“Do you work better individually or in a group setting?”
Ugh, the interview question I’ve always hated. Like, I mean, what’s the better answer here? The introvert in me prefers to do most things alone, but then again, I’m always ready for a good ol’ collaboration. For the past few days, this question has been scrolling across my mind in a different way as I dive deeper into new ways to build community among women.
“Do you DO LIFE better individually or in a group setting?”
Obviously the better answer here is together. Right? We thrive together. We grow together. We learn from one another. And we combine our gifts to become a collective force. We are just better together.
Or are we?
Do we find strength in numbers? Or do we do more harm than good?
How many of you have felt this tug? Is it an innate desire in all women? Do we all crave that community?
I stumbled on a gem of a podcast. I have no idea how, or when, or even where I found it. I just came across a note in my phone telling me to “download Girls Night podcast.” So I did. And I’m publicly thanking Jesus for this podcast because (gahhh…) it speaks to my soul. Shout out to you, Stephanie May Wilson, for what you’ve created. This space is just so special. And so needed. And so…..everything!
“…we talk through one of the biggest questions we have about our lives as women: we’re talking about friendships and faith and relationships and self-confidence. About our calling in life and how to live every bit of our lives to the absolute full. Life is so much better, and easier, and absolutely more fun when we navigate it together as girlfriends…”
I meeeeean, this is the podcast intro. This is the foundation. Community with women, building healthy relationship with women, navigating the difficulties, and embracing the joys.
Feels almost like a summation of my journey. Both the ebbs and flows of past friendships and of current ones, and lessons to grow through for the future. Because, if I’m being real, this area has tugged on my heart for months. This annoying little weight that’s just planted itself within my personal space. Women and community. That’s what I gravitate to. Opening the circle and finding ways to encourage women to plug in. To do life together. To love and support one another in a way that fulfills an internal need in them, but acts as a solution to an external need to the world.
It is impossible for us to show up in the world the way God intended us to if we’re not surrounded by people who love us, support us, encourage us, make room for us.
—Stephanie May Wilson
I talked a little about my struggle with friendship in my previous post “Best Friends Forever,” I’ve been fortunate over the last year and half to have overcome a lot of personal issues (A. LOT.) in order to build some pretty solid female friendships. But I wasn’t always the best friend. I can be a little needy at times when it comes to friendship (Literally heard a collective “AMEN TO THAT!” from my little peanut gallery) I chased community for so long. I was a little girl surrounded by brothers and male cousins and I longed for relationship with other little girls. I built my first friendships in pre-school and then had the same circle of friends from Kindergarten to third grade. I switched schools in the fourth grade and built a community of friends – some of which I still do life with today. These friends would sustain me through much of middle school. But then came new friendships in high school. Some in junior college. Others at university. And then the post-college – ya know, real adulting – friendships. I’ve always wanted “my person” and “my people” and relationship building has been my core for as long as I can remember.
But that didn’t make it easy. Or should I say I didn’t make it easy. I got in my own way much of the time, held these extremely selfish expectations of others and turned my cheek to the real issues lying dormant inside of me. Over months of deeper self-exploration, I’ve been able to better assess who I am in these relationships, how I show up, what I bring to the table, and what I’m looking for. Life looks so much different now. I’m working towards some pretty fruitful friendships, understanding dynamics better. Life is good, right? Friendship is easy.
Until it’s not.
Until I hit some road blocks I wasn’t prepared for. Roadblocks I knew I needed to handle in new and different ways, for handling out of my previous system would ultimately lead to aggression, separation and the possible dissolution of relationships. Because that was my thing before – fighting, resisting, store housing, ignoring, and then if necessary, the official “cut off.”
But not now. Not after all I’ve learned. Knowing all that I crave. Now I want to do different. But how? How do I journey through these road blocks? How do I determine boundaries around friendship? When to speak and when not to speak? When to push a little harder and when to back off? When to end a friendship and when to simply allow it space to grow in its own way? I’m encouraged by women doing life together – rather successfully – giving so much of themselves to secure a dynamic within their own lives and within their own circles, but what happens when the bonds you’re attempting to build for the sake of your own mental, emotional, spiritual and relational needs are twisted into something negative. Falsely highlighted as something they’re not?
These are hard roads to steer.
As I grow in my faith and work towards the purpose I feel very evidently placed in front of me, my heart is for women and community. Creating a safe haven to foster transparency and vulnerability, building circles built on inclusion instead of exclusivity, providing security and confidence in order for women to stand firmly and fully in their design. Knowing that they are one of a kind. That only one brain, heart, face, personality and attitude exists like theirs. I want a place that gives each a voice in the conversation. A place for each at the table.
Understanding the difficulty in creating and maintaining strong, healthy, nurturing female friendships may just be my life’s work. But I can encourage you with some DO’s and DON’T’s that might make these road blocks a little easier to journey. I, too, was here. Choosing these very behaviors over communication and compromise, living in a self-centered space, unwilling to change. And if I’m being really honest, it’s in the moments that I revert back to this behavior – or encounter someone engaging in it – that I’m reminded of my own growth because of solid friendships. Strong, powerful, emotionally healthy friendship among women.
How do I journey through these road blocks?
WHEN THERE’S A ROADBLOCK IN AN EXISTING RELATIONSHIP: I refer to this as the “ruffled feathers” roadblock. When this roadblock hits, you experience a bump in an otherwise smooth relationship. Some of the questions you may be struggling with include:
How do I determine whether boundaries are needed in this friendship?
When do I speak up and when do I shut up?
When should I push harder and when should I back off?
Is this the end of a season of friendship or does it just need space?
DON’T storehouse. There is nothing worse that holding onto to feelings and frustrations, especially if they become compounded by external factors. If something is bothering you and you haven’t decided whether to share or simply haven’t formed all the words to share (<— totally me!), journal them down. Speak them into a voice recorder on your phone. Basically, get them off your chest until you can make sense of them. Pray for the wisdom to know whether or not what you are feeling needs to be shared, or simply expressed.
DON’T take outside situations out on your inner circle. Love your tribe well. Whether it be family drama, work stresses, relationship strain, or just overwhelm trying to pick out the perfect outfit for a hot date, take a moment to breathe before interacting with your circle. It has a domino effect and really, there’s nothing worse that giving them all the attitude because something else pissed you off. Because then they’ll be affected, and they could likely affect someone else…it’s just a vicious cycle.
DON’T confuse a situation rubbing you the wrong way with a person rubbing you the wrong way. Be able to differentiate the two and understand that situations are temporary, people are more permanent. When assessing a disconnect in the friendship, try and pinpoint whether it is circumstantial or personal.
DO find out what offers you the most peace. And then go do that. Go be there. Go sit wherever you need to for restoration. You should take a moment each day to find your peace. Recenter. Refocus. And re-energize. Don’t take yesterday’s trouble into tomorrow. “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34 Determining your source of peace in a relationship will allow you to better assess where boundaries need to be established.
DO step away from the screen. I come from a time when we actually built relationships in person. We didn’t just “friend” someone on social media. We actually had to interact face to face, make plans to get together on weekends or plan sleepovers. We had to actually make time for each other instead of just liking photos or commenting on posts. I’m so thankful for that time. Thankful for those interactions and what they taught me about fostering relationship in person. It’s so necessary.
DO more of the H.E.A.R.T conversations (thanks to Girls Night podcast for this one!)
Honest. Elephant Sized. Authentic. Real. Transparent – DJ KB
Have those talks. Ask the harder questions. Dig a little deeper. Penetrating new levels of intimacy in friendship is one way to, not only grow closer, but also to discover pain points in someone’s life. This allows you to navigate those emotions a little softer, or easier. Saves you from a lot of toe-stepping and possible road blocks in the future.
WHEN THERE’S A ROADBLOCK ON THE WAY TO STARTING – OR JOINING – A CIRCLE OF FRIENDSHIP: No fun reference for this one, but this is there may be two types of folks hitting this roadblock. Those who are looking to start their own tribe, or those who just want to effortlessly squeeze into an existing group of women. With this roadblock, some of the questions you may be struggling with include:
What are my mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational needs?
What is it I want in a friendship?
What do I see in a particular group that I like? Don’t like?
DO more self-discovery. One of the best ways to understand what you are looking for in friendship is understanding yourself. Knowing your design brings about so much more confidence and honesty when diving in to new friend circles. Or making your own. Know what rubs you the wrong way, what you enjoy most about yourself, what your love language is…#allthethings.
DO share. Gather up your courage and be a little vulnerable. One of my pet peeves are people who want the benefits of a vulnerable relationship but don’t want to open up about their own lives. And I’m taking a page straight out of my own story with this one! I sat in church for years wishing some of the women leaders would know my name and talk to me, know my story, etc. But did I ever make small talk with them? Did I join ministry? Did I do anything to remotely share any part of my life with these women? NOPE. So how could expect that level of intimacy with them if I’m making zero effort? It took me 2 years to join ministry and 3 to start sharing my heart, and BOOM! Those same leaders I admired from afar are now some of the brightest gems in my circle.
DO more together. So I’ll let you in on a little secret – I have my tribe and while we started out as a small group, we LOVED spending time together. We loved getting to know one another. So while our church only recommended we gather for one hour a week, we actually do much, much more. We plan weekend retreats, go shopping together, schedule photo shoots, grab coffee, run errands, have dinner dates, celebrate birthdays together, really whatever we desire. We bonded over our shared heart for connection and simply foster our creativity to blend our lives with one another.
DON’T be bashful. Use that voice of yours. One of my friends is notorious for inviting herself to things and creating opportunities to build community. And I love it! If I say “oh, I’ll go get XYZ after work,” she’ll respond with “I’ll go with you and then we can grab coffee/dinner/dessert/whatever.” It’s in those moments, they uncover new levels.
DON’T make assumptions about a group’s exclusivity. And don’t label them. I try and live by the old adage, “don’t judge a circle by its cover.” You might be surprised to find out they’re ready to welcome you in with open arms. Again, if its true that women crave connection and crave solid friendships, why would they push people away? What’s likely happening is simply a matter of layering. You may be exposed to their outer layer, while those they’ve begun to do life with have pierced through to a deeper layer which allows them to feel a little more at ease in being their true self. This doesn’t mean you can’t break through to a new level – just means you need to get to know them a little.
DON’T live in a “survival mode” and stay in groups that make you feel unwanted, unloved or unworthy. Don’t change who you are just to fit into a group. It’s not worth it. You are uniquely you. And the right group will embrace every hot mess quirk and random expression you have within you. Those will be your people. If a group is not designed for your specific needs, you have permission to pull away. It’s okay.
So I want to know…do you have difficulty navigating friendship with women?