Making Friends

Top Three Tips for Making New Friends

In nearly every media interview I am asked, "What are your tips for making new friends?" and the reporters often are looking for specific ideas like joining clubs, hanging out at the dog park, or volunteering. But those aren't tips for making friends; they are just places to meet people. And there is a vast difference between meeting people and making friends.  Truth be told, most of us probably know enough people, we just don't feel close to enough of them. Even if we don't yet know people in a certain location, it's not because we don't know where people work, live, or hang out that we aren't meeting them, but rather because we don't know what to do once we meet them.

new friends

So as a friendship expert who has been thinking all things friendship for nearly seven years, here are the real tips.  You do these, assuming you're a decently nice and healthy person, you will have friends. Promise.

1)  Be Open.

Be mindful that research shows that we aren't all that good at predicting who we will bond with so be open to the possibility that your new friends don't need to be your same age, same relationship status, or a certain horoscope sign.

Let yourself be surprised by staying open and hopeful about women you're used to dismissing as not your type. My rule of thumb is to delay deciding whether someone is BFF material and just move the friendship as far as one can, as long as there are no big red flags (i.e. stealing from you).

I've matched up complete strangers and turned them into friends in my workshops and research bears out that bonding has less to do with being matched up with a certain person and more to do with how those two people interact-- so you can assume that most of the people you meet could be a good friend even if they have kids and you don't, even if they are single and you aren't, and even if their personality is opposite yours.

If this one tip were taken seriously, we would have a far less lonely world. (See also: The Myth that Keeps You Lonely for more on this)

2) Initiate.

Most of us are meeting people. Everywhere. Work especially. But also everywhere else you go in life.  And most of the people you are meeting could potentially add great meaning and joy to you life if you two really knew each other and spent time together.

To do that, you have two choices: get to know them in a setting where you both automatically are present (like work, church, a club--all the places that reporters want us to list as tips) OR you have to initiate with them in order to get that time logged.

Initiating means to be the catalyst to making the time together happen: striking up conversation, suggesting time together, and following up with specific ideas and dates.

Yes, it can feel awkward. Yes, it's hard if you're shy. But honestly, there is no way to build friendships without spending time together so someone has to make that happen. You're the one who sees the need so it's your job to do what you need to do to start the friendships you ultimately want to enjoy.

3) Repeat.

Falling for the myth that "if she likes me then she'll initiate next time" will kill the potential of many relationships. Instead, believe, "If she likes me then she'll say yes and try to get together when I invite her."

We all have stories of meeting someone we liked who didn't become a friend for no other reason than neither woman really followed up to make the time together happen repeatedly.

When it comes to romantic dating we intuitively understand that meeting for lunch once a month isn't going to be enough time together to really get to know one another, and yet that's all the time we often give to new friends! It will take a loooong time to feel close and supported in a friendship with someone we only connect with occasionally. Our goal is to eventually more toward familiarity-- becoming more of a regularity in each other's lives than a rare exception.

It takes most of us about 6-8 interactions with someone before we will usually start feeling like friends so the sooner we get those 6-8 times scheduled, the sooner we will be able to reap the rewards of our time!

Of course there are countless tips I could give in explaining each of these tips, but suffice it to say: every friendship you have ever formed has followed these three steps.

Don't be someone who just keeps meeting people; be someone who knows what actions to take to develop those people into friends.

-------

p.s.  And remember, GirlFriendCircles.com is a great way to meet new friends in your city since everyone who is a member is a friendly woman who values making new friends!

Are You Motivated Toward Pleasure or Away From Pain?

A guy giving me a sales pitch last year said to me,

"We've found that only about 20% of people are what we call 'Toward People'-- the ones who move toward pleasure; the other 80% of people are 'Away People' who move away from pain."

How Are You Motivated?

Am I able to see what I want and go after it or do I wait until the pain of what I have is so heavy that my motivation comes more from avoiding discomfort?

Any parents, teachers, managers, or other professions that necessitate motivating others know first-hand that this rule holds some truth. With one kid you have to promise ice cream to get the desired results; whereas with another it's not until you threaten to take away their TV privileges that they feel inspired. With weight loss as the example, some friends are chasing a goal--say posing in a bikini-- that motivates them; others, if honest with themselves, are just tired of feeling shame and would give anything to stop feeling that way.

It seems important to know which one we are. The last thing we want is to be in a bikini and still feel shame.

Why Do You Want to Make Friends?

Are you seeking new friends because you know how much fun it will be? Are you already looking forward to the activities, the sharing, and the bond?  Are you motivated to invite now by thinking about what you can be experiencing a year from now?  Are your eyes on the prize? Are you moving toward the pleasure you want?

Or... are you seeking friends because you're tired of feeling disconnected? Are you feeling the loneliness, the ache, and the angst of what it feels like to not have the friends you most want?  Are you motivated to invite now because you want to stop feeling the pain of feeling unsupported or unknown? Are your eyes on the pain? Are you moving away from the pain you feel?

Of course the two are interconnected: accomplishing one hopefully impacts the other. But that's not always the case, is it?  The strategy and results might look different based on which one is the primary motivator.

  • For example, if you're a Toward Person then you probably have a vision of what you want. Perhaps it's sitting in your backyard with a friend watching your kids play, meeting up with a group of friends for lunch downtown where you can talk work and vent, or having one person who knows everything going on in your life because you're both texting each other all through out the day?  Knowing the picture you want-- gives you instant information about the strategy you will want to employ, whether it's finding other women who work nearby or other women who have kids who will play with yours.
  • Whereas, if you're an Away Person then you could theoretically reach any of those visions listed above but still feel angst if you didn't first identify what pain you're trying to avoid.  Maybe it's the pain from being mad at someone, the pain of feeling misunderstood, or the pain of feeling isolated.  Sitting in the backyard watching your kids play may not be the answer?  In fact it may exacerbate the pain because you'll be confused why you still feel mad, misunderstood, or lonely if you didn't figure out why you were feeling those things and articulate what you believe would help you move away from that feeling.

I don't actually think one is worst than the other as much as they both just describe human nature and how we're wired differently. What could be damaging is not knowing which path feels most motivating to you.

Questions to Lead to Your Own Motivation

It's undoubtedly not as easy as an either/or answer for you, but I challenge you today to try to answer these following questions:

  1. Do you most need to move toward something or away from something?
  2. Based on that answer, write at least one full paragraph articulating either the feelings/experiences you want to pursue or avoid.
  3. Now let an image come to mind of you reaching your goal (what does it look like if you're not feeling that way, or what does it look like for you to reach the experience you're pursuing) and describe or draw what you see.  What are you doing? What does your face look like? Who else is there? What are you feeling?
  4. What does your voice of wisdom and maturity say is your take-away from this exercise? Is there an action you want to take? Is there something you want to remember?

Naming which one resonates with us might give us some ah-ha into how to best keep ourselves motivated.  It also hopefully helps us reach our real goals--whether it's the obtain something or avoid something.  Both are important.  But which one matters most?

If I could wave my little magic wand then I'd hope for you both the joy of pursuing pleasure and the peace from moving away from pain.  But since I can't find it right now, what I want for you is your clarity in knowing which one matters most to you right now so that your chances of success increase.  May you feel more relaxed in your friend-making journey as you sense that you have landed on what really will keep you motivated.

And, by the way, I bought the software from that sales guy. He won me over. Ha!

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  I finished my next book manuscript!  Woohoo!! This was a case of first being a Toward person as it was the joy of writing and teaching that motivated me to write a book proposal last summer for my agent to start pitching to publishers.  But then, in recent months I was definitely more motivated by recognizing that there was pain I wanted to Avoid.  When the book felt hard-- and oh this one was squeezing me tight and pounding me with pressure--the only thing that kept me going was not wanting to miss a deadline or disappoint my editor.  I was all about the avoiding pain! Ha!  So sometimes we can use both to our advantage!  :)  I CANNOT wait to share this book with you... as soon as I know the publication date-- I'll let you know!

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.

The Friendship Formula

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

Friendship Accelerators Bonding Women

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

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

Is there a Formula to Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a Formula to Friendship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Two Necessary Ingredients in Bonding

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

If you want meaningful connections:

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

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

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

 

My Prayer for You: Feel Love Even When Insecure

Today when I sat with what I most wanted to say to you... I felt like I just wanted to pray for you. Just pretend I'm lighting a candle of love for you and praying that all those who listen or read these words would feel their spine strengthen as they stand in love. xoxo

To pray for you to feel loved this month....

Particularly as we are in moments where we're often with people but sitting in fear, insecurity, and unmet expectations which makes feeling our connection possible, but not probable if we're showing up with more angst than love.

Perhaps it's at family gatherings where every relationship doesn't feel easy or fulfilling; or perhaps it's with old friends you don't see often and you're tempted to wonder if the time together is worth it; or perhaps it's at a ConnectingCircle where you're walking into a gathering where you don't know anyone; or at a holiday party where it feels shallow and exhausting.

An Audio Version of My Prayer:

My prayer today is for you that you might find love and meaningful connections wherever it is you go.  Whether you feel loved has less to do with who is there and more to do with how you show up.

This prayer is my gift for you: download this 4 minute mp3 and listen to it as a meditation that invites you to breathe deep in the pool of love before breathlessly showing up this season.

Listen to 4-minute prayer for you to feel love

Note: This prayer can be listened to simply by clicking the link and/or downloaded to your computer/phone by selecting the green globe icon in the lower right corner. I spoke it imagining you listening to it before getting out of the car, while you're riding the bus, or right before you leave the house.  May it ground you and go with you, opening up possibilities of you feeling ever more connected and loved. xoxo

A Written Version of My Prayer:

To the God that is Known as Love

This beautiful woman, this daughter, this sister of mine is getting ready to be with people… and that so often can bring up all our insecurities and fears.

I want to say a prayer for her… for her peace that she might walk through any door and greet any person… while never doubting her love and strength and worth.

So let her be here in this moment, fully here, with us.

Let her heart catch up with her body that she might be present.

And not just present, but also available, ready, and willing.

 First, let me thank you for her. She is one of the beautiful hearts in this world willing to be available to love. She won’t do it perfectly all the time, but this is a woman committed to practicing it. I so thank you for that. Bless her in these moments where she’s willing to pause and ground herself.

And now I pray that she be filled with love.

May she take a deep breath and whisper “I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.”

Letting that love wash over her…. I picture her heart beating and growing bigger and bigger as it sends love out through her entire body…. Almost like a color, a color that is flooding her body—

  • Starting in that willing heart—may it be vulnerable and still safe, tender and still strong, receptive and still giving.
  • May it fill her lungs as a prayer that her every breath will choose to breath in love, and breath out fear.
  • As it washes down through her mid-section and fills her stomach may there be peace where others feel nerves.
  • As it pours down through her legs and feet, we take that as a promise that it will go with her wherever she walks.
  • As it stretches out through her arms and hands I beg that she might be Your hands in this place—quick to applaud others, and unafraid to touch.
  • I watch that love go up through her heart and into her head, flowing up through her throat where it leaves a commitment to speak words of affirmation and encouragement… may that same Love fill her mouth with courage to speak with authenticity tonight.
  • May that Love be the lens with which her eyes see… that she might dare to see people the way the Divine sees them… not the way we’re used to measuring people, but with a commitment first to look for evidence as to why they are lovable.
  • As it gushes through her ear canals, may she feel excited to listen for the voices of those around her… and may she have wisdom to hear what isn’t even said.
  • And finally as it lights up her brain… may she be filled with memories of the times that she has been given love and appreciated it… may it invoke her own inner wisdom and remind her that she is safe and she worthy…

I see her body filled with love.

Oh that this woman would deeply know that she has an abundance of it. That she can give Love even before she knows what form it will return to her.

That she will recognize that she can receive it even if, and when, it is given imperfectly by another.

May this love bless the life of this woman who is now choosing to be an agent of love in this world. Might it add joy, depth, and meaning.

As she walks through those doors—the doors where she will undoubtedly bump into humanity—may the holiness of love go before her, with her, and in her. May it trail behind her leaving a blessing around her… that whoever is with her feels their worth, that whoever connects with her feels listed to and attended to, that those who are in her presence feel hope. And may all these gifts be given to her ten-fold… help her see where she can receive, embrace, ask for, be heard, and be seen.

Because we know that prayers begging to become more loving are prayers that will always be answered, we thank you even now that we have this privilege to practice being God made real tonight.

Thank you, thank you, and amen.

---

p.s.  I'm leading a call this Sunday, Dec. 7 at 4:30 pm PT/7:30 ET where everyone who holds any loneliness this holiday season is welcome to come and be present... I want to honor it, speak to it, and bless you.... you are so welcome, for free.  Get info here.

The Myth that Keeps You Lonely

You wish you had the kind of girlfriend you could just text a code word to and she'd know exactly how to respond; the friend who would say, "Let's just hang out this weekend" and you'd want nothing more than uninterrupted time with her; the friend who hears that you're sick and shows up with a pot of soup; the friend who seemingly never tires of listening to you rant about X (insert whatever or whoever you feel like you're always worried about!); the friend who includes you in everything; whispers secrets to you that she tells no one else; and the one who just always seems to want to be with you the same amount of time that you want to be with her. Friendship: What We Want & What We Get

When we're feeling that little nagging angst of loneliness-- it's for her that we want.  It's for the fantasy best friend that we know would be the Thelma to our Louise, the fork to our spoon, the laughter to our jokes.  She would be the finisher of our sentences, the reader of our minds, and the affirmer of our hearts.  Our time together would be effortless, easy, safe, and comfortable.

Most of us just ache for her and keep hoping we'll bump into her one day, doing little-to-nothing to actually seek her out. As if she's a unicorn we just have to hope we'll one day spot!

Some of us go one step further and decide to put at least some energy toward the search-- we join sites like www.GirlFriendCircles.com, sign up for workshops and classes, and attend the parties of our friends with a willingness to connect with new friends. We go out looking for her; as though we're casting agents hosting an audition, employers ready to interview for an open position, or headhunters looking for "our types."

But then, much to our dismay, we discover that the difference between what we want and what we get is vastly huge.

Because what we get in a new friend, 90% of the time, is a stranger that we don't yet know as a best friend so we don't yet love her. We get discouraged when she takes three weeks to schedule, skeptical when she seems to have other friends, doubtful when we see that our lives aren't as similar as we had hoped, and judgmental when we see her choose differently than we would have. She's not quite as vulnerable as we like, the conversation doesn't go as deep as we wish, and we're not laughing quite as much as we think we should be.

We meet a whole bunch of candidates who aren't quite good enough to fit our BFF opening so we quietly reject them and keep looking, albeit somewhat disillusioned.

The gap between the women we're meeting and the women we ultimately want as best friends feels far too great to close.

The Myth That Needs Busting: "I'm looking for the right person to be my BFF"

The gap is indeed discouraging between who we want as friends and what we get from the women we're meeting.

But technically that's only disappointing if you expected it to be otherwise.

The myth keeping most women lonely is that they think having close friends is a product of discovering the right person; when the truth is that meaningful friendship is actually a product of developing the right friendship.

And that, my GirlFriends, is good news. Because now we can recognize that a gap doesn't mean she's not the right one! Rather, a gap reminds us that everyone starts as a new/casual friend and some of them over time (and we won't know which ones for quite a while!) can develop into the friendships we crave.

The Truth: Friendships Don't Start With Frientimacy, They Are Developed

Remember my 5 Circles of Connectedness? In this visual we see how all friends have to start on the far left in the Contact Friends Circle and be developed over to the far-right via consistent time together, increased vulnerability, and broader ways of being together.

Shasta's Circles of Connectedness_updated8-31-11-01

For example, let's use me for a moment.  If you met me today and wanted to be my BFF-- you might judge me against your standards of who you want me to be as a "Commitment Friend."  You could think such things to yourself as: "ugh, she already has her good friends... and she's so busy... I want someone who could meet up with me tonight if I wanted... and when I see her she just doesn't open up about her life that much... and I invited her last time and she hasn't reciprocated yet...besides she's x (married, without kids, too young-- pick the one that doesn't match your life)" and your brain would be tempted to rule me out.

But here's the genius:  Basically as long as I'm friendly toward you-- then I meet the standards for being your Contact Friend so there's NO need to rule me out!  :) For I think I'm a pretty decent friend! (Do I have a witness?!  LOL!)

So you wouldn't want to rule me out because I don't treat you like a BFF when we're not!

Your Take-Away:  Lower Your Standards!

In other words, don't use the standards you'd have for a best friend for a new friend!  For a new friendship: LOWER your standards!

"Lower my standards?" I hear the panic rising in your voice!

Yes, lower your standards.  Release your expectations.  Stop trying to pick and choose so early in the game.  As long as there are no red flags (think abuse, lying, mean spirit) then be open to being surprised by who might develop into a meaningful friend.

Basically, I can let nearly anyone into my Contact Friends Circle.  If you're not biting me or screaming at me-- I accept you!  Welcome to my Circles!

By letting you in, it doesn't mean that I think we'll become bosom buddies, necessarily; it just means I recognize that all levels of friendship are important and acknowledges that I don't always know which women will be the ones I grow closer to.

Open your life to more people (aka: lower your expectations/standards) and let life surprise you with who you end up developing into a deep and meaningful friendship!

(In fact most of my current Commitment Friends weren't necessarily the women I liked more than anyone else I knew at the time... they are merely the ones where the relationship continued to develop, for various reasons.)

From that Circle, some women I'll run into automatically (at school, work, PTA, association gatherings) and we'll eventually make the jump to Common Friends as we grow our friendship.  For others, I may need to initiate some time together so we can keep seeing where our friendship progresses.

The truth is that if you and I barely know each other, then you shouldn't be trying to figure out whether I could be your Commitment Friend as much as you should be excited that we're now Contact Friends.  And as Contact Friends-- everything I named above as reasons you might rule me out are actually appropriate and healthy actions for that beginning level of friendship.  I really shouldn't be expected to be opening up deeply with you yet, dropping everything for you, or feeling pressure to invite you out in order to keep our friendship "equal."  You can't judge me or guess what I'll be like as a Committed Friend by how I treat you as a Contact Friend.  Does that make sense?  Because the truth is that I, appropriately, give different levels of myself to people based on the friendship that has been developed.

Friendship is NOT how much we think we like each other; it's how much of a pattern two people have in practicing the positive behaviors of friendship.

Your job right now is to lower your standards: let friendly people into your life and make time for them without ruling them out because they don't match the fantasy you have for what an eventual best friend might look like.

So stop auditioning women for the starring role of your BFF and start saying yes to people who are friendly and see where it goes.

For in the world of friendship... horses can become unicorns.  :)

I welcome your questions, concerns, and feedback!  Was this helpful?  Did I confuse you more?  Can't wait to hear from you!

How Important Is Chemistry in a Friendship?

Ahhh the age-old question: How important is chemistry in a friendship? I love this question, but something tells me you're not going to love my answer.

Is Chemistry Necessary?

What you secretly hope I'm going to tell you is that it's super important and that you'll know in the first hour, or 5 minutes, of meeting someone whether you two could develop an awesome friendship.

You want me to say that because then it lets you of the hook for not yet having the all the good friendships you crave; you can just shrug and say, "Well I just haven't met them yet, apparently." You want me to say that because your ego wants to believe it's a fabulous judge of character and that like a good casting agent, it knows exactly who you're most likely to bond with down the road.  You want me to say that because you grew up believing that a good friendship is more about finding the right people than anything else.

But, give me a few moments of your time, and I'll tell you why you're going to be far happier telling you that initial chemistry doesn't matter nearly as much as you think it does.

What is Chemistry, Really?

Chemistry perhaps can best be defined as that moment when we realize that "click" with someone else.  And to "click" usually means we feel a meaningful connection of some kind with another person. And often we think that the more quickly we feel it-- the more genuine it must be.

Anyone who has dated remembers that there are some people you felt an instant attraction to who ended up going nowhere; and we all know people we've come to love who we wouldn't have been able to guess initially.

This is a picture from a recent Friendship Accelerator group-- I love watching groups of strangers create their bonds even if they don't feel them instantly with every single person in their group!

Similarly in friendship, we all have evidence of at least one woman we adored, but then never saw again, proving that chemistry isn't enough to create a friendship; and at least one friendship, usually someone we met at school or work where the frequency of interaction was automatic, that we ended up bonding with even though we wouldn't have been able to initially guess we would have.  In other words, think of some of your closest friends and try to image just meeting them at a coffee shop as strangers the first time, not knowing anything about them-- would you be so blown away by every single one of them, convinced you needed to see them again soon?  Not likely.  Especially if your life looks too different from theirs.  We love them now because we had the time to get to know them.

So we know that meaningful friendships get started without initial chemistry; and we know that having initial chemistry doesn't automatically translate into developing a friendship.

But How Will I Know Who I'll Bond With?

We also know from social science that we aren't that great of predicting who we're going to bond with or not.  We think we need someone else who votes for same political party, is a member of the same religious system, dresses similarly to us, or is in a similar life stage as we are; but hard data bears out that it doesn’t matter at all what parts of our lives are similar to each other, only that we end up finding those similarities.

The Brafman Brothers who co-wrote the book Click share research that reveals people bond more deeply over quantity of perceived similarities than over quality.  In other words, the number of similarities matters more than the content of those similarities. They wrote,

“Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”

What we consider as the “big” thing we think we need to have in common isn’t as effective at bonding us as having two or three “small” things in common. They said,

“You’d think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music… but it didn’t matter at all which topics underlay the similarity—it was the degree of similarity that was important.”

Crazy, huh? Of course now some of you might be thinking, "But everyone I'm close to is so similar to me... they're the ones I felt chemistry with." And indeed, if you look around at all your friends and they are similar to you then you'd be tempted to think that's how it works. But if all your friends are the same political party, race, religion, and life stage as you are then it could just mean you've limited who you've been willing to try to bond with because you believed you needed those similarities?

Some of the other research they share reveals that more often than not we end up becoming closest friends simply with those we see most often.  At one military base they tracked all the cadets to see whether they ended up bonding with others based what region of the country that came from (did Southerners gravitate to other Southerners?), what ethnic group they identified with (did Asians tend to friend other Asians?), or what life stage they were at (Did married cadets hang out more with other marrieds?).  Their findings?  They ended up becoming closest to others based on their last names. Because they were seated in alphabetical order-- the cadets bonded most with those they sat next to all the time.  We can think we know who we're drawn to, but in reality it usually comes down to liking those we become most familiar with an who we have the greatest chances of seeing most frequently.

So... we don't have to have this initial chemistry. And, we often don't even know what qualities will bond us as much as we like to think we do.

What Do We Need to Know About Chemistry

In short-- I'll say this: It is important that you eventually like each other and feel connected to each other. So, yes, chemistry is important in that sense.  But we don't have to feel it instantly, nor do we have to be limited by our false beliefs of what we need to have in common with each other.

We are actually able to bond with far more people than we think we can!  And that's good news!  It means you don't have to sit and wait for the "perfect person" to show up (who more often than not you think will look like your twin!) and you don't have to feel giddy with an instant girl crush to prove there is potential!

Instead, you get to be friendly with everyone and trust that as you keep getting to know people and finding the surprising things you have in common with each other-- that eventually some of those friendly relationships will develop into meaningful friendships! And in my humble opinion, that is far greater news!  It means we're not victims just left to waiting and hoping that this exact .0001% of the population needs to find us; rather, we are women who can choose to develop meaningful relationships from nearly any of the women we meet!

How GirlFriend Circles Saved My Soul

Note from Shasta:  I would love for you to meet Kathleen Kinney, a teacher in Kent, WA, outside Seattle. I first met her when she approached me at an event in Seattle in early June where I was speaking, and with two women in tow, announced to me, "The three of us are friends because of GirlFriend Circles!" My heart melted; these are the moments I live for.  This is Kathleen, her membership profile picture that pops up whenever she writes her notes to new members!  :)

I asked her if she'd be willing to share a bit about how she came to joinGirlFriendCircles.com, and more importantly, some of the tips she does that makes such a difference to her success.  She truly is source of light in the Seattle area as she seeks to make others feel better about connecting.  I hope as you read her story that you'll be inspired to RSVP to a Circle, reach out to other women on the site, or even become an Ambassador-- all actions that will not only make a difference in your life, but could also bring joy to others!

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

By Kathleen Kinney

GirlFriend Circles saved my soul.

In the last couple years many of my BFF's moved away leaving a huge void in my life and soul. Around the same time, More magazine ran an article on the importance of friendships on women's health, and mentioned GirlFriend Circle (GFC) as a place to meet woman in my area. It would be a couple of years later before I actually signed but, eventually I really felt the need to become a member and establish girlfriends.

This is what my profile says:

My friends have moved away...and my son is past the play group stage. I am looking for a few friends that like a bit of adventure without kids. It is time I find some girlfriends that are outside of my mom role. It would be nice to have a stimulating conversation, and enjoy some outings with a friend once or twice a month. I enjoy walking almost everyday!

At first, I was discouraged because there were so few women signed up on the GFC site in my area. But, this last winter I decided to check out GFC to see if the site had gained in popularity. Am I ever so happy I did!! First, I noticed that a woman named Cindy, consistently offered a calendar circle outing. I took a deep breath, and plunged!! Our first outing together was the Seattle Art Museum. Next, another museum outing. So begins my relationship with connecting to other woman.

After attending a few GFC gatherings I was encouraged to become an Ambassador. I thought, "What could I possibly offer GFC?" The answer was really simple, love. Love for friendship, connectedness and most of all companionship!!

So begins a second phase of my journey with GFC. Ambassador. Hmm, what does that really mean? It is not complicated, really. It is about building connections and

I was honored to meet these three women last month in Seattle when I was visiting.  Starting on the far left: Julie opened her home to our gathering, Kathleen is the author of this story; and on my right is Cindy, the woman who kept hosting events in the Seattle area helping give women activities to do together!  Thanks to all three of you for the joy you're bringing to that area!

relationships with other woman!! What does this look like? When a member RSVP's to an event, I almost always send them a private message thanking them for joining the event with an expression of enthusiasm. If they cancel, I thank them for contacting me, give an appropriate response, AND tell them I will miss them at the event (if they have attended before). If I have not previously met them. I usually say, "I look forward to meeting you in the near future." If a member is a "no-show" I message them, tell them I missed meeting them or seeing their beautiful face and inquire if everything is okay. Really, my goals is about building CONNECTIONS and RELATIONSHIPS.

Quite frankly, some woman are scared of building relationships because they have been emotionally wounded. Sometimes, all it takes is a little effort to reach out to a gal and say "Welcome. I am so glad you are part of GFC."   In my life experiences, some woman have been deeply wounded and need TRUST, encouragement, love and acceptance. I LOVE that Shasta asks woman to say, "Thank you for sharing." Not all woman want advice or judgment, they just need an empathic friend!!

Nothing makes me happier than women becoming friends!

What has GFC done for me? For the first time in my life, I have been called an athlete. I am training for a bike event with a group of women from GirlFriendCircles.com! I NEVER saw myself doing this 6 months ago, and have realized that it is FUN!! I have a circle of GirlFriends's that are gold!! What makes them gold? COMMITMENT and TRUST!! They truly are my touchstones in what can seem like a crazy world!! For the first time in my life, I can honestly say, I am so proud to be a woman! I am strength. I am a friend. I am committed. I need woman. GFC saved my soul.

Kathleen-- we're honored to have you in our community, but want to assure you that women like you ARE the soul of GFC-- so really you saved yourself.  :) 

And Cindy-- if you hadn't been faithfully posting events-- she wouldn't have had anything to RSVP to attend-- you are a hero to us!  Thank you!!!!

 

I Believe in Making Friendships Happen

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

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

Betsy from Dallas believes in making friendships happen!  :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GirlFriendCircles t-shirt

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

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

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

I believe in making friendships happen.

 

Which means acknowledging that they don't just happen.

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

They don't happen to me.

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

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

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

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

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

I will courageously set aside time for friendships.

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

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

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

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

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

GirlFriendCircles t-shirt

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

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

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

I believe in making friendships happen.

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

A-men.  And it is so.

 

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

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

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

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

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make In Their Friendships

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

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make In Their Friendships

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

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

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

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

More blogs related to this: here and here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs related to this: here and here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs related to this: here and here.

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

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

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

More blogs related to this: here and here.

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs related to this: here and here.

An Interview with Tiffany: Why I Love GirlFriendCircles.com

In talking to Tiffany this fall she kept crediting GirlFriendCircles with giving her a circle of friends who helped her through a health crisis. I'd say all credit goes to her for fostering friendly people into friends, but her story was so inspiring, I asked her if she'd be willing to share it with all of you! Tiffany was a member of GirlFriendCircles.com in San Francisco, CA for nearly 2 years and is still a huge advocate and ambassador.

So, Tiffany, this particular part of your story begins this last September...

Yes, it was right after Memorial Day and I ended up needing to go to the hospital because I was in so much pain.  I couldn't have guessed upon arrival that they would be telling me that not only were they keeping me there, but also that I needed emergency surgery.

And how did you respond? 

Well I immediately called two friends of mine (one whom I had met through GirlFriendCircles.com) and they put out the word about where I was and what had happened.

The response was unbelievable.

Anne, Julia, Tiffany, and Maurine-- once strangers, now good friends because of GirlFriendCircles.com

Three of our friends, who we had also met through GirlFriendCircles.com (GFC), came and spent hours with me in the emergency room so I wouldn’t have to be alone.  (What makes this even more special is that one of them is an avowed germaphobe who avoids hospitals!) My surgery ended up becoming a 3 ½ day hospital stay.  And there was honestly not one day that went by that this amazing group of women did not call, visit, text, etc. I am convinced that the love and support from them is what made the healing process go so quickly.

I spent two weeks recuperating at home and the “amazingness” continued.  People visited, called, texted, brought me food, took me to doctor’s appointments, stayed with me when I needed it…. It was a truly humbling experience to be on the receiving end of that much love.

Before all this happened, I had in my head that these women were my “village” and it was gratifying to know that it translated to real life!

Take me back to that moment when you realized you actually had friends who were supporting you through this crisis… what did you feel?

I felt incredibly blessed and grateful.  I met all these women through GFC.  The women who show up to GFC, and are intentional about making friends and building community, really do make the world a better place to live.

As a single woman who doesn't live near family, I basically lived through a crisis that would have been so much worse had it happened a few years ago, before I had built up a circle of friends.  We've all had times where we've wondered, "Who would I call in an emergency situation?" and this time, I knew the answer.

Oh that makes me so happy to hear! How did going through this together impact your friendships? 

The ultimate impact of this was that my FRIENDS became my FAMILY in the truest and best sense of that word.  Even though I was the one who was sick, we all now know that we have each other’s back when the chips are down.  We have a community where we lean on each other and celebrate each other’s wins.  We've proven it to ourselves!

It truly was an amazing experience to be a part of.  To me, it's not too big of a statement to say that none of it would have been possible without GirFriendCircles.com. To meet women who were ready and willing to develop meaningful friendships literally gave me a support system, a tribe in this city.

Anything else you want to say?

My take-away is that it is so worth it to invest the time and energy into building a network of female friendships.  I am convinced they are the root of a happy and successful life!

I hope I've been able to convey how amazing and special this group of friends is / has become and that none of it would be possible without us all meeting through GFC. I am so grateful.  Thank you Shasta for starting this...

You're so welcome Tiffany.  Thank you for jumping in, meeting people, and taking the time to foster friendships-- that's where the magic was!

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

Tiffany attended 8 Connecting-Circles & 1 Friendship Accelerator during her membership in GirlFriendCircles and that combination of involvement has given her a strong circle of local girlfriends.

Membership deal: Until Dec. 2, women can save 20% off a GirlFriendCircles.com membership, ensuring that your 2014 is filed with invitations to local ConnectingCircles. Promo Code: UPGRADE

Friendship Accelerator: And if you, or someone you know, lives in New York City, San Francisco, or Las Vegas-- I'll be in those cities in early 2014 offering Friendship Accelerators! More info here.

 Want more inspiring stories from real GFC members:

The Friendships You've Always Wanted: Selecting the Friendship Faculty

So what a very interesting experience I've had in the last three weeks as I was interviewing the leading relationship experts in the country! No surprise that even I had a lot to learn! The Back Story....The Vision

It started because I had this almost-vision-like picture of hundreds of women all committing to focus on their friendships in the same month.  At first I dismissed it as a silly and fluffy and over-dramatic idea... but it kept feeling important.  It reminded me of being a pastor when we'd gather everyone for prayer-meeting. Even without understanding how prayer really works, there is something powerful about everyone doing it together, in purpose, in solidarity.  There is just a different energy that everyone feels in those moments that is very different from the experience of praying alone.  So anyway, I began to listen to that voice and ended up committing to invite all the women I know to join me for one-month of focused attention, hope, and learning in the area of our friendships.

Then... as I looked at my calendar to see which month I should aim for... International Women's Friendship Month jumped out at me and I just knew it was meant to be.

So then I had the vision and a date.  But because I'm what StrengthsFinder calls a Maximizer-- someone who takes something good and wants to make it excellent (trust me, it can feel like a curse at times!)--I started to brainstorm a gazillion inspirational ideas that convinced me I wanted to offer not just my own voice to this month, but I wanted to collaborate, invite, include, and connect with other experts. I made my dream list....

The Doubts and Insecurities

But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to sometimes being jealous of some of these experts--for their big book deal, their opportunities, their contacts, their credentials, their research, their niche, their angle, etc.

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

And on the flip-side (because insecurity and arrogance are two sides of the same coin), I wondered if I'd like some of their answers and approaches as well as my own.  I cringe to admit it for I definitely don't think I'm more valuable than anyone, but sometimes it's easy to judge others within our own industry and feel like they should have the same approach I have.  I've been known to think critically of others as "too academic sounding," or for "giving advice that seems so trite or appears to be dumbing-down," or for getting caught up in the labeling of unhealthy friendships, which isn't my style.  I guess it's human nature to be trying to figure out where we each rank next to each other.  But it's not the person I want to be.

My fear definitely reared its little head.  But I knew, to my core, that I had much to learn from all of them, and that you would, too.  And I knew that we were all on the same page about helping you foster the best friendships you can... and that you'll learn better from different voices and styles. (Funny how sometimes we fear even what we know is right and good and truthful!)  But my conviction that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that friendships around the world will be better because we collaborated, pushed me through my insecurities and I reached out with the invitation to share them with my audience.

All that to say I am super proud of the "faculty" that I pulled together for this course.  Really, really proud.  When Ori Brafman wrote me back on Twitter and said he'd give me an interview (I quote his research from Click in my own book!)-- I squealed with delight!  When I interviewed Dr. Paul Dobransky--whose definition of friendship will help you know clearly which ones to end--about how we can set better boundaries, I was taking notes myself, amazed at how he was explaining things.  When I read Sophia Dembling's book The Introverts Way-- I was convinced I'd find her and beg her for an interview, which she happily agreed to give.  I could go on-and-on.  I secured a dozen amazing teachers.

I interviewed twelve amazing experts-- sociologists, psychologists, a university professor, many NYT bestselling authors,  an organizational consultant, a women's leadership coach, a marketing executive, and so many more roles.  What they all have in common is a wealth of wisdom that pertain to our friendships.

Here's a sampling of what you can learn from these teachers:

  • Why needing new friends is normal—and how to show up with less guilt, anxiety, and shame.
  • The one thing more important to friendship than chemistry
  • The best ways to make friends in a way that is congruent to your personality
  • Is it true that we are the sum of our five closest friends? If so, in what ways are you being impacted and influenced?
  • The five science-based accelerators that deepen our friendships
  • How many people you need to meet to actually find the number of friends you want
  • The biggest obstacle to friend-making and how to best respond
  • The three most effective tips for making new friends
  • How to determine healthy expectations for different levels of friendship
  • The biggest red-flags to watch out for and what to do when you see them showing up in your friendships!
  • How you can prevent friendships from being ruined by jealousy and competition
  • The boundaries that you need to set to ensure that you participate in mutually reciprocated friendships
  • The three most important practices you can add to your life to attract more love
  • Which of the five types of friends you already have and which ones you want to find
  • An exercise to help you feel less judgmental and jealous of your friends.
  • How to tell the difference between what friendships can be saved and which ones need to end

But I learned so much more than that list can convey.  I learned that even when my advice would be very different from someone I was interviewing... I heard the wisdom in their approach and knew it would be exactly what someone needed to hear.  My ego certainly likes me to think that my approach is healthiest, or best; but what is clear is that while none of us has every answer to your every friendship woe (because every circumstance and person and relationship is just sooo different!), we all also have expertise that can shine in different areas.  How we each speak to this subject and approach it is just so different, and so beautiful.

It has been a gift to work on something as comprehensive as this project. (Where else is there a friendship program featuring so many teachers and subjects?)  I'm really proud of the work.  And I so hope that you are one of the women I saw in my vision who was willing to say "I will focus on my friendships for one month. Count me in."

I hope you can join us.  Hundreds of women coming together to make the world a better place by making sure we're each supported, connected, and loved in ways that matter.

With love,

Shasta

p.s.  To learn more about the program and to sign-up to join us, visit www.FriendshipsWanted.com.

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!  :)

 

 

 

 

A Success Story: Shoshana is Making Friends in L.A.

From Shasta:  This is a blog post written by Shoshana K., a member of GirlFriendCircles.com, who is 30, lives in Venice Beach, CA with her boyfriend and two dogs. She runs two charitable foundations and volunteers her time with Big Brothers Big Sisters and developmentally disabled adults.  I think it's so important and inspiring to share our stories with each other! Searching for Friends Online?

While on vacation in Mexico last October celebrating my 30th birthday, my boyfriend and I were discussing how hard it was for me to not have my friends living nearby. I grew up in Orange County, but have been in Los Angeles for several years--it's amazing what a little distance can do to friendships. Between graduate school and working full-time for many years, with no time to go out or to meet people/foster new friendships, I was feeling the absence.

My boyfriend has nice friends who I enjoy spending time with, but I really felt like I should have my own friends as well. He jokingly suggested there should be a site that exists to make friends similar to a dating site (we met on Jdate almost 4 years ago). So I pulled my iPad out and searched on Google. I found GirlFriendCircles.com, liked what I saw, and decided that I would join when I got back to LA.

"This picture is from Isabel's birthday that celebrated at Malibu Wines with our GFC friends. We all brought components for a picnic and hung out there most of the day sipping wine and listening to music." --Shoshana (in the red dress, back row, far right)

I approached the whole experience in a positive and open-minded way. I knew I had a lot to offer potential friends and knew what I was looking for in a group of friends.

Getting Started on GirlFriendCircles.com

My first event was a ConnectingCircle [small group gatherings of women organized by GFC] at Cafe Gratitude in Venice a few blocks from my house. I was looking forward to meeting new women so I was excited, but definitely also a little bit nervous.

Once I got there though I was very comfortable and had a great time talking to the 5 other women I met. The event was a lot of fun, I found it easy to find things to talk about, and the whole thing felt really natural and relaxed.   Afterward, I was definitely looking forward to getting together with some of the women I met and also excited about attending another ConnectingCircle.

After my first event, I attended another ConnectingCircle.  It was at this one that a few of the girls reached out to get phone numbers and to meet up afterward. I ended up meeting one of those girls for dinner the following week (this was back in November) and we have been friends since. (Also, from my first ConnectingCircle, while we did not make immediate plans, there is one girl from my first meeting whom I see regularly and another I see from time to time.)

I think GirlFriendCircles.com clicked for me really quick. I have always had big groups of women in my life: girl scouts, teams, clubs etc. So it was very natural for me to meet women in a group setting. I have found that so many women are just looking to connect so GFC has been the perfect vehicle for me to make new friends. I will say that actually not being afraid to follow-up and call or text or e-mail another member is huge. I think getting over that initial fear of rejection is a big step.

My Friends Now!

"This is a photo of four of us who met through GirlFriendCirlces who joined a group of others to hike in Malibu together, followed by lunch at Neptune's Net. The hike was really challenging--I think it was about 7 miles--but we pushed through and finished!"

Now my friendship circle consists of about 13-15 women I have met from the site. There are a handful I have seen more frequently than the others. We have done hikes, fitness days, birthday celebrations, meals, and many more activities together.

When I first met with Nina for dinner after my second ConnectingCircle we had a long conversation about our love for reading and expressed that we both wanted to be a part of a book club.  She suggested starting one so we got a few other girls interested. We started with maybe 4 girls and have added a few more. She really was the catalyst that started all of this and she continues to maintain the Facebook page and list of potential books. Additionally, she just organized a comedy event and has also talked a group of us into doing a 5k with her in a few months!

I have put together a few fun nights out/in, as well. The first was just at a fun restaurant/bar that about 15 girls attended and then I had a wine night at my house. I am hosting another wine/game night in a few weeks that about 10 girls are attending so far.

It's just amazing to me that I met so many really great women through this community. I might not have everything in common with every single one of them, but I have more than enough things to connect on and we have had so many great times together. I feel like they are there for me and are understanding and supportive and most of all fun to be with.

The beauty of GFC is that we are all on the site looking for the same thing.  And we found it in each other.

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

Want to inspire others? Share your friend-making story with us at shasta@girlfriendcircles.com! What has worked?  What hasn't?

Want to see other inspiring stories from our members? Here's one from an Ambassador in Chicago (we recently begged Kathy to become our Ambassador director in case you want to get more involved in that way!) and here's two real stories from NYC!

Note from Shasta:  Over 80% of our members who have attended at least 2 ConnectingCircles say they've made at least 2-3 friends.  The odds are good... what I love about Shoshana's story is that she went to more than one ConnectingCircle, found more success when phone numbers were exchanged and follow-up plans made, and she continues to post and RSVP to events where she not only keeps fostering her newly made friendships for herself, but also keeps giving the opportunity for others to join and connect!  Thank you Shoshana for sharing your story!

 

An Interview with a GirlFriendCircles.com Ambassador!

With thousands of new members joining GirlFriendCircles.com in the last few weeks from across the U.S. and Canada it reminds me how many women know the value of new friends and are willing to do something about it. For some of you, just signing up and trying to muster up the courage to post your photo, complete your profile, or RSVP to an event will be all you can do to prove to yourself that friendships matter to you. And that's okay!  We all take the steps we can!

But for some of you, you may feel as though you have a bit more in you to move you forward in your friendship journey.  This is an interview with Kathy Lombardo, a GirlFriendCircles.com Ambassador, who I was lucky enough to meet at my Chicago Book Party last month!  She lives 30 miles outside of Chicago in Darien, IL and knows what it's like to feel discouraged at the lack of stuff going on in her area. But her willingness to respond with hope has made all the difference!  She's a 46 year-old Neonatal RN who decided to not only make her own friendships happen, but to also help make it happen for others! You don't have to become an Ambassador to be inspired by her story and see ways you can make friendships happen for you!

Meet Kathy Lombardo, a GirlFriendCircles.com Ambassador, whom I was lucky enough to meet in Chicago last month!

Here's my interview with her:

Shasta:  When you first joined GirlFriendCircles.com, you were undoubtedly hoping for tons of new friendships in your area, but since you live 30 miles outside of Chicago, we weren't that robust in your area, right?  So what did you feel and how did you respond?

Kathy: Yes, when I first joined GirlFriendCircles.com last Spring after hearing you interviewed, the web site told me that there were not enough people in my area to match me with. I was disappointed because I had been so excited to find an avenue for meeting other women who I thought may have a similar desire for the kind of friendship I was yearning for. I was also surprised because I did live close to one of the largest cities in the country. Thus…I got off the computer that day dejected.

Eventually, you decided to take matters into your own hands and become an Ambassador for GirlFriendCircles.com in your area!  What prompted that?  Was it a hard decision?

I do not remember what prompted me to take matters into my own hands but I know that I had chosen to continue to receive your blog and various e-mails. In fact,I ended up using one of your blogs about how you wanted people to feel in your presence as a template for the vows I used in a marriage-to-myself ceremony last Fall. Then I think I must have read something about becoming an Ambassador in one of your e-mails? Regardless of the prompt though, I remember that it was about 6 months after I had first logged on to GFC that I decided to get back on and “make this work” for me. I decided that instead of dejectedly giving up on my dream,  I was instead going to do whatever I could to make it a reality. If I was going to go down; I was at least going to go down fighting! This made my decision to become an Ambassador a no-brainer. In fact I was eager to do so, believing it would lead me down the path to what I was looking for, or I'd at least die trying……lol! After reading your book, I realized I was doing exactly what the heart of your message is, “creating a meaningful circle of girlfriends”. As you say, “friendships don’t just happen” and I clearly realized this and was going to go from wishing for it to intentional action to create it.

That's amazing Kathy. How glad so many of us are that you decided to come back and give it another shot! So, after you then signed up to help be this catalyst for friendship, what are some of the first things you did?

After I signed up I spent time navigating my way around the GFC website, which I hadn’t really done when I first went on. I created a profile with a picture and went in search of friends. I had not seen this feature previously because I don’t think I really understood how GFC worked. I then went about “friending” many women in the city and in the suburbs. I also found the Calendar and created an event. The first event I created was to a book launch party in the city last November, which I was helping out with. Four or five women signed up to go and only one was able to make it but I did meet her that night, and brought back the book for another. It was a small start but it was a start and I was very hopeful!

When did you first sense that things were changing?  What signs did you start to see that gave you hope?

I think I first sensed that things were changing when I decided to take action. There was an immediate shift in me, which translated into a shift in my circumstances. “Friending” women on my own, putting my work zip code as well as my home zip code, finding the Calendar, and creating events is when the hope really kicked into gear! I saw that there was more much for to this than actually just waiting to be matched.

Having been an Ambassador now for 6 months (is that right?), what would you say have been the pay-offs or benefits for you?

Yes, about 6 months, maybe less. The benefits have been tremendous! Just making the decision was a huge benefit. But then deciding to put my all into it is what has given me the biggest rewards. I took it very seriously and put up events as suggested and went to events and ConnectingCircles as much as possible, asked questions of Maci, became a book circle leader, signed up with Big Tent with other Ambassadors, posted questions and answered them in the forum, put up fliers, followed-up with people, and continued to do all of that over and over.

Wow.  I am so touched how seriously you took this.  Thank you so very much. You really dove in, far more than most people are willing to. But, that's everything you gave.  Can you tell me what you received from doing that?

OK...let me try this again.....personal benefits to me? A sense of hope. Feeling good about putting action and intention into something that is important to me. Seeing the truth that the things most precious to me in life take not just desire but intention, action, and commitment. I have learned that the more intention, action, and commitment I put into something the greater the reward will be. I have learned that I am able to co-create the things in life I have longed for. I have learned that giving up does not serve me. I have learned that the status quo, while safe, does not serve me. I have learned to let go of what does not serve me or bring me happiness and that the only way to have the life that I truly desire is to let go of my fear, be willing to risk rejection and disappointment, put myself out there, and be patient!

Beautiful.  Love it!  And now the flip-side.  To be fair and honest, what has been the hardest, or most disappointing part?

Hard? Nothing! Honestly, nothing has been hard. It has been sheer joy for me to be so involved. Being an Ambassador could practically be the job description for who I am as a person. It suits me, it lends itself to the gifts God put me here to share with the world, and it is completely me! It comes naturally to me and I am good at it…not to be a braggart, just to speak the raw truth of it. This is who I am. As you describe in your book, I am a 100% initiator and bringer together of people!

I think the most disappointing part has been something that you actually spoke about in your book. I appreciated reading in Chapter 6 you saying, “I cringe when I hear that….several women cancelled their attendance at a ConnectingCircle the day before-or worse, someone simply didn’t show up.”  I absolutely lean in the direction of naivety and thinking that everyone has the same jolly, happy, this-is-so-fun, let’s-do-this attitude as I do. But the truth is that even people who take the time to sign up for GFC have different levels of desire and commitment. And all I can really worry about is to continue my own level of desire and commitment, knowing it will lead me to who and where I am supposed to be. I also appreciated reading you say that, “The girl who showed up may feel embarrassed or frustrated, but she has proven to herself that she is willing to be present for something that she says is important in her life. I believe that energy will serve her.” These sentences touched my heart because that is a principle I think I have spent my life standing on even if not everyone else who has been in my life has.

What has been one of your best memories as an Ambassador so far?

Well…that is an easy one! It is at your book launch party when I asked you a question and one of the women I was with told you I was an Ambassador.  Then after telling you my name you said, “Oh yes, I know you. Maci told me I HAVE to meet you and that she thinks you are great and so wished she could have come here just to meet you!” I felt like a mini-celebrity! It was awesome to see that all the effort I had been putting in was really, really paying off….  I was with a large group of women I had met through GFC, was meeting you, was being sought after by other women there, and got to meet a woman who was there that night as the result of a flier I had put up in a Caribou coffee months previously and many, many miles away! It was an amazing night!

Look at all the friendships Kathy has helped make happen! It made me SO happy to see the love and joy among these women!

Well that was a highlight for me, too!  What a difference you've made Kathy.  It's amazing how one woman can just start reaching out, and how much others will respond to that!  What a difference you've made!  Okay, last questions, if you were to give advice to others who might be willing to be Ambassadors in their areas, what would you like to tell them?

Like Nike says, “Just do it”, or more specifically, DO IT! It has been worth every moment of effort I have put into it and has changed my life in so many ways! It is not really “hard” and the rewards far surpass any time and effort that it may take. I would also definitively say that patience is required, as is tenacity. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen with the first event I created. In fact, the first 3 events I created were attended by either only one other person or no one at all. But I was patient and tenacious and would not give up!! And look, I am now being interviewed by YOU!!!  :)

Oh how grateful so many of us are that you didn't give up.  Thank you for continuing to post events, for not taking it personally when people didn't RSVP, and for continuing to reach out and introduce women to each other. I'm so very thankful for you!

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

If you're interested in possibly being an Ambassador for Friendship in your area, go here. But whether you sign-up or not, I hope you got lots of good ideas from Kathy's story and that it gives you the courage necessary to go post an event on the GirlFriendCircles.com calendar in your area and maybe send out a few "Let's Connect" requests to introduce yourself to other women nearby!  Make your friendships happen!

 

 

Making New Friends in a New City, by Christie Mims

Note from Shasta: I've been writing so many guest blogs to celebrate my new book "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" that I decided I may need to have a few women guest blog for me until I have more words to share!  :)  Soon, I'm goingto start blogging about any questions you have as you read the book, concepts you wish I would unpack more, or anything you wished I would have highlighted-- post those questions on our Facebook page and I'll answer them here! For now, this is Christie Mims-- a brand new mover-and-shaker here in the San Francisco area. (Her bio is at the end.) Christie Mims

 

Making New Friends in a New City, by Christie Mims

I like to think of myself as a fairly cool person who is easy to get to know. I shower regularly, I smile often, I like dogs (I distrust people who don’t like dogs), and I have a passionate love for 1981 (3?) killer movie: “Staying Alive.” There may have only been about five actual pages of dialogue, but boy do the large hair and hand gestures make up for it. John Travolta, you have my endless thanks.

I also love my friends.  Friendship, for a long time, has been one of my most important life values. My friends are like my family. They are my sanity, and the people who give me joy. I try to write, reach out, communicate, drink, and play with my friends as often as possible. And even when they are scattered all over the world,

I will travel to see them when I can. They matter to me.

So, when I decided on a bit of a whim to uproot my revolutionary Career Coaching business from DC to San Francisco, I thought I would be fine.  My business is global, so it would be easy, right?

Sure, a lot of my friends were in DC, “but - I’ve got friends all over the world!” I thought to myself jauntily as I packed up my car, fresh from a trip to Germany to see some of said friends.

“I’ll be fine!” I said as I drove across country with my mom “I’ve got two amazing friends already in SF, plus all the people I’m sure I’ll meet. It’ll be great!”

“I’m good at staying in touch over email!” I said as I unpacked my stuff, alone in my new apartment for the first time.

“I’ll hang out with my friends here all the time!” I thought, as I sat around wondering what to do with myself...knowing that one of my friends was a new mom, and the other was deep in the throes of an all-consuming start-up.

Making New Friends isn't as Easy as it Sounds

And then it hit me.

I was alone in a new city, far from home and in an inconvenient time zone.  When I was lonely at night in my new home, my east coast friends were fast asleep (to say nothing of the Europeans).  And my friends here, while AMAZING, are pretty busy and not that close to me in terms of location. The bay area is bigger than I realized (I’m really terrible with geography...I blame the US school system. Also, who needs algebra? Really?).

The truth is that it was awful.

Weekends were the worst - I had full days stretching in front of me with nothing but time, and no one to share that time with.  And, I was also working hard on my business, stretching out of my comfort zone, building up my visibility in San Francisco, and learning about the city and the culture.  It was exhausting, and at the end of the day, I just wanted to be with someone who knew me. Who would come over for a glass of wine and watch bad tv and talk about boys or shoes.

I was lonely.

I was sad.

And I felt so lost.

But I Made My Friendships Happen!

So I did what I know how to do.  I networked (I’m from DC, it’s what we do). At events with women.  Hoping that maybe I would meet someone cool, and at minimum I would make business connections.  I reached out.  I introduced myself awkwardly and invited people to lunch or coffee.

I stalked some people over email if I thought we would hit it off.

I signed myself up for Shasta’s Friendship Accelerator (Note from Shasta: see below for description of these workshops!), hoping that I would at least kill some time on a lonely Saturday, and thinking it would probably teach me something interesting. I told myself I needed to smile a lot and enjoy the city that I chose.

And I kept doing it.

It was not easy.  Most of the time, especially in the beginning, it wasn’t even particularly fun.

But I was open to it.  And cognizant of the fact that friendship has to start somewhere - and I needed to keep pushing myself out there so I would go from random coffees to full on friends.  Friendship, as Shasta sagely says, is based on consistency and intimacy.  You need to have both to have close friends.

So I threw myself into weekly dinners with my accelerator group.

I set up regular card nights with old and new friends (trying to integrate groups!).

I asked friends to introduce me to their friends in the area.

I joined new meetups and  organizations such as A Band of Wives (abusing google search in my attempts to find all possibilities).

And I kept going back.

I’ve been in the Bay Area now for roughly four months.  My social life, which felt a little like a broken puzzle when I first arrived, is now starting to snap into focus.

I’ve got friends, and plans, and some consistency with the friends and plans in my life. It matters. I remember when I had a week in the fall where I spent time with old and new friends almost every night, and at the end of it I felt like a new person.  It honestly impacted my health, and made making friends here an even bigger priority in my life.

I feel like I finally made it...and I’m so grateful to be building a life.

I know how difficult it is to just land, so, if you are new to the city - shoot me an email, I’m happy to have a glass of wine and say hello!  And if you are in another city, spend some time to get out there and connect with interesting new people.  Most importantly don’t give up - you’ll get there.  I did (and if I did, anyone can do it. I mean, I love Stayin’ Alive, so that is one strike against me :))!

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

About Christie:  Christie holds a BA from the University of Virginia, a MA from the University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies, and is a certified mediator and certified professional coach. Feeling stuck in your job and want free concrete ways to get UNstuck? Get Christie’s free kit here at The Revolutionary Club! And see what else she’s doing that is unprecedented over here!

About Friendship Accelerators: I (Shasta) facilitate Friendship Accelerators which are small groups of  women that I've matched for potential friendship who commit to attend seven hours of a friendship-workshop and group-bonding day, followed by 4 weekly get-togethers as a group. In one month, these groups experience more bonding than what most of us can do over a year with women we've met. They've been fabulously successful with the majority of women saying the value of the workshop alone was worth it, but how thrilled they are that nearly 80% of the groups are still meeting months after their commitment ended!  This is by far the most effective way I've yet seen to introduce women to each other and give them the best chance ever to foster local friendships that matter. I'm considering possible Accelerators in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle the coming months-- but will decide bases on where I have the most interest so sign up here to indicate your interest in being notified if I host a Friendship Accelerator near you!

 

Best Girls Night-In Idea: Host a Friendship Book Circle

A book club can be a fun way to get to know other women better, but I have something even better than that!

Host a "Making Friendships Happen!" Book Circle

Sure, discussing a novel can be fun, but what about getting together with a group of women and making a fun night where you grow your friendships while learning more about them? Way better!

I’m looking for 100 women to lead local Making Friendships Happen Book Circles in February 2013 to facilitate sharing among groups of women around my new book:

Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends.

Far more than just talking about friendship, these groups will be designed to help create more meaningful friendships among those attending and benefit all their other friendships!

Will you sign up?  We want you!  All women are welcome-- from any state or country (note that the book is only in English though!) and any age group.

  • It's easy!  Schedule a date in late February, start inviting women to join you, open up your home (or pick a cafe!), and follow the provided discussion guide to create a fun and memorable evening.
  • It's full of possibilities! Instead of just reading about friendship on your own, use this Circle to help you foster your current friendships and/or get to know new women who could potentially be friends!
  • It's temporary! Instead of committing to monthly get-togethers, this is just a temporary commitment in February.  Then you're done.
  • It's meaningful! Instead of talking about characters in a novel, talk about yourself and get to know the other attendees better.

How to Invite Members to your Circle

Maybe you're already part of a book club and can be the point person for your group?  Awesome!

But if not, and you're wondering who you'd invite, here's a list of possibilities:

  1. Invite the women you want to know better. Just make a list of women you’ve met from various places and shoot them an email invitation: “I’m inviting a handful of women I admire and inviting them all over for a book circle about female friendship. Hope you can come!”
  2. GirlFriendCircles.com. Post it on the GirlFriendCircles.com calendar. All posted events are sent to all local members every Wednesday. And be sure to send personal invitations to other members you’ve met or want to meet.
  3. The Contagious Invitation. Invite 2-3 women you know and invite them to each invite 2-3 more women they know so you’re all meeting new friends!
  4. Recruit at work. If appropriate, share the invitation at work: “Research shows that having friends at work does more for our happiness than getting a financial raise! Let’s get to know each other better!”
  5. Consider existing groups. What organizations are you already involved in that you can host this as a way to deepen connections? Church. School. Mothers Group. Club. Gym.
  6. Use Social Media. Make an event on Facebook and invite everyone nearby. Post a shout-out on Twitter and use the hashtag #Shastasbook to see if anyone else is looking. Reach out to contacts on LinkedIn!
  7. Tell the Men. Don’t be shy about letting the guys in your life know about this event—most of them have girlfriends or wives who want more friends, or they may know of a female friend who just moved to the area and doesn’t know anyone. Ask them to help spread the word.
  8. Post online everywhere. Post in any online forums you belong to—there are always people online who want to meet offline (i.e. mom’s boards, networking groups, women’s organizations, meetup.com, craigslist.com)
  9. Bookstores and libraries. Ask your local bookstore and/or library if they help advertise book clubs.
  10. Offer to your Clients/Customers/Readers/Community. Depends on your business, but this could be a fabulous way to get to know your clients and help build some community for them through something they already all have in common. It can be an extra perk you offer while increasing brand loyalty.
  11. Invite the neighbors. Make up a flyer “It’s time we met our neighbors. I’m hosting a book circle for any women on the block (on in the apartment building) who’d like to meet each other!”

Who's the Book For?

This book is written to women ages 21-70 who value healthier and more meaningful friendships. From how-to meet new friends to how-to foster deeper friendships with the women we already know-- this is a guide for healthy female friendships.

The book is divided into three main parts:

  1. “From Loneliness to Frientimacy” helps us evaluate our individual relational needs using Shasta’s 5 Circles of Connectedness so we can better see what types of friends we already have and which ones we might want to add. Another unique paradigm offered in this book is that of Frientimacy—Friendship Intimacy—that articulates the closeness we crave, the awkwardness that can come from it, and the 5 developmental stages of relationship that we must cultivate.
  2. “Five Steps to Turn Friendly People We Meet into Friends Who Matter” covers the 5 Steps to Friendships, taking one chapter to cover each step: Be Open, Initiate Consistently, Add Positivity, Increase Vulnerability, and Practice Forgiveness. Each chapter is filled with personal stories, research, practical tips, reflection questions, and personal growth concepts. Chapter 8 includes the Frientimacy Triangle that illustrates how to increase our vulnerability in a way that is constructive, meaningful, and safe.
  3. “Friendships Don’t Just Keep Happening: Be Intentional” covers the Five Friendship Threats—jealousy, judgment, non-reciprocation, neglect, and blame—and healthy suggested responses to each of them so we can ensure that our friendships continue to grow in maturity and meaning. The book ends with a clear plan of how to move toward the friendships that matter most to the reader.

The Sign-up Details

I can't wait to collaborate with all one hundred of you as we foster healthier friendships across this country!  Won't be it be exciting to know that anywhere between 600-1000 women could be learning how to show up with more confidence in their friend-making process?   I'll be offering exclusive calls for the leaders and we'll be providing you with everything you need along the way to ensure that you feel part of the momentum.  Hope you can join us!

We want 100 women to commit by December 31, 2012.  Sign-up here.

 

 

 

The Impact of Self-Esteem on Friendship

When it comes to self-esteem and friendship, there is no end to the correlations that are so frequently made.  People with more friends have higher self-esteem, and people with high self-esteem seem to have an easier time making friends-- the two results almost creating this self-sustaining cycle that can keep feeding itself.  If you're already in the cycle, that is. But what if you're not in that supportive cycle?  You may have a hard time making friends and struggle with a low self-esteem.  Then it's a catch-22 because while making friends will increase your self-esteem, it's harder to make them without having it first.  So do you try to make friends to feel better about yourself or try to increase your self-esteem before making friends?  A classic chicken-or-egg first kind of question.

My answer? Both.

Increasing My Self-Esteem

Self-esteem comes from having a strong belief in who we are and what we can do.  So certainly believing in oneself to make friends and then accomplishing that goal comes from, and results in, one feeling an increase in self-esteem.  But several steps before self-esteem comes such things as self- awareness, self-trust, and self-care.

If we didn't do the deeper work then our self-esteem rises and falls with every life change. Exhausting and not sustainable. We don't want to feel good about who we are when we make a friend, and then feel bad about who we are when we lose a friend.  Same with any life circumstance-- we don't want how we feel about ourselves to look like a roller coaster that is based on what job we have, our current weight, or our relationship status.

Nothing circumstantial has the power to do the deep and sustaining work of fostering what you're actually creating: love.  Self-love.

My friend Christine Arylo, author of Madly in Love with ME: The Daring Adventure of Becoming Your Own Best Friend, is dubbed the Queen of Self-Love. A word we don't use all that much, and yet she makes the convincing case that it's the tree trunk out of which everything else must grow:

"Each of these aspects of self-love relates to and supports the others, just as the branches of a tree rely on each other to grow, be healthy, and keep the tree balanced and strong. When you practice self-care, you increase your self-compassion. When you build your self-awareness, you increase your self-esteem. When you improve your self-esteem, you more fully feel your self-worth. When you practice self-trust, you base decisions on self-respect. When you take actions that reflect a deep self-respect, you honor yourself. When you express yourself fully, you increase your self-pleasure. And when you exude self-compassion, you create self-acceptance. Each branch supports the other branches, and as one grows, so do the others."

Her first suggested step for building your self-esteem?  Increase your self-awareness.  Get to know yourself.  It's hard to love who you don't know.  :)  Past all the titles, images, and pretenses.  Deeper than what others say about you or who you wish you are-- explore and get to know you.  (You can see why self-compassion and self-forgiveness need to be intertwined in the process!)

Increasing My Friendships

While we need to be our own best friend before we can truly be in healthy friendships and feel confident in our friend-making process, it doesn't mean we sit in a cave until then.  We can't lock ourselves in isolation, because no one grows more loving in a loveless vacuum.  Our self-esteem, belief in ourselves and our abilities, doesn't grow without practice.  So while we're having honest conversations with ourselves, understanding who we are and aren't, and seeking to embrace how we're wired-- we're also observing how our thoughts, actions, and decisions are affecting our relationships.

One study came out this year that gives us a little guidance about how to engage in meaningful and healthy ways even when our self-esteem isn't quite yet where we want it to be.  The study tracked high self-esteem and low self-esteem individuals engaging in Facebook to see if perhaps that forum was a safer place for low self-esteem individuals to interact without fear of awkward social situations.

The study results showed that:

  1. Low self-esteem individuals were more likely to post negative status updates than high self-esteem individuals.  (And get less of a response to them compared to when a high self-esteem individual posted an occasional negative update.)
  2. And, that others who read the status updates of low self-esteem individuals ended up liking them less as they were perceived as sad, negative, angry, or pessimistic.

So while the low self-esteem updaters may, in fact, feel safer on Facebook; their honest revelations are backfiring if their goal is to be more likable and build friendships.  Other studies have shown that Facebook causes more stress for those with low self-esteem as they also see what everyone else is doing and can frequently feel worse about their own life.

From this, a word of encouragement to those who feel that their self-esteem journey is closer to the starting line than the finish line: practice engaging, but stay positive.

In other words, you may not yet have the self-esteem to be making friends, but you can start with being friendly.  Being friendly is a choice-- it's a choice to be affirming of others, warm, and hopeful.  As you give that gift to others, you'll find you also give it more to yourself.  And your cycle of self-esteem and relationships can start-- your friendliness and your growing self-love-- will both get healthier together.

The end result hopefully being a woman who genuinely loves herself and others well, products of a strong self-esteem.

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

  Christine's book, Madly in Love with ME: The Daring Adventure of Becoming Your Own Best Friend, walks readers through a very fun and engaging journey filled with exercises and tips to build a very healthy self-love tree! I highly recommend it.  Plus she's going on tour across the country in 2013!

 

 

 

Why I Started GirlFriendCircles.com

My Story...

When I was new to San Francisco eight years ago, I still remember standing at a café window on Polk Street watching a group of women inside, huddled around a table laughing. Like the puppy dog at the pound, I looked through the glass, wishing someone would pick me to be theirs. I had a phone full of far-flung friends’ phone numbers, but I didn’t yet know anyone I could just sit and laugh with in a café.

It hit me how very hard the friendship process is. I’m an outgoing, socially comfortable woman with a long line of good friendships behind me. And yet I stood there feeling very lonely. And insecure. And exhausted at just the idea of how far I was from that reality.

I knew I couldn’t just walk in there and introduce myself to them. “Hi! You look like fun women, can I join you?”

I would have been met with stares of pity. No one wants to seem desperate, even if we are. We don’t have platonic pick-up lines memorized. Flirting for friends seems creepy. Asking for her phone number like we’re going to call her up for a Saturday night date is just plain weird. All the batting of my eyelashes wasn’t going to send the right signals. I wanted to give them my friendship resume, my vast references from past friends who adore me, assuring them how lucky they would be to call me a friend.

But it doesn’t work that way. And so I turned away from the scene of laughter and walked away.

No, unfortunately, friendships don’t just happen.

Her Story....

So several years later when one of my coaching clients said to me in exasperation, "Ugh!  I can line up three dates on Match.com for next week if I wanted to, but far be it from me to figure out how to meet new female friends," it tapped a chord in me.  I remembered the feeling.

I went to bed that night just trying to thinking of who I could introduce her to that I knew, and woke up with the entire GirlFriendCircles.com concept in my head.

I woke up and wondered what it would be like if all of us could share our friends who live far away from us with other women who needed them in those new cities.  I woke up wondering what it would be like if none of us felt any embarrassment at all about fostering the friendships we need.  I woke up wishing there were a way for all of us who were open to new friends to raise our hands and find each other.  I woke up and wanted to make it easier for women to find new friends.

Our Story...

And I knew I didn't want it to be like match.com where we were left picking our best friends from profiles.  For seriously, how many of my current friends would have made that cut?  It was time together that made me love them, not their cute photo or what they did for a job. Besides who wants to be left relying on awkward emails back and forth to set up a first date?

And I knew I didn't want it to feel like big happy hour parties where rooms full of women mingled, shook hands, and made small talk.  Shivers.  I'm an outgoing person and I still hate working a room.  I hate that feeling of looking for the next conversation... feeling like everyone else knows someone except me.  No thanks.

So I decided that the way I wanted to look for friends would be in small groups.  Over real conversation. In casual cafes and wine bars.  With a format where we all got to share a little and hear a little of the stuff that matters.  So we do ConnectingCircles-- small groups of women matched up in local areas for an evening of conversation.  And we provide sharing questions so that everyone gets to participate. (Because trust me, while it may feel awkward to pick questions, it's waaaay more awkward having one talkative woman monopolize the conversation or having everyone talk about their favorite movies all night or having the shy girl leave never feeling seen.)  So it's become our popular process-- 3-6 women connecting, talking not about the weather, their jobs, or the news-- but about themselves.  Love it!

Thus GirlFriendCircles.com was conceived.  It would be a good seven months before I launched the first online version.  And several months from that before I felt like it was working.  And several months after that before I started blogging.  And another six months before we got any press.  And many months later before we were improving our systems based on what we were learning.  And many more months.... you get the idea.  We're still growing and becoming.

And if it's been a while since you've visited our website, we welcome you to come sneak a peek as we just gave her a bit of a makeover today.  :)  And please, help us tell a few more women to raise their hands with us if they want a few more meaningful friendships in their lives.

new site

Today, I'm thrilled that we have had nearly 15,000 women sign up for female friendship in over 35 cities across the U.S.  And we're preparing for our biggest year yet.  Thanks to all those who have journeyed with us, even through growing pains.  We're honored.  We haven't given up on you!  We are looking forward to some fabulous highlights in 2013!

To all of us who have known that feeling of being ready for some good friends but felt at a loss for knowing how to develop them-- this one's for you!