I keep bumping into conversations around sisterhood, finding friendship, and making friends as real, live grown ups. I’m making space for that to happen for you here; I’ve written about it quite a bit; and this week I got to hear friendship expert Shasta Nelson share her wisdom on the topic.
Shasta only had ten minutes on stage in a rapid-fire TED-type fomat. And yet she had lived and refined her message about friendship so well, that I was able to take away a fistfull of ah-ha moments in less time than it takes to watch an opening monologue on SNL. One thing in particular seemed especially profound. Shasta mentioned how easy it is to feel like a big ole’ loser when you don’t have the friendships you want and need. (I’m a great person, really! So why am I so lonely?) So out of shame, you ignore your need for connection. You stuff down the lonliness, fill up on The Busy, and pretend something’s not missing. But, says Shasta (paraphrased):
Just as hunger is the appropriate response to needing more fuel, and being tired is the appropriate response to needing sleep, lonliness is the healthy, reasonable, shame-free response to needing connection.
And you need connection. You really do. Because as Shasta went on to point out, some studies have shown that not having friends is as damaging to your body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Cancer patients with a circle of close friends are more likely to survive than those who go through treatment alone. It would be safer for you to be morbidly obese, than to have an inadequate sense of connection.*
But here’s the thing, friends. People like Shasta and I, we don’t just want to push on your pain points. We don’t just want to sit on top of the ball box at recess, kicking our feet with our besties chanting, “Nah, nah, na, na, nah. You ain’t got no friends!” Nope. We want to help you solve the conundrum. If loneliness is the appropriate response to a lack of connection, we want to help you make the connection.
Earlier this week soul sister Molly Mahar hosted a Twitter chat on “The Art of Making Friends (as an adult.)” I was supposed to be there too, so when Twitter refused to let me play along, I watched the screen and cried into my chai. (I’m sure that’s some clever metaphor for my own digital isolation!) Thankfully Molly is an gifted hostess and moderated the chat with aplomb. For those of you who couldn’t be there, here are a few things that I took away from that rich and rapid-fire conversation.
For Intimate Friendships, Consistency is Key.
You may have old friends who “go way back,” and you can talk to them soul-to-soul even if you haven’t seen them in half a decade. But for current, deep friends you have to connect regularly. When we were children this was built into our schedule with recess, and playdates, and summer camp. But as grown ups we have to be a little more clever. One of my readers told me she and her friend can’t walk together in the same neighborhood, but they call each other as they take their walks in different parts of town. I have a 3 family potluck that happens once a month. Before we leave for the night, we always pull out our calendars and book the next one. When my assistant moved to a new city, she joined a Stitch and Bitch group. The weekly opportunity to interact lead her to some of her closest friendships. Lynn and I met in her business support program and now we check in with each other every Tuesday via phone, Skype, or in a pinch, email. How might you be oh-so-clever and build some constant contact into your social world?
Where would you meet you?
One struggle people voiced on the Twitter chat was how to find someone with similar interests, especially if you are a non-traditional person living in a conservative locale. There were lots of suggestions about library lectures and belly dance classes. But what it really came down to was not so much the specifics, but rather the question: ”Where would YOU meet you?” Are you in the places you most enjoy? Are you pursing the things that give your life color? As life coaches, Molly and I both know how important it is for our clients to be actively living their core interests and values. But as Shasta pointed out, the perceived shame around loneliness can sometimes cause you to shrink a little, to hide out, to buy into the inner critic’s message that you are not that interesting. Give that inner critic a very sticky toffee and let her keep her mouths shut for a moment! You know damn well you’re smart, you’re pretty damn fascinating, and doggonit people like you. Now go out there and do the things you love to do! Then, look up. Who’s next to you? (Tip: Say “hi.”)
Getting Past Small Talk.
If you are hungry for friendship, small talk isn’t going to fit the bill. It’s kind of like eating cotton candy when what you really want is a quinoa salad with organic chicken, heriloom tomatoes, and fresh feta. Small talk has it’s place and all, but if it’s all you get you’ll just end up with a tooth ache. So how do you ask a meaningful question of a potential new friend? “Tell me your biggest failure,” isn’t exactly an easy jumping off point. And, “What did you think of the last episode of “Orange is the New Black?” is only an entry point. Some of the favorite “next level” type questions in the chat were: What lights you up? What are you excited about these days? What are you obsessing over?
In the end, what I took away from our Twitter chat was that we need practice. Practice being ourselves. Practice asking questions. Practice being curious. Practice telling our story. (Do you have an elevator pitch for you?)
I have a fabulous new, low-risk plan for getting in some that important Friendship Practice. It involves (good) childhood memories, notepaper, and getting something real in the mail. Curious? Stay tuned tomorrow for my latest, greatest game. (Get on the mailing list, stage right, so you for-sure won’t miss it!)
Hold on to hope, friend, sisterhood is within reach.
Need help remembering where to find you? Molly Mahar is teaching a workshop on Personifying Your Inner Guide–How to Trust Yourself at our gathering of Soul Sisters. Come meet me, her, and other friendly faces as we gather, learn and laugh together. Register here (and tell me Molly sent you!)
* Want more info like this? Check out Shasta’s book!