Friendships are connected to the very heart of being human. We are social creatures who thrive on quality relationships. The quality of our friendships can affect our health throughout our lives. As we get older making friends can be difficult. Our busy lives often have friendship taking the back seat. People move more often these days and maintaining ties while cultivating new ones can require a friendship strategy. Whether you are new to town or new to a neighborhood, you are never too old to meet new people. Shasta Nelson, founder and CEO of GirlfriendCircles.com (GFC) discusses the art of friendship. Nelson has a Masters in Divinity and has been able to expand GFC to 35 cities throughout the U.S. and is the author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends.
How did you get inspired to create GFC?
When I realized that the profile for a lonely woman today was actually the networked, busy, capable, and accomplished woman… I was coaching several of them and one said, “I can line up 3 dates on match.com for this weekend, but I can’t figure out who else in this city is looking for girlfriends!” And I woke up the next morning and pretty much said, “There has got to be an easier way for us to find each other.” Women are replacing half their friends every 7 years so it’s pretty normal to need friends at various life stages, after job changes, after moves, etc. Whether we have a circle of friends impacts our health in bigger ways than whether we’re married or exercise– it’s time we make it easier for women to experience connection.
What is your new friendship book about?
Friendships Don’t Just Happen! is a guidebook for women who want to create more meaningful friendships in their lives. It felt more automatic when we were kids, and no one has ever taught us to go about making friends as adults. When it comes to romance we know the protocol and acceptable behavior– how to flirt, how to know if someone is single, that someone needs to ask the other out on a first date, etc. But when it comes to two women trying to start a friendship– we have none of that! And most of us don’t even know what we don’t know– most women who have read my book exclaim “Why has no one ever taught us this before?” We want to believe it just happens to us, we forget that friendships is something we make happen.
Sometimes I think that friendships are easier to cultivate depending on where one lives. For example, the Bay Area seems to have its share of flakes who don’t seem to have the same concept of reliability in friendships. Is this a false beliefs or is there something to location and the ability create deep friendships?
Certainly every place has a personality and DNA to that city of what’s “normal”, but almost everyone thinks their city is a difficult city for friend-making for some reason or another so I actually think the more helpful approach is to know that in every city there are women who are open to friends and who want meaningful friendships– then to show up the way we believe will be most conducive to friendship. When I first moved to Seattle back in 2000, I knocked on the doors of everyone on my apartment building floor to deliver cookies and in traduce myself. When I discovered that a few of the apartments had women in them, I decided to invite them all over for dinner at the same time… and we all became friends. We all laugh about it now as we look back since many of those women had lived there for 4 years and never met each other. So while it wasn’t the “norm” to go meeting neighbors– every single one of them loved having friends on their floor!
Urban areas have a degree of transience which doesn’t support long-term friendships. However, I read a blog post of yours where one woman in LA was able to create a new circle of friends by joining GFC. How did she she do it effectively?
Transience also gives us great opportunities to make friends because it makes sure that there are other women in our cities who are also looking for friends and not already part of a clique! Here’s a link to a great post about the women in LA and the advice they give: http://www.girlfriendcircles.com/blog/index.php/2013/08/girlfriendcircles_testimony_advice_success_san-diego/
Why are friendships harder to create as you get older? Sure people have less time, more responsibilities, families of their own, but are there other factors that are not entirely situational?
I don’t think they are harder as we get older– in fact some women find it easier as they age because they start realizing what their priorities should be and how much friends matter. Certainly they are harder after we graduate from school in that now we don’t have consistency with the same people structured for us as much. But I’d argue that every life stage has it’s challenges and opportunities for friendships. For example, after you have kids, in some ways it’s easier to meet people because of the plethora of mothers groups and school communities, but in other ways it’s harder to build deep friendships because time is limited, exhaustion is prevalent, and long conversations get interrupted more. I’d say that every age or life stage is similar– some challenges and some advantages– so we just need to keep realizing that the “game” changes and we want to be open to friend sing the best possible way for our lives today.
If you were to give the top five ways to make new friends by decade (20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, ++) what would they be?
I’ll give the top four tips that would be helpful to anyone of any age: 1) Realize that you don’t need what you think you need in common with other women– you don’t have to both be single, both work corporate, both be retired, or both be stay-at-home moms. You might want one friend who “gets” that experience, but we can afford to be way more open and experiential with who we start friendships with. 2) The most important factor to a friendship is consistency, or regularity. The more you see each other, the faster you can build the friendship. If your consistency isn’t built in for you–a job, a weekly group, a daily class– then it’s your job to figure out how to structure seeing each other as frequently as possible. 3) Error on the side of positivity. You want the proverbial friend whose shoulder you can cry on, but that is an honor that is given with time. When starting friendships be conscious about the value and joy you’re adding to the other person. 4) Initiate repeatedly. Beyond valuing consistency in the friendship, you have to be willing to reach out again and again. Unless you’re getting a clear no or a very cold shoulder, rest assured that you’re giving the gift any friendship needs to get it off the ground. She can give to you later in other ways. Just step up and keep putting different invitations out there without taking it personally or expecting that you should be taking turns with invitations. It just doesn’t work that way– some people are too shy, busy, distracted or insecure– and just because they don’t initiate evenly doesn’t mean it’s about you or that there aren’t interested.
For someone who is new to GFC, how have you designed the website so that they can effectively find the right social circle for them?
GirlFriendCircles.com is like a match.com for female friends, except that we also provide some extra ways to meet other women such as our ConnectingCircles where 3-6 women meet at a local cafe to get to know each other in a small group. The most effective way to meet the people you want to friend is to attend at least 2-3 of those ConnectingCircles. Of everyone surveyed in GFC, over 80% of them report success with having a couple of new friends if they attended at least 2-3 ConnectingCircles.
Describe the Friendship Accelerators that you host in a one day intensive?
I basically match up groups of strangers and lead them through a one-day workshop where they are learning about healthy friendship and getting to know the women in their group. They also commit to getting together 4 more times in the next month. Basically what would take someone 6 months to make happen– we can make happen in one month! We are accelerating the time together and making sure it’s time well spent! You can read more about it here: https://girlfriendcircles.com/accelerator.aspx
To learn more about Shasta Nelson, please visit the following sites:
Huffington Post Column: www.huffingtonpost.com/shasta-nelson-mdiv/