How To?

Ten Steps to Starting Friendships

I've been consumed with researching and developing content for my next book, Frientimacy (so cannot wait to share with you what I'm putting together to help us bridge the gap between the intimacy we have and the intimacy we need and want!) which will come out, most likely in the Spring of 2016. But as I've been focused on what it means to deepen friendships--really, really, really, deepen them-- it reminded me today that I also need to keep talking about how to start friendships!  If you're in a place where you need to be gathering up people to befriend, then here's a quick list of my best advice for creating new friendships!

The Ten Steps to Starting Friendships:580791_10151421238572435_941490495_n

  1. Own the Opportunity: Value friendship enough to do something about it! Be proud of yourself that you're responding to your truth that you were made for more connecting!
  2. Use Your Resources: Offer to help someone local host a dinner party with their friends. E-mail your friends from across the country and ask them if they know any fun women in your area they can connect you with since you're new! Look through your friends' local friends on Facebook and introduce yourself. Follow locals on Twitter and see what events they're inviting people to attend. (For more ideas, read chapter 5 of my book!)
  3. Practice Friendliness: Even if you're shy, you simply have to decide what places feel authentic for you to be practicing friendliness: association meetings, lectures, networking events, the dog park, church, poetry readings, cafes, classes, and so on.
  4. Affirm Her: No need to talk about the weather! Start conversations with the things you noticed about them: their hair, their outfit, their confidence, their laugh. We like people who like us.
  5. Invite: Just making small talk with someone in the locker room after yoga is hardly the same as making a friend. As you meet women that you want to get to know better, you have to take the friendly chat to the next level. Try this: "Want to get a drink after class sometime next week?"
  6. Be Specific about your Availability: The disease of "we should get together sometime" can ruin the best of potential BFFs. Instead, try, "I'm usually available for happy hour most nights or for Sunday morning brunches. What works best for you?"
  7. Ask Personal Questions: By personal, I don't mean private, but make sure conversation is about the two of you. Don't risk an entire evening wasted on celebrity gossip, the latest movies, and hairstyles-gone-bad. These subjects feel temporarily bonding, but you haven't shared yourself. Ask her why she appreciates where she works, what she's got coming up that matters to her, what she loves to do in your new city, or what her highlights have been in the last few weeks.
  8. Share the Positive: It's a proven fact that we want friends to improve our happiness and health, not to bring us down. We haven't earned that right yet to cry on each other’s shoulders. For now we will be warm, positive, and open-minded—someone she wants to spend more time with.
  9. Follow Up. If it were a new romantic relationship, we'd be less than thrilled if he didn't call for a week after our first date. Give the same respect to the women you connect with by writing an e-mail or text of thanks, expressing interest in getting to know her better.
  10. Follow Up If it were for work or romance, we’d suggest the very next opening on our calendar when we could pull off another rendezvous! Why delay for friendship? Let's just say it takes 6-10 times of connecting with someone before we feel "close" to them. Why spread those out over a year if you can make a friend in two months of weekly get-togethers? Momentum helps the bond—keep getting together as frequently as possible.

Hopefully this list helps inspire you to be intentional as you're meeting people and serves to remind you that waaaay more important than simply meeting people is how you treat the people you're meeting and how you're following up with them.  Most of us actually meet enough people, we're just not thinking of them as potential friends and doing something about it!

I'd encourage you to pick the step that is hardest for you-- step #1 of actually admitting the need?  Step #5 of initiating some time together? Step #8 of focusing on adding value and joy to your time together? Step #10 of repeating the get-togethers a few more times and trusting that with each time your friendship will feel better?-- and focusing on practicing that one!

Are you willing to share with us in the comment section which step you find most challenging? :)

This list is an excerpt from my book Friendships Don't Just Happen: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends, found on page 125.

No Excuse! Commit to a Girlfriend Weekend!

If you've been following me for a while then you know that every year, around this time, I meet up with 4 of my friends for our Annual Girls Weekend.  This year marked our 10th year of weekend get-aways. 10 years.  I almost can't believe it.  It's not hard to believe that we've been friends for that long... in fact we became friends before that... with 1-2 of the friendships going back nearly 20 years.  But that five women have committed to taking the time and paying the money to go on a girls trip for 10 years in a row feels huge to me. That is commitment that moves me.

This year we met in San Antonio, where my friend J'Leen lives so we could watch her perform Improv on Saturday night since she credits our group friendship with her taking her first Improv class last year! What fun!!!

So Many Excuses to Not Get-Away!

That means that 5 incredibly busy women have prioritized time away with each other and made it happen. No matter what.

  • No matter that during that time we've had 3 divorces... everyone has come, every year.  We've celebrated 2 weddings... and we have one more coming up this December!
  • No matter that 1 girl is on a strict budget and 2 have often used credit cards to come... everyone has come, every year. Even when they got hit with HUGE tax bills, bought new houses, had cars die, gave up per diem hours to attend, and had to scrimp in other areas to make it work.
  • No matter that my girlfriends have birthed 5 babies during that time.  We have, in fact, had someone pregnant more years than not, including last year when one of them was 8 months pregnant. Everyone has come, every year. Even the year when one of the girls had a late miscarriage the day before the trip... she came.
  • No matter that our work schedules are insane-- conference attendance, speaking schedules, book launches, private practices to run, and a dozen reasons to say "I'm too busy!" Everyone has come, every year. Including this year when one woman had to return from a business conference, barely kiss her kids and husband, and then get back on a plane to head off to see us.
  • No matter that it inconveniences our husbands/boyfriends because they have to sacrifice the money, watch the kids, and do life alone for a few days. Everyone has come, every year. Even the years when some of the girls didn't have a spouse, they had family watch their kids and they still came. Even the spouse who isn't available 7-8 months out of the year steps up joyfully if we can plan around his schedule!
  • And speaking of kids... between my 4 girlfriends, they mother 8 children, ranging this year from 10 months old to 15 years old.  But they come every year... I shake my head in awe...

Kids and Girlfriend Get-Aways

I don't want to downplay the commitment I make to be at Girls Weekend every year, because no matter whether we have kids or not, all of us have full and busy lives; but I absolutely am in awe of my friends who are moms who don't use that as an excuse to not show up for their friendships.  When I hear about the Little League games my friends are missing by being gone, the extra stress it puts on their spouses those weekends, or the times when their kids are sick and they aren't home to nurse them... I stand in deep gratitude for these women.

Here are some tips I've picked up from them that might help make it easier for other mom's to make the very difficult choice of justifying a get-away weekend:

  • Daddy Time: Several of them said, "It's actually kind of awesome to watch our kids have these special weekends with Dad... yes it's stressful in some ways, but this way they get to plan pizza night, feel like they have Dad's undivided attention, and create memories."
  • Modeling to the Kids: With statements like "I can only hope that my girls are watching me do this and looking forward to the days they are grown up and get to do girls weekends!" and "I just tell my kids-- just like you get to go a have a slumber party sometimes, this is Mommy's slumber party," my friends are teaching their kids that friendship is worth scheduling.
  • Expectation Management: They all agreed, "Actually, the more we all do it, the easier it gets.  Now it's not a surprise or a hardship to go away as much as it was in the early days, the families just know it's going to happen and they're practiced."
  • Personal Self-Care: Now when I ask them why they come, most of them just say, "I wouldn't NOT come!" or "This is the best weekend of my whole year!" We all recognize it as the time when our own cup gets filled up with love.  We process life, share what's making us happy, talk about our fears, and become better people for having been away. I think, undoubtedly, that we all show up back home with more love to give.

I do think, like anything, that the more one does it, the more meaningful and easy it becomes.  One girlfriend weekend may, or may not, change anyone's life or feel worth the stress... but you add up the years and how much value we add to each other's life, and I really do believe that we are adding years to our lives. And each year we can go deeper, share more vulnerably, cheer for each other more loudly, and laugh so much more.  We've made our weekends meaningful and life-saving.

Today I just wanted to pop into your inbox to say that no matter what excuse feels so true for your life... I am one loud vote on the side of you saying yes to some friendship time that extends beyond a lunch or dinner.  Something about staying up late laughing and snorting, waking up and whispering about life, and spending a long full day together is truly as magical as life can possibly get.  Keep it cheap, keep it easy, and keep it meaningful-- but whatever you do, get the invitations emailed and get that date on the calendar!

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  Huge love to Valerie, J'Leen, Karen, and Krista for juggling friendship as one of the priorities of your very busy and full lives.  I am blessed by your commitment. xoxo

p.s.s.  Other posts about Girls Weekends:

5 Tips for Planning a Girls Weekend!

Weekend Get-Togethers: The Benefits of Long-Distance Friendships

The Power of Women in Circle: Ideas for Women's Groups:

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!

3 Ways to Increase Meaningful Connection this Holiday Season

The caricature of women during the holiday season is one of a frazzled, exhausted, pressure-filled, and over-extended woman.   I'm not entirely sure how true that is anymore? I'm holding out hope that we're getting better at picking the events that matter, saying no to credit card debt, and letting go of the belief that we have to send cards and throw a party and hide the elf every night and make homemade cookies and buy everyone a present. I'm hoping... But even if we're not frazzled from over-commitment, it's far too easy to let the holidays whiz by without really sinking in to meaningful moments.

Here are three ways to help increase your sense of connection this holiday season:

1)  Initiate Meaningful Sharing. Far more important than scheduling time to be with family and friends is then making sure that real sharing happens.  I do this most often by saying, "Let's all share one high-light from this month (or week) so far and one low-light." (read my post about that favorite sharing question here) to ensure that everyone gets to share about the subjects of their choosing and to help keep the conversation real.

But another idea that's especially good for groups of people not used to sharing is to put a bunch of meaningful questions in a jar and during dinner announce that tonight we'll each draw a question to answer.  This extends the meal time and keeps everyone laughing and connecting longer.  I'm keeping a jar on my table all month-long for everyone who comes over!

It doesn't have to be fancy-- just a jar with questions begging to be answered by anyone who sits around my table this month!

Questions could include:

  • What is one thing that surprised you in a good way, an unexpected gift, that you’re grateful happened?
  • What is one thing that you’re really, really, really proud of from this last year… something that matters to you that we can celebrate with you.
  • What’s an area of your life (i.e. work, health, hobbies, relationship) that has been really energizing and fulfilling for you. What contributes to that feeling?
  • What is one thing happening in your life right now that gives you hope?
  • If you had to give the last year a name/chapter title—what might it be and why?
  • What are three unique (not the typical “God/Family/Health) things in your life that you’re really grateful for?

A little note on this before I go onto the next idea.  It's common to feel a little weird doing this and that's okay.  I just tell myself that making sure everyone leaves feeling seen and heard matters way more to me than whether it will feel normal, comfortable or easy on me, or anyone else.  I used to try to guess whether a certain family member would think it was stupid or whether so-and-so would actually share-- I've been doing this long enough now to conclude that most people prefer meaningful conversation to small talk, everyone wants to be seen, and that it's a gift to all of us to have some structure that provides permission and expectation to share.  Courage to you!

2)  Choose One Person You Miss.  Ask yourself who you miss having more regularly in your life and commit to connecting with them this month.  It could be a far-away friend whom you decide you will Skype or call with... no matter what.  It could be someone locally that you just haven't seen enough of recently whom you call and say, "You are my priority this month.  My month won't be complete without being with you.. so name the time and place and I'll come to you... I want to spend time with you."  Or, it could be an aging family member, someone you've drifted apart from, or maybe even somebody where there has been some tension between the two of you.  The point is to just pick one person who pops into your head and find a way to really connect.

The gift of this is that everything else on your list will feel urgent, with a time-stamp to it, but that doesn't mean they are all things we'd list as "most important"; whereas this connection isn't urgent at all (the reason you've let it slide until now) but you're claiming it's importance and choosing to make it urgent.  You're deciding that it is indeed urgent to make sure that this season has a deeper connection as part of your celebration. Initiate today... and be completely committed to finding the time to catch up and affirm and love on one person you miss.

 3) Pick Presence for One Event.  In an ideal world, we'd be truly present to every single event-- decorating ginger-bread houses, the kids choir concert, shopping with your mom, signing the Christmas cards-- but the truth is that many "fun" things don't capture 100% of our attention.  So let's not claim we can do it all season, but let's intentionally pick one that matters.  Look at your calendar and say, "For this event... I am going to soak it up!" And then really be as present as you can be: choose to find the magic, watch their faces, add music, dance and laugh, pause and breathe deep, communicate your love, receive everything available to you in those moments.

In this exercise we're not worrying about updating our social media pages, we're not hurrying everyone along, we're not more focused on the logistics than the people, and we're not quick to temper.  Quite the opposite, we are cherishing as much as we can, holding gratitude, inhaling deeply, and smiling.  When we get to January-- we want to look back and remember that we were there at that event.

In choosing to do these two of these three things, we're not really adding more time to our month-- we're simply infusing the things we're already doing with meaning.  We are making sure that for as intentional as we are about getting through our list of tasks that we're also making sure that we're intentional about the outcome of those tasks.  For what's the point of filling up the calendar if not to also fill up our hearts?

May the month hold meaning for you,

Shasta

p.s.  What are other ideas you have?  Share them here and inspire others!  What are you doing to help add meaning? To make sure you feel connected?

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?

Friendships Don't Just Happen - for Guy Friends

From Shasta:  I've long-held that most men crave more meaningful friendships and while I don't have the same expertise and experience in teaching men as I do to women (that won't stop me from trying though! ha!) I have been long interviewing men about their friendships because I think there is a lot there that we aren't yet talking about, and need to be.

Greg Tjosvold has preferred friendship with women much of his life but is grateful to be exploring meaningful friendships with men now.

One of the men whose opinions and experiences on this subject has impressed me greatly is Greg Tjosvold, a middle-school teacher, husband, father, and author living outside of Vancouver, Canada.

Greg's story is poignant... as he comes to have faith in other men wanting and willing to grow in closer friendship with each other.  I hope that as we keep modeling men having deeper friendships and giving more permission (as a culture) to men to get together to talk and share life (without sports being the only acceptable excuse) that we will see that frientimacy is something that enhances all of our lives, regardless of our gender.

Huge thanks Greg for sharing the story of the Barley Brethren with us!  :)  Love it!

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

Friendships Don't Just Happen - for Guy Friends

by Greg Tjosvold

He stopped trying to shove my head in the toilet when I started to cry. Grade 8 boys weren’t supposed to cry, but it worked.

Most of my interactions with guys have been like that. Until I was 14, I was very small for my age. I was an easy target for wannabe bullies trying to establish themselves. I was not athletic, so I was always picked last, if picked at all. And if I was on the team, invariably the captain would call me out in front of my peers for my less than stellar play. Being small gave others the chance to be “big.”

As a teen, I didn’t drink, tinker with cars, or “chase tail” - the favorite activities of most of the guys I knew in my small Canadian logging town. I was attracted to solo adventures like fly-fishing and astronomy. Those were safe for me. And so were girls.

My best friends have always been women.

In school, the girls I hung out with never attempted to give me a “swirly.” In fact they told off people who tried. I was always included by my amazing girl cousins whom my family visited frequently. My best friend in high school, a wonderful young woman of Japanese heritage, always kept a seat free and a meaningful conversation ready for me on the bus ride home. I played flute in band, but rather than shunning me, the cool girls in the band, the “Fearsome Five-some” I called them, made time for me. Girls were there for me; guys were not.

Things have not really changed much for me as an adult; by comfort and profession, I am still surrounded by women. My wife is my absolute best friend and soul mate. My BFF is a former teaching partner; I was her “man of honor.” As a teacher in the lower grades, I once found myself working in a building where everyone other than me, from janitor to principal, was a woman. And I was OK with that. I still feel safest in my female connections.

So I was as shocked as anyone when I said yes to an invitation from a colleague to join the founding chapter of “The Barley Brethren.” I am the rebel seventh – the lone non-drinker in a group of men coming together each week to share each other’s journeys over a six-pack of quality craft beer. For the first time in my life I am hanging out with guys and enjoying it.

What happened? This new adventure, this new friendship experiment, is a happy byproduct of navel-gazing, need, and Shasta.

Navel-gazing

As I approached my 50th birthday, I became very self-reflective. One of my realizations? That it is hard being a married, middle-aged man with female friends. On more than one occasion an outside observer has assumed I’ve been up to something. Or that I’m gay. Sometimes, I just don’t fit in with my friend’s activities (e.g. having a guy at a bachelorette party is lame!). Still other times, my offered friendship has left the other person's spouse feeling threatened and jealous. I’ve even had people tell me outright that married men should not have close female friends. Period.

All of these things do not just affect me; they also affect any potential female friend. While I have to believe that I'm worth it, it is a special lady indeed who is willing to take on such a challenging friendship. In light of that realization, I started to toy with the notion that, if I was going to need a new friend, it might be better (albeit scarier) if that person was male.

Need

It turns out that I did find myself needing new friends. My best friend and teaching partner moved to the other side of the continent (following her husband's employment) and I had a rather painful falling out with another very good friend at nearly the same time. The full weight of my needs for companionship and camaraderie all of a sudden fell almost exclusively on my wife's shoulders.

Shasta

Fortunately, in the midst of all of this, I came across Shasta Nelson, friendship expert, via Twitter. While her company and mission, girlfriendcircles.com, wouldn't be any help to me, her book, "Friendships don't just happen!" was a timely godsend. So much of the book resonated with me, especially:

  1. Friendships come and go. Shasta references research that shows we are now replacing about half of our friends every seven years. It was reassuring to know that what I was going through was not unusual. It's hard on the ego to admit you need new friends.
  2. There are different types of friends. For many people, I suppose Shasta's five Circles of Connectedness are largely self-evident. However, for me, it was life-changing revelation. As someone who had very few friends growing up, I just assumed that the very definition of friend was someone who was a BFF - a "committed friend" per Shasta's terminology. I distinctly remember times in my life when the phrase "Everybody's pal, nobody's friend" hung over me like a black cloud of loneliness and unworthiness. I had never really considered the importance of my "left side" friends on the continuum - how they can be the seeds of deeper friendship and who are no less important to a rich life of connection all on their own.
  3. Friendships don't just happen. I spent most of my life with the unspoken assumption that people just connected or they didn't. The book challenged me to look back at the best friendships I had in my life and understand that they were the byproduct of gradual progression. More importantly, it made it clear to me that this progression was something that could be replicated; that I could start with "contact friends" and, given time, consistency and gradually increasing intimacy, there was hope I might be able to move friends from the left side of the friendship continuum to the right.

Enter the Barley Brethren

Retired school principal Phil Ballard started the Barley Brethren to a meet a perceived need; the need for men to have the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way.

Per his early notes, he envisioned the Barley Brethren as a "club of like-minded gentlemen in search of spiritual coherence. Membership in the Double B would involve a commitment to become a connoisseur of quality craft beer and would require the sharing of 'cicerone' duties for the weekly gathering. While quaffing their favorite brew, the brothers would discover meaning for their own lives while sharing in each other’s journeys. Meetings would be convened on the “MV Kairos,” a 45 ft. motor yacht."

While we couldn't come across any group photo-- this is supposedly Phil's hand holding one of the lucky beers.  Ha!

The concept of bros and booze in a man-cave should've sent me running, given my history. However, my desire to establish male friendships and the concepts in Shasta's book give me a framework for courage.

My BFF had moved (my committed friend would soon become a confirmed friend), so when a respected colleague (a "contact friend" worth investing in) asked if I was interested in joining a group planning to meet weekly (ingredient: consistency) to learn about beer ("common friends") and discuss life (ingredient: intimacy), what might have looked scary before, I now recognized as the perfect recipe for developing friendship. The fact that founding father Phil was a "confirmed friend" with whom I had lost touch over the years seemed serendipitous.

Note from Shasta: Greg, Gold stars for making the real life application to the concepts!  Love it!

Each week during the school year we meet.

Beer pours at 7:30 sharp. We spend time reviewing the beer, its history, and its characteristics. As a non-drinker, but a life-long learner, it has been fascinating learning the terminology of surrounding craft beer. I also know what sort of beer to bring to a gathering if I am asked.

The rest of the evening is a little less structured. In theory there is a go to study we listen to or read, but just as often as we just talk about what needs to be talked about. We talk, laugh, and yes, even cry about the things that are affecting our lives. Marriage, children, death, illness, work, retirement, faith... we all bring different perspectives and wisdom to what is important in the moment.

The Barley Brethren have been meeting for two years now... at least our first group. Somewhat ironically, the friend who initially invited me became the leader of a second group when the success of the idea and the need to open the concept up to more members became self-evident. (I see this friend outside the group now though.) For the first time in my life, I am hanging out with men on a regular basis. I still have my uncomfortable flashback moments... I'm overly sensitive to teasing about my beer selections, for instance... but I am so thankful for the growing friendships in the group built on vulnerability and sharing that, frankly, I didn't believe was possible among men.

Apparently friendships don't just happen. It's an important concept for guys too.

---

While "just a group of guys," for more information, there is a site under construction: http://www.barleybrethren.com, they are on Twitter @barleybrethren, and here's their un-official theme song that sort of encapsulates the Barley Brethren: Brother, by Need To Breathe.  :)

From Shasta: Bravo guys!  Well done!  May your willingness to engage be contagious! :)

Not Enough Time for Friends? Awesome Examples of Structuring Life Around Relationships

When I ask women what one thing they wish they could change about their friendships-- the number one answer is along the lines of wishing their friends made more time for them. We're weary by how we have to schedule each other 3-weeks out, initiate a dozen emails back-and-forth, and wonder if we're a priority to the other person.

We live in a time-crunched culture where everyone believes that time is scarce and many a friendship is falling victim to a lack of time together.  We aren't just sitting on front porches, sipping iced tea late into the evening, talking about life, and watching our kids play in the quiet tree-lined streets together.

So in a world where many women are putting relationships on the back-burner, I want to hold up three of my friends who are making amazing decisions to structure their lives around their friends. May they inspire all of us to not just do what is easy, but to do what is important to us.

Willing to Schedule Time FOR Friendship

My girlfriend, Sherilyn, and I try to talk on the phone at least once a week, often for up to an hour at a time. That is impressive considering I do it in the middle of my work day, between writing, giving interviews, and running my company; and that she's doing it with

Sherilyn and me together earlier this summer in Seattle on one of her get-away's with friends. xoxo

three kids running around and begging for attention.  But we set aside the time, knowing that if we want to feel close to each other and really know what's going on in each others hearts that it's easier to do that on a regular basis than an irregular basis.

But last week she upped the ante and impressed me even more in proving just how important friendships are to her.

She's been gone this summer a bit more than normal, including at least two trips to spend time with friends, so when the husband of one of her close friends called to see if she could fly out for his wife's birthday over Labor Day weekend, she was tempted to say no.  And none of us would have faulted her: her husband has gone above and beyond this summer watching the kids so she could take off at various times, her kids start school the day after she would get back so she'll miss much of the school prep, and her schedule is nuts between now and then.  Had she said no, we would have supported her for not over-extending herself.

But she and her husband have a habit of separately thinking and praying about something for a period of time before making a big decision so they decided to convene in 24 hours to decide.  Both of them showed up in that conversation on the same page, with her husband articulating, "Life is about relationships... if there is anything we should be structuring our life around it is for this. Go be with your friends."

Wow.  So he's watching the kids one more weekend, and she's practicing not feeling guilty, trusting that she's making time for what they feel matters the most in life.  Most of us would have simply said no because we're busy and tired without even stopping to think about whether it supports our values or not.

Willing to Commit Finances FOR Friendship

Another one of my friends, Ayesha, announced two years ago to a monthly group of us that gets together to support each other, that her husband was taking a job in New York City.  But because her friendship meant so much to us she said she was going to keep flying out once a month to spend that evening with us.

Here I am with Ms. Ayesha in CA where I am so grateful that she still comes back frequently to be with her friends.

Buying a place in New York City isn't cheap and as they've been trying to get more established in their new city it would have made sense to say "this monthly expense of flying back-and-forth is too costly."  Indeed it has a pretty expensive price tag on it.

But she knows that if these are friendships that are important to her to maintain face-to-face then she will have to invest in them.

We can't all afford to do that, but what she's showcasing is amazing.  What she invites us to look at in our own budgets is how sometimes it costs us something to maintain the friendship; and that a price tag isn't bad if you're getting meaningful connection on the other side of it.

Willing to Move FOR Friendship

When one of my best friends, Daneen, texted me in June to let me know that she and her husband were thinking about moving away from San Francisco, my heart just fell.  We all know how hard it can feel to finally develop meaningful friendships so the idea of losing a little bit of that time together was tough to swallow.

And yet... I was so immensely proud of her because her reason for moving was to go back to a community where she feels like she belongs.  She and her husband met in college in this community, where his family lives and where they still have many friends.

A few days ago, Daneen, (in the middle) drove over an hour from her her new home to come into the City to spend an evening with me and Vania!

Since having a child, San Francisco has felt like a hard place to have community that both includes children and spirituality.  (Her story in her words.) While there is much they love here, they are moving away to a place where they hope to have more families over for dinner and more engagement in a church community. It's a small community so they're likely to run into people they know at the grocery store and can walk down the street to connect with neighbors.

In a world where people move frequently for jobs, more money, or for love--leaving friendships to chance; (Here's an article I wrote for Huffington Post called 5 Things to Consider Before Moving Away From Friends) I find it amazingly inspiring to move for friendships, and trusting that they can find the other pieces.  All too often we leave a place, walking away from friendships, forgetting that it will take years before we can build those up again. And while she's moving away from me and a few others; she's leaning into a place where her life will be far more established around the community she craves. She is willing to plant herself where she believes her opportunities for meaningful friendship will increase.

What Am I Willing to Invest?

I hesitate to tell the stories because I don't want anyone feeling any guilt, whatsoever; but I choose to tell them because I think there's an inspirational element to them, also.

We are so often modeled by others that friendships come-and-go, that they are the first thing to let go of when life gets busy, or that they are only important when it's convenient.  So I think it's important for us to hear stories of what other women are doing, what they're willing to invest, what they're willing to do to maintain their friendships.  It's important for us to know that it's not crazy to make choices in favor of friendship. It invites us to ponder, "Maybe I do have one evening a week to go out with friends" or "Maybe I could commit to one hour a week to talk to one of my best friends."

Time isn't necessarily scarce; we just have to prioritize what we believe is worth structuring our lives around during the time that we do have.

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

Starting in 3 weeks!  "The Friendships You've Always Wanted! Learning a Better Way to Meet-Up, Build-Up, and Break-Up with Your Friends!"*

Friendships Wanted banner-01One way to practice committing more time to our friendships is to choose friendship as your priority this September for International Women's Friendship Month!

Here I am with the wealth of books I selected to feature in this month's "The Friendships You've Always Wanted!" friendship course!

I really hope you'll consider joining us for this 21-day class filled with up to 13 expert interviews where we will all make a commitment for one month to focus on increasing the frientimacy (friendship intimacy with other women) in our lives!

With our workbook and lots of inspiring interviews-- we will find ways to 1) make more female friends and 2) do so in such a way that we are structuring our lives around them in a way that feels good to us!  :)

www.FriendshipsWanted.com

* Sign up early and we'll send you a free copy of my book "Friendships Don't Just Happen!"

6 Suggestions for How to Email a Friend When Drifting Apart

I receive quite a few emails and comments from women who are left wondering what went wrong in one of their friendships when their friend stops responding or somehow indicates that the friendship is over, without explanation.  Their desire seems to genuinely be one of seeking a better understanding of why the friendship drifted apart; with a secondary desire often stated of seeking "closure." We've all wanted to write those emails... here are some do's and don'ts while you're crafting that note to your friend.

One such woman wrote me this week asking me to give her feedback on an email she had drafted up to send to a friend of hers.  In the spirit of helping us all learn from each other, I asked her if I could share it here, including my comments back to her.

But before we go there, I want to highlight a few steps I think should be taken before we get to the "email her our thoughts."

Before Emailing Her Our Feelings and Concern

Here are four questions to ask before moving forward with your email:

  1. What type of friendship did you two share? Honestly.  Look at the 5 Circles of Connectedness and objectively identify what kind of relationship you two created, not just whether she was your closest friend or not.  This is important because it helps us know how much effort, how vulnerable, and how significant this loss might be to each of you.  If you were Commitment Friends-- then, in my opinion, it's worth all attempts to heal the friendship; if it's a Common Friend, then it may be worth reaching out if we sense a rift or drift but we do so understanding that while this friendship was important to us-- we don't have the practice yet in our friendship of dealing with conflict and high emotions so we need to be mindful of not putting more on it than it can hold.
  2. Did any circumstances change around your friendship? If the friendship was held together by one primary way of being together (i.e. work, school, kids at same school, church, families on the same block) then it's possible that you were Common Friends instead of Commitment Friends and when that structure ended, you two don't have practice in maintaining the friendship in new ways, yet. When these relationships start drifting, it rarely is anything personal and usually is simply two people who aren't practiced at being friends with new circumstances. Any attempts to reach out should avoid blame and drama, and instead focus on "Miss you!  When can we get together?"
  3. Is email the best way forward? Depending on how you two usually interact, how long the friendship has been developed, and how practiced you two are at in handling each others feelings, will dictate whether email is the route to go. But the goal of this email shouldn't be to solve everything or to vomit our every feeling and thought on her.  Our goal should be to start the conversation on email, with hopes that it leads to a preferred method of validating, brainstorming, and sharing feelings.  If we want a response from her, then short and kind is the best invitation to dialogue.
  4. What is your honest and ideal goal for this email?  This is important... because if reconciliation is the goal, then now isn't the time to overwhelm her with drama, feelings, or blame.  If closure is the goal (hopefully that means you've already tried reconciliation already), then end well with thanks and apologies, as needed.

1st Draft of Email

Huge thanks to the woman who agreed to let me use her email as an example we could all learn from:

Hi,

I have gone back and forth for a long time now on whether or not to write you, and have finally decided to for some sort of closure for myself. It is clear to me that for whatever reason, you have chosen to end our friendship. I'm choosing to write to you in particular, because I feel like there had been some periods of time over the last couple years since we first met that we'd been pretty close. I know that had been much less so over the past year or so, but I (maybe naively) attributed that to the normal ebb and flow of friendships. It really saddened me to lose your friendship over the last couple of months without any explanation. If there was something specific I did, or even more so, something that was more of an ongoing pattern that 'caused frustration so much so that it made you not want to make room or time for me in your life anymore, it would have meant so much to me if you had been able to communicated that to me, even though that is hard, and letting something fade is so much easier. There are a lot of parts of who I am, specially in regards to social stuff, my sense of myself and my communication that could be improved upon (because I've let past baggage and experiences influence me), and I'm not trying to claim otherwise. Those are areas of myself and my life that I care a lot about continuing to work on and grow for the better. I'm not expecting or needing a response to this message, but it felt important to me to acknowledge what happened.

I hope things are going well for you.

6 Suggestions to Improving the 1st Draft

Without knowing any other context or back story that would help us each know what is most appropriate in our given circumstances, here is a summary of some of my feedback on the above email.

  • DO be positive in your Opening and Closing: This is where we set the tone. I always start and end with what I want for us in a way that affirms her and our friendship. Perhaps, “I miss you….I’ve been tempted to not tell you that because I've wondered if you thought our friendship had run its course, but the truth is that I really treasure our friendship so wanted to reach out to you to see if, at minimum, we could at least have a conversation about what happened?” since in this case her read is that the other woman views the friendship as over.  Otherwise, it would be more of an, "I miss you and would love to get together, but wanted to check in with you to see if everything was okay between the two of us, from your perspective?" And then I'd personally warm up the ending too, reiterating her value and my appreciation of our friendship.
  • DO Ask for your ideal: she says: "I'm not expecting or needing a response to this message..”  Is that true?  I’d tend to leave that out, hoping that it DOES create dialogue and that she is willing to engage?  I don’t know the circumstances but I’d even be inclined to say “I’m hoping to hear from you so that…”
  • DO Share honestly, but error on under-sharing. I applaud her for naming her feeling and expressing her sadness.  It's important to talk about what we experienced, but we don't have to explain it and give examples that risk placing blame.  She shared her perspective and confusion without getting overly-dramatic.
  • DO Avoid blame at this point in the game. She has one sentence "If there was something I did...  that it made you not want to make room or time for me in your life anymore, it would have meant so much to me if you had been able to communicated that to me, even though that is hard, and letting something fade is so much easier," that I'd change to take out the blame of what could have been done and keep the focus on what can still be done: "If there was something I did... I very sincerely want to know what it was as it was never my intention to hurt you."
  • DO Own what you can and be the first to apologize.  Whether the goal is closure or reconciliation, make sure you own anything that you’re not proud of…..  stronger for you to mention them than put all of that on her to do so. She does acknowledge her own baggage and desire to grow which would communicate to me that she is sincere, and capable of hearing why I pulled away. But she neglected to apologize.
  • DO Format for ease. And finally— I’d break it up so it’s not one big paragraph but actually flows in shorter pieces so it’s easier for her to take in…  Again, focusing on short and sweet, viewing it as the beginning of what you hope will be a two-way conversation.

Hope this helps you craft your emails... and I hope even more that the spirit with which you send them cares far more about communicating from a loving place than writing from the belief that you'll feel better if you vomit on her.  No matter how hurt and disappointed you are-- she is a woman who deserves to be treated with utmost respect and love.  Model to her how you hope the conversation can go....

xoxo,

Shasta

 

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!

5 Tips for Planning a Girls Weekend!

When we were little we knew them as slumber parties.  We'd eagerly look forward to getting to stay up late, giggle, and act silly. Those long nights were bonding in ways that time at recess, afternoon play-dates, and long phone calls couldn't replicate. Our grown up version has come to be known as "Girls Weekends" and they are just as bonding and just as fabulous.

We Need Adult Slumber Parties!

I actually think we need these overnight parties more as adults than we did as kids.  We so rarely give that gift of extended time to our friendships anymore. If you're anything like me, I feel pretty impressed when a friend and I actually carve out time for lunch twice in a month, touch base on the phone a couple of times, or see each other for a long dinner in my living room-- but you add up all those hours and they, literally, still fall short of what a slumber party can offer.

And far beyond the gift of actual hours together is what the build-up of those hours all taking place at once can make happen.  You spread those hours out over a month and at least half your time together is updating about what has happened since you've seen each other last.  But you push all those hours into one gathering and once the "updating" of recent events is done, all the rest of the time is for the stuff that really matters. It builds on itself so that you're sharing stories, secrets, laughter, and tears.

I'm still riding high from my annual girls weekend nearly two weeks ago.  My heart is full.  So ab-so-lute-ly full.

picture of my girls weekend

There are simply no phone conversations, meals, or evenings long enough to provide the level of sharing that we relished in. The vulnerability, the un-rushed time, the radical presence we gave each other, the tears, the laughter, the goofiness, the honesty, and the personal growth all added up to feeling so seen and loved by each other.  Add in the food, the wine, the sleeping in, and the long walks-- and these are restorative weekends in every way!

But more important to telling you all the benefits to these adult slumber parties is to actually help you see how to plan one in your own life.  Even if you don't yet have this perfect group of friends... you can get started.

How to Plan a Girls Weekend:

  1. Decide Who You Want To Invite.  In my opinion, the who informs everything else like location, price, and activities; based on where everyone lives, whether they all consider each other friends, or how bonded everyone is already. When you think about bonding and connecting-- who comes to mind? A group of friends you've lost touch with from long ago? Random friends from here-and-there who don't know each other? A local group of women you are close to? Or, some local women you'd like to get to know better?
  2. Be Clear on Why Everyone Would Want to Get Together. If the women all know each other and consider everyone else a friend (as opposed to them all being your friend from different places who don't know your other friends), then the why is often a little easier because "just getting together" is reason enough so then the location and activity take a backseat to why the women would come.  If the women don't know each other well, then we usually need a bit more of an "excuse" such as for celebrating your birthday or other milestone; and the focus on an activity is more helpful whether it's for a concert, destination, or experience.
    1. If they don't know each other well and are all local then start with one night and keep it local.  I'd suggest finding something fun, such as a concert or restaurant you've been wanting to try, and send out an email to see who wants to join you and then either a) come back to your house for a slumber party and brunch the next day or b) share a hotel room downtown as part of the fun.
    2. If you're a group of friends who know each other decently well and are all local then I'd either start with the above step or throw out the idea to the group to gauge interest in doing a get-away weekend sometime.  The goal of this one is to keep it driving distance and priced low: you want to make it easy to say yes. Try to make it at least 2-full days, with 1-night of housing that is in everyone's budget (lots of homes to rent on places like AirBnB!). Invite your group to it as a chance for us to all get-away and play!
    3. If they don't know each other well and are not local then realize that it's a bigger ask (airfare and travel time, and time with women they don't really know) so the motivation will be for you and/or the focus of the trip. It really needs an excuse like "this year for my 42nd birthday I really want my closest friends with me!" or an event like "I want to run the Nike Half Marathon this year" or "I've always wanted to do a girls trip to Vegas!"-- with a "Who's In?" and being okay with whatever group of 3-5 women say yes. (The benefit of this is that once they all hang out for a weekend together, chances are high that someone will say "We should do this again!" and you might have the birth of an annual ritual on your hands that will be easier now that they know each other!)
    4. If they know each other well and are not local then the bigger issue is usually someone just needs to be a catalyst who says, "I miss all of you! I'm jealous every time I hear about others have girls weekends-- what do you all say we do one and catch up?" Again, keep the price as low as possible (does anyone in the group know anyone with a vacation home that can be borrowed? where is it cheapest to all fly into for everyone?) as that will be the objection for many women who feel guilty taking family money to do something for themselves.
  3. Plan the Easiest Time Away Possible. The biggest mistake is made when the price tag starts climbing and the stress of planning outweighs the intended benefits.  Keep it as simple as possible.  The goal is to get you together overnight with some of your friends.  That's it.  You can always dream bigger in following years once everyone is SOLD on that time together.  But at first, just err on the side of keeping it affordable and relaxing.  The truth is we can all go sight-seeing with our families and romantic partners so that's not what we need; what we need is uninterrupted girl time so make sure your trip factors that focus in! Way better to have more unscheduled time with everyone just hanging out than to be on any schedule packed full of activities.  The highest priority is quality time together.
  4. Get the Dates on the Calendar ASAP.  The rest of it can come together later.... what is highest priority is that a weekend is actually selected and committed to-- dates and location need to be set.  Then everyone can keep a look out for airfare deals or groupons to local restaurants and start to make the arrangements necessary with their obligations.
  5. Be at Peace If Not "Everyone" Can Come.  Not everyone can/will prioritize this in their calendar and finances.  That's okay.  Keep planning for those who can.  If even 3-4 of you can go, you'll still get the benefits, and chances are high that next year others will try to come.  Just get it going....  :)

    girls weekends someday

This time next year, you can have a photo album filled with memories of a get-away with women you grew to love even more.

And, if you're lucky, some of the group get-aways you start might even turn into annual traditions will bless your life far into the future!

 

 

I'd love to hear other tips you'd give for planning Girls Weekends-- feel free to add them in the comments.  Or, if you have questions or reservations, I'm happy to brainstorm, give suggestions, or offer up any other tips you might want.

 

 

 

 

I Don't Feel x (Accepted, Connected, Loved)... What Do I Do?

Last week I shared a bit of my process for choosing my feeling words or themes each year... so this week I wanted to share how I take those words and plant them in my life. Because it's one thing to find words that resonate... it's another thing to remember that you chose them, why they matter, and what wisdom they have for your life right now.

I am a person very comfortable in the world of the "unseen"; I love talking about spirituality, ideas, and feelings. And while I think it's important to start there, and spend as much time there as you can--journaling about your word(s), making lists of how you already see that word showing up in your life, defining it in a way that excites you, and getting comfortable with owning that word--for me, the power only continues if I figure out a tangible way to take the word with me.

In other words, I can have an amazing journaling session and get excited about my word(s), only to forget them a month later, if I don't choose how to plant them.  It's akin to going on a retreat and having that "mountain top experience" that stays on the mountain if I don't intentionally figure out how to bring those ah-ha's into my day-to-day life.

Unlike goals (i.e. "Lose x pounds," or "Go to x networking events each month") that can feel all deadline-y, guilt-heavy, and task-focused; our feeling words should feel inviting, hope-full, and come with a sense of ease (i.e. "I desire to feel invigorated" and "I desire to feel supported.")

Transforming Feelings into Tangible Form

So where I get excited is in figuring out how to plant that word into my life so I keep seeing it, regularly choosing to feel the hope of it, and remembering that it's guiding me this year.

It's similar to why some people get tattoos to remember someone or to recall a significant transition in their life, others do vision boards where they can see their dreams manifested, and others make altars that center them immediately in a certain feeling.

Almost all my jewelry reminds me of something that matters to me.  Just touching it or seeing it can focus me immediately on what I believe matters.

I actually do quite a bit of my remembering with my jewelry. Here's a picture of my left hand right now....  every time I touch or see these things, they act like a "string around my finger" to remind me to not forget something that I've said is important to me.  That thumb ring has been there ever since my divorce fourteen years ago.  I remember crying as I took my wedding ring off... and my naked finger just kept serving as a reminder every time I felt for it, and it wasn't there, that I didn't feel loved.  I was living in Guatemala at the time and bought a ring to put on my thumb to remind me that I loved me and God loved me and that was enough.  That ring rarely comes off my hand-- and every time I feel it, play with it, and see it-- I think "I am loved." That belief has been cemented in my belief system in ways that fuel me far greater than I could have ever imagined.

That red string is from a retreat I went on in September where I realized that I was showing up with hesitation and fear in some areas of my life and I wanted, instead of fear, to show up with willingness.  So now, I tug on that string and whisper "I'm willing" whenever I feel fear.  I'm willing.  I'm willing... to show up and stay open even though this person hurt me.  I'm willing... to walk into this room of people even though I feel insecure.  I'm willing... to do what's in front of me even though this project feels so overwhelming. I remind myself I'm willing and my entire body changes almost instantly to match the new message my brain is giving.  (In fact, it's a spiritual truth "by beholding we become changed" that has been proven truth also by neuroscience!)

As a pastor I used to love sharing all the stories in the Bible of how people chose to remember their truths by infusing meaning into physical form.  Whether it was the Israelites miraculously crossing the Jordan River and collecting dry stones from the riverbed to pile up on the other side so that they could "tell their kids about the time that God parted the river" or the story of Jesus in the upper room with his disciples saying "When you eat this bread... remember me" which has turned into the practice of the Eucharist, or Communion, we know the power of being triggered to remember.

We do this almost automatically for much of our life when we want to remember something that has happened.  We take photos to remember events, we save a piece of hair from our child's first haircut, and we bake a family recipe to recall a person or a memory.

I'm inviting you to take your word and choose how you want to remember it this upcoming year.  Not to remember something that has happened, but to remind yourself of what is happening--what is true for you, what is already present in you, and what is also being called out of you in more ways this year.

I'm gifting this friendship bracelet to the women in my upcoming program so that they can remember their intention for the year ahead!

In fact, I think it's so important that I am including a bracelet with the word "connected" on it that will be given to all* the women who are signing up for my 21-day virtual program on friendship this month.  I picture them spending the rest of January just planting their feeling of connection, (or intimacy, acceptance, inclusion, or whatever other word resonates most deeply) as they listen to the interviews and journal for their own awareness, and then receiving that beautiful bracelet that they can wear as a reminder of the connection that they are inviting into their lives this year.  I want them to touch it and see it and remember that they are pursuing the feeling of being close to others in meaningful ways.  I want it to guide them to say yes even when it feels awkward, to initiate again because that's what it takes to build a friendship, and to hold hope that no matter their circumstances or personality or past experiences, they can experience more connection.

This year... I invite you to take the word you want to feel with you.  Infuse it into something tangible that can remind you to feel that feeling every time you see it or touch it.

We get to choose how we feel.  I don't have to feel unloved or fearful-- my ring and my red bracelet pictured above whisper to me repeatedly that I am loved and willing.  And that, I want to remember all year-long.

--------

* Just wanted to clarify that the bracelet (and the entire Gift Package valued at nearly $100) is only being given to the women who sign up by Wednesday at 10 am PT at FriendshipsWanted.com.  You're welcome to join us... I'd love nothing more than for you to pursue feeling connected all year-long!  (Or, you can buy your own piece of jewelry that says "Loved" or "Connected" here:  www.ConnectedGifts.com.)

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.

 

Christmas Card Conundrums: Send Them? Why? How Many? To Whom?

Every so often I get a question in my inbox that triggers an idea for a blog that I would have never even thought up on my own; this week is one of those. (A sincere sorry to those who have written suggestions and I haven't yet gotten to them!  I might still!) This email landed in my inbox on the very day I was compiling my own Christmas card list:

"I begrudgingly addressed *320* Christmas Cards over the weekend and I couldn't help but think that you probably have some advice / decision criteria for thinning it out to a more manageable amount.  Clearly everyone has their own motivations and their "right" number --  all I know is that 320 is WAY TOO MUCH for us!  Perhaps this is a topic for a blog post!?"

While totally wanting to honor the truth in that question that everyone will have different reasons and list sizes, I can at least offer up some principles and questions that might help us each make those decisions for ourselves.

How I Decide How Many Holiday Cards To Send?

I'll start with my short answer, and then give a longer answer that shows how it plays out for me.

In short, my rule is this: "Send the maximum number that still feels loving and expansive to my heart and body, stopping 10 short of the number that starts feeling heavy, guilt-ladden, or resource-depleting."

What that looks like is a bit like planning a wedding invitation list.  You don't have to invite everyone-- a meaningful wedding can have 2 witnesses or 1000.  We make the choice based primarily on 2 things: "What time/money/energy do I have this season?" and "Who do I want to give those limited gifts to?"

  1. What are my resources this season?  In wedding language we would talk about a budget, how much time you have to make homemade centerpieces, and how much energy you want to put toward organizing this event in the midst of whatever else you have going on that year.  In holiday card language we must ask the same questions.  If your budget is tight this season, then you'll start reaching your limit sooner.  If your time is plentiful, then you may get excited about a few weeks of crafting homemade cards in front of a fireplace.  If your energy is waning then it may be that a short note of love being emailed out feels more do-able than coordinating that perfect holiday photo.  What resources are you coming into this season with?
  2. Who are my priorities with the resources I have?  In wedding language that would be like saying, "Okay, I have tons of money, now, would I rather pour that into a destination wedding for a few or an open-bar for everyone my parents have ever met?" Or, on the contrary, "I don't want to go into debt for this wedding, so I might need to either invite fewer people or decide to do snacks instead of a sit-down dinner." You know the process. In holiday card land, we need to do the same thing.

So finding that number between those two answers--where you stop short of feeling stress and angst-- is the goal.

And to state the obvious, every year is different for me.  So it doesn't matter what I did last year; it matters what we can and want to do this year.

What Is the Purpose of Sending Holiday Cards?

In a day and age of Facebook, when it feels like everyone knows what's going on with your life, do we still really need to even send holiday cards?

I lean toward yes. I believe holiday cards are a gift of thoughtfulness to people; not just updating. I'd like to invite you to send them out not from a place focused on your life, but but from a place focused on someone feeling remembered and loved. And to do that, we don't need "amazing" lives or worrying about how to wow others.

I remember the year after my divorce feeling like I couldn't send out cards because all the photos you see are of smiling families or couples.  But that misses the point.  I wanted to say thank you to my friends for supporting me that year and communicate that I was still alive after a tough year.  I remember one year not having much news to report and feeling lame, but again, that misses the point; I could still say "I'm wishing you the best new year" while I'm hoping the same for myself.

A challenge I hope some of you take on is that if you are typically the person who thinks they need to have this amazing card sent to a massive list as one of those things that makes you feel better about yourself-- this year consider just writing cards of love to 25 people instead.  And, on the flip-side, if you're someone who never sends out cards because you mistakenly think you need to have this"perfect" family photo or some big news--this year consider doing the same-- just pick 25 people (or whatever number feels do-able and good!) to say "Happy holidays!"

Let go of feeling like you have to reveal the perfect photo, share the most amazing updates, or have a glamorous and seemingly great life-- and instead, see it as a chance to send love to others who undoubtedly feel the same way you do 90% of the time.  Give love.

Who Makes the Cut and Stays on My List?

I actually think the 5 Circles of Friendship can serve as a useful resource as you make your decisions about who to send cards to.

One year, I decided to only send cards to my Confirmed Friends-- the women with whom I always want to feel close with even if we only talk once or twice a year, but opted to skip the friends I'm in constant touch with since I knew I'd be celebrating with them in other ways.  One year, I included my Committed and Community Friends in that list and decided that what felt best to me was hand writing cards to all 20 of them to tell them what I loved about them.  I obviously couldn't take on such an expression of love if my list that year included every friend in my life.

5 types of friends image

 

 

 

 

And every few years I think, "It's been a while since I've touched base with everyone-- I'm going to take it on!" and I look forward to a few evening of fires, hot drinks, and a big project. But even then, I go through my address book and ask myself:

  1. Who am I actually still in touch with?  (There's no point in sending cards to people from my past unless they're also still part of my present! And no guilt in not staying in touch with the whole world--that's what Facebook can help with!)
  2. Who fits this years criteria? (Nah, she's more business, and this year I'm sending to personal friends.  Or, no she's my daughter's friend, but not really mine.)

Going back to the wedding metaphor,  if you only have x hours and x dollars then you can't invite everyone and you need to pick your top 20 or your top 50 or your top 100.  And start on the Right-Side and work your way Left until the x number of cards you ordered are gone.

No wrong answer here. I don't for a second believe holiday cards have to be mutual.  I send them to the people I love with no strings attached.  They don't owe me one!  And I assume the same for those who send me one.  If they want to remove my name from next years list because I didn't send them one this year then so be it- my worth doesn't go up or down one iota based on how many cards I get.

Holiday love from me and my hubby, Greg Nelson, to you.  May you stand under your metaphoric "kissing ball" this season with courage and hope. xoxo

This year, I encourage you to give as much love as you can in whatever ways it feels do-able.  A card sent in stress is no gift at all.  Send what you can with love.  If it's only 6 cards-- then 6 it is. Our goal is let the people who matter to us know that they are loved-- however you do that is fine.  Breathe deeply and let go of any obligation to love in any way that causes you more stress than joy.

And because I cannot, and will not, send holiday cards to you all-- "I wish you each a very meaningful holiday-- that you will receive what you most deeply need." xoxo

The 4 Best Responses to a Hurting Friend

On my way to meet a girlfriend for an afternoon tea yesterday, I turned the radio on and was immediately pulled in to the last 15 minutes of an interview on Fresh Air with Allie Brosh, the author and artist of Hyperbole and a Half.  Her honest voice talking about her very real and dark journey with depression held my attention.

The Wounded Shouldn't Be Pressured Into Becoming the Encourager

Listening to an interview with Allie Brosh, the author of this book--based on her famous blog--moved me, especially when she shared about journey with depression.

And one statement has stuck with me.  When she was asked about why it had been so hard to reach out to her mother or husband for help during her journey, especially when she was struggling with thoughts of suicide, Allie's answer haunted me.  Her answer was along the lines of, "Because I knew that once I told them, I'd have to deal with their emotions, and I knew I couldn't handle that.  Seeing them get all upset, hurt, or fearful would have put me in the place of comforter; comforting them, trying to assure them that I wouldn't kill myself, etc. I was barely able to hold my own thoughts, let alone worry about receiving theirs." The result? Someone who was suicidal suffered in silence for far too long.

Her profound answer resonated with me because that is indeed what so often happens when we confess our hidden/dark/shameful thoughts to friends and family. Automatically, instead of the attention staying on the person sharing, the person who is hearing it is filtering it through their brain, basically trying to answer the question, "How does this information affect me?" 

Here are some examples:

  • She tells me she had a miscarriage and I feel guilty for having kids.
  • She tells me she's been having an affair and I feel mad at her because my own family has been hurt by these types of actions.
  • She tells me she's depressed and I feel scared or responsible for trying to fix her.
  • She tells me she's been fired and I feel worried that our planned vacation together is going to have to be cancelled.
  • She tells me she's going through a divorce and I feel scared for my own marriage.

It's not selfish or malicious as much as it's the default response we feel through much of life: "What does this mean to me and my life?" We do it with nearly every piece of information, including when we're watching the news, and are relieved when we can say, "Oh that's so sad... glad it doesn't affect me" and move on.  But when it's our friends, people we love and know, it more often than not will affect us.  It just will.  That's the truth of being in relationship: we are connected and we impact each other.

But what maturity does for us is give us the awareness to whisper to ourselves, "Don't make this about me right now... stay present for her.  I will process my feelings later."  And later you should.  So this isn't an issue about ignoring your feelings, but an issue of knowing when it's the right time and with whom you to ought to be processing them with.  (I wrote a  relevant post to this subject that gives you a visual to remind you that it's not the person whose story it is that should be turning around and becoming your comforter or counselor.)

The Four Best Responses to Keep the Attention on the Story-Teller

I know that my default is to try to fix, encourage, share my own stories, or any number of other things that are done with good intentions.  But I also know that in this moment-- it's less important that I feel like I fixed something and more important that she feel heard.  So my mantra is "Keep this about her.  Keep this about her.  Keep this about her."

So all this got me thinking about sharing the four things I try to remember to do whenever someone is sharing their pain with me:

  1. Affirm:  Depending on the situation, appropriate affirmation can be as simple as "Thank you for having the courage to share that with me," or it can be as bold as "Thank you for telling me this... I hope you know that I absolutely adore you and love you and this doesn't change that one iota."  But affirmation after vulnerability is so important-- it reminds the revealer that their honesty was heard and valued.
  2. Ask Feeling Questions:  And then this is where we so often go awry because we usually start going into problem-solving mode (i.e. "My mom had someone who was diagnosed with that and she said that x helped her."), encouragement mode (i.e. "No don't feel that way!  It's all going to be okay!), or, if we do ask questions it's often about the story and the details that really aren't that important (i.e. "When did the affair start?").  When the very best thing we can do is let her keep talking and sharing about her experience.  So favorite questions of mine, include anything that asks her to keep sharing her feelings:  What did you feel when you first found out x?  What has your experience been so far?  How has this impacted your identity?  What are you most scared of?  What has been the most surprising part?  What part of it do feel like is hardest for those around you to understand? 
  3. Validate:  To validate is to "demonstrate or support the truth or value of."  It doesn't mean you have to support their decisions, agree with their assessment, or think you'd feel the same way in a similar circumstance.  This isn't you voting; you're not saying "Yes, I think you have reason to commit suicide," or "Yes, I'm in favor of divorce." It's you demonstrating that you have heard them and that their feelings are valuable.  The goal then is hear their feelings (as opposed to the details/circumstances), tap into your own empathy with similar feelings, and try to say back to them what you heard them say.  It can as simple as, "I ache with you and for you. I'm so very sorry you're going through this." Or it can be as detailed as saying, "Your feelings are totally valid!  It makes sense that you'd feel betrayed."
  4. Ask how you can help: And then a crucial and meaningful step is to ask, "How can I best support you right now?"  If it's someone you know well, you can offer as much as you're comfortable extending: "How can I best support you right now? If you could ask for anything, what comes to mind?  Do you need tangible things like rides to the hospital or a place to stay?  Do you need me to call you regularly during this time?  I know it's hard to ask for detailed help... but I'd so appreciate you telling me what I can do that will be the most meaningful to you if you ever know it.  I want to journey this with you."

As always, I cherish hearing your feedback, your own stories, what part spoke you, or advice on this subject that you want to share with others.

Other relevant posts:

How To Respond to a Friend in Crisis

9 Principles for Responding to a Friend in an Affair

 

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.

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

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

 

 

 

The Ebb & Flow: Friendships Move in Both Directions

While teaching a Friendship Accelerator last weekend (sign up here if you're interested in me coming to your area to teach/facilitate) I made a note to myself, while standing at the whiteboard with marker in hand, that I wanted to remember to blog about how friendships move in both directions. Mental note remembered.  :)   We often talk about ending a friendship or drifting apart from friends as though they are being, or have been, "removed" from our lives.  But that's not usually the case.  Most frequently, our friendships aren't as cut-and-dry as someone simply being "in" or "out", bridges aren't always burning behind us, and there isn't always this declaration of the friendship ending permanently. The truth is, that for most friendships there is simply a shift that happens, often without intention or awareness.

I want us to visually see what that shift can look like.

Increasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

If you're a long-time follower of this blog, a past attendee of one of my workshops, or a reader of my book, then you know that I teach the 5 Circles of Connectedness as a visual tool for helping us see the movement of our friendships from those circles on the Left-Side to those circles on the Right-Side, from Contact Friends to Commitment Friends.  From the most casual of our friendships that depend upon a specific context for us to be connecting (i.e. work, association meetings, children's school) to the most intimate of friendship where we are confiding in them regularly, there are steps along the way.

5 types of friends image

For example, during my workshops, I find that the majority of women long for more Committed Friends when they find themselves wishing for more connection in their lives.  For them, it's not just knowing more people that appeals to them, but actually experiencing Frientimacy (the intimacy between safe and known friends) with a few of them that matters most.  Seeing where their current friendships fall on this continuum helps them assess which friendships could be moved to the right (from other Circles) to the far right where they want them, with an intentional increase in consistency, interaction, and revealing.

To be clear, all friendships start at Contact Friends.  We never meet someone and put them in any other circle, no matter how much chemistry there is, how much we like them, or how many things we have in common with them.  All friendships start on the left when they are new and then move to the right as we put into place the repeated positive behaviors that will become our friendship with that person.  Only as we get to know each other more (in new areas and in deeper ways), which comes with time together, will we move friendships to the right.

Decreasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

But most of that isn't new to you.  :) What I talk about less, but am determined to start talking about more, is that friendships go the other direction, as well.

This is huge for us because it gives us more options than to just ending friendships!  We now have a visual that illustrates for us that we can decrease vulnerability, time together, and ways of interacting to move friendships from the Right-Side to the Left-Side.

For example, women will often say to me a variation of "I'm going through a break-up right now... my friend is x (fill in the blank with any number of circumstances that aren't some obvious friendship failing but are exhausting the woman who has long called her a friend: having an affair, obsessed with losing weight, going through a divorce, dating some guy I think is horrible to her, or letting her entire life be run by her kids) and I can't take it anymore so, unfortunately, it's over."

But with the above Circles of Connectedness, we can mentally say, "X makes it hard to be close right now, with the amount of time we're spending together (or the limited amount of time I want to spend together right now), it's important for me to no longer see this friendship as a sustaining, meaningful, and supportive Community or Committed Friend right now so that I have appropriate expectations and boundaries with her.  With the decrease in time and pulling back of confiding in her right now-- she's probably more accurately in X Circle."

Moving someone to the left does two important things for us:

  1. First, it helps us acknowledge that something has shifted and the friendship isn't going to be as close and safe as it has been.  That means I don't need to feel guilty for not giving as much and I can definitely be more gracious to her as I won't be expecting as much. It means that we don't have to refuse to ever see her again, but neither do we need to pour energy into staying in touch with her as much as we have previously.  Now, just getting together once a month during this time is fine.
  2. And second, it helps us recognize that we need to make sure we have the close and safe friends in our lives that we need for right now.  It's not her fault for not being everything we wanted her to be as much as it is our responsibility for making sure we have the friends we need in our lives.  So if she left a vacancy when we moved her left, then we need to look for other friendships to nurture.  We need to start investing that extra time and energy into other friends.

This works for all kinds of circumstances-- even if it's a behavior of hers that isn't linked to a circumstance or isn't likely to change (i.e. talking about herself all the time, not opening up with you, gossiping about others, one-upping you).  Technically someone with behaviors that we can't stand shouldn't have made it over the Right-Side of our Circles, but if they did, then we can just as easily move them back to the Left-Side if we feel like our attempts to repair or enhance the relationship haven't worked.

There are many reasons to keep these women in our lives.  Just because she tends to squirm when the conversation gets too personal doesn't mean she isn't still a fabulous and thought-provoking museum date.  Just because she can get insecure and jealous doesn't mean she's not a super fun addition to your mom's night out group.  And just because she's not the person who responds without judgment to your secrets doesn't mean she can't keep you inspired as a fellow artist. In short, we can move the relationship back to where we're not over-sharing with someone we don't trust or spending too much time with someone who exhausts us, without having to let go of parts of them we do enjoy.

Our friendships don't have to be all-or-nothing.  This isn't "find one to be all to us" as much as "find several who can each meet different needs of ours." The most important thing being appropriate and healthy expectations of each other.

Relationships ebb and flow, wane and wax, drift and shift.

And you never know... someone you move Left today, may move back Right this time next year in a super meaningful way.... All things are possible on this Continuum!

___________________

Other pertinent blog posts:

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Friendship Break-Ups 4: Holding On or Letting Go?

This Friendship Is Going Negative, What Do I Do?

Advice & Encouragement from GirlFriendCircles.com Members

When I interviewed Shoshana a few weeks back about her personal experience in GirlFriendCircles.com down in the L.A. area, I discovered that a group of 11 women from GirlFriendCircles.com all went on an overnight trip together to San Diego, a couple of hours away. I was so thrilled at the idea of a group of women building their friendship in such a way that I immediately asked if a few of them would share their experiences with all of us so we might just see what is possible!  :) Not the best photo quality but at least all 11 of us are in this one!

How did this trip come about?

Shoshana: "I can't remember exactly how the San Diego trip came about, but after talking about going to Santa Barbara and maybe renting a house for the weekend, we ended up landing on San Diego since most of the girls could only do one night. I then created a Facebook page for the trip and invited everyone to join. Another one of the girls made the suggestion to take the train and we were off. I reserved rooms for us at the Hard Rock Hotel and for our dinner, collected everyone's money through Paypal or checks, and posted on our Facebook page all the info that everyone needed, including which train to buy their tickets for. We got seats together and talked for 3 hours the whole way there and back. It was definitely a great way to travel with 11 girls. I'm not so sure our neighbors on the train would agree!"

Dinner was so much fun after having talked all afternoon on the train!

What did you all do together on this trip?

Shoshana: "We hung out by the pool, had a great time eating dinner together, and basically just hung out together.  A highlight was definitely dinner! We were seated in front of a big window on a busy street so a lot of men enjoyed dancing for our big group of women in front of the window or ripping their shirts open which produced a lot of fun laughs. (We were in San Diego's Gaslamp district so it's a very fun scene.) After dinner we went to a place for dancing for a little while before hitting up a rooftop bar. But my favorite part of the trip was getting to know the girls better during the train ride down and back where we could all just talk.  The going out and pool part was fun, too, but the activities mattered less to me than the time I got to spend connecting with these great women."

Okay, bringing in a few other GirlFriends-- tell me what you were feeling on your way home from this weekend!

Yana: (a member since Dec. 2012, who first went on a one-on-one and then started meeting others through ConnectingCircles)  "On my way home from San Diego as I looked around at this group of women, I felt..... like part of a community and grateful to have these amazing women in my life! Why? It was such a diverse collection of women of all backgrounds/ages/professions and yet we all took the initiative to get together and go on an overnight trip. Eleven girls traveling could be a recipe for disaster but everyone had such a good time eating, dancing, and socializing."

Kelly: My first event with GFC was last October. I signed up for the site after Googling "how to make friends in LA." Moving from another state, I found it really hard to connect with people in this city.  But on my way home from San Diego, I felt really happy knowing I'd met an awesome group of women who are all interested in making friends and sharing new experiences. Looking at the group of women that spans the age range of 26-44, its amazing we all met over the past 6 months and have become friends that hang out all the time.  I've finally connected!

Nina: I feel like I'm super lucky to have gotten to know such a lovely group of women. Each and every one of them has been committed to developing friendships. They are an open-minded, kind bunch of girls who simply likes to have fun and experience life together. I moved to LA 7 years ago, and up until this point... I had really struggled with forming close friendships with women in LA. I had girlfriends, but hardly any of them were local. Now I have this group of supportive SoCal women in my life that I couldn't be more thankful for.

As for specific memories from the San Diego trip....when we were eating dinner, we kept drawing attention to ourselves b/c we were such a big group of women sitting by a window. People kept waving at us. A little boy even kept coming up to our table to perform dances for us. It was super fun to get away and spend time just chatting/ really getting to know the girls that I roomed with.

A few of us waiting for the others while enjoying drinks!

Stephanie: My first event with GFC was only a month or two before this trip! I went to a happy hour in Venice, organized by Shoshana, in the first part of June and met half a dozen women, most of whom came to San Diego.  On my way home from that trip... as I looked around at this group of women on the train with me I felt a few things:  Very proud of myself that I had reached out, risked being vulnerable and asked for friendship, and also lucky to be in the company of women who are making their way with courage, openness and a sense of self that just nice to be around. We had all had fun in the group as a whole, but some of us had broken off into smaller groups and done our own thing.  It seemed like everyone was content with the weekend happening whatever way made everyone comfortable. We all had each other's backs at the clubs and if someone needed out of a situation, there was someone there to extract them.

Shoshana: Yes! One of the important things we learned about group travel was to give everyone the freedom to do things in their own way.  For example, the distance from the train to the hotel was about was a mile so some of us walked and some of us took a taxi. We then all had a late lunch all together, but then again some of us lounged by the pool while some went to go get manicure and pedicures. At around 6pm we all headed to our rooms to nap/relax/get ready. And again, a few of us were ready first so we went downstairs to sit outside and grab a drink before the others joined us. The wonderful thing about a group that size is that we don't all have to do everything together, but that we could break into smaller groups when appropriate!

So many of us would love to go on a trip with friends... what so you think specifically helped you build these relationships?  In other words, how did you get to this place?

Yana:  I moved to L.A. due to a long distance relationship and a year and a half later still found myself unable to make the city my home. I took the initiative to search for websites to find friends and dove right into making connections and going to events.

What specifically had to happen to create these friendships? Not being afraid of rejection and making the time and commitment to nurture and grow these relationships. I feel like at this point in my life (engaged, new puppy, planning wedding, working in finance) I just don't have the luxury of being in high school and surrounded by people also ready and willing to make that connection. As I didn't go the traditional going away to college and living on campus route, I don't have those 4 years to go back to for friendships. As I get busier and busier it's important to make time for building a foundation of friendship in a new place without the luxury of old friends and family to have my back.

Kelly: We got here because a lot of the girls in the group were proactive in creating their own group events on the GFC CalendarCircles. That made a huge difference. People started inviting other girls from the site they had met individually and pretty quickly there was a larger group of girlfriends.

Nina: My first event with GFC was a Connecting Circle in November at Cafe Gratitude in Venice, CA. I believe there was 5 other girls present, 4 of whom have become close girlfriends of mine. My first impression was something like "Wow! these girls are really nice and normal!"

I was pretty skeptical going into the whole process since I had previously tried to meet some girls in LA via craigslist and had some issues with flakiness, lack of commonality, etc. I was assuming GFC would be more of the same.  But I knew from the very first night that my experience with GFC would be different. The girls were intelligent, sweet, funny and truly open to making friendships. I reached out to a couple of the girls right away after my first Connecting Circle to meet up for coffee or dinner. I think this was the most important step I took, because it ensured that I began to form relationships with some of the girls.

Stephanie: I could see myself being friends with some of these women for a long time.  Some I will perhaps get closer to, and some will come and go.  I think acceptance of each other for who we are is very important, not having too many rules for others to follow, and knowing what my own expectations are from the friendships are important.  I didn't expect to come away with a new BFF - but I may have found a friend or two who I would like to travel with in the future or have other adventures with.  I really loved that so many of them were like me - okay doing things on their own but also happy to be in a group.  It's been a long time since I've had a weekend with women that I came home and felt like the whole thing was a great time.  A very nice memory and (hopefully) the beginning of some new friendships.

Any advice would you have for other women just joining GFC?

Yana: Sign up and reach out to people out of your age range/economic background/likes. It's a bit more difficult to do that in L.A. due to the city being so big and traffic dictating what one does during the week, but weekends are the best. Go to events and make events of your own and don't be afraid to mix your "GFC" friends with connections you've made outside of the website.

Kelly: Try to go to as many of the CalendarCircles and ConnectingCircles as possible because you will meet many different kinds of people and are bound to eventually find one or more new girlfriends you really connect with.

Nina: Even though I met amazing women at the first event, I also continued to attend ConnectingCircles to meet more girls. Once I started to get to know the girls more, I simply made sure that GFC and these ladies were a priority in my life, by attending as many group/ individual get together's as I can.  I even set a specific goal to make sure that I got together with at least one of my new GFC friends at least once/ week and chatted with other girls in between. After awhile, the friendships became more natural. I would definitely recommend taking initiative in reaching out to girls you click with. I also would make sure you make time/ prioritize your new friendships as well.

A huge thanks to Stephanie, Yana, Nina, and Kelly for being willing to share a little of your experiences, and a HUGE thanks to Shoshana for being a catalyst.  What a gift you gave, not just to yourself, but to all these women.  May we have more women like you who are willing to put events out there to help women connect.  There will be friendships formed because of your initiative.  THANK YOU! 

 

 

Not a "Joiner"? Something to Consider...

Last night I stopped by a friend's house to drop off some homemade banana bread (I have to brag about that for one second because I do things like way too infrequently!) and left her home with a blog idea I wanted to write based on her recent decision to put her child into preschool.  What does preschool have to do with you making friends? So glad you asked. "But I'm not a Joiner!"

So the traditional answer that most friendship experts give to women who are looking to make new friends has to do with things with the word "join" in them.  Whether it's joining a book or hiking club, signing up for a class, going to a spiritual community, or committing to volunteer at an organization-- the underlying message is: say yes to a group of people who are already affiliated to be doing a specific thing at a specific time.

Hesitant to join a group? Many of us know the feeling.. but there are benefits to it!

Invariably then, many women (or reporters if the question was asked in an interview) will then often say, "Yes... but what if I'm not a 'joiner'?"  When I ask them why not, they'll say that either those experiences feel artificial, the events are too structured, the associations don't have enough flexibility to them, or that they simply don't see themselves as people who like interacting in groups. Fair enough.

Now back to the preschool conversation.

A couple of weeks ago my friend had given me a convincing list of why she and her husband had decided to opt out of preschool this year.  Basically they had decided that they wanted to be more active in providing the benefits of preschool (i.e. interaction with kids, exposure to creativity, learning stimulation) themselves rather than paying someone else to do those things for them.  They were excited about field-trips they wanted to take her on, experiences they wanted to plan, and play-dates they were going to schedule.

But recently they changed their minds. And a lot of it had to do with the benefits of joining something.

Because as they said last night, "We just realized how much energy it was going to take to do everything we had pictured... and, to be honest, all that planning, scheduling, and initiating to create our own experience wouldn't leave us the energy we need for some other big life areas we need to be focusing on."

If energy were limitless, then for the sake of argument, it is probable that they could have customized an amazing, perhaps superior, substitute schedule to preschool. But energy is not without limits and they have some big endeavors coming up that are important to them to plan, create, and make happen, too.  They chose to ask themselves, "Is the time, finances, and energy worth it to us to create something, rather than participate in something that already exists?"  Either answer is acceptable, depending on what else someone has going on, how much energy they have for planning, and how many other priorities are competing with this one.

Now back to "Joining."

So when someone says to me that they aren't a joiner... I'm completely fine with that!  I have no reason to urge someone to commit to anything that isn't in harmony with who they are.  However, friendships require seeing the same people frequently, doing something together (i.e. meet for lunch, an activity) that has to be planned, and making sure it's scheduled in consistently.

Therefore the follow-up question begs to be asked: "Okay, are you willing to do, and have the extra energy to exert, what it takes on your own to create the things that "joining" can do for you?"

In other words, can you commit to 1)  meeting new people and reaching out to them regularly, 2)  initiating the making of plans, whether it's picking a restaurant and time or finding a movie to go to, 3) and following up with repeatedly to make sure that your time together keeps happening consistently? All of those things are do-able. But it requires a fair amount of commitment, energy, time, and planning to pull it off.  It's worth looking at your life and deciding what other priorities are pulling at you right now and how much time/energy do you want to put toward building new relationships?

The truth is that "joining" anything is so not necessary.  Nor is it often even better.  It's just often easier.

So if you find yourself wishing for more friends or activities in your life, and you don't want to join something, then you just have to be clear that a meaningful friendship requires time together, plans of some kind, and initiation to keep it scheduled.

It's for ease, convenience, and energy-management that many of us will end up opting to step into structures that are already planned and organized. We join churches, classes, sports teams, choirs, boards, associations, clubs... and preschools-- not always because those actual things are superior to what we could plan, but purely because they are superior to what we actually do plan!

If my friends had nothing else going on in their lives... I trust they could piecemeal an amazing childhood schedule filled with friends, play, creativity, and learning.  But in this case joining a preschool made sense for them.

An added bonus? The preschool they've chosen is very parent-involved so it will be a structure for them to make friends, too.  One more thing they don't have to make happen all by themselves!

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

As always, all women are invited to join GirlFriendCircles.com-- a match-making site for female friendships-- where things like ConnectingCircles are planned for you OR you can be in charge of the planning and initiating by searching our database or posting events on the calendar!  :)

 

 

 

 

9 Principles for Responding to a Friend in an Affair

This time last year I wrote a blog post that quickly became one of my most searched-for articles online: Help! Should I Tell My Friend that Her Husband is Cheating on Her?  In that post I mused that I should probably write a post to guide us through the angst when we find out it is our friend who has cheated. It has taken me a year to want to sit down and write it. Finding Out That Our Friend Has Cheated

While statistics are all over the board about how many of us actually admit to having extra-marital affairs, it does seem that due to women having more economic and sexual freedom, our numbers are on the rise in the last two decades. It appears that now one in every 5 or 6 of us will end up doing what we all of us swore we never would.  That means if you have 5 friends-- chances are high that this issue will impact you.

This is such a difficult subject to cover adequately due to all the possible complicating issues that could be present.  For example, is she confiding in you or are you finding out another way? Does she seem intent on trying to pull it off or is she confessing that it happened and she's trying to end it?  Do you know her partner and/or her lover?  Is your significant other involved in any way (i.e. as a friend to her partner)? Is she confessing or is she asking you to be an alibi for her and to aid her in the relationship?  Have you been wounded by marital affairs in the past, making it harder for you to come to this one without your own scabs getting pulled off? Are you happy in your own relationship?

Different answers to any of these questions would prompt different insights into the best way for you to respond, but without knowing you or the situation, all I can give are some principles that will hopefully lay a foundation for any choice you end up making.  Having been on both sides of this issue, and journeying closely with several friends over the years who have confided in me the angst of juggling a second relationship, I offer my wisdom with hope and humility.

Nine Principles to Remember:

  1. This is her crisis, not yours.  Yes, it could impact your friendship, your picture of her, your belief in love, and possibly even your own marriage, but, and this is important to remember: getting hit by some of the debris of an accident isn't the same as being in the accident. Keep this about her as much as possible. See my blog post about helping a friend in crisis to better provide a visual of how to act when you're in the outer rings.
  2. Nurture yourself and your relationships. With that said, if you are in a romantic relationship, be mindful that it may be impacted.  It may be as a result of conversations that you have with your significant other about the subject of infidelity, the insecurities it brings up in you, or simply the questions it raises about whether you're happy or not.  Recognize that while your friend is responsible for her life, she is not responsible for yours. Life will throw you a variety of subjects to process, this is your time to do so on this one.  In some ways it's a gift. Be extra gentle on yourself (and your partner) as you work yourself back to a place of alignment and peace through journaling, counseling, meditation, and other self-nurture and self-growth actions.
  3. Don't make it personal.  It is not because she doesn't trust you that she didn't tell you sooner.  It is not because you were in a happy relationship that she felt tempted to go find that, too.  It is not because you weren't there for her... blah, blah, blah.  She made choices and you are not to blame.  Additionally, there are a thousand reasons women don't tell their friends, many of them very valid reasons, so don't get steamed up about when and how you found out.  Just breathe deeply and acknowledge that in the big scheme of everything she's sorting through and trying to juggle and process-- the last thing she wants is to lose a friend and the last thing she needs is to spend energy now processing yet another relationship in her life. The more you can keep reminding yourself to not take this personally, the happier you (and she) will be.
  4. Draw your boundaries. It's okay to say that you're not willing to lie for her, be an alibi for her with her husband, or to talk about it ad nauseam.  It's okay to tell her that due to your religious beliefs, moral code, or personal history, this is a subject that you are very against or incredibly uncomfortable with.  It's okay for you to state what you are able to do and what you cannot do right now; but do so in as sensitive a way as possible, with as much respect as you can, and with the intention that you still want to do what you can.  It doesn't need to be all or nothing.  Perhaps start with something like, "This is such a hard situation for me, though I recognize it's even harder for you.  I want to love you and support you through this in the ways I can, and be honest with you where I can't right now.  In what ways do you most need me right now?" And then, ask her to tell you what would be most meaningful.  From there, you can honestly say yes to what you can and no to what you can't.
  5. You are her friend, not her counselor.  She may be so relieved to finally have you know her secret that she's at great risk of confiding waaay too much to you.  This is her affair, not yours, you don't need to hear all the details. Tell her with all the love you can, "I want to try to navigate this in a way that protects our friendship and serves us both as best as possible... and, I think, that includes you making sure you have the expert support in your corner to process this with."  It's unfair to put you in a place of counselor. And she needs one.
  6. Acknowledge that she is still a good person.  I really do believe that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have at the time. She didn't wake up one day with the intention to hurt anyone or to not live up to her own values.  She made bad choices, but that doesn't make her a bad person.  Be very cautious to protect your thoughts about her, whispering a form of the prayer, "Help me see her the way God sees her." Or, "I see that part of her that is beautiful, good, and pure."
  7. Her feelings are real.  We might not like them, but they're real. Real in that regardless of how we feel about her inappropriate relationship, she is feeling intense feelings of love, hope, and feelings of being valued, admired, and needed.  In other moments she is, undoubtedly, feeling shame, denial, and guilt.  We all know those feelings.  We might hate what is causing her to feel that way or disagree that she should feel them, but far better for us to try to empathize.  We know what it feels like to be torn; we know what it feels like to want to be loved, we know what it feels like to think about breaking up with someone you care about.  We don't have to condone her behavior to say, "It makes complete sense to me that you'd be drawn to that," or "I can't imagine how sad you must feel as you grieve the end of that relationship."  Love doesn't have to agree in order to support.
  8. Be mindful of our judgment.  From the Christian scriptures comes a saying: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." It was what Jesus said to the crowd who wanted to stone a woman for committing adultery.  I invite you to be mindful of the fact that we are all in process and all struggle with actions that are hurtful to ourselves and others.  Yours may not seem as glaring, so be thankful for that!  Then with humility recognize that you, too, have made mistakes, and that you're still struggling with discontent, jealousy, complaining, greed, criticism, or gossip. We are all learning the lessons we need to learn.  She will learn hers.  And she'll surprisingly learn it better when compassion is shown (so she doesn't have to feel defensive) as love is what empowers us to grow.  Shame simply paralyzes people.  We want her to grow so we want to act in as many ways as possible that invite her to courage, compassion, and hope.
  9. Know that this too shall pass.  Yes it will!  I promise.  It may feel like more drama than you can handle right now (and that's okay, try to be present as you can and honest when you can't) but someday she is going to wow you with the rebuilding of her life.  She's going to be laughing again, present again, and hopefully more healthy and mature because of the life lessons she is learning now. And when you find yourself in a crisis, she'll be someone you know you can trust to not judge you, to support you, and to understand.

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  I could keep going for days.  And I'm very aware that you could get done reading the list and still not know the best way to respond.  I therefore write these words with a prayer that accompanies them that anyone who reads this looking sincerely for guidance will find it. May those who seek, find.  May those who are unsure, err on the side of love.  May you be given an extra dose of compassion, energy, strength, and love today... your friend needs it.

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Not all friendships last forever, in fact only about 1 in 12 friends end up being lifetime friends.  And even those friendships have to change and become something new many times over as we all go through various life stages and moves.  But all friendships are meant to enhance our lives and teach us new ways of loving people even if they don't last forever so we want to learn how to leave people better for having spent time with us. Very few people are actually "toxic" (a word we're throwing around waaay too easily these days!) but that is not to say that the friendship we co-created with them might not be meeting our needs anymore.

If we're starting to entertain the idea of our friend being toxic, then it is a good time to pause and answer the 5 questions below.  In many cases we're not so much mad at her for obvious "wrong-doings" she's done as much as we are disappointed at the unspoken expectations we have of her that she didn't live up to. We're just as likely to call a friend "toxic" for not calling us enough: "I always have to do all the work in our relationship!") as we are for a friend who calls too much ("She's insatiable!  She makes me feel guilty that I have a life and can't talk every day!

Seeing that it often has less to do with their actions and more to do with our expectations and current needs reminds us that there is room for mature conversations to help grow the friendship into something that brings joy to both individuals!

The Five Friendship Threats

The five friendship threats that I highlight in my book Friendships Don't Just Happen! are: blame, jealousy, judgment, neglect, and non-reciprocation.

Those five threats are the umbrella that every specific story of friendship frustration falls under, whether the judgment stems from us thinking she's dating the wrong guy or that we interpret her canceling our plans as "selfish."  And, unfortunately, they can't all be avoided.  The truth is that we're human, we have expectations of each other, and we have needs we want filled so we're bound to experience these threats from time-to-time.

What we can do is be aware that some frustration and disappointment is normal in relationships, that we're just as likely to be the subject of her annoyance as she is ours, and that the most important thing in these moments is deciding how we can best respond in ways that grow our friendship.

Five Questions to Ask Before Letting the Threats Lead to Demise:

Here are five questions that maturity invites us to ask before getting so frustrated with someone that we're at risk of walking away from them instead of being willing to repair a friendship to something more meaningful than we've ever before experienced:

  1. How can I show up a little more thoughtfully? Let’s first assume there is something we could do to enhance this friendship even if we feel she is the problem—what comes to mind?  In other words—she may be jealous and we don’t want to play smaller to avoid her jealousy, but could we affirm her more?  If we feel neglected, can we write her an email and say, “I miss you.  Can we schedule some time together?” Go past asking if she deserves it, and just simply brainstorm what could be done if you had to do something?
  2. Have I asked her what she needs?  While the next two questions are super important in helping us articulate what we need, I sometimes find that providing space to ask her what we could do in our relationship to bring her more happiness is a fabulous way to often change the dynamic. If we sense she's jealous or that she expects too much of us, sometimes simply allowing for that space to ask her can diffuse the problem, helping both of us navigate a path where we both feel more heard.  Maybe some form of, "I'm sensing that you're pulling away a bit (or feeling frustrated when we talk).. maybe I'm imaging it... But, I wanted to check in with you to see if there was anything I could do differently in our friendship to make it more meaningful for you right now?"  We often skip this step out of fear of hearing that we're not meeting a need or fear that we can't, or don't want to, meet the need we'll hear, but I've found that there is way less anger on both sides after she feels like we care enough to ask.  And it's completely acceptable to respond with a "Oh how I wish I could be that for you, but honestly I can't give that kind of time right now.  I am so sorry! Does it help that I'm still willing to x?"
  3. What is it I actually want from her?  For example, if we feel that we’re always the one giving more than the other (non-reciprocation), then pause and ask ourselves—what is it I actually want or need?  If she just noticed what I gave and thanked me, would that be enough?  Or is there a specific area I need her to give to me more?  Or do I need to know what I do for her that means the most so I don’t waste my time or money giving to her in ways that aren’t all that important to her? When I'm upset that I'm over-giving, is it because she's asking for too much or because I'm simply giving too much? What do I think I really need from her?  And try to answer it with specificity, but also with knowing the root reason.  In other words, instead of just saying ,"I need her to be there for me more," try to say, "I need her to call me at least once a week... because what I really need is to know that I matter to her and that she's thinking of me...."
  4. Have I already asked her for what I need? We so often end friendships without taking the time to let the other person know what we need or how we feel.  It doesn’t always have to be some big and difficult conversation as much as just some guidance where we can tell the other what’s more meaningful to us. If we feel frequently feel judged when she gives advice or opinions, then it’s appropriate to say, “I just need a friend to listen right now.  I don’t need anyone to try to fix this.”  If we feel like she's jealous of our activities and feels left out, then we can follow-up her silence or passive-aggressive statement with, "Are you okay? I just had this feeling like maybe I've upset you somehow?  I'd be so open to talking about it!"
  5. What could forgiveness look like in this situation? Sometimes, forgiveness means letting go of how we want someone to be in our lives and learning to love and enjoy them just as they are, trusting that they’ll keep growing and maturing along the way.  But sometimes forgiveness also means setting boundaries or limiting our exposure to those who have hurt us.  In this case, if it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, what kind of friendship might we still be able to enjoy?

If we feel we've owned our part, shown up with compassion and love for her own needs, and asked for what we've needed from the other and not gotten it-- then it may be time to let this friendship drift apart a bit.