality-- when that commonality ends, the friendship will inevitably Drift apart if someone doesn't intentionally try to create a new way of connecting. And that doesn't always work due to time, priorities, interests, etc. These friendships don't end because we don't like each other, but because we haven't yet practiced being together in new ways, outside of that commonality.

We get our feelings hurt when we stop attending church or change jobs and no one calls us anymore-- but if that place was what we had in common, then no matter how close we felt, we're the ones who left that friendship structure. If the thing we have in common is getting our families together on the weekends to go camping, but then we go through a divorce, unless we had another way of being together just as women, we risk Drifting apart when it's our ex-spouse who has all the camping equipment.

It's not her fault, even if the changes were in her life.  In a friendship-- when we blame, we risk a Rift; if we decide we want to initiate consistently, we may be able to avoid a Drift.

If we can be honest in these moments and see them for what they are-- losing structures or commonalities that connected us-- then we can either find more peace in the Drift without us taking it personally or we more clearly see that we'll have to co-create new ways of being with that person. Which doesn't happen automatically.

2) Not realizing a Confirmed Friend is no longer a Commitment Friend. The other misunderstanding that can get the best of us is not realizing that just because we used-to-be-best friends, that while we still love each other so much, we no longer live near each other, talk regularly, or are present for each others lives in the same ways.

And if we haven't fostered new Commitment Friends where we now live, we're likely to make the mistake of wanting those Confirmed Friends to act like them.  We'll be hurt when they don't know what's going on in our lives, forgetting that it is our responsibility to build up local friends who can care for us on the consistent basis.

Because of the intimacy and trust we've built with these women back in college or in a previous life phase, we certainly make decisions to call our Confirmed Friends to stay in touch with them better to support us through a season or to tell them honestly what we need.  But hopefully they've developed close local friends that they are giving to so we want to be careful to not blame them for not reading our minds or knowing how to help us.

If we don't have strong relationships on the Right-Side, it becomes so easy to look to our other friends in the other Circles and begrudge them for not "being there" for us. It's so easy, when our life changes, to want everyone to be there for us that we sometimes forget that we never practiced that with each other beforehand or had yet built up to that Circle of Commitment.

If "she" wasn't "there" for you, was she really your friend?

To the beautiful woman who wondered aloud, "Well I found out most of my previous friends weren't real friends anyway or they'd still be around.  So who needs them, right?" and to all of us who ask a variation of that rhetoric question, I say this:

I am so sorry that you were hurt and disappointed by what you hoped someone would be for you.  That sucks. However, we don't have to devalue who they were or what we shared together.  It's entirely possible they were a "real" friend, even if they weren't the Committed Friend we had hoped they were.  Furthermore, the answer to previous disappointments isn't to give up on friendships altogether, but rather, to be sure to take responsibility for co-creating even stronger--more consistent and intimate--friendships this time around.

 

If you have questions-- ask them in the comments.  It's sometimes impossible to be comprehensive on such a big subject in one posting! Hope the outline at least helps though?

 

 

 

Friendship Break-Up 1: A Drift or a Rift?

A TV producer called me last week because her afternoon TV show is hoping to interview some women who are currently going through BFF break-ups. She said that when the show idea was discussed, nearly every woman around the table had a story. As do we all. Changing friends is normal.

If you're a faithful reader of my blog, you'll recall that I often remind women that research suggests that we replace about half our friends every seven years.

To see if it's true in your life, list the five to seven women that you'd invite to stand up with you at your wedding if getting married today. Now think back to where you were seven years ago and see how many of those same women would be standing up there with you?  Most likely, with perhaps the exception of family members, two or three of the women might have been different if chosen back then.  And chances are that two or three of them might be different if chosen seven years from now.  Our lives do change. And with that change comes some movement in our inner circles.

The word replace speaks of two directions-- new friends coming in and old friends going out.

Many of my posts have to do with how to start new friendships since there are few platonic pick-up lines, winking seems inappropriate, and there aren't bars for female friends.

So in honor of the fact that we aren't just making new friends, but also having to let go of them, I'm going to write a series (number of posts still TBD) about friendship break-ups.

The Drift vs. The Rift

Friendship Break-Ups typically fall into two camps: The Drift and The Rift.

The Drift is when two people have less in common due to life changes or personal preferences.  There's typically no big break-up or blow-up, it's just two people moving apart.  That's not to say it doesn't hurt or that you're not aware of it though!  On the contrary, we often carry guilt, anger, or fear as these relationships drift.  We sometimes feel betrayed that they are leaving the job, moving away, having a baby, or going through a divorce that we feel threatens or changes our friendship. We know that our relationship is shifting.... even if we don't know yet whether it will survive or what it will look like.

The Rift is when an event or behavior causes damage to our relationship leaving us hurt, angry, or confused for what we'd consider a grievance or mistake.  I differentiate a Rift from a Drift when we feel that there is a behavior or action that would need to be discussed, forgiven, or changed in order to continue to be friends. Our pain can come from unmet expectations (i.e. she didn't ask us to be her bridesmaid and we thought we were close friends), blatant mistakes (i.e. she gossiped about our failing marriage to other friends, betraying our trust), or what we might call character flaws (i.e. she never calls us and we're tired of being the ones who always have to initiate). A Rift is when we feel justified at being mad at her.

I'll talk about the Rift in an upcoming post. This post is about the Drift.

The Common Causes of a Drift

One of the reasons we replace, or need to replenish, our friendships is because our lives all happen in different ways and in different times. Often, we drift apart. While there can be a hundred variations of why we no longer lean toward the same people, most of those reasons fall under these six common categories:

With so many of us switching jobs or starting companies comes the obvious fact that we are losing the friends that were associated with those specific workplaces.

If there was an era where we all followed a similar path: get married out of college, have kids two years later, live in the suburbs, etc.  We're definitely not there now. Now you're just as likely to be new mom at twenty-one as you are at forty-one.  We're not doing life in the same order or at the same pace as our friends which leaves us often wishing for new friends in our new stage of life.

On location alone, with Americans picking up and moving every five years it's no surprise that not all our friendships can survive the distance. Even if you stay planted, chances are high that a friend will move away in the next couple of years, forcing you to either drift apart or be incredibly proactive and intentional about staying connected.

And in that last sentence is where you'll find what I think is the most important choice in a Drift: decide whether this friendship is important enough to you to go through the transition.

Responding to the Drift

  1. Relationship Changes Are Normal. Every change-- in her life or yours-- will likely require the friendship to shift.
  2. Awareness is a Strength. The worst thing is to lose friendship unknowingly! Or to have to deal with anger down the road because you didn't take the time to see it coming or to do the work of readjusting your expectations. Don't live in denial!  Seeing it coming gives you time, wisdom, and increased generosity.
  3. Feel Your Choice. There are two kinds of Drifts-- the ones where we simply let it happen to us and the ones where we chose to let it happen. I don't believe we need to hang on to every relationship; nor do I believe we should simply let-go of relationships with people we love simply because life changes. While the actions of both choices may end up looking similar (i.e. call less, hang out less, slowly lose touch), one happens out of negligence, whereas the other happens with our blessing. There's a big difference.

We are called to learn how to hang on to some relationships, even when awkward; while also letting go of others, hopefully with intention and eventual peace. The trick is to know how to make that choice.

Leave your comments: How do you know when a friendship is over? What helps you decide? How have you handled friendships drifts before? Do you tend to "hang on too long" or "let go too soon"?

 

The Judgment of Weight

There are two things I will not board a plane without: a new magazine purchased at the airport and a purse filled with snacks. The snacks are self-explanatory in a day and age where one can get stuck on a three or four-hour flight with little more than six peanuts being offered to you! I have this deep fear of being hungry and not being able to do anything about it.  So snacks are a must for this girl.  And a magazine?  Well, it's just a guilty pleasure to pass time reading something I normally wouldn't take the time to do at home.

Last week on my home from Tampa, I was riveted to the Glamour article "The Secret Way People Are Judging You."  In this article they revealed the results of a poll of more than 1,800 women revealing what they thought about women of various weights.

From Glamour's "Skinny Witch vs. Chubby Fairy"

Heavy women were pegged as…

skinny witch vs chubby fairy

  • “lazy” 11 times as often as thin women;
  • “sloppy” nine times;
  • “undisciplined” seven times;
  • “slow” six times as often.

While thin women were seen as…

  • “conceited” or “superficial” about eight times as often as heavy women;
  • “vain” or “self-centered” four times as often;
  • “bitchy,” “mean,” or “controlling” more than twice as often.

Even the “good” labels are unfair. An overweight woman may be five times as likely to be perceived as “giving” as a skinny one.

Absorbing the Results of our Weight Stereotyping

I unfortunately can't say I was entirely shocked by these results.  We live in a world where we make decisions about people within 20 seconds so it can't surprise us that it's most likely dependent upon external factors. I was surprised though that women of all weights hold these stereotypes. In other words, the judgments aren't just one group toward another, but "Plus-size respondents judged other plus-size women as 'sloppy,' and skinny types pegged their thin peers as 'mean.'" We know the judgments are unfair about us but it doesn't stop us from putting those labels on someone else! What is that?

I was also moved by the various interviews of women who have felt those judgments.  There has been quite a bit of research done in what is being called "fat studies" where we see the impact that extra weight (and/or the shame and ostracism of that extra weight) has on someone's ability to be hired, healthy, or seen as attractive. One study showed that overweight women have a harder time getting hired and that when they do, they earn as much as $5,826 less than their normal-weight peers. Painful and completely unfair!

And similarly, this article is one of the first for highlighting the scorn that skinny women face, too.  Amy Farrell, PhD., a professor of women's and gender studies, and author of Fat Shame highlighted that skinny women are often "pushed away as someone who is not sharing in the same struggles as the rest of us. People look at her and say, 'You're not friend material; you're alien.'" As someone who studies female friendship-- that jumped off the page to me! That we think their weight is any way connected to the type of friend they can be? *sigh*

Again, Friendships Can Be Part of the Solution

At the end of the article I was left with this mixed feeling.

On the one hand, I just felt sick.  Feeling the depth of our judgmental culture and wondering if there was really anything that could change us to be more accepting of each other was initially overwhelming.

But on the other hand, I felt slightly hopeful.  Hopeful because we're doing it to ourselves.  And if we're the ones doing it to each other, then it seems like we could own that and start choosing to do it differently?

Personal growth isn't about becoming someone different as much as it's about seeing ourselves as we are and starting to catch ourselves earlier in our judgments. So I can't just tell myself to stop judging, but I can tell myself that it matters to me to catch myself doing it and give myself the choice to create new brain patterns.

I may not be able to stop my first judgment from popping into my head-- assuming that she's stuck-up, vain, insecure, or superficial-- but I can sure own that and choose to follow it up with a stronger thought.  I can remind myself that I know what it feels like to be judged by people who don't know me.  I can remind myself of all my friends who have different body types and appearances who don't fit the stereotypes.  I can remind myself that no one benefits from being judged. And that in actuality, research has proven that few of us are good judges. I can step down from the soap box created by my insecurities.

We don't have the luxury in this world of all feeling overly loved.  Few of us report having all the love and acceptance we need!  We could all do with more friends, more people who cheer us on, more people who accept us as we are, more people who want to get to know us past our appearances.  As women who value friends, we should be leading this charge!

We can choose after our judgments to refuse to believe them.  Instead, we can silently whisper, "I accept you just as you are. I can't wait to see the beautiful person you are," and trust that a little more love in this world will go a long way.

-----------------

6/4/2012: A follow up blog: Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity & Judgment

 

 

I Just Want to Fit In! The Insecurities of Not Belonging.

One of the hardest parts of life is feeling the fear of not fitting in, whatever that means. As a kid I wished I could afford the ever-cool Guess jeans and Ked shoes instead of the $14.99 Jordache's and Payless Shoe Store wanna-be's that my mom bought. Later, my idea of fitting in would include wishing I'd start my period, need a bra, and kiss my first boyfriend when it seemed everyone else had already passed into the land of adulthood before me.

I can laugh now at the silliness that seemed so important at the time. It also causes me pause to consider what my Keds are now-- what feels important now but might look silly to me down the road?

Now I have been gifted with the maturity to realize that my value doesn't fluctuate on how others view me and that "in" means a thousand different things to different people.  But to know I don't need to fit in everywhere doesn't mean I still don't want to. I blogged a couple years ago about how our greatest fear in life is rejection, and even just feeling the possibility of not belonging is enough to tap all our insecurities.

Sometimes my maturity is overridden by an insecure teenage girl that still just wants to fit in.

Do I Belong Here?

Yesterday, I was at a Women 2.0 Pitch Conference geared for female founders of tech start-ups.  The irony isn't lost on me that a conference where I should feel like I fit in perfectly can still stir up all my little inner critical voices. Fear really isn't all that rational.

So in the spirit of transparency I'll admit I felt out-of-place. Yes I was a woman. Yes I had founded a start-up company.  Yes it's doing well and growing. Yes it's in the space of technology. Yes by all intents-and-purposes I belonged there.

I've blogged before about how difficult conferences can be for many of us (Pushing Through the Nerves to Meet People and The Mistake that Cost Me a New Friendship) but it can be in any setting where we may not already know a lot of people, may have a lot to learn, and may be surrounded by lots of amazing people that cause us to question our own amazing-ness.  There's a thin line between wanting to be inspired and called forward, and yet not feeling overwhelmed and incompetent! Put us in that place where we start wondering if we can reach our hoped-for-success and we're automatically in a very vulnerable place.

I was surrounded by people who had all earned MBA's.  Seemingly all from Stanford.  And suddenly I felt like I would never know the right people, be a part of the powerful network, or be able to learn fast enough everything they already seem to know. My insecure little girl kept whispering "let's just go back home where we feel safe and comfortable." You see, my expertise is in personal development, relational health, and spiritual growth-- not in funding rounds, code engineering, product shipping, user interface design, and market research. In some worlds my skill set could make me a rock star, in this one I was just very aware of everything I lacked.

And therein lies the challenge with fear--we'll never get where we want to without feeling it since it pops up anytime we leave our comfort zone. And obviously our comfort zone, while not scary, isn't bringing us want we value. We want to keep moving forward... but that always includes leaving our comfort zone. UGH!

For most of you in my female friendship community-- you crave deeper connections.  But unfortunately that requires you to meet strangers first.

Then follow-up. And do it again.  And wonder if they liked you too.  And wonder if it's their turn or your turn to make the next move. And then you have to risk sharing pieces of you, getting vulnerable.  And you have to find a new way of being with someone new. It's not without fear and insecurity that we walk that path.

Whether it's you wanting local meaningful friendships or me wanting to know how to best grow my company so that you can all make more friends-- we both will feel the fear of the unknown.

And we will eventually have to value the potential as greater than the fear we feel.  We'll have to feed the dream, starve the fear.  We'll have to weight the outcome as worthy of the path.

I Have to Believe I Do Belong.

At the conference yesterday they had a red chair there for the Sit With Me campaign designed to validate the role of women in the technology field. Men and women around the world are sitting in red chairs as their way of saying "we need to sit together, we want all voices and talents involved!"

On a form I was asked "Who are you sitting for today?" And while the obvious answer is for women in general, I specifically wrote that I was sitting for all those who weren't sure they belonged at the table, no matter their insecurity, perceived obstacle, greatest fear, hidden truth, or lack of credentials. I sat in that chair and whispered to myself "I do belong and so do thousands of others."

I sat in that chair and whispered that hope for you. That whatever chair you need to sit in-- that you would know you belong there.  No one else has to tell you that you do.  You just have to sit.

Kinda the way Rosa Parks belonged in the front of the bus.... Belonging can't be given to us, we just have to know it.

In some ways I was out of place, but in other ways I belong there and have much to offer that world in ways that no Stanford-MBA-serial-entrepreneur ever could. They're needed. And so am I. We all belong not because we're the same, but because the world needs all of us, contributing our best. Blessing the world in whatever way we each can.

If you're afraid of meeting at a ConnectingCircle or going to some event with strangers, I invite you to show up, sit in a chair (even if it's not red!) and remind yourself you're putting action behind what's important to you. There is room for you!

It's not without insecurity and doubt that we will contribute, step out, participate, engage, and sit-- in order to stand for what we believe in. It is even with those fears that we will do so.

And it's because of what we hope could be the outcome that will make the fear worth it.

 

 

 

Go Friend-Fishing With a Net, Not a Line!

It's been over two weeks since I've blogged... mostly because I was on a retreat to plug away on my book manuscript all last week and a girl can only produce so many scribbles at a time!   I'm still trying to replenish my ideas and words. woman with net

While on a a group coaching call on Monday night for my 21 Days of Friendship Curriculum-- during the live Q & A I found myself saying to the women on the call "If you are looking for new friends then put away your fishing line and pull out a net." So welcome to today's rant.  :)

A Friendship Fishing Line

Friend-Fishing with a line is where a woman stands on her metaphoric boat, with her limited bait (time/energy), and hopes someone swims by and jumps on her hook.

This method could work if you have a wide repertoire of friends in your life, feel fulfilled with the depth of multiple relationships, and are looking for one specific type of person (i.e. someone to go running with me around the lake twice a week, someone else who is going through a divorce right now too).  With that kind of specificity-- you can strategically pick the bait that attracts that particular type of fish... er, uh friend. Meaning you'll know exactly where to go to cast your line: Where do those type of people hang out?  How can I increase my odds for meeting her?

Then in these cases of line-fishing, you'll care less if she isn't the same age as you, sharing similar religious beliefs, and claiming the same interests as you... because what you were looking for was someone to run around the lake with you, not to become your BFF.

A fishing line allows one fish at a time.  You stand there and hope.  And then you either need to be okay with pretty much whatever you hook, or you have to be ready to make quick judgments and throw them back in the water to go free. And then stand there some more, throwing your line into a big ocean.

It's not an impossible way to find friends, but it's time consuming and rarely effective for the majority of women who actually have room in their lives for a couple of really close friendships. Research shows most of us have only one person we're confiding in, but that we'd be happiest if we had a small handful of people. While we feel time constraints-- we actually need several more varied friends in our lives.

If that's true for you.... you can't hook 3 people and expect those three people to become BFF's.  That's like saying you're only going to go on one date and expect that person to be the one you choose to marry.  It can happen, but it's not likely.  What we need is a wider approach.

A Friendship Fishing Net

A net approach invites us to recognize that we will need to meet many, many different women, experiencing a pile of options, before we will know which ones have the potential to become the friendships we're hoping to develop. Like a funnel, we can invite in many and trust that the narrowing down process will happen as we move forward. Our odds increase exponentially based on how wide of a net we start with!

A net approach reminds us that we need more than one friend so we can practice saying yes, more than we say no. Yes to events. Yes to new things. Yes to doing things in groups. Yes to her even if we don't see the obvious commonality yet.  Yes to people who are different from us.  Yes to her even if she is a different age, a different life stage, or a different personality.

As one of my clients said on the phone "The truth is I could talk myself out of not asking just about everyone I meet, if I let myself." Isn't that familiar?

But it doesn't have to be.  If we change to a net approach then we start giving ourselves reasons to talk ourselves into people.  At least temporarily.  We don't have to be able to see the end with them (are we going to be BFF's?) in order to start the journey.  We can almost always find something curious about the other.

A net approach reminds us that we can be more expansive, ratter than more selective.  That we can withhold the need to make immediate judgements.  That instead of showing up with a "Prove you're worth my time/interest" approach, we can show up with a "I want to see what's interesting about you" approach. That we can let more people into our lives, not less.  That we have room.  Room for more love, not less.

We hold the wisdom to know that the more people we meet and the more we try to connect with them in meaningful ways will produce more consequential options for us down the road.

Be Expansive, Not Selective.

At this stage in our lives, when we know how important it is to invite friends to journey beside us-- we have to keep telling ourselves "I don't have to say no to everyone who doesn't immediately seem to fit everything I'm looking for."  I can say yes to several and trust that collectively, my needs will get filled.

Maybe right now you don't need one person to be everything as much as you need a few people to share the job description?  The good news is that we don't have to be all-knowing right now.  We don't need to know if they will say yes before we ask them, if they will like us before we know if we like them, if they will have enough in common with us before we get to know them.

All we have to do is say yes to finding out.

May you put your net out, saying to the Universe that you are more open than you've ever been to the platonic love that is waiting for you.

Happy Fishing!

 

What We Need Are More Women, Fewer Girls.

The contestants on Bachelor I begrudgingly watched The Bachelor last night and shuddered at how quickly girls sized each other up and put each other down. Hoping they'd feel more cool, more amazing, and more chosen in the process.  Ignorant still to the truth that we can only receive what we're willing to give.  Their immaturity served up as entertainment.

Immaturity is sometimes about age-- it simply takes some life experiences before we can have wisdom.

But the difference between a woman and girl isn't in a birth date, but in a state of mind.  I've seen young women love those around them with health and joy, and I've seen older women so practiced over the years in their victim narrative that every event is seen through the filter of perceived rejection. Maturity can go either way.

Undoubtedly, we all behave like girls at time, in different areas of our lives.

  • Maybe it's in your finances-- waiting for someone else to "fix" them, living in denial about the gap between your spending and earning, or mistakenly thinking that buying things improves your worth.
  • Or maybe it's in your romance-- falling for the myth that you need to be chosen by someone to prove your value, repeating patterns you haven't examined, or holding grievances against someone for not living up to your expectations.
  • Or maybe it's your health-- how you're sabotaging what you say is important to you, living with both too much restriction in one area only to not discipline yourself in another, or holding stress/fear around that which we cannot control.
  • Or maybe it's in your spirituality & personal growth-- in your tendency to throw out the metaphoric baby with the bath water, the judgment and cynicism you hold around belief and practices that aren't already yours, or the busy-ness you're not stepping out of to hear your own voice.

But for the purpose of this blog, I want to talk about how I see our immaturity showing up in our friendships.

We are called GIRLfriends, But We Must Still Show up as Women.

We act immature in our friendships when we feel insecure about ourselves.  Which we tend to do more often than most of us care to admit.  Here are some scenarios I repeatedly see:

Fear of Rejection: We go to a ConnectingCircle-- then feel hurt that others didn't follow up with us afterward and conclude either that they are selfish/arrogant/non-committal people OR that we are unlikable/loners/un-interesting. Notice in both cases we are holding attack thoughts toward others or toward ourselves.  We feel rejected.

Girls want others to initiate, choosing to live with the fear of rejection instead of the possibility of connection.  Women know that they have every responsibility to initiate also, choosing to do what they can and not hold the results as an affront to their ultimate worth.

Fear of Not Feeling Good About Ourselves:  With all this language around toxic relationships, we seem to be giving each other more and more permission to cut people out of our lives that don't make us feel good.  The problem with this often is that it's not always because the other person is toxic that we don't feel strong. Sometimes that voice of insecurity can reveal powerful information that indeed we have personal work we want to do. We can feel bad toward someone because they have something we want, something we're jealous about, or something that we think makes us look less than to not have it (i.e. more money, new relationship, a baby, kids she's proud of, career success).

A Girl gets off the phone feeling yucky and mistakenly assumes the other person is the problem she feels bad about herself.  A Woman asks herself how she can cheer for her friends excitement, and use that to help reveal to herself what it says about what she ultimately wants.

Fear of Judgment. On a similar note is our immediate tendency to judge others. Fast and harsh. It comes out in our decision to RSVP for a particular event-- convinced we are good judges of deciding whether we'll like the other people based on a photo! It comes out in meeting each other when we find ourselves judging their behaviors, dress, stories, etc. We have such a hard time just letting people be themselves... and by extension giving ourselves that same gift. Our ego's feel momentarily better about who we are if we can tell ourselves we're better than her.  But that's immaturity at it's height of ignorance.

A Girl judges others so that she feels better.  A Woman accepts others so that she feels better, knowing she can be powerful without devaluing another.

Growing Up.

It's time to grow up.

It's time to show up facing each other as women.  Women who deserve our utmost respect.  Women who have inherent value whether you can immediately see it or not.  Women who know that they will eventually feel about themselves whatever they feel about others.  Women who know that they don't have to be better than thou to be their best.  Women who feel hopeful when they see others succeed.  Women who trust that as they love, so will they be loved.

Unlike age that just happens to you whether you want it or not, maturity comes when invited.  It comes when you hold the possibility that there might be a better way to approach life.  It comes when you admit enough humility to recognize that just because you think something doesn't make it fact.  It comes when you know your own worth enough to not need to see everything as a reaction to you.  It comes when you say that small prayer: "Mature me. Grow me."

We are not competitors.  We are allies. (Even if any of you eventually becomes a contestant on a show where competing to win the affections of one eligible bachelor... even then you need not devalue.)

This 2012, I hope we all hold the courage to grow up.  Facing each other as humans. With dignity. The world needs more Women.

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.

Let "Best Friend" Refer to Quality, Not Quantity.

One of my neighbor friends from childhood saw my post on Facebook about my recent TV interview on women's friendship. Watching it reminded her of a time when we were kids where she had been in tears as a result of hers and my friendship. In her memory we had all been coloring at the table when I must have announced that I wanted to read out loud something I had written for school. Apparently I had written a story about my best friend. And it hadn't turned out to be her.  :(

Of course it pains me to know I caused her to go home and cry! And hearing her share that long ago memory reminded me of my own memory of uncontrollable sobbing in the third grade coat room during recess.  I still remember my best girl friend (the one I had read about!) announcing to me one day that she was now going to be best friends with Kristin instead of me.  I couldn't be consoled. Drama queen or not, I was convinced life was over.

I Want To Feel Chosen

We do eventually grow up, but the drama around feeling chosen, or not, never quite goes away, does it?

In Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage" she lists the losses associated with marriage for women (more likely to suffer from depression, die younger, accumulate less wealth, earn reduced pay, experience more health problems and thrive less in their careers than those who are unmarried) and points to the 50% divorce rates to basically ask the question: why is that we get so consumed with marriage when it doesn't appear to be all that good for us?

Her ponderings included the theory that we all just want to feel chosen. Picked. Wanted. Loved. A wedding allows us to publicly say "Someone thinks I'm amazing." When it comes to a wedding-- we are told that we are the one. The only one. The chosen one. And that feels good. (Even though ironically most of us would be more than happy to have a few more wives/mothers in our homes helping share the workload! LOL)

But Being Chosen Doesn't Have to Be Exclusive

I wish as a little girl I had been taught to value the importance of fostering several different friends.  That we didn't have to be exclusive to feel special. That my worth wasn't tied to one girl and who she wanted to play with at recess.  That me feeling chosen happened more when I decided to choose others.  That the term "best friend" didn't refer to a number, but to how well we treated each other.

As adults we don't want to feel any less chosen, but hopefully we now know that our chosen-ness can include others. And that more important than someone else choosing me, is my own sense of choosing myself, knowing my own worth and value. That security allows my BFF's to have other BFF's without me feeling jealous, knowing their other friendships don't make what we share any less valuable.  In fact, research shows that our friendship will be healthier and stronger if she's getting some needs met by others since we are each happiest with 3-7 people in our lives whom we'd consider "confidantes."

Because I love her-- I will want that for her. I will cheer for her when she finds new friends. Friends who have kids the ages of her kids. Or friends who know what it's like to be single again in her 50's. Or friends who can afford to go to the fancy spas with her.  Or friends who get excited about her political or spiritual passions.  Or friends who can make her laugh.  Or friends who live close enough to her to go on a spontaneous walk with her. Or friends who know first-hand how scary it is for her to be starting her own business.

Because I can't do all those things.  And that's okay.  I don't need to. Even if I could-- she's still better off with a circle of support, with more than just me waving my pom-poms for her.

Best is a quality, not a quantity.  Best says we like this-- which is not the same as saying that we have to dislike everything else in order to like this one. Best means that something, or someone, has reached a level of excellence, trust, appreciation.  It doesn't mean nothing else can. Like a mother with multiple kids,  we can hold love for several without it meaning anything less for any one of them. We are human beings capable of loving many.

To my sweet childhood friend-- please know you were at the center of some of my best childhood memories.  You were definitely a best friend.  :)

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For more on how to foster the kind of friendships we all crave-- here are relevant past blogs: How to Make a BFF and Stages of a Friendship. And here's a 3 minute video that talks about the difference between our friends and our BFF's.

Our Used-to-be-Closer Friends on YouTube

New YouTube Clip:

This video explains the value of both our current and our "past" BFF's. In this 3rd video of the series, Shasta Nelson, life coach and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com dives deeper into her Confirmed Circle.

Often a move, a job change, or a life shift will put women into our Confirmed Circle-- meaning we can pick up where we left off with them, that we know they'd do anything for us, and that we still consider them our friends, but we are no longer in a consistent friendship with them, seeing them regularly and sharing life along the way.  It is different to have friends we update every several months from the friends who actually know our day-to-day lives.  We need both.

It also give two ways to make sure you create a current, meaningful and consistent group of friends for wherever you are now.

An overview of Shasta's 5 Circles of Connectedness is a video titled: "What Types of Friends Do You Need?" The 2nd video in the series is titled: "Who Are Your BFF's?"

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Huge thanks to everyone who has subscribed to my YouTube channel to help me get started this month! There's a random drawing for a Flying Wish Paper gift every Thursday in September so subscribe today for 2 more chances to win this month!

 

My Name is Shasta. I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.

I am a recovering people-pleaser. I Am a People-Pleaser.

My mom was visiting last week and told a story about me from junior high.  One of those random snapshot memories that revealed just how strong my people-pleaser tendency was at such a young age. Apparently, I had been upset that morning so withpeanuts cartoon a tear-streaked face I insisted I couldn't go to school "because everyone expects me to be the happy one who cheers them up. And I simply can't today." My mom said it was one of those moments where she saw just how serious I was, how her heart broke to think how much pressure I felt to ensure everyone's happiness, and how she couldn't figure out where I ever got such a "silly notion." I was a natural people-pleaser.

A people-pleaser is one who gives in order to feel valuable, who gains approval by giving to others. Warning signals include: feelings of resentment, a sense of depletion, and a fear that we mustn't say no. We are scared to show up in any way other than as the giver.

I Am Recovering!

But the word recovering is definitely a part of my DNA now too.  One of the gifts of my twenties was growing from a huge personal failure of mine.  Not only did I have to accept that I could actually hurt and disappoint people that I loved, but I realized that if I waited to only show up until I was happy-- it might be several years before people saw me again!

I had to learn to show up in my messy life with my tear-streaked face.  Acknowledge that I could hurt people even when I hadn't intended to.  That I couldn't be responsible for their happiness.  That I couldn't fake my own. It was an era of disappointment that I now cherish for the clarity it brought me about me, others, and life. Needless to say, I earned every letter of the word recovering as a badge to precede people-pleaser.

What Does That Mean Though?

As with any addiction, we are trying to use a substitute to fill a hole. In people-pleasing,  we lose sight of our inherent worth and are trying to feel valuable by monitoring how others feel, rather than on what we know to be true about us.

Unlike a recovering alcoholic who chooses to never have alcohol touch her lips again... I can't pull an all-or-nothing in my healing.  To be in my form of recovery doesn't mean that I never please people.  It doesn't mean that I always say no, that I make people mad, and that I don't try to bring joy wherever I go. Which is a relief as I certainly wouldn't want to be an anti-people-pleaser!

So determining whether I'm acting out of my people-pleaser mode could be more difficult because it's less about avoiding a specific substance, and more about determining my motives. Am I saying yes so that she likes me more? Am I offering this to win her over? Am I exerting all this energy so that I feel more valuable and needed? Am I over-extending myself because I'm out of touch with how I feel and what I need?

Notice that in all those questions we ask ourselves, there is a sense that when we give we are expecting something back. We give so that we feel better about us. We kiss-up so that we receive kudos and rewards. We please so that we feel needed or valued. And to point out the obvious-- when we give with a need to receive, it's hardly a gift, as much as it is a commodity exchange (where the other person may not even know or agree to the terms!)

5 Ways Recovering from People Pleasing Actually Pleases People

There are many resources for why we are this way, how to awaken to our worth, and how to start practicing the "no."  The angle I want to take is within our relationships... a few notes of encouragement to give you hope that saying no doesn't risk you losing what you value most.

Here are five ways your friendships can be enhanced when you learn how to metaphorically say no when you need to:

1)  No relationship is healthier than the lowest common denominator of the two individuals in it.  You simply can't have two depleted people and end up with a healthy friendship. Even one depleted person who can't hold her own worth ensures that her experience of the relationship is never healthier than her own personal health. The lowest common denominator between a 3 and 9 is a 3, not a 6. You getting healthy enhances your relationships, it does not detract from them.

2)  Your friends want a mutual friendship, not a doormat/slave/depleted martyr. You might think they prefer to have you doing them favors, but they wouldn't if they saw the price tag: resentment, a sense of imbalance, fear, scorecards, feeding your low self-esteem, your exhaustion, etc.

3)  Holding the belief that we live in a universe with enough love for both of us. I've also heard it called a "win:win universe" or as Einstein said "a friendly universe." It means that we trust that when we do something loving for ourselves, it also gives love to others.  Sometimes saying no is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes leaving a relationship is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes letting someone else hit their bottom without us trying to fix them is the most loving thing for them.  We are arrogant and foolish if we think we're the best judge of what's truly best for everyone else... especially when we obviously don't even know what's best for us. We simply don't know. All we can do is try to make the most loving and compassionate choice for our health and happiness and trust that when there is love present it's ultimately good for both parties.

4)  Saying no to them gives them permission to do the same. I had a friend thank me for my no to her requested favor this week.  She said it not only increased her trust that she knew she could ask me and I'd be honest, but that it modeled for her that it was okay to evaluate her own choices, too.  Interesting that what we fear saying may be the healthiest and most loving gift of permission to them!

5)  When we show up honestly, it tells them we will accept them when they do too. When I was in 8th grade, I thought if I could make people feel better that it was the loving thing to do.  I made the mistake of thinking sadness wasn't good-- that we needed to avoid that.  We don't.  Sadness isn't bad, it's a real feeling that gives us important information.  By refusing to show up with my tear-stained face, I, in essence, was saying to my friends that it wasn't an acceptable way to feel.  Which is hardly a place of love.

As with anyone in recovery, we still know our tendencies.  Someone from AA can be sober for 30 years and still describe themselves as an alcoholic.  To face your demon doesn't mean it's gone, it only means you can see it more clearly.

My name is Shasta.  I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.  Anyone else care to introduce yourself?  :)  Nice to meet you.

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On a similar theme, I previously posted on Huffington Post a two-part series on Giving & Receiving: Do You Give More Than You Receive? and 6 Ways to Bring Balance To Your Relationships

Also, note that the 21-Days of Friendship Curriculum that I guide in September helps you evaluate what you should be giving and to whom.  Not all friends are equal! Be sure you know your own energy and where to best give it!