Today my guest is Shasta Nelson.
Shasta Nelson is a life coach and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com (the only online community that matches new friends offline by connecting women to other local women seeking friendship in 35 cities across the US). Shasta is the author of the book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends. As a former preacher, she still brings her spirited and soulful voice to every presentation and anyplace else where people are seeking healthier and more meaningful relationships.
In today’s episode, Shasta and I spoke about:
- How friendship can change the world
- Friendships as another outlet for intimacy
- The indicators of a strong friendship
- The advantages and challenges with distance friendships
- Friendships in business
Chantal Pierrat: Hello, and welcome, Shasta!
Shasta Nelson: Thank you so much! Happy to be here.
CP: I’m happy to have you. I’m just remembering the last time we were on a call. I think it was a couple of weeks ago. I felt like within five minutes that I was talking to somebody who was very soon going to become my best friend. I don’t know how you do it, but we just kept going. And even now, before the podcast, with our few minutes, I felt like I wanted to continue that conversation.
SN: Oh, I would love it!
CP: Yes, you just have a natural knack for friendship that I appreciate.
SN: Well, thank you. I think highly of you, too, because it takes two to connect and be present and show up.
CP: Right. Well, this is a subject that’s so important to me and near and dear to my heart. And when I was preparing for this, one of the things [I saw] on your website that really struck me was your tagline. It says, “I have a theory that friendship can save the world.” Maybe you can start and just tell us what you mean by that.
SN: Yes. I look around at—well, I come from a very religious background. I used to be a pastor. And in that world, we seek a lot of spiritual practices and going to church and reading the Bible. And then, of course, being here in San Francisco, it’s a lot more ashrams and yoga and so many different spiritual traditions that are just so rich and beautiful.
And one of the things I think about when I am every guiding anyone through anything or watching them do that is, “To what purpose are we doing that for?” In the Christian tradition, we always say that it is because we want to become more loving or more like God. In other traditions, we might use different words, but it’s really to become more enlightened and to become more at peace and to be more in love and to recognize our connections to each other.
And so when you are doing all these practices, it’s really for the purpose of engaging with each other and seeing each other and the value of each other, and recognizing the spark of God and the image of God in each other. So in my opinion, the friendships are where—that’s the gymnasium, that’s where we actually practice, that’s where we actually get to practice doing what we’re trying to become.
So for me, I challenge people. I don’t care if you’re praying all day; if it’s not making you a more loving person, I question what the point of that prayer is. And I question whether it’s working in your life. It’s really our friendships that we actually are—yes, I would call it the gymnasium. It’s the gymnasium for our soul. It’s the place where we get to practice forgiveness. It’s one thing to talk about it, [but] that’s where we get to practice doing it with people we’re in relationship with. That’s where I get to practice cheering for women. Even if I’m jealous of them and they have things I want, that’s where I get to practice compassion with the people who might make choices different than what I think is the right choice for them.
So it’s really in our friendships that we have the opportunity to practice being the people that this world needs. And when I look at politics and I look at the wars that we’re fighting around this world, we’re all very judgmental and we’re all very quick to say, “So-and-so’s doing it wrong,” and, “This politician, blah, blah, blah.”
And I think this is why we have to practice it with the people in our circles, so that if I can’t practice doing it with my friend down the street who parents differently than I do, or where we can get triggered—if I can’t do it with these women, then how in the world can I do it for people who live on the other side of the world, who think differently, who believe differently, who act differently? And how do I expect other people to be doing that if I can’t show up and be practicing that?
To me, this is what it all comes down to. It’s how we’re treating each other and who we’re becoming in the process. So yes, I think friendships are the training ground for becoming the people that we claim we want to be.
CP: Right. Well, here’s a question for you: don’t you think we chose our friends—and maybe this is what you’re trying to get out of, but I’m thinking, “I don’t want to be friends with someone if they’re not on the same page,” or, “I don’t want to be friends with someone if they don’t see things the way I see [them] or if they don’t live their life in the way that I’m living my life.” Is that a pattern that you’re trying to break through these circles and connecting people? Do you advise against that, in a way?
SN: That’s a great question, and actually, I teach that there’s five different levels of friendship, five different circles of friendship. So for me, it’s recognizing that each of those levels requires a different level of vulnerability and showing up and being present. In my opinion, we can be friendly to everybody, and the more casual the relationship, the more we get to practice loving people who are very different from us, who are in a very different place than we are.
And as we start building a mutual relationship, certainly the people that you’re revealing your heart at—who are what I would call far right on the continuum, from far left to far right, far right is the most intimate and consistent relationship. Certainly, on the far right, we need people that we have proven mutual love and maturity with. But even there, I would say I’m finding a pattern of a lot of women walking away from relationships when they’re annoyed or when somebody does things differently or when we get our feelings hurt.
We know from relationship patterns and behaviors and growth stages of relationships, actually going through some conflict is really more intimate and more bonding for a relationship. We know that from our marriages. If we walked away from our marriages as quickly—or even a dating relationship, we won’t even say marriage. But we are much more willing to fight it out, much more willing to show up and be honest there. We’re much more willing to say, “Hey, you know, this is not working for me.”
In our relationships, when we’re dating, we will put up with quite a bit, but I’ve never heard, really, a situation where they just drift apart or break up and neither person really heard from the other person or anything like that. But we do that with our girlfriends all the time. We just let it get awkward and we just start pulling away, and I think there’s a missed moment there for some growth and for an opportunity to ask for what we need and to speak our power [more clearly] and our offering and our contribution.
So it’s a mix. I’m not advocating that people should have unhealthy people around them at all, but I am advocating that I think part of mature relationships—and most women are not building the level of deep relationships they say they want. And one of the reasons that’s happening is because we’re not saying with people long enough and being intimate long enough to actually get to that place where we crave having. We want those close, meaningful relationships, but we don’t want them to be awkward at all at any time, and they will be.
CP: I just think of what’s happened, this whole nuclear family concept—which has always been a myth outside of our culture—but what that’s done to isolate us. I know this is happening with men, too, but especially with women, you’re in your marriage and you feel like, “OK, that’s where I’m putting all my work.” And yet, there’s so much juice to be had through friendships, but there’s sort of this rewiring we have to do.
Because the friendships are the ones that are, “Oh, well, no, I’m not going to take anything. I’m walking away.” I think you’re right in that there’s a trend of just really giving up so easily because we don’t give it the same credence as we do the marriage. Where are you going to go in the marriage? The only place is divorce. So that’s a higher hurdle than just simply not returning a phone call with a friend.
And I think what you’re introducing is a shift around looking at friendships as another outlet for intimacy and not just keeping intimacy in the marriage. And I’m wondering—I know you have a term for this. I’m going to let you introduce it, I can’t pronounce it, “friendimacy.” Tell me about that.
SN: Yes, “friendimacy” is a combination of “friendship” and “intimacy,” and I use that word because every time I talk about intimacy, people’s brains immediately went to sexual intimacy. And we really don’t use the word very often, so I was like, “OK, we’ve got to find a new way of saying this.” Because intimacy is not just physical intimacy. There’s a showing up. I describe intimacy as a vulnerability, or a revealing, or a willingness to show up with less and less [of a] filter with somebody.
So it’s a level a trust that we’re building, and really, as humans, I believe that’s what we’re craving. I believe that’s what we ultimately want. We want to feel like somebody’s looking at us, knows us, and says, “You’re enough.” That’s what all of us are—if you go back, almost all of our core, fundamental fears [are about] the feeling of we’re not being enough and we do various things to try to prove that we are.
But in my opinion, that level of intimacy takes a lot of time. A statistic that’s of interest is that half of our close friends—we’re losing half of our close friends every seven years. And when I say that upfront when I’m speaking, at first you can see the look of dubiousness in everyone’s eyes, like, “I don’t think that’s true.” And I say, “Think about if you were getting married today”—because that’s one of the events where we pull a close group of friends around us, we call them bridesmaids—“think about who you would pick, if you were picking five or six women to be your bridesmaids today, who would be those women? And would they be different if you had done that seven years ago?”
And when I say that, you suddenly see this look in everyone’s eyes, like, “Oh my goodness, I didn’t even know two or three of the people that I would invite right now in my life seven years ago.” And chances are just as high that seven years from now, if you were to invite five or six women to stand up with you, you may not yet know one or two of them even now, or they may not be your close friends.
So we have a shifting going on, and I think that’s normal, and I think that’s healthy. I’m a big fan of recognizing that not every friendship needs to last forever. In fact, only one in twelve of our friends really do go through life with us. So I’m a big fan of not feeling guilty if your friendship’s not lasting forever.
And with that said, being intentional about hanging on to the friends that we want to hang on to and going through some of that conflict [is important] to make sure we build that intimacy. Because that takes time, and if we’re moving every couple of years, if we’re changing jobs every couple of years, if our relationships revolve around our kids’ lives and they’re switching schools and switching activities every couple of years, you can start seeing where you would have a big network now and a lot of people but still feel incredibly lonely and not have the intimacy and the support system in place that you crave.
So it’s a big issue to really look at and say, “I need to know that I have some friends who get me where I’m at right now, but I also need some friends whose lives don’t have to mirror mine. We’re going to keep journeying through life and be close and vulnerable and show up with each other.”
CP: Yes. I love that concept, because the owner and the founder of—no longer the owner of—Zappos is this guy Tony Shay, and in his book he talks about, really, for your business, you want to go for advice on your business or you want to learn more about your business, it’s really smart to go outside your industry. Because the diversity and the creativity that you can apply from a different industry into your own often yields better results. It’s just a way of thinking outside the box.
So having friends that are not exactly a mirror image of who we are, I can see how that can 1) put us out of our comfort zone, but 2) be beneficial in that it would challenge us in different ways. I mean, I have so many friends that are so loyal to me that would never call me on anything because they just love me so much. And I don’t know if that’s always such a good think. Of course, it’s great. [Laughs]
SN: [Laughs] There’s always that tricky line. I love what you’re saying, because research actually shows that we are not very good predictors of who we’re going to bond with, and I think this is fascinating. There are many studies of us thinking that, “OK, if I’m Republican, if I’m Democrat, I probably need somebody who’s got the same world view. That is so important, we have to have similar values. If I’m a mom, just convenience-wise, I need someone else who gets it.” And we kind of think that we know who we will bond with.
And the research shows that we actually really don’t bond any more with somebody who has the same religion or political background that we do. It is no more of a predictor of whether we will bond than if we both found out we grew up in Illinois, or we both found out we like Madonna, or—the research actually says—if we just both found out we like broccoli. That is as powerful a predictor of our bond as both of us being moms or both of us being single or both of us being moms with special needs kids.
So we think about what we walk around thinking we need, and we’re pretty quick to dismiss other women because we will sit there and be like, “Oh, she dresses like that, she’s probably that income bracket, or cares about fashion differently than I do, or she’s a mom.” We quickly are like, “Oh, we have nothing in common.”
And the truth of the matter is those are three or four very superficial things that we’re looking at, and those are no more of a predictor—they say that actually, and this is funny for you and I with more unusual names, they say it would be the same if you’re walking around saying, “I really can only be friends with other moms or other single girls” or whatever you feel like you are, they say that would be the same as walking around saying, “I really can only be friends with people who have my name.” And I think about that. I think some of us would be some very lonely people in the world if that was one of our beliefs. [Laughs] It would be me with like a thousand dogs! [Laughs]
So we create this story of who we think we need to create a bond with, but every single one of us has evidence in our brain—it’s one of the exercises I have women do in workshops, [to] name somebody in your life who you actually bonded with who’s actually very different from you. And it’s usually somebody that you worked with, because if you just met them, you probably would have not given them the chance to know them, but you worked with them, so you saw them every day and you became very close friends.
She could be 20 years older than you, she could have five more kids than you, she could be completely different from you and yet you became good friends. Or it’s somebody who you’re related to. Or it’s somebody—it’s usually somebody that you were forced to have enough time with that you came to love each other, but it wouldn’t have been at your own choosing or your own guess that that would have happened. And we all have the evidence of that, that with time and proximity, we bond with far more people than we walk around thinking we do.
CP: Are there any indicators of a good match? And we’re going to get into your website and all of that, but I’m just curious to see, if it’s not interests or things [like that], is there chemistry?
SN: It is. What we do need to find is—and thanks for clarifying that. What we do want is we want to have things in common with each other, but they’re finding that it’s the quantity of things, not the quality of those things. So three small things—[like] both having unusual names, both being interested in women’s organizations, and you live in Colorado and I used to live in Colorado. Those three things will be as powerful a bonding as if we had one big thing in common, if we both had the same political or religious background.
So it’s not to say those other things aren’t important, but they just need to be a part of the—you know, it’s adding up, and that takes a little bit more time to find out those things than simply walking up and asking the typical questions of, “How many kids to you have? What job to you have?” and the same three or four questions you typically ask.
So giving ourselves a little more time to build those relationships, and then having progressed through those five stages is what we’re hoping to do. Having more people in the funnel initially and trusting that a few of them will develop into and create those intimate “friendimate” relationships that we want.
CP: “Friendimate,” OK. Now I’ve got you. What you talk a little bit about—you know, there’s a culture of loneliness, especially among women. Can you say more about that, what you’ve seen and what has given rise to your friendship circles and the book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen?
SN: Yes, I do, and I have a keynote [where] I actually talk about—I call it a surprising epidemic among today’s social, busy, popular women. It is, there’s a loneliness. I feel like it’s permeating our culture. I have yet to stand in front of an audience where, if I talk about loneliness, most women will be like, “No, no,” and we don’t use the word ourselves. But as soon as I define it, I can look out and I just see hundreds of eyes, it just suddenly hits their heart.
We are in fact a very lonely—we want more relationships. We want more connection. We want the deep, easy, meaningful stuff. We don’t want to just know more people. We actually really want those close, easy, be-with-me, let’s-journey-life-together friendships. And there’s a lot of loneliness.
So I think one of the damaging things is that there’s so much stigma around loneliness. We have a shame, almost, that admit it might be somehow misunderstood as saying, “Nobody likes me, or I have no friends, or I’m a complete loser.” We don’t admit we’re lonely very often. We’ll admit we need to lose weight, we’ll admit we are looking and want to date somebody and get married, we’ll admit we want more money. We’ll admit a lot all at once, in a lot of areas of life that we really don’t post on Facebook, or [we] admit we’re lonely and looking for friends with a huge shame around it.
So one of my callings is to help us not have a shame around it, and in fact, the opposite. I treat that as information in our bodies that, when we feel that little trigger in our bodies that just feels like that loneliness, and help women identify what that loneliness feeling is. It’s actually really valuable information for us. It’s the same as when my body tells me that I’m tired when I yawn or that I’m thirsty or that I’m hungry. We don’t want to ignore that. We don’t want to feel shame over that. We don’t want to be mad at our bodies, like, “How dare you be tired again! I just slept you yesterday!”
The point of our bodies is they need sleep, they need food, they need water, and they need connection. And when we have that information come up, we don’t want to deny it or push it down or anything. We actually want to go, “Oh, interesting. I’m craving more connection. My heart wants to be more connected to people. Wow, let me look at my life. It’s crazy because I have so many people I know,” and we’d want to look and say, “That’s interesting. What kind of connection am I craving? Could something in me want [to relate] more with somebody?”
So I think it’s a really powerful thing. Because we live in a world where it can be harder to diagnose because we’re so connected and we’re so busy and we’re so exhausted that when we think about scheduling one more date with a friend, we get stressed out over it. So we actually feel like we don’t want more of that, but we actually do want more relating and more sharing. So it’s really important to recognize a difference between those two and respond to that information.
CP: So let’s switch over to your GirlFriendCircles. It’s like a Match.com. When I was on it, I was just astonished that you’re actually matchmaking girlfriends.
SN: Yes, yes. I came up with that a couple years ago when I just realized it’s actually easier, ironically, to date than it is to make friends sometimes. Because with dating, we have a lot of protocol around it. We have an acceptance around getting asked out and getting phone numbers, that process. But when it comes to making friends, it’s actually very challenging because we can’t just walk up to a girl in a grocery store and be like, “You look fabulous. You look like fun. Let’s go have coffee.” We can’t really hit on each other appropriately.
SN: So, yes, it’s a website to help us, like, “Everyone in the city who’s open to new friends, raise your hand! Let’s get together. Let’s connect. Let’s find each other.” So it’s an attempt to help match women in small groups for sharing and getting to know each other.
CP: And how many people do you have plugged into the system, and what is the typical profile?
SN: Great question. I think we’re at 32,000 members right now across the country and into some of the cities in Canada. And the typical profile is—our most common user is women in their 30s and 40s who value friends and have moved away from their college friends. In our 20s, we still have a little bit more of that in our lives. But we have women—you can join if you’re over the age of 21, and our fastest-growing population right now is over the age of 55 and 60. I think we’re seeing a huge hunger [in] women whose kids have moved out of the house and they’re ready for, “Wow, my whole social portal doesn’t have to revolve around the kids and who their friends are,” and are going through a late divorce.
A lot of women are now retiring and are moving to be closer to their children and their grandchildren, yet they don’t have any friends there. It just goes to show [how] replacing your friends every seven years happens all through life, even when you’re in your 60s and 70s. We have so many women who are still, [in their] 70s and 80s, dealing with that same hunger and wanting to build more friendships.
Profile-wise, it’s women who are internet-savvy. They obviously have enough courage to say, “I’m going to try something new.” Every woman I’ve met, through all my events, I’m just kind of awed at how amazing and beautiful and confident and just really fabulous women [are who] join. I think [you have to be a little] gutsy to do something like that, and it shows in the women who are willing to show up. They all have had friends before, so they value it, they know it, they’re willing to do something about it.
CP: OK, and then you have circles. So here’s my question: what’s the difference and the advantages of both, between finding a match on an individual basis and actually meeting in a circle of women?
SN: What’s the difference between—
CP: Well, as far as the intimacy, the friendship. They’re sort of one-on-one, right? If I go on, I can get one person I’m in contact with, but then there’s also the opportunity for the circles, where there’s multiple women.
SN: So I think anytime you can meet in a small group of women, I think that’s usually a great way to go, because then there’s no pressure on anybody for holding up the conversation, or if it’s not an instant chemistry, it kind of allows for different personalities.
I look back on the Sex and the City foursome, and I think if any two of them had gone out on a date to meet each other, the chances of the [sex-crazed]—what was her name, Samantha—and really preppy Charlotte—the chances of those two sitting down for coffee and being like, “We are going to be best friends,” probably would have never happened. There’s something so dynamic that allows us to take a breath and be like, “OK, I don’t need every single person around this circle to be my twin or my best friend to still get [the] value of being part of a community and in a group.” So I’m a big fan of circles of women. I’m a big fan of groups. And I’m a huge fan of the one-on-one. I think those are just offer such different experiences.
In this day and age, if I need to be close to a handful of women, I don’t have time to do one on Monday night, one on Tuesday night, one on Wednesday night, one on Thursday night. And I don’t want to just spread them out, only seeing them once a month, because I want the intimacy. I don’t want to just be updating on how the last month went. For me, one of my high values, is meeting in small groups. I have three or four of my closest friends come over every Tuesday night and we have girls’ night. That’s not to say I don’t get together one-on-one with them, and I have a bunch of other friends that I do one-on-one stuff with. But to me, to be able to connect and share and be intimate at to give the value of several different people’s input all at one time—I think I’m a big fan of circles of women.
CP: Yes. I know, we talked about this, right? Our husbands are going to kill us if we join one more women’s circle, right? [Laughs]
SN: [Laughs] Exactly. It’s like, “How many do you need?” “Well, do you really want me to answer that question?”
CP: I know. He’s like, “Babe, I thought this was just once every two weeks. It seems to be more than that.” I’m like, “That’s a different group!”
SN: [Laughs] OK, research [tells] us good things. You were talking earlier about the difference between friends and husbands and children. I would say all healthy relationships serve us and give us the benefit of relationship. I could just go on and on about the health benefits of relationships. But the interesting thing about friendship over husbands and spouses and children is that those relationships actually have higher highs, but they also have lower lows. Those are the people we fight with, those are the people we’re scheduling doctor’s appointments with, we’re stressed, we’re worried about them, we lay awake wondering if they’re doing OK at school. Those are the relationships that actually have a lot of stress that comes with the benefits.
Our friendships will certainly have some moments of stress and awkwardness, but we are not scheduling their appointments, we’re not worried about their day at work tomorrow. So we are getting the benefit of the relationship, of feeling supported, of the oxytocin of the sharing, of the being seen, of having our lives witnessed. We’re getting the benefits without as much stress. So those friendships serve a relationship gap, and they give to us in ways that our family relationships often can’t do and help be a buffer for that stress.
So it’s a good thing for those of us who are trying to be out there with those female relationships. They actually really help our marriages and our ability to show up [as a mom]. I say do another circle, Chantal. [Laughs]
CP: You know, right? Slip one more in. I tell my kids I have one circle, and it’s actually—this is not the focus, but I’m like, “It helps me be a better mommy.” So now they call it the “be a better mommy circle.” [Laughs] Only two people are moms in this particular circle, but it’s funny. But it’s true.
SN: And, I’ll tell you, I used to do this workshop where I used to interview or ask women through a journal assignment of writing down the memories of their moms with female friends. “What memory do you have of your mom and her friendships? Did she go away for weekends? Did she go out for girls’ night? Did she talk on the phone in the evenings?” And I would guess that 70, 75 percent of all those workshops I taught, 75 percent of the women raised their hand and had a really hard time coming up with memories of their moms having friends.
And I just thought, at first, “That’s crazy! Surely 70 percent of your moms had friends. I can’t believe they just all didn’t have friends.” And my guess is that most of them tried to do their friendship while their kids were at school or something, and so the kids just didn’t see it. I think that’s a good intention, but isn’t it ironic that on the back end of it, their kids never saw them modeling a friendship. They don’t have memories of it, so now they—I’m working with the adult women now who feel guilty going on a girls’ weekend, taking the time out. And I think to myself, “Wow, I wish more moms could say what you’re saying. ‘You played with your friends at school today, now mommy has to go out and play with her friends.’”
It’s important to play with friends, you know? We’re allowing one night of not doing homework and bedtime each week, [which] could actually help be modeling something else really valuable to your kids. So I’m a big fan of what you’re doing. I know it’s hard to do, and hard to walk away from kids that want you and where you know what needs to be done, but I think it’s powerful modeling. There [will] be more kids, more women that will be in this world—and men who will be in this world—not feeling awkward or uncomfortable or guilty about having friends in their lives. So it’s super important.
CP: Super good point. Love that. When you’re in circles of women, it’s so easy to just get down to the fashion and the lipstick—and all these are very important, by the way, very important. You’ve got to cover it all, from lipstick to God. But how do you control that so that’s there’s a little bit more intention in the gathering?
SN: I love that. To me, I’m somebody [who], to me, if the conversation doesn’t feel meaningful, it’s not fulfilling to me. So that’s a really high value to me. One of my favorite things to do is, if I’m in a small group of at least three people, I’ll always say, “Hey, let’s just go around the circle and each share something that’s going on in our lives right now that matters, or something that’s coming up that we’re excited about.” So if it’s easy to do something like that, I have found that by giving each person allotted time—not like with a timer or anything like that, but just simply an evening where we can all sit there and talk, you’ll trigger something. You’ll trigger something I’m going to say, I’ll trigger something—we could keep talking for hours without ever actually stopping and saying, “What it is that I actually want to share?”
So even when I’m one-on-one with my friends—and it’s actually super easy for me, everyone’s trained in my life—but I always ask, “Hey, I want to hear one of the highlights in your life and one of the lowlights in your life right now. One thing you’re proud of, one thing you’re celebrating, one thing that’s stressing you out, one thing that’s causing you worry or angst.” So everyone in my life—I hardly go out with anybody or have people over without somebody at some point being like, “All right, let’s do our high/low!”
For me, if we’re going to connect and relate, I want to hear about something that’s mattering in your life right now. And I want to hear the things I can celebrate with you, and I want to hear the things I can support you around. And I think those are important, and I don’t want to be a part of a conversation where it’s all one without the other. To me, that’s important. But if that’s too structured or feels too weird for people, I’m always just saying, “Hey, it’s super easy to say, ‘Hey, before we go, let’s just each go around and share one thing that matters to us right now or one thing coming up that we can think of each other when they’re doing it,’ or something.”
I think that’s one of the easiest, most important things we can do to start taking relationships a little bit deeper. It helps invite that space for each of us to go around the circle and share. I feel like the introverts, it’s hard for them to interrupt conversations. The extroverts, we are just so entertaining, we can talk the whole time. I think it’s really important to give each person space, where we are saying, “You share with us what you think is important in your life right now, what you want us to know about you.”
CP: OK. God, I have so many questions around here, but I know we’re getting close on time. But I want to ask this one thing, because I think in our more fragment, traveling-oriented society—especially with women, there’s a lot more traveling for business that’s happening, and people moving away from original friends, that seven-year cycle, starting new lives—and I’m curious, what do you do when you have a really, really good friend and yet distance—you just don’t have the time together? When you’re [talking] on the phone, one may be more comfortable with that than another—how do you handle that? Do you just let it slip away, or do you—sometimes when you’re such good friends with somebody, it’s actually awkward to be open and talk about the relationship. And I don’t know if that’s required, or is it just a normal cycling, or you just kind of let it go or do you fight for it? What do you do?
SN: It’s great attention that you are even seeing this and observing this. So I have five circles of friends, and on the left is the most casual. Those are the relationships that we might see regularly but there’s not as much intimacy there. And on the far right are the people who are the most intimate and [we’re] the most consistent with. And the middle circle are the friends that I call the “confirmed circle.” They used to be the people who were on the far right side. They used to be our best friends, our committed friends, but because of a move—most often that’s the reason—we no longer have the consistency with them to warrant them being on the far-right side anymore, but we’re too intimate with them to have them be on the left side.
So they’re in the middle, holding our heart. They’re the people we can pick up with wherever we left off and the people we are not talking to very often. And you have a very conscious choice in that moment. For most of the women who will be in that circle, we will have to cut back our consistency with them because you need close, local, intimate relationships that are present and near you. You do need local friends. You simply can’t move away and stay in touch with the five people you were close to in your previous city and still have the time and energy to be making new friends.
You can’t stay in touch with everybody you’ve ever known, so the vast majority of them will go to that middle circle. And being in touch with them once or twice or three times year or for a weekend trip together is super meaningful, and those are people we still want to keep those relationships alive [with], just with less consistency because there’s so much intimacy there.
A few people, though, are people I think we should choose to say, “Hey, what does it take for us to remain on the far-right side together? You’re somebody that I don’t want to put in the middle circle. I want to make sure we keep this relationship.” So one of my closest girlfriends was in Texas, and actually, it helped because when I moved to San Francisco and didn’t really know anybody—we can often go through this huge gap where we just feel totally alone, and that’s a great time to ask one of our friends who lives somewhere else, “Hey, can we talk on the phone once a week?” to just help make sure we have that intimacy in our lives, even when we don’t know very many people.
She and I talk every Wednesday at 12:00, and we have for years. So even though distance prevents us from seeing each other, she’s actually one of my very closest friends, and [even though it’s] not as intimate as [it] would but, [it is] that constant that she is there for me, and we actually are sharing. But that does take a level of intention that does not happen without scheduling, and I have found for me that the more things that I can put as a routine in my life, the easier it is for me to just step into the benefit of that relationship without the stress of that relationship.
Because the stress comes from the scheduling, the logistics, the back and forth, the trying to catch each other, the emailing, “She reached out to me last time and it’s my turn,” the guilt of, “Oh my gosh, it’s been months since I called her.” So for me, that’s the stuff I want to avoid, and I want to be enjoying the benefit of the friendship. For me, saying, “Let’s talk the first Friday of every month,” or, “Let’s talk every other Wednesday at noon,” or, “Hey, email’s going to be enough for me.”
I don’t think it needs to be awkward. I think it’s saying to somebody, “You matter enough to me. I don’t want to lose touch with you. I want to stay close to you, but I think we’re going to have to schedule it in to make that work and keep it so we’re not having to try to catch each other on the fly here and there.” So I think it’s a really beautiful question, and offer an invitation to say to somebody you love and you want to keep in your life.
CP: Right, right. Well, that’s great. OK, so, now Emerging Women, this organization is really about bringing intimacy and relationship and other feminine qualities into positions of leadership, and maybe changing—hopefully changing, definitely going to change, let me reframe that—the way leadership is being played out right now in all different sectors. And so I’m curious, because I definitely feel that relationship, and, to some degree, intimacy, is going to help on the business side as well as on the friendship side.
Do you see that a lot? It used to be, “Oh, you can’t be friends with someone that you’re doing business with.” Or, “Don’t ever go into business with someone that you’re friends with.” And yet, those lines, especially as women are becoming more and more engaged at a leadership level, are, in my experience, becoming more and more blurred as we get more into a relationship-based leadership and business style. Is there muddy waters there that we need to be aware of? Just generally, what do you think about that?
SN: Yes, great question. I have an entire workshop I do on this for companies, because I think, A) we want to have friends at work. I’m a big fan—that is still the #1 place that we are spending all of our time, and that makes it the easiest place for us to be consistent with somebody and have friendships grow. And we’re happier at work if we have friends. We will stay longer, we will not go to other jobs, often, if we feel like we have good friends in one place. We’re willing to be there for that. So it’s a really strong thing for a company to have those kinds of friendships.
With that said, I do think it needs to be—there are certainly parameters and good guidelines for helping know how to develop a relationship with a little bit more thoughtfulness. I’m a big fan of being—I have what I call a “friendimacy triangle,” which is a triangle that helps show vulnerability and how levels of vulnerability [are] appropriate in all relationships. You should never be meeting somebody and just pouring your heart out to them. I call that the “emotional prostitute,” or “one night stand,” something like that.
We are building relationships with commitment and vulnerability. And in a work place, I really stress that, because it is important that we are building that carefully and slowly and intentionally. And yes, you’re right, I do think the blinds do have to come together. And I think our lives, our world, will benefit from knowing what healthy friendships looks like and knowing how to work together. That might involve us seeing more conversations, and it definitely invites us to these more awkward moments.
But I am a big fan of awkward moments. I’m always saying to people, “Don’t avoid awkward! Just because it’s awkward doesn’t mean it’s bad. ‘Awkward’ means there’s opportunity for something there. It’s always awkward before you meet somebody. When you go walk into a café for a connecting circle with GirlFriendCircle and you don’t know the other women, of course it’s awkward. Why would it not be? You’ve never met them. But that doesn’t mean you have to lean away from it. Of course it’s awkward to do business with a friend, because there’s going to be times when you get mad at each other. There’s going to be times when you’re going to do it differently and expect the other person to do something the way you do it.
Of course it’s going to be awkward. But awkward is good, as long as you’re willing to say, “OK, it’s awkward, and what conversation do I need to have now to help bring more clarity and more intimacy and more safety to this relationship?” So there will be awkwardness, and I think that’s where women especially—we have so much room for growth in speaking for what we need and articulating what we need. I work with a lot of women who I don’t even think stop and say, “What is it I need from this? What do I actually need if I’m going to go on with that?” What we need, we need to learn to ask for it with kindness and with clarity and with confidence.
So [this is] another part where friendship is important, because our [in] our friendships, we can practice these things. It’s [with] my friends where I can practice asking for what I need so that when I’m in a work environment with new friends, I’m much better, I’m practiced at asking for what I need with people who’ve already loved me well, so it helps me be able to do it better.
That’s why I say friendships can save the world, because I get to practice shining around people who are happy for me and cheering for me to shine. So it makes it easier for me to stand up in an environment where I need to shine and give my best contribution and do my thing and stand in my power, even if I’m not being cheered for at that moment. That’s where we have to practice these awkward conversations. Sorry, that’s kind of a long, rambling answer, but yes, we need friends at work, and yes, we need to have more conversations around that. [Laughs]
CP: Right, yes. It’s so important right now, especially as we’re going to be emphasizing, more and more, vulnerability and friendships and connections and intimacy, even within the workplace. I think this is all being created right now, so the work you’re doing is very important to identify where the boundaries are and what’s permissible and what’s encouraged and, “Hey, that’s too far.” I think people, especially men as they’re learning this, there’s going to have to be some kind of—I don’t know if it’s workshops or some kind of education around what’s actually appropriate and what’s beneficial.
SN: Great conversations and guidelines and visuals and stuff like that. It’s an interesting thing because I think friends outside of work, we’re getting much, much, much more comfortable bringing business into our friendships. But with the workplace, there still aren’t—I don’t feel a lot of open doors with the company saying, “Oh, yes, friendship, we really need to talk about that in this place.” It’s happening, obviously friendships are happening there, but it’s nothing something that’s being really discussed or done with a way of, “Let’s make sure we get the benefits of friendship in as many ways as we can with as little of the awkwardness and the boundaries as possible,” you know, the over-stepped boundaries.
So I think you’re right. I think we’re ripe for saying we can’t parcel out our lives and compartmentalize. We’re all showing up wanting to make our contribution, and we’re going to do it with people we know. So those two things are going to be all over each other.
CP: Yes. I wanted to end with—and I know you must have a gazillion best friends—
SN: I don’t. [Laughs]
CP: You don’t? OK, so I’m curious to see how many best friends you have, and pick one and tell us something about her.
SN: Oh, that’s so beautiful. And I said I don’t because a best friend requires consistency and intimacy, and I don’t think—you have to limit who you do that with. I would be lonely if I tried to give [equally] to everybody. So for me, I’m very clear that I have three or four women that get priority in my life.
And one of them is Daneen, and one of the things I love about her is our lives are very different. She’s a mother, I’m not. We are both doing very different contributions in this world and we do it very differently. And we’ve had some awkward moments. There were times where she’s wanted more from me, like I could sense that I wasn’t offering to be with her child as much as she wanted. So there’s moments of awkward again, and one of the things that I love is we had so many beautiful conversations, probably several years ago, but it helped bond us as being able to say, “Hey, I feel a little bit of something, like I’m disappointed in our relationship. Can we talk about it? What are your expectations? Can I talk about what I can do and what I can’t do?”
We had so many conversations that started with awkwardness, and in those moments, I realized how easy it would be to have relationships drift away, because I could just sit there and be like, “Oh my goodness, she’s expecting too much, her life is so different. I can’t be this and she’s not living up to what I want anymore.” It’d be so easy to pull away and move on and drift apart, but those conversations, I’m telling you, now we are reaping the benefits of just trusting each other completely and just having complete honesty and where we can sit there and say, “Give me honest feedback.”
And I just know she adores me and loves me, and I love her and adore her. Yes, it feels so good to have somebody who’s local, who’s intimate, who’s a champion of mine and I’m a champion of hers. We’re both doing our thing in this world, and we both get criticism, with both get celebrated, and we both get to be there and know that we’ve got somebody who knows us on the backend that [knows] we’re not as amazing as our image and our PR bios. But we’re not as horrible as the critics out there who call us whatever. So it’s beautiful to have those kinds of people in our lives.
CP: Fabulous. That’s wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing, Shasta. It’s been a pleasure.
SN: You’re welcome! Your questions are so beautiful! I’ve done so many of these, and I mean it when I say you have very insightful questions. I loved them, it was very fun.
CP: Oh, you’re sweet. Well, to me, I started Emerging Women based on my women’s circle. So this, like I said when we first started, within five minutes I was like, “Oh, kindred spirit!” So I feel like this topic is super important. And it’s also a topic that people—I don’t know if it’s because of the shame, but they just make it seem unimportant, or it doesn’t rank as high as financial and marriage and all the other sectors of our lives that we do tend to plant seeds and grow and tend. Thank you for doing this.
SN: I agree 100 percent. You are welcome, thanks for helping give a platform for it, because I agree, it’s not something that we—my publisher told me, “Women will go buy books on romantic relationships, they’ll buy any one that promises that it will help them find romance, and they’ll buy every book on parenting when they’re pregnant. But they will not walk in bookstores and buy books on friendship.” And I just thought, “Why is that?” We just don’t—you’re right, it’s not an area of life that we treat with the respect that research is actually showing helps significantly.
CP: Right. There’s a high value here!
SN: Yes! So thank you for inviting me to visit
CP: High value!
SN: It means a lot. [Laughs]
CP: OK, well, thank you Shasta, and more to come! I’m looking forward to you being at the Seattle Power Party, that’s going to be a blast.
SN: Yay! I can’t wait to meet you and to continue our friendship.
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