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Speaker reflects on necessary elements in healthy friendships

| Tuesday, October 10, 2017

As part of Relationship Violence Awareness month, Notre Dame’s Gender Relations Center hosted speaker Shasta Nelson, author of “Frientimacy” and “Friendships Don’t Just Happen!,” to lecture about loneliness and how to build healthy friendships that combat it.

love and Frientimacy WEBRosie LoVoi | The Observer

The feeling of loneliness, or the longing for more meaningful connections, affects most people at some point in their lives, Nelson said.

“What we have going on right now is not just the loneliness epidemic — and I don’t use that word lightly,” Nelson said. “Some doctors are coming out and calling it the number one public health issue of our time.”

“Loneliness is simply your body’s way of giving you information that there’s something your body needs,” Nelson said. “I must need more meaningful connections.”

The effect of loneliness on a person’s physical health are the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic and is more harmful than not exercising and obesity, Nelson said.

“Today’s profile of a lonely person, the loneliest people in our culture right now are successful, ambitious, accomplished and often around people all day long and yet they’re still not feeling seen in a safe and satisfying way,” Nelson said. “They’re amazing with people, they’re caring for people [and] they’re giving to people but they’re the loneliest people.”

Nelson defines friendship not as how much you like somebody but as “a relationship between two people where both people feel seen in a safe and satisfying way.”

The epitome of a healthy relationship, according to Nelson, is “frientimacy.”

“We all need more intimacy in our lives than romantic relationships can provide,” Nelson said. “We are meant to be connected, we are meant to be known, we are meant to feel safe, we are meant to be seen in a safe and satisfying way and that is frientimacy.”

Research has shown that deepening current relationships is the issue, rather than not meeting the right people. To deepen relationships we have, repair unhealthy relationships and embark on new friendships, Nelson uses the acronym PVC, which stands for positivity, vulnerability and consistency.

“Positivity means we need to feel good for having been with each other,” Nelson said. “We need to have five positive feelings for every negative stresser that relationship experiences or brings to your life.”

Examples of positivity in friendship are affirmation and validation, acts of service, experiencing laughter or moments of pride and awe together.

“Our friends we get to choose and whether we know it or not we are going to gravitate towards the people who make us feel better,” Nelson said. “Hopefully every time I’m with my friends they leave my presence feeling better about themselves and their life.”

Nelson said a sense of stability is also necessary in healthy relationships.

“Consistency means repetition,” Nelson said. “It means regularity, it means building history, it means logging the hours, it means making the memories it means we are spending time together.”

The repetition of seeing each other makes a friendship feel safe because a person’s actions can be predicted, Nelson said.

One of the biggest complaints she receives, Nelson said, is that people feel the effort of initiating spending time together is one-sided in a friendship.

“Some people need to practice it for sure,” Nelson said. “At the end of the day if I need friendship I just need to say I will be the initiator. I am actually building my friendship, I am doing for me what needs to be done.”

Men are told at a young age that vulnerability is only acceptable in romantic relationships but it is extremely important for male friendships as well as female, Nelson said.

There are several ways to express vulnerability, Nelson said, including sharing insecurities, initiating contact and sharing moments of success.

“We don’t need to downplay who we are,” Nelson said. “If we can’t practice shining in front of our friends what chance do we have of doing it in a world that desperately needs us to show up in our best greatest biggest selves.”

Though combinations of positivity, vulnerability and consistency can create great experiences, Nelson said, at the end of the day they are not healthy friendships unless they include all three.

“A healthy relationship is when you practice these three things,” she said. “It has nothing to do with how much you like each other. The more you like each other the more you’ll practice these three things and the more you practice these three things the more you’ll like each other.”

Often people blame loneliness on not having met the right people and that friendships just magically happen, Nelson said.

“The truth is you are meeting people every day who could be your best friend. The trick is how do I be consistent with that person, when I see them how do I add positivity to their and be open to vulnerability when it’s ready,” she said.

Nelson concluded with a call to action, asking people to practice consistency, positivity and vulnerability in their relationships.

“The only place you do any personal growth in this world is in your relationships,” she said. “Don’t back down, keep leaning in [and] keep loving. You need it, it’s the number one thing for your health. The world needs, it, it’s the number one solution to our addictions, to our homelessness and to our mental health. We need each other, we were made for this.”

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