Difficulty and Challenges

If my friend really liked me then she'd initiate more...

I ruffled a few feathers last week with my post about being willing to be the friend who initiates more with others than they seem to reciprocate. Several of us feel like we're making more time for our friendships than others are... So first a hearty thank you to all of you left comments and shared your feelings! My answer was in response to a girl asking how to build relationships when it seemed others didn't make the time.  But for many of you, you expressed that for you this isn't a strategy issue but rather one that actually hurts your feelings and leaves you feeling insecure.

Therefore, I want to jump off from that post to talk about the danger of taking the actions of others personally.

In my upcoming book Frientimacy I share amazing research about how painful it is for any of us to think we're being rejected. It's a very real feeling and it hurts.  I totally understand why we all feel so fearful about being seen as wanting a friendship more than someone else, or worrying about whether this is their way of saying "I don't want to be your friend." But if we take the busy-ness of others as a personal offense then we'll not only stay lonely for a long time, but we'll be miserable and sad, too.

Their Actions Hurt Our Feelings

In my first marriage I cried myself to sleep a number of nights. At the time I was convinced those hurt feelings were his fault. I was in graduate school and had to be in class by 7 am so our needs would clash when he wanted to stay up late watching some new show called The Daily Show instead of come to bed with me. (Ha! Little did I know how much I'd come to love that show year later!) I held an ideal image in my head that couples go to bed at the same time.  I wanted to talk and cuddle and connect with him. To make a long story short-- despite my invitations, my tears, and my begging-- I occasionally went to bed alone. And when I did... my heart would break.

To many others this story might not sound so bad.  He certainly wasn't an awful person for wanting to stay up and laugh. But I had gotten it in my head that he was choosing that over me.  In other words, I believed a narrative that whispered: "If he really loved me, he would see how important this is to me and come to bed with me."

We do this all the time in all our relationships, even our friendships:

  • If she really understood me then she'd know not to ask that question...
  • If she really trusted me then she'd have told me about that problem...
  • If she really appreciated me then she'd have done more to say thanks...
  • If she really valued me then she'd remember my birthday...
  • If she really cared about me then she'd have offered to help me...

And the one that hits a little closer to home from the last post:

  • If she really liked me then she'd initiate us getting together more often...

Our feelings are hurt and it makes sense that we'd be tempted to look for who is causing that pain. When we see them doing something we don't want, or not doing something we do want, then we're quick to assume they are to blame for our hurt feelings, insecurities, or anger.

It's Not About Us

But here's the truth, that's easier to see when it's someone else's narrative (hence why I shared from my marriage) and not our own: how other people act says more about them than it does about us.

And what it says about them isn't the bad that we often assume it is.

Take my ex-husband for example. I valued going to bed together early.  Nothing inherently wrong with that desire, but neither is it better than his needs and desires. Perhaps he valued decompressing after a long day, perhaps his life was draining and it needed more laughter, perhaps he needed more freedom, autonomy and independence in life, or perhaps his body cycle was just different from mine and he wasn't tired yet? All of those are just as valid as my need.

And here's what I know to my core now that I have experience more growth and maturity since those fights long ago: I don't believe for a second that he ever stayed up thinking to himself: "I hope she knows now that I don't love her." I absolutely know that was never the message he was trying to send.

Yet, I cried in bed, suffering, worrying, and shrinking because of the meaning I assigned to his actions.

Many a woman goes to bed before her partner and isn't crying and hurting over it.  I chose my suffering because of what I chose to think about someone else's actions.

The Four Agreements

In the best-selling book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz teaches that the Second Agreement, if we want to live lives full of joy and peace, is "Don't Take Anything Personally." He says,

"Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about 'me'."

In the case of a friend not calling, inviting, and reaching out-- it would be easy to take it personally:  she doesn't like me; or to blame and devalue her: "I don't need friends like that-- I deserve better!"  Our ego is convinced it either means she doesn't think we're good enough or that we don't think she's good enough.  But one way or another: someone is bad.

But no friendship will ever blossom with that fear and frustration.  The best chances we have for creating the love around us that we want is to keep putting out love and ensuring that our actions are in alignment with that desire.  We want to keep inviting and stay as warm as possible.

The Caveats

So am I saying be a stalker?  No.  :) If she is rude, ignores your invitations completely, has never once said yes, or just acts miserable when we're together-- then, you're right: move on. (It's still not about you though!)

But recognize that our tendency to assume others are trying to reject us is just our own made-up story. Most women out there want more meaning relationships in their lives and you can help show the how that's done-- most of them will thank you for it someday. (And in the meantime you get what you wanted: more time with friends!)

  • It's okay to keep inviting if she sometimes says yes and answers our invitation-- it doesn't need to be 50/50.
  • We can't expect a new-ish friend to make the same kind of time for us that she might if we were close friends.  We can keep building the relationship slowly and trust the growth.
  • If you've been friends for a while and she's not as responsive as she used to be, check in with her and see how she's doing... (she may be feeling hurt too!)... it's not stalking to keep trying to engage with those who we are in relationship with.
  • If you're trying to start friendships-- put out a net instead of a fishing line! Don't zero in on one person, but stay open to developing several friendships at once.

We're the ones well aware of how important friendship is to our life... for us to keep reaching out doesn't help them as much as it helps us.  We aren't doing them this amazing favor as much as we are gifting ourselves with the likelihood that with our efforts we will keep developing the intimacy and love with others that we crave. It is a mutual relationship if we enjoy being with them when they say yes.

I'd rather error on the side of having reached out one too many times than to have stopped one time too few? If I can not take it personally then I can go down swinging for love and friendship.

Does that make sense, in general?  I know it's easy to try to find the exception... but overall can you see that it's better to put love out there than to keep track of scores, and better to assume the best of others than take it personally? I'm not saying it's easy but I think it's worth practicing!

When You're The Only One Making Time for Friendship

Dear Shasta,

I’ve been binge-reading your blog and very happy I discovered it. I think what you are saying mostly makes a lot of sense, but I’m struggling with something: It is so very hard to meet people who are open to new friendships. On the rare instances that I find people who seem like they are, it’s almost impossible to find people who have the *time* to get together regularly. It’s hard to move friends down the pipeline, so to speak. Everyone seems just so very busy.  I can’t find anyone to say yes regularly enough to build meaningful friendships. Heck, it’s hard to get anyone to say yes at all. What do you suggest in situations like these?

Dearest Willing to Make the Time:

First, kudos to you and your awareness, intention, and willingness to foster friendships!  It's awesome and it WILL serve your life.  I promise!  Guard that commitment-- don't let others who are less aware steal it; don't let anyone saying no rob you of it; and certainly don't let apathy drain it from you.  What you know to be true: that friendships are worth the time, will benefit YOUR life.  Regardless of the outcome or of anyone's responses-- you know the truth and it will bless you.  Stay with it.

In fact it's your super power!  Not everyone knows they have it.  You're lucky you do.  SO many women are lonely (and the busier she is often means the lonelier she can feel!) and they don't have the energy, know-how, or motivation to change it-- but you do!  The ability to initiate repeatedly is a super power that will ensure you build meaningful friendships.

What Won't Work

Let's just be clear that what you secretly hope for isn't going to work:

  • Their schedules aren't just going to open up.  If I could wave a magic wand for you, I would, but it doesn't work.  So we can't wait for them to "not be busy."
  • Just because you initiated last time doesn't mean it's their turn.  A thousand potential relationships die every day because someone believes this myth.
  • Taking their silence, their no's, or their forgetfulness personally will never lead to friendship.  And the good news is that in the early stages of friendship-- we don't need to take these as a sign that the person isn't good friend material. No one can make everyone a priority in their schedules.  As your time together (even if it's at your initiation every time) becomes more meaningful, so will it get easier for her to commit her time to it.
  • Resenting them for not "stepping up." You're not initiating for their sake, but for yours! It's not a gift to them, but to yourself! So you don't ever need to resent them for not reciprocating-- this is your goal and need so you just keep leaning into friendships... and you will get what you crave.
  • Focusing all your energy on 1-2 people isn't enough.  Cast a net, not a fishing line, and be open to who might surprise you as a great friend down the road!

    Shasta and her friends

Ideas to Try for Building Friendships with Busy People

Instead of hand picking a couple of people and casually asking them to do something "sometime" and then hoping that *poof* a friendship will develop from that-- what we need to do is try everything and anything that will help us connect with as many women so we can eventually see who is responding with their occasional yes:

  • Extend an invitation to everyone you know for a standing girls night every Tuesday and be happier with the few who show up each week than disappointed with the many who don't.  But keep inviting the whole group each week (and tell them to bring a friend with them if you want more there!) and you'll see that those who show up most often will feel most close by Christmas!
  • Start a 4-week book club (long enough commitment to develop some friendships, but short enough for no one to feel stuck) as the excuse to gather everyone together. (My first book has a free 4-week guide, is written to help the group get to know each other, and has the extra bonus of reminding everyone how important consistent time is together!)
  • Ask for a commitment from a friend who says no. If she can't make the time we suggest, then follow it up with a "When works best for you?  Give me a date or two and I'll do everything I can on my end to make it work." Don't let the ball drop.
  • Build a relationship with unscheduled time. She's too busy to commit? Then just make a note to randomly call her every so often-- call her the first time with a follow-up reason: "Just wanted to call you real quick and hear how x went!" Another time call her "I'm just on my lunch break so only have a few minutes but was thinking of you and wanted to just catch up and hear how x is going!" Another time: "Hi! Hopefully this will just take a few moments but I had a question for you..."  Keep the calls short, ask a specific question to get the conversation started, and let her know you're thinking of her.  This does facilitate bonding and can ultimately make get-togethers more meaningful.
  • Try for spontaneous.  I've found that a lot of my friends feel overwhelmed with their schedule when they are looking at their calendars a week or two out, but that my odds go up if I am willing to try for day-of opportunities every so often. Text her-- "Hey any chance you're up for a 30 minute walk after work tonight?  I'm feeling the need for some fresh air and friendship!"  Or, "Hey, I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow near your office-- any chance we can sneak away for a bite to eat before or after my appointment?"  Or, "I know this is so last-minute... but just thought I'd try to see if there was any chance we could just stick our kids in front of a movie tonight for 45 minutes while we drink wine in the kitchen? Ha! You in?"
  • Invite on social media.  We may not want to post "I need friends.  Help!" but we can certainly post to our local friends: "I want to do x next week, anyone up for joining me?" Or "I'm tired of my walking route and am looking for someone who will take me on theirs! Ha! I'll drive to you!" Or "I'm thinking of having a decorating cookie party this holiday season-- who wants to come?" This helps expose you to possible friends who may not be on your radar, helps you see who might make the time, and shows you as an open and fun person who values friendships and enjoys life.

Do you see the patterns in those ideas?  Initiation With Many + Repeat As Often As Possible, with a Sprinkle of Fun and Lightheartedness = You Soon Having Friends.

The more we can call you "Making the Time" the sooner we can call you "The Girl With Healthy Friendships!"

Good luck, much love, and thank you for being a woman who prioritizes friendship!

Shasta

Update on 11/5: For more on this subject, in part inspired by some of the comments from this post, see the follow-up post: "If my friend really liked me then she'd initiate more..."

Grateful My Friends Have Other Friends

In late September, before I left for a vacation with my husband, I was caught up with all most closest friends and family and bid them goodbye.  While I was going to be on Facebook a bit and try to scan my emails occasionally, I was planning to be off-the-grid as much as possible.  I said farewell and off we went on our dream trip to Greece. Cue forward three weeks and I felt like I came home to a rapidly changed world!

One of my closest friends, who was scheduled for a c-section the week after I

my friends has other friends

was to get home ended up having her baby two weeks before I returned.  Not only was I not at the hospital with her as planned, but I wasn't even in the country.  Others surrounded her, organizing meal drop-offs, helping babysit her other daughter, and cheering her up with love. All I could do was send an email of congratulations from afar... I whispered a prayer of thanks that she had built an entire community of friends who could love her well in my absence.

Another close friend, in the span of those three weeks, was so inspired by a friends detox program that she ended up not only starting the 21-day process herself, but already had other friends paying her to do their shopping, chopping, and cooking so they could join her in the cleanse. She and I are friends who tell each other everything in our weekly calls, but in missing 3 weeks-- I wasn't there to bounce ideas off of, cheer lead for her courage, or help think through pricing and possibilities. This diet wasn't even on her radar when I left; when I returned she had the beginnings of a business! I whispered a prayer of thanks that she had other friends who not only supported her in that entire launch, but who first gave her the idea, and some who became her first clients.

A similar thing happened with my sister who had a job opportunity come up, interviewed, got it, turned in her two-week notice, and started a new job, all in the span of my vacation! Again, prayer of thanks that she has an awesome community around her who helped validate and cheer her on along the way.

My life felt like it was placed on pause while I went off on a much-anticipated vacation, but there was no stopping the lives of everyone I loved while I was gone. All I could do was come home and give them my time on the phone to catch me up on everything that had happened in their beautiful lives: new babies, new vision, and new jobs! (What relief that it was all good stuff and not any crisis's!)

Our Friends Deserve All The Love They Can Get

I hear from many women who feel threatened if their friends make other close friends. Their egos get wounded because they interpret that interest in more friends as though it means that they are inadequate.  And that can't be further from the truth.

The truth is, that when our friends make other good friends, it means our friends are healthy!  It means our friends know the value of community and know what it takes to foster love in lots of different places.  If we love our friends-- we will want others to love them, too.

All I did was go on a vacation. But it limited me from being "there" for my friends. All of us will have times in our lives where we can't be as available-- busy work periods, parents who need us, kids who are going through a rough patch, wedding planning that consumes our attention, having a baby that puts us out of commission for a bit, or going through a health challenge that leaves us without energy. There are any number of things in life that can constrain us from being the kind of friend we ideally would want to be; and many of them are to no fault of our own.

Our friends deserve having as many friendships as they can foster. They are better off with it.  And so are we.

We're better off with them having other friends? Absolutely!

  1. Less pressure and obligation: They don't lean on us too much, expecting us to be and do everything.
  2. More meaningful time together: They're typically happier and more centered with more friends so our time with them will feel more energetic and positive.
  3. More fun and opportunity: We will get to meet their friends at some events and possibly get exposed to more people we already know are wonderful (because our friend has chosen them!)

It's Our Responsibility

If we're feeling jealous, it's not her fault.  It's our responsibility to make sure that we are initiating time with her and making the most of the time we have together.

If we feel resentful that she isn't meeting all our needs, it's not her job to do so, but rather our responsibility to surround ourselves with a circle of love.

We need to foster additional friendships, too; not to replace her (and maybe not even ones we'll enjoy as much as with her!) but to feed other parts of our lives and to ensure that we have our own support system of meaningful friendships.

We all -- us and our friends -- need as much love as we can handle!  :)

Leave a comment: What other perks have you experienced in your friend having other friends?  Or... what has made this especially hard for you?

Question: How to "Fire" a Bridesmaid?

Today I am tackling a question that came in on Monday. We can all learn so much from each others questions, even if our circumstances are different.  Hope this is helpful!  (And if you ever have a question you'd like me to weigh in on, ask it here.)

Dear Shasta,

My relationship with one of my bridesmaids is feeling strained and I'm wondering if I need to fire her even if it causes a loss of the relationship completely? 

We've been friends for over 6 years and celebrated all kinds of things together, but since I was in her wedding in June, our relationship has felt strained.  I felt pushed out on a few of her wedding events (only bridesmaid not asked to give a speech at the rehearsal dinner, the last bridesmaid to find out a lot of important information about some of the parties, etc.) and she had a falling out with a mutual friend of mine who happens to also be one of my bridesmaids. Drama!

A few weeks ago I went to see her face-to-face and asked what was wrong and she basically said, "The wedding is over so I'm over it." I finally got her to admit that she was upset about overhearing me talk about my upcoming wedding at her wedding. (But it was her mom who asked me questions about it! Ugh!) We were interrupted and never finished the conversation. We've hardly talked for two months except for her texting me to find out about what dress she needs to wear, etc.

Do I fire her? How do I do that? Help me!

Thanks,

Bride Not Feeling the Bridesmaid Love

 

We all know how painful it is to fight with a friend... and the stakes go up when it comes to our weddings.

Dearest Bride Not Feeling the Bridesmaid Love,

Oh I am so sorry that you're feeling such angst! None of us like dealing with this stuff at any time in our friendships, least of all during a season of life where we really want our friends loving us up!

I'm so proud of you for dealing with this and deciding to not just take the easy way out by putting up with it. She sounds like she's willing to just go through the motions, but you both deserve way more than that. What we don't want is for things to just stay the same-- we want this to either get obviously better or blatantly not.

Why It Might Be Fixable

To that end, I wrote an entire blog post today with the 4-steps I'd recommend in firing a bridesmaid, but I had a knot in my stomach the whole time. While I think that advice might be helpful to someone who does in fact need to end things, my intuition says that for you: this is a relationship you can salvage, dear Bride.

    • Your willingness: You have proven by going to her house already that you have the skills necessary for healing this rift.
    • Your history: You have been friends for quite a while and it has been meaningful and fulfilling.  This fight doesn't sound like a chronic issue as much as one that is connected to specific circumstances and events. The fact that she is close enough to you to have been invited to be in the wedding says that this is a friendship that has mattered.  If people matter that much-- then they're worth any level of awkward conversation first as we do our dogged best to repair that which is wounded.
    • Her response: The fact that she tried to brush it off isn't healthy, but it's common and usually done out of her guilt for feeling the way she feels. My guess is that she wishes she weren't bothered by what bothered her. So while I wish she were more practiced at owning her feelings and sharing them with you... the truth is that she's probably trying to protect you from them.  Which isn't a crime.
    • The crime: Also, from what I can see, there was nothing malicious done, no screaming red flags saying that she's an awful person or that you have to protect yourself. She hasn't willfully or repetitively tried to hurt you. Rather, it appears that the relationship has suffered from hurt feelings on both sides (during an event that often comes with high emotions on both sides) and some miscommunication.  Those are fixable issues.

Lean In, First

So, I'm taking the time to re-write this blog post, without trying to think of all the possible scenarios in which a bride and bridesmaid can fight (and I've heard the gammut!), and instead praying for the wisdom to write just for you.  I'll have to trust that others will find their own truth.

I'll say it again that I find it so impressive that you went to her house and initiated a conversation, even willing to help push it past the niceties to hear hints at what the real issue was. Unfortunately, that step is all too rare in female friendships.  I admire that you did it.  But it doesn't sound like you were able to get far enough in that conversation to really bring peace to either of you... and in my opinion, it's worth you trying again.

We often make up a story about how "if they cared for us" then they would come to us or initiate. That's simply not true. The truth is that a lot of caring people out there hate conflict, aren't comfortable with their own feelings, or are so unpracticed at engaging in it that they avoid the awkwardness.  They don't yet understand that intimacy isn't developed between two people because they avoid what might feel awkward, but because they lean into it. Many people don't yet know this secret... but more important than knowing it right now is whether they are willing to learn it by showing up with you and engaging when you hold the loving space for it.

So my advice: if you're willing to risk losing the relationship anyway, you might as well risk it for honesty and hope first, before risking it to simply walk away.

You used the word "firing" her as a bridesmaid which helps us recognize that if we were managers firing an employee, we'd hopefully have several conversations with the failing team member about what they could do to improve their performance before we booted them. If we'd face up to tough conversations with employees, detailing what we need to see, and asking how we can better support them-- then don't our closest friends deserve at least the same amount of willingness?

The Conversation

The value of another conversation is that it will force one of two outcomes: increased intimacy and bonding OR increased friction and disconnection.  And it will do so in such a way that it is hopefully obvious to both of you. In this way, you're not so much firing her "out of the blue" as you are stating what is obvious to you both: "I need people surrounding me that day who are happy for me and excited with me; if you can't do that right now then it's not fair to either of us to pretend otherwise."

1)  Open a conversation, again: If possible, you should do it in person; if not, then definitely on the phone because the goal is a conversation (back-and-forth) as opposed to the two separate monologues that emails create.

I always encourage starting with the hope, being honest, and then leaving an open-ended question. So that could look like: "I was hoping we could talk some more about what has happened between us so that we can hopefully get back to the place where we feel ease and joy between us. Last time we talked you said you had felt hurt because you overheard me answering questions about my wedding while we were at yours. I so didn't mean to upset you... is there anything we, or I, can do to help make that feel better? What do we need to do to fix this?"

Then be quiet and listen.

2)  Keep leaning in.  If she brushes it off and acts like everything is fine, then come right out and ask, "So you feel like everything is good between us? You don't feel like anything has changed?"  Many of us feel guilty for feeling angry or disappointed so we're prone to try to swallow it rather than to talk about it. We can understand that fear and gently probe, assuring her that we'd prefer her honesty and that it's completely okay for her to have feelings.

If, on the other hand,  she shares what she thinks will help, then listen and see if you're willing to do what she's asking.  In most cases, she probably just wants to be validated and heard, so let go of worrying about whether you did anything wrong or not, and instead just try to hear her feelings.  The more she can share, the less angst she'll feel with you. And it's okay for you to share what hurt your feelings, too.  Just try not to dump that all at the beginning in a big opening monologue and instead share it only if the conversation gets off to a good start where you're both sharing and hearing.

Try to not cut this conversation short just because it's uncomfortable, but rather trust that greater intimacy could be on the other side of this conflict. (My book next April is all about the relationship between conflict and intimacy so I can't wait to share it with you!!!) Most of us aren't super practiced at tough conversations so we're anxious to pull away, but staying in this space (and trying to stay as loving as possible while there) is soul-growing and relationship-bonding!

3)  End well.  If you feel like you both shared honestly and have been able to answer the question, "What do we do now to rebuild the love?" then hallelujah!!! Schedule fun time together as soon as possible and intentionally add more positivity back into your friendship to off-balance the weariness.

If not, then ask the tough question: "Do you see us getting past this to a place where you sincerely feel like you can be excited for me and cheer for me at my wedding?"

Her answer will give you a lot of information and hopefully call her to either help offer a solution or agree with you that this isn't going to be repaired in time to stand up beside you in celebration.

If she expresses doubt then you're able to follow it up with, "I hope we can at some point, I really do.  I have so valued our friendship.  But unfortunately I want bridesmaids who are all in... excited for me and confident in our friendship. It's not fair to either of us to have you go through all the trouble of being a bridesmaid just to have us going through the motions."

Depending on how the conversation went, it may not feel super good right away since you likely both stretched beyond your comfort zones. (Like how we might feel sore the day after exercising!) But whether it fixes the issue at hand, or not, rest assured that you practiced a super crucial skill that this world needs more of-- the ability to show up with tenderness and be seen, even when hurt.

It is not wasted time or energy; it is not to no avail. No matter the outcome, this process will invite you both to increased growth, which whether it's the last gift you give each other as friends, or the next step to greater closeness with each other-- it is good.

And my gut says that you two can pull this off. She doesn't have to be perfect and all the other bridesmaids don't have to be close to her, she just has to be able to step back into loving you in a way that assures you that she's standing up there saying, "I've got your back." May it be so.

I hope that you are soon "Bride Who Is Feeling Lots of Love"-- you deserve it.

xoxo

Shasta

p.s.  Write me an update if you can! And congratulations on your wedding day!

On Being Willing to Disappoint People

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

Sometimes No Is the Loving Truth

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

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

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

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

Saying No is Frickin' Hard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Not to Say No

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

I kept falling into the temptation to assuage my guilt:

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

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

How to Say No

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

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

What I learned:

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

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

My mantra this week:

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

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

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

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

Grateful for My Own Life

It's so common to look at the lives of friends (or celebrities) and wish we had their lives.  Facebook exacerbates this yearning as we constantly see the highlights of each others lives at times when our own lives are most boring (since most of us are only browsing news feed when we have a dull moment). Feeling Jealous of Our Friends

I know I've felt the pang of jealousy.  Recently, in fact.  Someone I admire posted "So excited!  My retreat just sold out in 20 minutes!" and the critic in my head whined, "Why didn't your retreat sell out? Do people not like you?" Insanity, really. My head can quickly jump in and cheer me on: "Shasta, be gentle on yourself.  It's your first retreat!" but my heart will feel the sting of failure and jealousy will have poked her head into my day.

So when one of my dear girlfriends Krista posted on our group page (a Facebook group page that 5 of us use to stay in touch with each other in between our quarterly phone calls and annual get-togethers) her own twinges of jealousy-- I understood immediately.

"The other day, when I was telling {husband} about your new book, I was saying, "sometimes I feel a tinge of envy looking at Shasta's exciting, glamorous life..."

We can first talk about the fact that 98% of my life is hardly exciting and glamorous... but the bigger issue at hand is how easy it is for us to compare ourselves to each other.

My darling friend Krista living her dream...

And these are with girlfriends who go far beyond cherry Facebook posts with each other.  We have witnessed each others tears, we send texts saying, "Ugh! I am so mad right now at x," and when we give updates to each other we share highs and lows so we are always hearing each others pain, tension, and stress, too.  So we can't just blame Facebook. This feeling reveals that even with friends who we share deeply and intimately with-- we're still tempted to want their high points even when we know their whole life isn't that way.

I can point to every single one of my friends and pick something from their life that I wish were mine: be it their home, their financial stability, their joys of motherhood, their beauty, or their ability to make people laugh.

Choosing Our Own Lives

When Krista bravely posted her honest twinges of envy for each of us, she also posted a recent Facebook post from Liz Gilbert (so worth reading) where Liz shared all the dreams of others that she is saying no to:

"I was thinking today about all the other paths that I did not take in life, no matter how shiny and appealing they may have looked. I've had the possibility of living so many different kinds of life that could have been a dream for somebody else. I never choose those lives. I've never lived the dreams that other people wanted for themselves — nor have I lived the dreams that other people may have wanted for me. I never had children...because that's somebody else's dream. I never took the opportunities that were offered to me after the success of EAT PRAY LOVE to have a TV show of my own...because that's somebody else's dream.... I turn down 99% of the invitations I get to attend to fancy parties and stellar gatherings...because that's somebody else's dream...."

And she goes on-and-on with all the lives she could have had....

Liz Gilbert "living her dream" researching her books, knowing that by picking this dream, there are others she is saying no to.

With this post, she shared a picture of her with "greasy hair and tired eyes" researching her most recent book, saying this is me living my dream: "going down the rabbit hole of research."

While there are plenty of us who might look at her and wish we could write best-selling novels... I'm left asking, would spending years researching a book actually be my dream? It's too easy to want the outcomes of each other's choices:  wealth, flexible schedules, reputation, or a big family; but not necessarily enjoy the journey that leads there or what we'd give up to choose that.

By her choosing to live this dream of having the time to write and get lost in "rabbit holes" she is living her dream which means saying no to many other valid, wonderful, and meaningful dreams that she could have chosen.

Where Our Jealousy and Our Peace Can Intertwine

Had Krista just admitted to occasionally feeling jealous that would have been impressive enough... for most of us don't stop to acknowledge our feelings to ourselves, let alone share them vulnerably with our friends; but she look how she continued:

"The other day, when I was telling {husband} about your new book, I was saying, "sometimes I feel a tinge of envy looking at Shasta's exciting, glamorous life...

...it would be total hell for me" because that is her dream and not mine. Getting up doing Improv is not my dream. Giving a graduation lecture is not my dream. Singing in front of people is not my dream. Those dreams belong to you girls and you do them with grace and authenticity.

With my career, I sometimes look at other doctors and think I should be publishing more or trying to advertise more. The truth is I love taking good care of my patients. As long as I know I'm doing a good job and they know it, I could care less if I'm voted "top doc in Seattle." That is somebody else's dream. I love having a husband to come home to and plan grocery lists and dinners and organize our lives together and share hikes and road trips. Vegas weekends and fancy dinners are somebody else's dream. I'm not a stay at home mom - that also is somebody else's dream. I love that you all have supported me in finding and living MY dream. xoxo

What I Love About that Exchange

So much to love about that posting, but notice these things:

  • She was honest... she brought us all together, more willing to admit where we feel jealousy as we look at each other.
  • She was self-reflective... she may like the idea of what she calls a "glamorous" life but she then uses the words total hell!--Ha!-- to describe that she knows the difference between the idea of something and the actuality of it for who she is.  She then goes on to name the things she loves about her life... you can almost feel her peace returning as she reminds herself that she is, in fact, living the life she chose.
  • She affirmed... Improv comedy, singing, graduation lectures-- those are amazing accomplishments of her friends and she's acknowledging how cool they are. It's tempting to downplay or criticize something that isn't our dream, but she's not saying there bad dreams... she's wowed by them and says "you do them with grace and authenticity."
  • She accepted... I absolutely love that she gave voice to the expectations and standards of what she thought she was supposed to want (i.e. being top doc in Seattle) and realized that she really didn't need that (nor was willing to do the things it would take since it either would take away from things she values or wasn't in alignment with who she is) to be happy.  It was "someone else's dream."
  • She inspired us... When the five of us were on our conference call yesterday, we talked about it a bit--each acknowledging how much we can want pieces of each other's lives.  Her posting inspired us to talk about it and reflect.  One friend said, "It helped me realize that what I was jealous of wasn't actually the thing I thought I wanted, rather it was the feeling of taking a risk and pursing a passion.  And then I realized I am doing that! I don't need to be jealous!"

To have friends we admire means we have friends that will wow us, which means chances are high that we'll sometimes feel less-than-wowing. To be human means we will sometimes compare and feel jealous.  To have healthy friendships means we do the ongoing work of living our dreams and cheering for theirs. To grow deeper means we sometimes talk about it.

Thank you, Krista, for sharing this post with us, your girlfriends, and for kindly giving me permission to share it with a few of mine via this blog. ;)  The good news is that if we both keep sharing our lives with each other, then we can live a wee bit vicariously through each other... I am cheering you on and love the life you've created!

This Thanksgiving... what would it look like for each of us to let go of one "dream" that is someone's elses and instead choose peace and acceptance for one of ours?  And who do you sometimes feel jealous of that you could write a note to them this month and tell them you're thankful for them, their accomplishments, and how much they wow you?

Expectation Hangovers in Friendships

When I saw that my friend Christine Hassler was celebrating the launch of her new book with a book party in NYC when I happened to be in town for another event, I quickly signed up to be there, one more woman celebrating the completion of such a huge goal in her life. While I went to support her and cheer her on, it hit me as I was sitting there listening to her workshop on dealing with disappointment that I actually need her book!  Ha! I left there excited to read Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life.

Huge congrats to Christine Hassler on the release of her newest book:  Expectation Hangover!

This season of my life feels full of unmet expectations, unattainable hopes, and discouraging responses. I try to cheer myself up with thoughts like "Now Shasta, you know grief and and crisis and this is no where close to that," and  "Seriously, your life is good, stop feeling discouraged. Focus on all that you have!" Sometimes those little talks give me the perspective I need, but often they just leave me feeling guilty that I even felt bad to begin with. The truth is that with many unmet expectations comes a bit of loss, which naturally leads to sadness.

And it got me to thinking about how often we have expectation hangovers in our friendships, too.

Unmet Expectations in Friendship

I know I've felt them before, and I've heard from many of you that you, too, know the feeling of wanting those friendships to be easier, faster, or more meaningful.

  • After a great time together, you hope she'll reach out and she doesn't.
  • You wrote her an email and she didn't write back.
  • You went to a ConnectingCircle hoping to make new friends and there was no one you really clicked with.
  • You've known her for months now, but it never feels like your friendship is progressing deeper.
  • She said something that felt judgmental when you really just hoped for an evening where you felt supported.
  • You leave a dinner party and think it was a waste to go since there was no deep conversation that happened.
  • You hang out with a friend but she doesn't ask you about your life.
  • You were moving and hoped your friend would offer to help pack boxes but she was too busy to notice.
  • You keep trying to be friendly to everyone you meet but never quite feel like you're making real friends.

You know the feeling.  Sometimes we don't even think we have "high expectations" but in the aftermath of an experience, we feel weary, depressed, and more discouraged than if we hadn't even tried.

Transform the Hangovers

Far be it from me to try to teach in a blog post what took Christine an entire book to teach (she does a fabulous job of helping readers not just want to "get-over" these disappointments but to transform their lives through processing them on a spiritual, emotional, mental, and behavioral level) but I asked her if I could at least share an excerpt from her book with you that might be of value in your friendships:

Excerpt from Christine: Don't Go to a Chinese Restaurant Looking for Nachos! 

"If you were craving nachos, would you go to a Chinese restaurant? No! Because you know that in a Chinese restaurant, they don’t serve nachos. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even have the ingredients to make them. If you really wanted nachos, you would go somewhere where they serve them, right?

Most of the time, we know what we are craving when we reach out to someone else. If someone in your life has consistently reacted and responded in a way that has not satisfied your needs, chances are they do not have the ingredients to do so. Continuing to go to that person, hoping that someday what you are hungry for appears on their menu, is like continuing to walk into a Chinese restaurant when you want nachos. You may get fed, but not with what you truly wanted to eat. And now the only leftover you have is an Expectation Hangover.

We cannot change people. I repeat: we cannot change people. This can be especially challenging when you really want a significant person in your life, such as a parent or romantic partner, or best friend to be able to satisfy your cravings. However, sometimes they just don’t have the ingredients to do so. Other people are not wrong if they don’t live up to your expectations; they are who they are. Accept what they do have to offer you.

Think of some of your common “cravings” that involve being supported by others: someone to just listen; an objective resource for feedback; someone to laugh with; someone you feel safe to be vulnerable with; a person who will offer time and physical assistance when you need help with a move or project; or someone who is encouraging. Now consider which people you go to for those things but who you come away from with an Expectation Hangover. Make a commitment to yourself that you will stop going to them when you have a craving for something they cannot dish out. Love and accept them for who they are; they are doing the best they can. Consider the people who do match up with some of your cravings — there may be a lot of cooks in your kitchen that you might not have been aware of because you were hanging on to expectations of others. Being conscious and proactive regarding our expectations of others is how we get desires and needs met in healthy and expectation-free ways.

It is true that we can be catalysts for another person’s change, but in most cases in order to be that catalyst, we have to be totally unattached to being it. Working and endlessly hoping to change someone else will not only lead to an Expectation Hangover, but it will also distract you from doing your own work. Often it is detachment, acceptance, and honoring our own truth that inspire others to find the truth within themselves.

Now think about who you go to when you are craving support, encouragement, guidance, unbiased advice, loving feedback, or acknowledgment. Do you go to people who are consistently able to dish out what you are hungry for? Or do you find yourself going to people who do not have what you need on their menu and then find yourself consistently discouraged and disappointed?"

I believe entirely that many more friendships could be fulfilling if we saw them for who they are, rather than wishing they would be someone different.  May you love your friendships for what they are, while continuing to be on the hunt for the "restaurant" that serves the best nachos in town!

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  Christine is still traveling to LA, Chicago, Austin and Dallas for the rest of her book tour. Use the code CHRISTINEFRIEND to save $10! You get a whole 2-hour workshop-- super good!

p.s.s. I LOVED all the interaction on the post last week!  Makes me happy to connect with you.  Share with us an expectation hangover you're going through, or what's helped you transform disappointment into learning-- and I'll come comment as much as I can! xoxo

Friendships Change: Growing More Comfortable with Endings

It hasn't happened suddenly, but from where I stand now I am noticing how many of my friendships have changed or dissolved in the last year or two. To be more precise, it's actually the structure of those friendships that has changed because it's not that we aren't friends anymore, as much as it's about that fact that we aren't practicing our friendship in the same way anymore.  The container has changed.  What wove us together has unraveled.  The routine has shifted. Schedules have changed.  Life got full of other things. Needs have fluctuated. Our time together looks very different and feels very different.

This isn't a post about friendship break-ups as much as it is about being aware and honoring that friendships change and shift over time.  I feel that it's important to put into words because so often women feel guilty, take it personally, or panic if a friendship drifts a bit.

Friendships Change. Frequently.

But the truth is that our friendships have to change; and by definition, when you have a change, it means there is an ending to one thing and the beginning of something new.  And sometimes there is a gap between that ending and that new beginning which can feel like a friendship fatality; and sometimes the new beginning doesn't feel as satisfying right away so there's an element of loss and grief that accompanies the change.

Since my book came out a year and half ago, and was written nearly three years ago, it's amazing to me how much my friendships have changed since then.  I want to own that publicly because I think it's normal and needs to be part of our conversation.  It's important, I think, for a "friendship expert" to voice how much friendships can drift and change and fluctuate even when everyone is doing everything "right."

  • Back then I had Tuesday Night Girls Night which for two years was five of us getting together every week. A little more than a year ago, two of the women no longer felt they could commit to the weekly commitment, (and I do want to say that how they handled that was amazing-- voicing their love for us, expressing

    womens hands and hearts

    honestly their need for evening time for other priorities, and their willingness to still get together even if less frequently) so our remaining group of three went through a process of "do we want to invite new women to join us?" or do we keep soldiering on just the three of us? We opted for the latter due to wanting to keep the intimacy that we had established, but an unforeseen consequence of that choice was that our gatherings were canceled more frequently than not due to the fact that when two people were traveling on the same week we only had one person left instead of three.  The ideal was still weekly, but the reality is that the three of us get together once a month. It took a while for us to admit that and come to peace with it. Ironically, it's more difficult to schedule something irregularly than it is to plan on something regularly, and we definitely aren't as aware of what's going on in each others lives in the same way, but travel has increased in all our lives and once a month is what we can pull off right now.  Still love all four of those women, but our time together has changed, our lives feel like they've sped up, and I miss the idea of a weekly get-together, even if I can't really commit to it.

  • Back then I also hosted "chosen family" dinners on Friday night whenever I was in town.  There were about 7-8 of us who got together pretty frequently, but needs change, and that ritual slowly dissolved. (In part, due to some intentional conversations about the desires from some for more alone time with us rather than group time, and in part due to life just getting busy and us not hosting as regularly.) We still see all those people, but at different times and in different ways.
  • And interestingly, along these lines, my monthly business women's group that we've had going for three years looks like it might be transitioning, possibly, into a quarterly group.  We have that conversation in two weeks as we all talk about what we each need and want going forward into 2015.  With some people having moved away, some people's commitments changing, and some people not showing up as frequently-- the questions needs to be asked:  1) what do we each need? 2) And what is the best way to get those needs met?

During the same time, several other groups have begun and other friendships have created rituals of their own, but in this post I really just want to honor that meaningful friendships have ended in some ways.  Sometimes it's been precipitated by something obvious: someone moving, or a job that requires more travel, or a life that just gets too full.  Sometimes it's just someone asking an intentional and thoughtful question like, "Is this still working for everyone?  Meeting everyone's needs in the best way?" And sometimes the reality of the ending only becomes clear later... after things have already started dissolving a bit, the recognition dawning slowly that somewhere along the line this form for time together isn't working anymore.

I get weary of feeling like "starting over" and sometimes I wish I could just freeze time and keep us all in the same place forever... I'm tempted to grasp, cling, or beg.  Letting relationships change isn't easy. I hate people moving away.  I want to hang on to what is meaningful. But life changes and so do people... so endings or perceived endings are part of the process.

Changing the Structure; Not the Love

There isn't a one of these situations where I don't still consider these people to be friends of mine.  There was no blow-up, no harm done, no fight, no break-up... just a container that wasn't working for everyone in the same way anymore. I still love them all.

In a super thought-provoking interview with Esther Perel at Slate.com on why spouses cheat, she makes a powerful statement about marriage that I think is applicable to friendships, too.

Most people today, for the sheer length we live together, have two or three marriages in their adult life, and some of us do it with the same person. For me, this is my fourth marriage with my husband and we have completely reorganized the structure of the relationship, the flavor, the complementarity.

Isn't that profound? In marriages-- who were are together (the roles we take on, the rituals we co-create, the way we interact) looks different at various stages of our lives.  To have to figure out who we are together at different stages in our marriages (i.e. with kids, when he/she becomes the bread-winner, when a new role outside the marriage takes one person in a new direction) becomes easier if we have the expectation ahead of time that we will continually need to be recognizing that some of our marriage structures will end, and new ways of being together will need to be formed.  For most of us it happens without conscious awareness... but how much more powerful to not take it personally when it happens, to see it coming, and to decide together to figure out what works best for each person now as opposed to trying to keep things the same.

The same is true of friendship. When only 1 in 12 friendships will be with people that we will stay in touch with over the course of our lives, and most of us seeing that about half of the people we are close to today are different from those we were close with 7 years ago-- there is much that is ending.

But the reality that my stories reveal today is that even with the women we still call friends through various stages of life, how we are together (i.e. how much time we spend together, the frequency of our get-togethers, what we do when we're together) does shift.  It has to.

Today I just want honor the reality that not only does every friendship not last, but even the ones that do often have to re-invent themselves, many times over.  And reinvention comes with some things ending as other things begin. We will ebb and flow. We will change what we share and how we share.  Our time together will look different.

My love for them doesn't change; but the container of how we practice our friendship right now may have to look different.

I can't stop change.  I can only be responsible for how I am going to respond to it.

I, for one, want to keep myself as emotionally healthy as possible so:

  1. I am prone to take less things personally and more courageous to show up knowing what I need;
  2. I can make sure that I am fostering enough friendships in my life so that when some become less frequent or intimate, that others are available for deepening;
  3. And so I can do my very best to show up in every friendship with eyes to see whether there's a structure that needs to be reorganized. No need to hang on to something that isn't working for someone within that relationship.  I'd much prefer that we become practiced at journeying through life in different ways, at different times.

For everyone grieving a friendship changing, or clinging with hopes of keeping it from shifting.... I pray for peace for all of us, that we can feel our love even if it comes in different forms.

p.s.  Here's a prayer I wrote about learning to let go of friendships that may be meaningful to some of you... Open Hands.

The Test that 70% of Us Are Failing

Researchers are scratching their heads trying to figure out why it's so rare to have women talking to each other about something other than men.

The Bechdel Test for Movies

If you watched Miss Representation several years ago or have read articles that have talked about how few movies have strong women characters that aren't completely focused on a male, then you're familiar with the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test requires that a movie must meet minimum standards to get receive a passing grade.  Those minimum standards include that the movie dialogue must show 1) two women talking to each other 2) about something other than a man.  Some add the requirement that both women actually have to have a name (and not just be "girl behind the counter") or that the conversation has to last at least 60 seconds long.

Even this Barbie movie passed the test since the many named characters all talk to each other about a variety of topics including going to the palace, Lumina's magic, Lumina's job as a hairdresser, etc. If Barbie can pass the feminism test then surely more than 30% of us can do this?  :)

On paper these standards don't seem entirely too lofty to me.   But apparently only about half of the movies end up passing the grade, with the minimum of requirements.

The irony is that we get our panties all twisted every year during Award season as we realize how few of the big movies actually show women talking to each other or not having the entire dialogue revolve around the men in the story, and yet our own lives are showing even worse results!

The Bechdel Test in Our Lives

When asked if they had at least two female friends who they talk to about something besides men, Yale researchers found that only 30 percent of women are able to say yes.

Among those under 35, their favorite theme for discussion is "boys" and for those over the age of 35, the answer shifts only slightly to "spouses."

We are relational creatures, and our romantic relationships are certainly some of the most defining ones in our lives, but really?!?

When we could be talking about things such as our personal growth, news stories that impact us, our changing relationships to our parents, how our identities keep shifting, our insecurities at work, our dreams about what we want to contribute to this world, the projects that light us up, the hobbies that energize us,  the unjust behaviors happening to women around the world, or the ideas that stimulate our brains.  There is so much in this world to talk about in addition to romance.  The world needs us talking about so very many other things.

Intentionally Expanding our Female Relationships

This is, at least, a two-prong issue.

The first is that we have to have more than two women we talk with for more than 60 seconds at a time.  Research is revealing several things that could certainly make time among women more rare: some women who don't confide in anyone other than their guy, some are wary of female friendships, claiming to be more of a "girl who gets along better with guys," some simply have tons of acquaintances but no one they really have deep conversations with, and some are willing to have these conversations but just don't know anyone to confide in.

Clearly, for many, the need is simply establishing more female friendships so that if our lives were being filmed for a movie-- there would be many scenes filled with us having substantial conversations with other women.

The second issue though is that for those of us who do have many female friendships-- we need to practice expanding what we talk about!  We need to practice being together sharing way more about our lives than simply how we feel about how one person in the world feels about us at any given moment.

In short we need more meaningful friendships with other women-- relationships that feel safe and healthy because they are built on us sharing about ourselves in a wide variety of ways.  Relationships that support our romantic interests, but that also support all the other sides of us, too!

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

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

I really hope you'll consider joining us this September-- International Women's Friendship Month--where we will all make a commitment for one month to focus on increasing the frientimacy (friendship intimacy with other women) in our lives!

With our workbook and lots of inspiring interviews-- we will find ways to 1) make more female friends and 2) do so in such a way that they are much deeper than any one topic!  :)

www.FriendshipsWanted.com

6 Suggestions for How to Email a Friend When Drifting Apart

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

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

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

Before Emailing Her Our Feelings and Concern

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

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

1st Draft of Email

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

Hi,

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

I hope things are going well for you.

6 Suggestions to Improving the 1st Draft

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

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

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

xoxo,

Shasta

 

We're giving the wrong advice for "toxic" friendships!

When my Google alerts brought a recent Today Show article to my attention with the headline: Here's Another Good Reason Women Should Dump a Toxic Friend, I groaned, and then clicked. In short, the article highlights research showing that "as the amount of negativity in relationships increased, risk of hypertension [in women] also increased." two young girls in a fight

I do not argue against the research at all.  I know whole-heartedly that bad relationships contribute to an increase in risk of high blood pressure in women and can leave serious damage on our bodies.  In fact, we know that to be true of anything that is causing us stress.  I am a very big fan of healthy friendships.

But what I want to speak out against is the advice we dole out alongside this research.

When we plaster a headline that gives the directive to dump a friend on an article about how stressful relationships are hurting us, I am left asking, "Why does no one ever suggest figuring out how we can make this relationship less stressful?"

 

The Traditional Advice for Toxic Friends

For long time followers of this blog, you'll know that I am not a big fan of this trend in labeling each other toxic; nor the common advice that is given that seems to always be fraught with urgent and simplistic commands such as: "Kick her to the curb," "Dump her," "Detox from her," or "End it now!"

And seriously this stuff is on the rise.  It seems we live in a world where the advice is that you're healthiest or most mature when you simply eliminate all non-perfect people from your life. (But look at the most amazing people in the world-- Jesus, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi-- thank God they didn't hear this advice and instead chose to actually engage with and work alongside unhealthy people!)

It'd be one thing if we all had a plethora of amazing relationships, lived in meaningful community, and all felt tons of love in our lives-- then, by all means, I suppose you could get rid of the excess when it wasn't fun and joy-full.  But this advice is being given to an incredibly lonely world of women who are starving for meaningful friendships.  And we're neglecting to not only tell you that meaningful friendships come with some stress, but we're also not mentioning that the other way to eliminate unhealthy relationships is to show up differently and make them healthier!

An Alternative Approach to Toxic Friendships

I've mused about this before when inviting us to own that we are strong enough to be around unhealthy people, taught that it's not necessarily a person who is unhealthy, but an unhealthy pattern that has been developed in the relationship, and shown how I think we can decrease the expectations in unhealthy friendships as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach, but every time I see another expert using the fear of toxicity to encourage women to push each other away, I feel ever more convicted to be, what sometimes feels like, a lone voice continuing to offer a different perspective.

There are definite times when we must end our stressful relationships, or establish strong boundaries around them, so I'm not speaking out against giving women permission to break-up. What I am speaking out against is the popular tendency to make that ending as our first step, rather than as a last step. In most cases, we're at our personal "last straw" before we've ever even tried to improve it!

Step In Before Stepping Out

No one wants a stressful relationship in their life.  I get that.

But neither can we just go cutting out every relationship when it gets stressful!  Friction, disappointment, insecurity, guilt, jealousy, and crisis are a part of life (don't even get me started on how tired I am of this trend to "be happy all the time!") so therefore they are a part of relationships.

Rather than be shocked when our friendships aren't all laughter, cotton candy, and photo-perfect events, what would happen if we actually expected her to annoy us or disappoint us from time to time?  And then, more important than trying to avoid angst, we focus instead on figuring out how we want to respond to it when it does come up?

My invitation to anyone struggling in a friendship that has mattered to you is to make it a practice to step closer to that person, before stepping away.

In other words, acknowledge that some friendships get stronger after talking something through, and choose to play the odds that it could happen to this friendship. It might not, but it could.

I view my friendships as investments-- sacred containers where I have stored up time, energy, love, memories, and vulnerability.  Anyone who has started a business, or made an investment of some sort, knows that there will be times when it would definitely be the easy thing to just close up shop or walk away.  But you only do so after you feel you have done everything you could do to make it work.  We understandably want the investment to pay off.  I want that for your friendships, too!

It takes a long time to foster a friendship.  It doesn't happen overnight or easily.  So when the inevitable disappointments and frustrations show up, I have a commitment to put in as much energy in the saving of these relationships as I feel I have put in to the development of these relationships.  So for a new friend, someone on the Left-Side, someone I haven't invested a ton of time and energy with, I probably won't extend a ton of energy into saving what may barely be built.  But with long-time friends, or intimate and close friends, I am willing to step up, lean in, show up, and give it my all to see if we can find a place of mutual love again.

Awkward?  Probably.  Stressful? Indeed.  Unsure how to do it? Likely.

But it's also courageous, life-building, love-practicing, and emotionally deepening for us to figure it out.  This is where we get to practice being the loving people that we are!  This is where we either make a more beautiful relationship or grow because we tried!

Anytime there is a fight, an unmet need, a slow-boiling frustration, and repeated judgment in one of our friendships, we have the sacred opportunity to try to fix it, repair it, enhance it, and grow it before we end it.

So if I were the expert on the Today Show giving application to the research, I'd be quick to say, "This is awesome that we have this research that reminds us how damaging our stressful relationships can be on our bodies.  Hopefully that incentivizes us to practice our relational skills to see if we can make these relationships not only less stressful, but also more life-giving. Staying in relationships without establishing boundaries, stating our needs, or sharing with honesty isn't serving anyone."

When did trying to fix something that is broken turn into such rebellious advice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem: My Friend Doesn't Ask Me About My Life!

"It's their fault for not asking me about my life..."

I have this strong memory of being at a cafe a couple of years ago with 4 of my close friends.  In an attempt to invite us all into more sharing and connection, I said, "Let's go around the circle and say one thing that feeds us in our group friendship (i.e what we currently like and appreciate), and one thing we want more of from the group (i.e what need we have that isn't being met or how others could support us more meaningfully.)

The question was popular and everyone shared really beautiful things-- affirming each other for how their lives were enhanced by our friendships, and bravely sharing how it could be even better.  It was super touching to hear each person share what would feel good to receive from the group, ranging from understanding for always talking about the same problem in one life to asking for more encouragement as another struggled with her marriage.

I was thinking ahead to what I would share and decided to be truly honest and share that would feel good to me would be to have them initiate asking about my life a little more... I felt that I often I did that for them, but didn't always feel like they asked about me as frequently.

Does your friend talk too much? Maybe it's your responsibility to talk more?

The whole afternoon ended up being hugely ironic in that right before my turn everyone got distracted and the conversation ended up veering in another direction.

I felt hurt, but was certain that surely, at some point, one of them would realize that I hadn't yet had my turn.  I kept waiting for one of them to ask me to share.

No one did.... and in the car on the way home I licked my wounds.  I remember feeling pity for myself, frustration toward them, and disappointment in how the relationships clearly weren't that fulfilling and mutual.

In transparency to what I felt back then, I blamed them. They were clearly selfish, caught up in their own lives, and unable to fulfill my needs.

But in the middle of my pity-party where I was certain that I was the amazing friend and they were the problem... clarity hit me.

"It's my responsibility to share what I want to share..."

I'm always grateful when my voice of wisdom can still be heard over my ego... I've done my very best in recent years to give her as much permission and practice in speaking loudly to me.  So while in that car, I remember trying to hear her above the whining of the little girl stomping her foot in my head...which required stopping my defensiveness and blame long enough to listen:

"Shasta... you know they love you and care about your life.  No one is maliciously trying to ignore you.  You're making this way bigger than it needs to be. They would feel horrible if they knew they hurt you. 

Besides, you could have handled it differently, too.  You could have said, "Hey before we talk about x, let's finish our sharing first," or "Before we go, I wanted to make sure I was able to tell you guys about what you mean to me..." And deep inside you know that they would have loved to have heard you and then you'd be driving home feeling grateful for the friends in your life instead of licking imaginary wounds.

Not imaginary because they don't count... your need to be in friendships where you feel heard is super important and I'm so glad you can articulate that.  But it's your job to ask for what you need.  And honestly, to have the chance to share about your life doesn't require them to ask about it, it only requires that they receive it when you decide to share."

By the time I got home I knew that I could have handled that in a way that would have easily benefited all of us far more than me sitting there quietly as though I were testing them.

Friendship doesn't mean we don't disappoint each other sometimes... it means we're in relationships where we can trust each other to speak their needs-- and I hadn't done that.

Speaking Up

While in a fantasy world someone might just guess what's important to us to share, in the real world, the chances of someone asking all the right questions are pretty slim.

As a pastor I remember one woman accusing the church of being shallow after she had attended that prior weekend without anyone finding out that she had been dying inside from the knowledge that she had suffered a miscarriage the week before.  My heart broke that she hadn't received the support she craved. And I also knew that she could have shown up in a way that ensured she got what she needed.

It's nearly impossible to know what's going on in each others lives unless we volunteer it.  It's not the job of our friends to ask us about work, our marriages, our families, our holiday plans, and make their way down the list... only to have us then feel hurt that they neglected to ask about our health.  You get the idea.  If we have something that needs to be shared... then we need to share it.

Likewise, if we have a friend who calls us and then just talks and talks and then has to go; maybe we can take that as permission to call her and share our lives with her?

Or, if a friend has a habit of going on-and-on about her life, we can certainly experiment with saying, "I always love how freely you're able to share... I need to learn from you because I always feel like I get home without sharing much..." Or, "Hey before we're done with dinner, I wanted to be sure to tell you about what happened at work this last week."

We can offer up our lives.  It makes it no less sincere; nor means they care any less.

Less important than being asked something is whether we're all sharing-- whether that happens is as much my job as theirs.  I don't need to be asked in order to share.  I need to practice offering myself up, being willing to take the space, being willing to be vulnerable-- whether it's initiated by me or them.

Now when I sit in circle with women, I take responsibility to share more.  While I'm still a fan of women being more aware of asking questions and showing interest in each other, rather than filling the space themselves, I also know that most of them don't do it maliciously.

I know that our collective friendship depends upon it-- the relationship will start feeling lop-sided if I don't speak up and own part of the space.

I know that it's my job to reveal, not their job to guess.

I know that vulnerability isn't as dependent as much on the question being asked, as it is on the answer that is shared.

If you have relationships where you feel like you're always the one doing most of the listening and question-asking, I challenge you today to consider how you've contributed to that imbalance and what you can do to show up in a way that builds the relationship and better supports you.

That's not to say that they don't have more to learn or that they couldn't do it differently; but we can't control them, we can only change how we show up.

 

 

Men Really Need Intimate Friendships, Too

It's a great honor for me to feature today's guest post on my site--the author is not only one of the most emotionally healthy men I have ever met; a dynamic speaker, pulling people in on any stage; a wealth of wisdom on matters of purpose, spiritual growth, and energy management; a transformational consultant, leading teams to function from their strengths; and one of the most intuitive life coaches out there; but he also happens to be my husband.  And I couldn't be more proud. (We each happen think we're the lucky one in the marriage... but between you and me... I definitely was the one who won big time!) I've long wanted to share his blog with you: Soul Ballast.  You really should subscribe if you are interested in living your life with spiritual depth, aware of your strengths, and with intention, but when he wrote a 2-part series on men's friendship, I knew it was time to introduce you to him.

On my book tour I had so many men express to me (almost with embarrassment!) their desire to have friendships the way women do that I am thrilled that research is now confirming what I believed:  the stereotype of men's friendships being different from women's is often more descriptive (what they had modeled and what they thought was appropriate) than prescriptive (what they actually crave and would benefit from.)  I hope you'll share this post with your husbands/boyfriends, male friends, and sons.

Are Male Friendships Different From Female Friendships?

by Dr. Greg Nelson

My wife Shasta Nelson is one of the leading friendship experts these days, especially in the realm of female friendships.  Her book Friendships Don’t Just Happen:  The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Two Greek men having conversation in a cafe in Agiassos on Lesvos Island in GreeceCircle of Girlfriends is one of the most complete and profound explanations and prescriptions of the multifaceted dimensions of healthy friendships – why it’s important and how it can be developed and sustained in deep and meaningful ways.

As I’ve read her book and listened to her speak to multiple audiences, I’ve thought how much men need and crave this kind of friendship intimacy, too.

It’s been a fascinating experience bringing this view up in conversations with men and women.  Invariably, some people respond by saying that male friendship looks different and men approach relationships from a completely different standpoint, their needs simply are different – as one male expert puts it, men’s friendships are more “shoulder to shoulder” compared to women’s which are “face to face”.  Men bond over activities as compared to women who bond in conversation and self-disclosure.

For some reason, most likely a lot from my own personal experience as well as all my work as a coach and pastor with both genders, I’ve had a difficult time with that stereotypical and simplified depiction of male friendship.  I reject the notion that men don’t crave intimacy  (which includes the need for honest and authentic self-disclosure and empathy) as much as women in our friendships.

When I have coaching conversations with men and create a safe space in which they can share their lives deeply and authentically, I’m finding that men are as fully capable, and in fact as sincerely interested, in full disclosure and admittance of the need for intimacy and honest sharing.  They are craving the same kind of depth and closeness in their friendships as women do, but for the most part they’re simply not getting it.

Latest Research on Men’s Friendships:  How the Shift Happens

Turns out, research is now showing this craving for depth and intimacy is absolutely true about men and their friendships.  Men are in fact wired with not only this same desire but also the capability for the same kind of intimate, deep friendships.

According to a recent article in Salon (“American Men’s Hidden  Crisis: They Need More Friends!”) New York University psychologist Dr. Niobe Way studied and interviewed boys in each year of high school.  What she found was fascinating.

Until the age of 15-16, all the boys she interviewed described their friendships with other boys using the same vocabulary as the girls used about their friendships:

“Younger boys spoke eloquently about their love for and dependence on their male friends. In fact, research shows that boys are just as likely as girls to disclose personal feelings to their same-sex friends and they are just as talented at being able to sense their friends’ emotional states.

Then something happened.  From the age of 15-16 on (right at the same age that the suicide rate of boys increases to four times the rate of girls), the same boys talked about their guy friends far differently.

One of the boys described this shift the way almost all of those boys who were interviewed did:

When he was 15:  “[My best friend and I] love each other… that’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that person is that person… I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other.”

But when the same boy was a senior in high school, notice the shift:  “[My friend and I] we mostly joke around. It’s not like really anything serious or whatever… I don’t talk to nobody about serious stuff… I don’t talk to nobody. I don’t share my feelings really. Not that kind of person or whatever… It’s just something that I don’t do.”

Why the Shift Happens

So what is happening?  As researchers are noting, as boys get older they are becoming conditioned to disassociate from what are often seen as more feminine qualities in order to be manly, macho, accepted in the male places of our world.

For example, why is it that sports coaches or military sergeants, in trying to motivate guys, call them “girls” — as if somehow that demeaning use of a perfectly neutral term is supposed to inspire guys to be stronger, try harder, be more of a man?

So men learn early on to disassociate themselves from anything feminine–which unfortunately leads to a distancing from the experiences and expressions of need for intimacy, closeness, self disclosure, empathy, and other feelings.  Which in turn serves to isolate them from developing meaningful and close friendships with other men.

But as research continually reveals, this dissociation is actually distancing us as men from our complete selves by cutting vital parts of ourselves out.

Tragic Consequences of This Shift

Here’s the way Lisa Wade, in her Salon article, reflecting Dr. Niobe Way’s significant research, describes the tragic outcome:

“So men are pressed — from the time they’re very young — to disassociate from everything feminine.This imperative is incredibly limiting for them. Paradoxically, it makes men feel good because of a social agreement that masculine things are better than feminine things, but it’s not the same thing as freedom. It’s restrictive and dehumanizing. It’s oppression all dressed up as awesomeness. And it is part of why men have a hard time being friends.”

Two Things Men Need to ReShift and ReFocus On Who They Really Are

First, men need positive male role models to show the power and transformational experience of intimate friendships with other men – friendships built around mutual self-disclosure, honesty, authenticity, empathy, caring for each other, and yes, sharing good times with each other, too.  Male friendships are not an either/or proposition.  It’s both/and.

And Second, men need to be given permission that it’s not caving to a stereotypical feminine way of being by wanting and engaging in deeper, caring male friendships.  Men need this permission from the women in their lives and from other men.  The media isn’t helping at all!  So others need to step up and openly talk about what it means to be a male with all the multifaceted qualities men have inside them that need to be expressed and that contribute to building deep and lasting and meaningful friendships with other men.

Because the truth is, men are hardwired with a yin-and-yang of qualities:  we are both “soft” and “hard” — we crave strength and power, and we also long for warmth, intimacy, caring, and empathetic nurturing and sharing.  Men have been cultured to neglect one for the sake of the other.  But it’s both/and.

And the sooner we men embrace this truth, the healthier we will be emotionally, mentally, physically, and relationally.  We will be living in alignment with who we truly are.  And that’s always the place of greatest authentic power and well-being.

To sign up for Greg's blog or to read his second post on this subject, go here: "Reclaiming What It Means to Be a Man"

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

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

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

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

Why Forgive?

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

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

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

Who to Forgive?

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

How To Forgive

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 4 Best Responses to a Hurting Friend

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

The Wounded Shouldn't Be Pressured Into Becoming the Encourager

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

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

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

Here are some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other relevant posts:

How To Respond to a Friend in Crisis

9 Principles for Responding to a Friend in an Affair

 

What Are Your Unmet Needs?

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

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

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

Figuring Out What We Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEACE beauty communion ease equality harmony inspiration order

AUTONOMY choice freedom independence space spontaneity

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

Learn to Ask For What We Need

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Ebb & Flow: Friendships Move in Both Directions

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

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

Increasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

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

5 types of friends image

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

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

Decreasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________

Other pertinent blog posts:

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

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

This Friendship Is Going Negative, What Do I Do?

9 Principles for Responding to a Friend in an Affair

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

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

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

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

Nine Principles to Remember:

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

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

What is our Response-ability in Relationship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

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

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

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

The Five Friendship Threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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