Qualities of Friendship

Why We Should Care that Friends Day is February 4

For those of us who know the value of our friendships (and if you're on my list then I probably am preaching to the choir!) we know better than to let any moment pass when we can tell our friends that we appreciate having them in our lives. But did you know that a fun opportunity is upon us this Sunday? 

Every February 4 is Friends Day, a day when Facebook encourages us to show gratitude to those who matter most to us. So I'm looking forward to logging on that day to see what fun experiences they roll out to encourage us to celebrate our friendships, (plus, I'll be doing my very first Facebook LIVE to mark the day so come join me-- details below!) but whether you're on Facebook or not, I am always a fan of taking any excuse to share our love with our friends.

Why Expressing Gratitude for Our Friends Matters

For anyone who follows me, or has read my books (especially Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness), you remember just how significant positivity is to our friendships.

Feeling good feelings is the foundation of every healthy relationship! Positivity is what determines whether we will want to spend more time with each other, how we end up feeling about each other, and how safe we'll feel in sharing ourselves with each other! The less doubt we have that we are loved, accepted, and admired--the closer and more satisfying that friendship will feel. Basically, our friendships are the people we are choosing to be with and we'll make that intuitive choice, in part, based on how they make us feel about ourselves: we like people who like us.

So anytime we can compliment, express gratitude, give a gift, provoke laughter, communicate our pride in them, or enter into an experience together that feels special--> we are increasing the bond of that relationship! We are increasing the odds that it's healthy.  We are ensuring that our interactions together feel warmer, more supportive, and more satisfying. Those are no small outcomes!

In fact, research shows we need five acts of positivity for every negative feeling in our relationship in order to keep those connections feeling healthy and fulfilling.  In other words, there will undoubtedly always be some "withdrawals" we each make on that friendship with annoying habits, stressful events, and unmet expectations; but more telling to the health of the relationship than the fact that we will occasionally disappoint each other is whether we're making enough "deposits" to keep our relationships balanced!  The more joy coming in-- the less the negative will affect us.

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To that end, we have so much to gain by showing our friends that they are thought of, appreciated, and meaningful to us-- this Sunday, on Friends Day, and pretty much every other day throughout the year! ;)

Fun Ideas and Ways to Show Gratitude to Our Friends

  • Brag and Cheer Loudly for the Success of Our Friends!  Just like we cheer for our favorite teams, show the love to your friends on social media! Every day is a golden opportunity to post your wedding congratulations, brag about their podcasts and blogs, and cheer for their work accomplishments, and this Sunday, we can at least post on our friends' walls and tell them jsut how cool we think they are!

  • Post Photos of Friends on Friend Day!  Post a collage of photos of friends who made memories with you this year—we all love to feel seen and valued! Plus, we'll see those photos pop up every year ensuring the love will keep on giving!  This gift, while seemingly small communicates to our friends that we loved making those memories with them and research shows that seeing photos gives us a boost of joy, almost more powerful than the day we took the original photo!

  • Host a Gratitude Party.  If you're up for celebrating offline, one of my favorite ideas, shared in my book Friendships Don’t Just Happen!, is to throw a casual party for your friends who rallied around you after a hard year, a big event, or a painful crisis.  Invite them over, feed them food, introduce them to each other, and thank them to their face for being there for you in a way that mattered! Send out the invitations on Friends Day and let them look forward to a soon-to-come gathering!

  • Surprise Friends With Stamped Mail!  Getting an unexpected card in the mail is one of the simple joys in life that stands out and means so much.  Write a few lines today telling your friend how much your friendship means to you and what you specifically admire about them so they can find your love in the midst of the bills and junk mail! 


Join Me On My First Facebook Live!

I've been wanting to try out Facebook Live for a while now (since apparently I am one of the last people on the planet to do one?!? ha!) and I figured what better time to dive in than on Friends Day!!  So will you come join me so I'm not talking to crickets?? (It's like the fear of being the only one to show up at a party! Come save me!) I know you have the Super Bowl too... but you know... maybe you have 10-15 minutes on Sunday morning, at 10 am PST/11 am MST/12 pm CST/1 pmEST to come say hi? I'll be on my Facebook page sharing research on the power of being grateful for our friends and I'll be sharing your stories and ideas and tips, too!  Can't wait!!!!  (Join me here.)

The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Definition of Friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you catch the three?

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

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

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

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

 

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The Gift of Flexibility in Relationships

I returned home this week to the United States; back to a country where we can flush our toilet paper down the toilet, drink water out of the tap, and choose to sleep past the sound of roosters.  Ha! But oh there is already so much to miss about Nicaragua: sighting monkeys in forests, eating amazing food, sampling fruits I've never seen before, practicing my Spanglish with the locals, hiking to waterfalls, watching the "run with the bulls" in Granada, making tortillas on a wood oven, learning how to make tamales from a local family, walking through charming towns, and just learning about an amazing population of our brothers and sisters in another part of this world. It was all so very special.

If you're familiar with our TravelCircles then you'll know that all our trips are designed for women to come alone and get to know each other.  We start the trip as strangers; depart as friends. It's one of the most magical parts of the trips.

Here we all are on top of our van waiting to watch the annual "Running with the Bulls" in Granada!

Leaning Like the Bamboo

One story that emerged on our trip is so appropriate to friendship that I wanted to pop into your inbox this weekend with this little inspiration for you, trusting that there is a relationship in your life where this truth can serve as an invitation to, as well.

The chances of any two people wanting to do the exact same activities, with the same exact needs and energy levels, enjoying it in the same way, at the exact same time is the stuff of fairy tales.

In fact, in some ways it's easier to travel with strangers than it is with friends or family-- we're all on our best behavior, more willing to try new things, and excited to get to know each other; but no matter who we travel beside on vacation or through life, the art of compromise is ever-present.

The lesson the bamboo is inspirational to all of us in our relationships.

At one of our hotels, one "wall" of our eating area was bamboo.  And it was so loud-- creaking and groaning and singing with the wind. For a city girl like me, to be sipping my morning Nicaraguan coffee and be serenaded by the bamboo was such a delight.

Bamboo is one of those trees that teaches lesson after lesson, but on that morning the one that popped into my head was:

Flexibility: Bamboo bends with the wind, never fighting against it. But it doesn't blow away with the wind, it stays rooted. Its ability to bend without breaking or being uprooted is so beautiful.  It's the perfect metaphor for flexibility-- being able to go-with-the-flow without ever losing our center or our roots.

The Gift of Flexibility

Being flexible isn't weak, rather it's one of the strongest choices ever: leaving one standing straight even after the winds tire out.

We often think of being flexible as someone who compromises and rarely gets what they

While not everyone on our trip was as excited about wild monkeys as I was, they said that my enthusiasm was contagious. Ha! We were all pretty excited to see this guy down on the ground!

really want.  But as our group shared our favorite moments of the trip on our last night together-- I can attest that we all very much got what we wanted: Jennifer got in her nightlife, Erika her chocolate, Miriam her rain forest, Pamela her market photos, and me my monkeys.

Flexibility didn't mean we didn't get what we wanted, but rather that we helped each other get what was most important to each other!

And in so doing, we each received so much more than we were looking for!

There were activities on the itinerary that I would surely have skipped if I were traveling alone or with my husband.

 

What I might have missed:

  • I definitely would have skipped driving up to the rural village on dirt roads, but because we all had to go together, I went along. Fortunately! Because we ducked into a little home up there to learn how to make our own tortillas from grinding the corn to flipping it over on the wood-fire. And let me just say that there is hardly anything tastier than salt on a hot homemade tortilla!
  • I probably would have talked myself out of riding a horse in the rain, but because

    Riding Estelle through the most gorgeous rain forest ever was a magical experience!

    others were excited about it, I went along.  And it may have been my favorite day of the trip-- we saw monkeys, took photos at gorgeous vistas, and laughed a lot!

  • I would have listened to my exhaustion and relaxed at the hotel, but because Jennifer was so excited to go to Salsa dance lessons, I decided to join her.  Good thing, otherwise I would have missed out on a lot of laughter! Ha!

It was so impressive to watch us practice hearing each others needs and doing what we could do make the trip amazing for everyone.  And it surprised me again how in so doing that for others-- I was exposed to things I wouldn't have chosen myself.

In other words: my trip was BETTER because I was flexible. I lost little to nothing, but gained so much more.

In your relationships, I invite you to consider: What would it look like for you to let the wind blow you a little in a new direction? What might you do with someone or how might you respond differently if you knew you could bend and not break? What could you be open to even if it's not what you would personally choose?  How might you and a friend do a better job of leaning into what makes each other happy?

With Lake Nicaragua behind us, we pose for a quick moment before the rain soaked us!  :)

p.s.  Want to travel with us?  All women over the age of 21 are invited to come on any of our trips! Our next two trips with availability are to Cuba this November or Turkey next May! See info here.

 

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

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

What is Vulnerability?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Different Expressions of Vulnerability That Are Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quiz: Am I a Good Friend?

Apparently Everything Can Be Blamed on Your Friends It's all the rage right now to be asking whether your friends are good enough to be friends with you.  Blogger after blogger seems obsessed with encouraging you to do a spring cleaning of your friends as if it's their fault for why you can't lose weight, earn more money, or become more enlightened. "You don't have the right friends!" they cry out from their self-help havens.

This whole concept that we are the sum of who we hang out with has been dumbed-down and grossly abused so much that we're starting to believe that all we need to do is hang out with beautiful, skinny, wealthy, and successful people and we, too, will start to look and act like them. And so it's one more lie out there encouraging already-disconnected and far-too-lonely-of-women to end relationships with hopes that if they could just find Ms. Perfect to befriend us, then we, too, can become more like her.

My dear, dear friends-- I know it's tempting to have someone to blame for the parts of your life that you don't like, but let me gently suggest that while we are certainly impacted by our friends, they are not the reason you are not as happy as you want to be. And there is a better question to ask than: "Are my friends bad for me?"

How Our Friendships Do Impact Us

Our friendships do certainly influence us, and we know that behaviors, mindsets, and outlooks are "contagious" in a sense.  We are more likely to be similar to our friends (i.e. smoke if they do, be fashion-conscious if they are, wear plus-sizes if they do, talk about spirituality if they do, work long hours if they do) than vastly different, but that's not the same as saying you will become like them, against your will.

I'm all for joining a weight-loss community when that's your goal, attending church with other like-minded people when you want to grow more aware, or participating in a mastermind group when you want to increase your business-savvy-mindedness.  I cheer for you as you add friends into your life who can help you think bigger thoughts, expose you to new resources, and who can empathize with your experience.

But to seek more Common Friends to inspire one part of your life is a far-different invitation than to "get rid" of friends you've loved simply because they aren't everything you want to become.

This isn't about not ending painful relationships or not seeking out support in areas of our lives that we feel called to pay attention to... I'm all for both of those.  But to suggest to you that you need to end relationships with people you love because they aren't perfect or because you might not succeed if they have bad habits is just plan ol' fear-mongering. Who among us doesn't have a bad habit?  Who among us has all-desirable traits without any un-desirable traits?  And who says that they will pull us down... why can't we lift them up? And can we focus on our growth rather than keep pointing a finger at everyone else?

Instead Evaluate What Kind of Friend You Are

So pause for a moment from fretting over whether your friends are lifting you up, and instead ask, "Am I the best and healthiest friend I can be?"

How would you rate yourself 1-5 on the following statements?  Look for evidence in your relationships to see how you show up. (You might want to take this quiz a few times-- thinking of a different specific friend each time if you feel like you show up differently in different relationships.)

Are the following statements never true (score a 1) or always true (score 5), or somewhere in between?

  1. _____  My friends leave time with me feeling better about themselves and their lives.
  2. _____ I listen attentively to my friends, showing deep interest by asking follow-up questions to their sharing before sharing my own stories.
  3. _____I especially make sure to ask them questions and show interest about the parts of their lives that we don't have in common (marriage, kids, jobs) to make sure that they never feel like I don't care about those areas.
  4. _____ I affirm my friends, validating them on a wide variety of things such as the decisions they make, the roles they play (i.e. wife/mother/daughter), and how they go about doing things.
  5. _____ I want my friends to be as supported as possible, surrounded by a strong circle of love so I support them making other friends and I speak highly of the people they love.
  6. _____ I make it a point to reflect back to my friends their own truth rather than put my preferences on them; I do this by repeating back to them what I hear them saying, and making a point to tell them when I hear their voice sound more peaceful, and when I see their eyes light up when they're talking about something.
  7. _____ I am truly a cheerleader for my friends-- they would say that I believe in them, encourage them, and find joy in their success.
  8. _____ I initiate with my friends... showing them how much I value them by setting aside precious time for them, thinking up ways to be with them, and reaching out.
  9. _____ I follow-up with my friends when they tell me about upcoming dates such as their father's surgery, their kids first day of school, or a big speaking appointment they have-- I text, call, or email to let them know I'm thinking of them.
  10. _____ I stay in touch with my friends... they receive texts, comments on their Facebook posts, or phone calls from me in between our quality time spent together.  They feel like I know what's going on in their lives.
  11. _____ I practice vulnerability with my close friends, choosing to let them see me when I don't have it all figured out, sharing with them my fears when I'm processing, and am willing to let them see me as I am, without trying to impress them.
  12. _____ I let my friends shine.  I don't respond with insecurity when my friends succeed or get something I want.  I want them happy and successful so I never try to one-up with my own story, devalue what she has, or begrudge her for her joy.
  13. _____ I try to serve my friends sometimes whether it's offering to help pack boxes, baking something to drop off, or offering to help her with a big event.

Add up your score.  Anything over 50 and I'd say you're doing pretty awesome at loving your friends with kindness, generosity, and attention.  Anything less than that and it might behoove you to pick one or two of the lowest scores and see what you can do to possibly become a better friend; which really means becoming a better person, overall!

And instead of focusing so much on whether everyone else is good enough for us, let's focus on making sure we're good enough for them!

Trusting all along the way, that as we become healthier and more loving, that we'll be the contagious ones in this world  bringing others up, rather than living with fear that they could bring us down.

Which one of the 13 are you going to work on?  How?  Please share if you're willing!

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?!  :)

Three Friendship Inspirations from a 7-Year Old

It has been a record 22 days since I've blogged!  I guess you can't complain you're ever getting too many e-mails from me!  :)  My excuse for my negligence is two-fold: First, I sent off the complete draft of my book manuscript "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" to my publishers in the beginning of May so all my daily writing time was focused on getting that done instead of blogging! And my second reason is that the day after I e-mailed those 80,000 words, my husband & I flew out to Tampa, FL for 12 days to babysit my 7-year old niece and 4-year old nephew while my sister and her hubby enjoy their first long get-away without kids. So as a substitute mom I've pretty much limited my work to the bare bones while I'm here playing!   

Three Friendship Inspirations We Can Learn From Kids

But now the kids are happily playing in a homemade fort we built in the backyard so I thought I'd share my musings about three moments of beautiful friendship I've witnessed from my first-grade niece, Naomi. The first example comes from her meeting a stranger at the beach over the weekend, then I share two moments with her best friend (known in this post as T.) who lives down the street.

  1. I love how kids don't need a ton of warm up to play with others: We weren't at the beach for even an hour before Naomi and another little girl introduced themselves to each other in the water. They were inseparable the rest of the day as they practiced standing on boogey-boards, jumped on inflatable toys, and collected shells. I just shook my head in awe.  Never in a million years would I be making friends on the beach.  Not because all the other women didn't look friendly, but we simply don't walk up to people sun-bathing, introduce ourselves, plop down on their towels, and spend the afternoon together. But that's not to say we can't learn from her. I love that kids value the moment, playing with whomever is there, caring more about having fun now than trying to figure out whether they have a future together or not. We all value connection and there are a lot of activities in life that would be enhanced with new friends even if we don't know it will only last an hour or a day.
  2. I love how kids easily express adoration:  We arrived a few days early so we could attend Naomi's 7th birthday party.  Her BFF made her a card where she wrote: "You and I have been best friends since I moved. I wish I knew you since I was a baby. You are the bestest friend anyone can have! I wish in my next life we can be together." Wow! That they don't yet filter their adoration is such a sweet gift of childhood.  They aren't consumed with worrying about whether they'll look desperate, whether the other feels the same way, or whether it's 'too soon' to say it yet. They just proclaim the friendship into eternity.  Some of us adults can do that with friends we've known forever, but I've noticed we become much more guarded as adults, taking much longer to tell each other "I really like you!"
  3. I love how kids steal extra moments together: Naomi quickly informed me upon my arrival, "You know Aunt Shasta that T. and I play together every day, right?" Her face looked a little worried that when her parents were to leave that maybe I wouldn't know the routine.  I smiled and said, "yes" thinking this is exactly why friendship felt so much easier as kids-- we had every day together! Now I'm lucky if I see new friends once a month! Then a super precious moment came when T.'s older sister came to tell T. that she had to come home one day when they were playing over here. Next thing I know T. is running away from her sister, refusing to go home, not wanting to leave her BFF.  Her older sister began chasing her, begging her to obey.  T. then runs to Naomi for help; they stand there clinging to each other, refusing to end their time together without a fight. I'm sure if I were the mother who had to put up with that often then I may not find it as charming, but as the visiting aunt who knows the value of friendship I loved it! In our adult lives we schedule each other in, fitting our friends between this-and-that appointment, rarely giving each other an entire afternoon and then begging for more time together! It inspired me. To watch kids get together with no plan for what they will do ahead of time, play for as long as they can, and still wish for more time together-- that is as good as it gets!

I do believe that there was an ease in childhood friend-making that we can't always repeat as adults.  In fact, my book is all about how to meet people and develop them into meaningful friendships because I find that we often, as adults, just keep waiting and hoping that friendships will one day feel as easy as it did back when we were kids.  We may not now have the repetition of school or an open schedule to play every afternoon as we did back then, but we need friendships all the same. 

Naomi inspired me, reminding me that it doesn't always have to be complicated.  When it comes down to it, if we just 1) played with the people we met, 2) told them we liked them, and 3) tried to spend as much time together as possible-- that really is the bulk of friend-making. Even as adults.  

What do you miss about childhood friendships? In what ways are friendships the same or different as kids from adults? What observations have you had about friendship when you watch kids play?

Frientimacy: The Intimacy of Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was due to consistency that we have fostered this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Healthy Friendship: How to Be the Best Friend Possible

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

What is Emotional Safety?

by Lisa Brookes Kift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What I've Learned About Becoming Emotionally Safe

by Kelly Cape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Prayer: Who I Want To Be

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

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

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

hands holding a heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so. Namaste.

 

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

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

I Want a Best Friend, a BFF

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

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

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

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

How to Make a Best Friend

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

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

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

The Frientimacy Triangle

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

Shastas Frientimacy Triangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Your BFF Day

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

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

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

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

Is He Really a Friend? I'm Doubtful.

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

The Limitations of the Word Friend in World Politics

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

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

Condeleezza Rice on Fareed

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

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

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

The Limitations of the Word Friend in our English Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, off my soapbox.  :)

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Side-notes:

  1. If interested in the next cycle of the 21 Days of Friendship process, use the code Blog to save $10.
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Do You Have a Friendship Checklist?

Single? Check.Good-looking, without trying too hard? Check. College graduate? Check. A few years older than me? Check. Likes to salsa dance? Check.

You would be forgiven for thinking this was a dating list! But in fact, it's what we we do with other women all the time. We have this picture that the someone "who gets me" is most likely going to be "just like me." And so we friend-date looking for the other woman whose life experiences and life interests are as close to mine as possible.

We'll dismiss someone because they live on the other side of town. Pre-decide that we probably won't be great friends because her kids are a few years older than mine. Rule out anyone who's married if we're single, or vice-versa. Confirm that we don't have much in common because you're in management for a big company and she's selling jewelry at art fairs. Or, and we've all done it, determine that based on her picture, you can be pretty sure you won't have much in common.

The Consequences of Checklists When I first launched GirlFriendCircles-- we didn't show you the photos or the profiles of the women you were going to meet. For this precise reason. We are incredibly judgmental. We didn't want to risk you not hitting it off with another woman because you read that she likes the opera and you don't. We wanted you to experience each other as people who change, not as though our profiles are comprehensive and static.

But you wanted to know more beforehand and we soon realized that perhaps we weren't avoiding the judgment as much as were only delaying it (which still has some merits! LOL!). Here's a portion of an email I received this week from one of our GFC GirlFriends:

"Sometimes when meeting new people and getting to know them I sense that there is some internal checklist that they reference in order to determine how valuable it is to continue talking to me. It can sometimes be less of a conversation and more of a 'banter' of sorts, each party going back and forth to see how many checks this other person gets. I've just recently started noticing this a lot, and it actually gets really distracting for me because I start to realize that this other person isn't really talking with me - they're comparing me to their checklist!"

Not only is that not fun for either party, but I'm not so sure it's even super effective.

Grateful Our Checklists Didn't Work Several years ago, I was sitting around with some girlfriends talking about how lucky I was to have married the man I did, when one of my girlfriends pointed out that I would have never met him on match.com which had been the source of many of my dates. And she was right since he was beyond the age that I limited in my searches. Which obviously ended up not being a deal-breaker since I did marry the guy, but had he asked me out online, I probably wouldn't have given him the chance.

And in that theme, the girls who were married all started reflecting why their husbands wouldn't have stood a chance either based on online queries. For instance, one girl is now married to an incredible guy who makes a great living, but she would have ruled him out before meeting him because he didn't have a college education. Which she thought was a non-negotiable for her. Obviously not. And another would have ruled out her husband because he's the same height as she is which in real life wasn't a problem, but if she had been searching she would have only dated taller than 6'. And the other, who happens to be vegetarian, would have only considered other vegetarians but ended up meeting her carnivore husband and realizing how minimal of an issue that was for them.

Know Your Checklist: So assess your needs: If you have a full circle of meaningful friends but just wish you had someone to jog around the lake with you on weekends-- then by all means, be picky and only "friend-date" for runners. Or if you love your friends but just need someone else who is pregnant at the same time as you-- great-- find that expecting mom.

However, if you're truly looking for life friends, relationships that will go deeper as you put in consistent time together, then please believe me that sometimes the friendships that can prove most meaningful are the ones where you hold yourself open to being wowed by someone unlike you. And research shows that while most of us are happiest with 5-10 friends and that most of us have 0-2 that we'd consider confidantes-- then that means you have several openings that can be filled with various amazing women.

The morale of the story? Put qualities on your checklist such as someone who affirms you, respects people, brings laughter into your time together and shares honestly. But hold loose the "stats" that you think are so important, for you just might miss out on someone who could have been your BFF for life. Not worth it.

Trust me on this one, for I assure you that I wouldn't want to be doing life without my husband. ;)