I've never been able to resist talking about friendship.
But talking friendship with Shasta Nelson? Now that's conversation paradise.
Prior to today, I had been taking a brief hiatus from blogging while conducting research for my own upcoming book about friendship. But when Shasta, friend and founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, told me she was releasing her much anticipated Frientimacy book, I HAD to come off the blogging sidelines to dig into her new work publicly.
In the book, Shasta sets out to show how anyone can form stronger, more meaningful friendships, marked by a level of trust she calls "frientimacy."
To get a feel for the kind of insights she uncovered, I asked her some of the friendship questions burning hot in my own world right now.
As you're reading through the insights in her answers below, if it prompt any questions, concerns, or challenges that have surfaced in your friendships, please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section. We'd love to pick a few out and respond to them in a future post.
Sarah: I'm going to start with a hot conversation topic. Many people I've interviewed in my research on friendship remark that people today connect differently than previous generations. Today's 20-somethings, for instance, have far more communication channels available to them than their grandparents did.
Do you find the people you interact with feel like technology has improved their ability to make friends? Or has it somehow set us back?
Shasta: Most people feel like technology has helped them stay in touch with friends and network, but they also recognize that what happens in 140 characters or in our newsfeed is leaving us feeling like our friendships don't feel as deep and meaningful. A lot of studies are coming out that certainly suggest our addiction to technology may be impacting our ability to practice some of the skills of friendship such as empathy and the art of conversation, but we also see a lot of amazing stories of people finding friends and engaging in incredibly fulfilling virtual relationships, too.
The biggest question we each have to ask ourselves is whether we feel like we're using the technology to connect us to people in ways that are helping get our relational needs met or are we at risk of using it in ways that either distances us from people or prevents us from building in-person and local friendships? I wrote Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness for this very reason: we are more connected than ever, but feeling increasingly less connected in an intimate way. We know more people but seemingly don't feel as known by a close few.
Sarah: It's so ironic that becoming more connected, technically, can sometimes result in people feeling LESS connected, isn't it? Let's move onto gender now. You specifically focus on building meaningful female friendships in a lot of your work. Why are female friendships perhaps more challenging and why are you drawn toward investing in fostering these?
Shasta: I actually believe firmly and passionately in men's friendships, too, and want to write and speak to them more directly in the near future because they have the same needs for intimacy that extends beyond romance but have unfortunately had such minimal role modeling, cultural permission, or encouragement to build those deep friendships. The truth is that we are all biologically wired to function better in relationship to others -- for our longevity, our brain health, our immune system, and our ability to protect our bodies from the impact of stress.
But I speak primarily to women's friendships in this book for a couple of reasons: to remove the shame that so many women feel if they don't have good friends, to teach us the three requirements of friendship because while we're all expected to have great friends -- no one has actually taught us how to do it, and because there is so much talk in the media about toxic friends and how unhealthy so many of our friendships are feeling. We seem incredibly confused about what friendship actually is, what expectations we should have for those we call friends, and how to navigate those friendship in ways that move us all toward greater frientimacy, or friendship intimacy.
Sarah: I think you're right on about that. Expectations are everything. Along those lines, let's talk about how we expect friendships to perform in our society. Do you think, as a culture, we tend to give up on friendships too fast?
Shasta: Oh yes I do! If people could hear the stories I hear on a regular basis of how many friendships are ending over hurt feelings, unmet expectations, and disappointments -- their hearts would break. And the tragedy in most of those cases is that most of the frustration is left unspoken -- where one friend doesn't even know what happened!
Our default mode is to put up with something in a friendship -- their flakiness, their complaining, their long periods of silence -- for as long as we can, thinking it's easier or more compassionate, but then we reach a point where it's just not worth it to us anymore and we go into drift-apart mode.
We don't do that for romance! When it comes to romance we are much more skilled and willing to talk about the relationship with the person we're in relationship with: sharing what we need from each other, telling them when we feel hurt, and assessing whether the relationship is feeling good to both people; but in friendship we act surprised that we need to practice honesty. We forget that intimacy is developed in relationship only when we are willing to practice the skills that build trust such as vulnerability, self-awareness, and forgiveness.
Sarah: I love that you just said that. Besides giving up too early, what other barriers do you see that prevent friendships from forming or lasting?
Shasta: Well, the three skills that are required for healthy friendships, as I talk about at length in Frientimacy, are positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. It's impossible to have a friendship without those three things; in fact the very definition of a friendship necessitates that all three of these non-negotiable actions are regularly and incrementally practiced.
Any barrier to one of these three requirements is a barrier to intimate friendships. For example, if we know that we need consistency with someone, which is to say that we have to clock consistent time with them, repeating our interactions and developing a pattern of connection with them -- then anything that is an obstacle to us not making the time to be with those we love becomes a limiting factor for how close and meaningful a friendship will feel. And certainly we live in a culture that has normalized life centered around work, leaving us feeling like time is a scarce commodity.
Sarah: That's such good insight. I want to give you more time to get to the heart of the Frientimacy book so people can hear even more of what you've discovered. If someone wanted to make more friends, tell me three traits that would help them toward their goal. Are they the same as the ones you mention previously? If so, maybe you could expand on how your book unpacks them?
Shasta: Yes. Of course we could make a long list of tips but all of them will fall under the umbrella of one of those three friendship requirements: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. So if someone were making brand new friends right now, they'd want to be mindful about incrementally increasing those three actions.
For example, one, positivity: They would want to be intentional about adding more joy to the lives of the people they are meeting: smiles, asking them about the parts of their lives that energize them, affirming them, and communicating acceptance of who they are.
Two, consistency: Since you'll both feel more familiar and trusting of each other as you see each other more often, be intentional about making time to continue to connect and build up a momentum without letting a long time pass between interactions.
And then, three, vulnerability: Be thoughtful in the early stages of a friendship that you both need to be talking and sharing in order to feel seen, so make sure you're asking questions and listening to them, and that you're sharing your own stories in appropriate ways.
Sarah: Okay, so that covers the people who are actively looking to expand or deepen their friendships. But let's go the opposite direction for a minute. If a person told you they didn't have any interest in friendship, or they'd given up on it, what concerns might come to mind? What might your book offer them?
Shasta: Well, loneliness is subjective so it's certainly up to them to decide what their capacity for connection is and whether their needs are being met, but if they're distancing themselves from connection because of previous hurt and disappointment or because of the fear of rejection (I wrote an entire chapter in Frientimacy on this subject alone because it impacts all of us in profound ways!) -- I'd really encourage them to look at the science of how crucial this area is to our life.
If we go through life feeling disconnected, it is as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, is twice as damaging to being obese, and has the equivalent impact on our body to being a lifelong alcoholic. This is so small thing. In fact, I'd venture to say the research is supporting that there is hardly any life area, other than maybe sleep, that has a bigger impact on our health and happiness.
While it may be scary to practice forgiveness, to open ourselves up to love, or to risk triggering our insecurities -- our friendships are the health clubs for our personal growth, helping us build those muscles and develop the skills that will bring joy, peace, and love into our lives. I'd so hope I could help give hope to someone to try again and not give up on developing the friendships that will sustain their lives! It's worth it!