Shasta Nelson has made a career out of understanding, encouraging, and helping women make and maintain healthy friendships. In Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, she breaks down what we seek in intimate friendships and how we can do our part to attain them.
While bookstore shelves bend under the weight of books about romantic relationships, the literature on friendship is surprisingly sparse. But when push comes to shove, as life often does, friends are our buffers, sounding boards, cheerleaders, and straight talkers. If we’re lucky, we have friends who have known us throughout our lifetime. Many friendships just pass through our lives. But friendships of all kinds are as much a backbone of life as family. Sometimes they are our family.
Friends are important, and developing fulfilling friendships is important. Frientimacy is a “relationship where two people feel really seen in a way that feels satisfying and safe for both of them,” Nelson writes. It is the Platonic ideal of friendship that we carry in our hearts: the friend who is always glad to hear from us, always game for an outing, always listens with love and wisdom. We seek those friends with the wistful longing of preadolescent love, waiting for our own (Carrie Bradshaw? Insert your favorite girlfriend archetype here) to stumble into our lives and sprinkle the fairy dust of frientimacy on us.
When no perfect friend appears, we find ourselves stuck with the imperfect cast of characters already in our lives, our disappointing gaggle of friends. The ones who don’t invite us out enough, who talk about themselves too much, who forget to ask about important events, with whom we struggle to develop anything more than friendly acquaintanceship.
But these are the people, Nelson writes, we should look to for frientimacy. She says, “Many women remain lonely because they think having close friends is a product of discovering the right people. But the truth is that meaning friendship is actually the product of developing the right friendships.” And Nelson goes on to say, “We don’t need better friends, we need better friendships.”
Part One of Frientimacy focuses on the problem — the nagging feeling many women have that their friendships lack true intimacy. In Part Two, Nelson builds her advice for better friendships around a “Frientimacy Triangle,” with positivity as the base of the triangle; consistency as one leg; and vulnerability as the other.
Low positivity is just a bummer — the friendship that leaves us drained, angry, or unhappy in some way. Low consistency — not investing time in the friendship — leaves us with lives that are “just a collection of conversations and dinner parties,” Nelson writes. Consistency is the way to build trust into a friendship, and that basically means showing up, again and again. Nelson points out, “There is no way to develop friendships without time.” Vulnerability requires both admitting vulnerability to your friends, and allowing them, even inviting them into, a safe space to express their own vulnerability.
Drawing from her own life, interviews with other women, and research, Nelson explains and provides strategies for developing each side of the triangle, while providing a wake-up call to the ways we ourselves might be contributing to our own dissatisfaction with our friendships. For example, in the chapter on positivity, Nelson examines perceived imbalances of giving and receiving and finds there’s a good chance that if you consider yourself the giver in relationships, other people are thinking the same thing about themselves. You just both might see giving differently.
Part Three examines “Obstacles to Intimacy” — what blocks and errors we might make or encounter that negatively affect our friendships, such as fearing rejection, jealousy, walking away from friendships too soon, or holding ourselves back. Though she writes with compassion, Nelson pulls no punches, urging us to consider whether we are defensive, demanding, or ungenerous towards our friends’ humanity, labeling people “toxic” and walking away too easily.
Nelson admonishes, “Let’s freely acknowledge that we don’t always present to our friends the most enlightened, healthy, and happy versions of ourselves — nor do they. The trick is to judge less, observe more, and continue working on ourselves.”
In Frientimacy, Nelson provides not only a new prism through which to view our friendships and our place in them, but also exercises, concrete ideas, and “Friendspiration” for transforming unsatisfying friendships into something more fulfilling.
Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness
Seal Press, March 2016
Paperback, 256 pages