Full text of relationship expert Shasta Nelson’s talk: Frientimacy: The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships at TEDxLaSierraUniversity conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Frientimacy – The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships by Shasta Nelson at TEDxLaSierraUnivers
Our world is fractured by an epidemic of loneliness. And I’m not so worried about the stereotypical recluses and hermits that we kind of tend to picture when we, you know, think of that word.
I am more worried about the vast majority of us in this room who are lonely and don’t acknowledge it, who may not even recognize it in our lives.
You know, we often think, “I can’t be lonely. I know more people than I can keep in touch with.” And yet we report feeling largely unknown.
We know more people than any time in history, and yet we feel very much like we have nobody to confide in. Our social networks just keep growing and growing and growing, and yet so too do our doubts about whether we actually have a safety net and who would be in it should we need it.
Modern-day loneliness is not because we need to interact more; it’s because we need more intimacy.
Case in point, one of my moments of loneliness, I was actually hanging out with five of my closest friends, and we had met on a weekly basis, we had taken a few weeks off for the holiday vacation. And we were coming back together and decided to go around the circle and each give a little update on what life had looked like in the last month.
And so when it got to the fourth person, the one right before my turn, she said something that reminded somebody of something they had read, which reminded that person of something that their sister had said over the holiday, and you know where this is going — the train left the station, and I had not shared.
And I remember thinking, “Any minute now, one of them is going to say, ‘Oh wait, we should get back to the sharing so we can hear about Shasta’s holiday.'” Nope.
And then somebody looked at their watch, and said, “Oh, I didn’t realize the time. I need to go.”
I said, “Oh, they’re going to feel so bad when one of them realizes like ‘Wait, we haven’t heard from Shasta yet.'”
And they, one by one, hugged me, and we all said goodbye, and we left.
And I got in my car, and I was driving away from time with friends, and I have this little, I don’t know — you have this? I have a two-year-old bratty voice in my head. She’s got pigtails and she was like all huffy and puffy and was like, “I can’t believe it. Seriously, you’re the one that’s facilitating sharing time, and then they don’t even want to hear from you? You need better friends.”
I had friends. My loneliness wasn’t from lack of friendships; my loneliness was because I didn’t feel seen. And “frientimacy,” the closest relationship we have — “friendship intimacy” — is where two people both feel seen in a safe and satisfying way. I did not feel that, and I am not alone.
When I asked over 6,000 people in the last couple of years, “How fulfilling are your friendships on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most satisfying, how close do you feel with your friends?”
Think about that number for a second. On any of my surveys, anywhere between 50% to 70% of us score a five or below. We are not just leaning toward dissatisfaction with our closest of our relationships; we are two to four times more likely to put a one or a two than we are to say we’re fulfilled with a nine or ten.
This is a lot of relationship dissatisfaction. We are hungry for being close to each other.
And contrary to popular advice, when this loneliness happens, the answer is not “Go meet more people. Join a club. Make new friends.” The answer is actually learn how to develop better friendships.
The vast majority of us have never taken a class on how to build relationships. And so I went and I compiled — like when you would look at all the social scientists and what they’re studying when they look at what bonds any two people, who we confide in, what makes two people best friends, what makes for a healthy marriage, what builds trust.
Three common denominators emerge. And it’s like a formula: you have to have all three. You can’t just have two of them, so I want to unpack all three of these, and I use what I call a “Frientimacy Triangle” so we can see how they fit together.
At the beginning of all our relationships, the first requirement is the letter P, and that is POSITIVITY. Because how many of you woke up this morning and thought, “I wish I just had a few more cranky, whiny, manipulative people in my life that made me feel like I was never doing enough”?
When we want friendship, we want the reward, we want joy, we want to feel good. This comes from smiles and laughter and kindness and acts of service and empathy and validation, gratitude, affirmation — all those things that leave us feeling accepted.
And let’s be clear. This does not mean we have to be Pollyanna. We still get to cry on each other’s shoulders, and we still get to vent and complain.
But social science is telling us that every relationship, to stay healthy, has to have a ratio of five positive interactions for every negative interaction. So that means for every withdrawal you’re making, from your whining and complaining, you have to be making five deposits of joy and reward. Requirement for all healthy relationships.
The second requirement, the letter C, is CONSISTENCY. Because we’ve all met people we enjoy and are positive and have fun being around, but if we never saw them again, that wasn’t a friendship.
Consistency is the hours logged. It’s the history we build. It’s the time we spend together. This is where we make rituals and we create patterns. We increase our interactions. This is where we get to know each other.
This is actually — as we put consistent time in together, this is actually how we build consistent — we start knowing what consistent behavior looks like. This is where trust happens, this one.
When we say, “I want to trust somebody,” we don’t ever want to feel we’re walking on eggshells, meaning we don’t know how to predict how you’re going to respond. We feel safe when we can predict, and we can predict by we have created a pattern, and we spend more time with each other.
This is actually the one that made friendship feel automatic when we were kids because school was consistent. And this is the one we still end up building relationships at work, at school, at church and associations because our consistency is automatic.
You wouldn’t pick those people to be your friends if you had a lineup of 20 other options. You’re friends with them because you have consistency with them, and you end up building these other two components in.
A lot of us have relationships that we enjoy — the positivity — and that we do things on a regular basis, but without the third requirement, it’s not a healthy friendship.
And the third requirement is VULNERABILITY. Vulnerability is where we share, where we reveal, where we let people in and let more of us be seen.
I teach five different types of vulnerability in my book, but suffice it to say, it’s not just sharing the skeletons in your closet, the insecurities and the shame. It’s also talking about what’s going well and your successes and risk bragging to your friends.