Six and half years ago I moved from Virginia to Utah. It was winter and I was 8 months pregnant with baby #3. I had my baby and fell into postpartum depression. I felt alone. I didn’t have a support system or any friends. After struggling for several months my husband urged me to go see a counselor. I started seeing a woman named Joan Landes and she was absolutely wonderful. She validated me, listened to me, and gave me the necessary tools to fight my depression. One of the things I remember the most was her advice about making new friends. Real, genuine friends.
She advised me to try, what I termed, a friend test. She recommended I share something small and vulnerable about myself and see how my new friend responds. Does she move on and talk about herself? Does she change the subject? Or, does she listen and respond to my vulnerability with her own?
I am aware there are no perfect friends and even great friends may respond poorly sometimes. However, this test is a great indicator of whether or not you have a friend that you can be real, raw and open with.
Here is an example.
I am at Beth’s house for an arranged playdate. Our kids are playing outside and the opportunity to share something small and vulnerable comes up during our conversation. I mention the fact that when I moved to a new state, I did not have a support system after having a baby and I felt very alone. That’s it, I don’t go into details about my depression or how it wreaked havoc on my life. I keep it simple, short and just vulnerable enough to open the door.
Possible reaction #1:
Beth’s body language tenses up a little bit. She mentions how messy her kids are and picks up a few toys before changing the subject. I opened the vulnerability door and she didn’t walk in. I don’t give up on her as a friend, I just know that she might not be the friend that I can really open up with. She might be the friend I take shopping or workout with and she might be the friend who makes me laugh the hardest. The point is, she could become a great friend. However, if every time I try to share something vulnerable with her she closes off and changes the subject, that is my que. It obviously makes her uncomfortable and I won’t continue going there with her. Not only to protect myself, but also out of respect for her.
Possible reaction #2:
On the flip side, if Beth responds to my small and vulnerable info with a listening ear and follow up questions, then I know it doesn’t make her uncomfortable. The chances are high that she will open up and share her story with me as well. I’ve found a friend I don’t need to hide the real me from. I can be real, open and vulnerable. I opened the door and she walked in.
Try the friend test. Share something small and vulnerable with a friend and pay attention to how they respond.
I also encourage you to examine yourself and see what type of friend you are. How do you respond to a friend when they are vulnerable with you? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you change the subject or do you listen intently and see the opportunity to connect in a deeper way? Are you a friend that someone can be open and vulnerable with?
I personally don’t stop being friends with someone if they fail the vulnerability test. I just know that they are not the person I’m going to call when I’m struggling and need a listening ear. It’s that simple. I try really hard to be the friend that people can call and open up to. When someone needs a shoulder to cry on, an ear to rant to, or a friend to validate them, I hope they call me or knock on my door. I hope they know I’m here for them because I’ve shown up in the past when they issued their own friend test.
My last blog post polarized people. I got messages asking why I would be cruel and not give someone more than 3 chances to be my friend. I also got messages from people saying they agreed with me and that they had similar boundaries. Why the polarizing? I personally think it’s because people don’t understand the concept of a boundary.
You see, when I created that 3 strike rule for new friendships it had nothing to do with being upset or offended when someone said no to hanging out. I don’t have bad feelings towards another woman when she doesn’t show interest in being my friend and I certainly don’t wish her ill. I don’t judge her or change my behavior towards her after she “strikes out.” It has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me.
I’ve always been a people pleaser. I love seeing people happy. If there is something I can do to make them happy I do it, even if it isn’t healthy for me. Over the years, I’ve been hurt and my relationships haven’t been healthy because of this. When I was less mature emotionally, I would be offended when someone would turn me down from friendship. I was sure something was wrong with me, and I was determined to find out what it was and fix it. I needed everyone to be my friend and was distraught when someone wasn’t interested in me.
I learned about boundaries and started implementing them little by little. At first, it was really hard for me to stick to my boundaries, and honestly sometimes it still is. I hate making people uncomfortable and would rather suffer myself than cause someone else discomfort. However, I have learned that boundaries are the key to true connection and are the greatest form of self-love and self-care. Let me try to explain.
Boundaries are the way you share yourself with others. They are the key to trust and cooperation between individuals. If you think about it, this makes sense and feels true. Why are so many of us afraid of opening up and being vulnerable? It’s because we are afraid of being hurt. We are afraid that we will share too much of our story with someone and scare them off. We are afraid that what we share will be used against us, etc. What if we weren’t scared of any of those scenarios? What if boundaries could make you feel safe? Safe enough to share, be vulnerable, and be at peace.
That is exactly what boundaries are designed for. You create a boundary to protect and share yourself with another person. It’s the key to trust and cooperation between people. Boundaries aren’t only about “ME” they are about “ME AND YOU” and being able to connect. Boundaries require you to be honest and responsible with yourself about yourself. They require you to communicate those needs with others. When the people you share those needs with honor them, you are able to feel safe and at peace. It is a wonderful feeling.
Now unfortunately, some people misuse boundaries and create them to control others. This is wrong and burns bridges quickly. So how do you make sure you are setting them correctly and not trying to control others?
Boundaries need to be set from a calm place where you are feeling grounded. You need to be in an honest and responsible state of mind. You need to understand what’s going on inside of you.
When I created my 3 strike friend rule I was able to step back from the hurt and offense and see what was really going on inside of me. As I matured, I was able to determine that whether someone wanted to be my friend or not, I still had value. I didn’t need to change myself in order to accommodate what they liked in a friend and I wasn’t less of a person if they didn’t jump at the chance of a new friendship. Now, after setting up my boundary, I am able to freely and joyfully reach out to new people hoping they will be my friend. I have no reservations.
If after 3 attempts they aren’t showing interest, I don’t go into “people pleasing” mode and I don’t get sad. I have a boundary in place and I move on. I am at peace knowing that I did my part and I am happy with that. When I make a new friend, I know they are interested in being my friend because of my boundary. Because of that I am able to open up and be vulnerable with them. I am honest and share my good and bad with them. I have wonderful, deep friendships because of this. One of my greatest desires is to be a true and loyal friend. This 3 strike boundary is how I make sure I can connect with my friends in a real and valuable way.
1-Clearly state your boundary. Understand what you need to feel safe and at peace. Use specifics: what, when, how, and why. Share this boundary when you are calm and attentive. Use “I” statements when communicating.
2-Clearly state the consequences of the boundary and how you will enforce it. Enforcing your boundary isn’t about controlling another person. You don’t get to say “This is what you will do if you break my boundary.” Instead you say “This is what I will do if you break my boundary.”
3-Don’t set a boundary that you are not willing to enforce.
It might seem crazy that I’m writing about my friend rule during a stay at home order and a pandemic wrecking havoc on the world. When this is all over we will probably run and hug the mailman we will be so excited to be around people again. And as for friends…well everyone will be our friend right?
Even with the anticipated excitement of being able to socialize in person again, I still think it’s a good idea to have boundaries regarding the people you surround yourself with. I personally have a 3 strike rule for new friendships. That might sound awful but it’s really not. These “strikes” are just boundaries that I have made to insure that I make the right friends.
Here is my rule when it comes to new friendships. I give the people I meet and want to be friends with 3 chances to be my friend and if they don’t show interest after the 3 chances then I stop trying. That simple. Not so terrible right? Let me explain with an example.
A new girl, Cindy, moves into my neighborhood. I invite Cindy to do something with me. She says, “Thanks but I’m busy. Maybe another time?” She’s very polite but not available. I think okay no problem. I’ll ask again. STRIKE 1
Next time I invite Cindy to do something she has to decline again. In between both of these invites she has not reached out to me at all. STRIKE 2
I reach out to Cindy a third time, but again she declines and doesn’t show any interest in scheduling another time for us to get together. She doesn’t say anything that even resembles, “I can’t on Tuesday but next Thursday I’m free. Want to get together then?” STRIKE 3.
Cindy is no longer a woman I will be reaching out to. We may very well become great friends later on, but only if she initiates it. If she reaches out to me and tries to plan something then I look forward to it and the chances of us becoming friends is high.
You see, I believe in being around people who want to be around me. If after three attempts and invitations to hang out there is no reciprocation on her part, I will put my focus on making other friends. I don’t hold a grudge against Cindy and I don’t judge her or wish her evil. I don’t gossip about her or tell others “oh yeah I tried to hang out 3 times and she didn’t want to be my friend.” No nothing like that. I don’t hold anything against her, I just won’t reach out to her anymore until I see some level of interest from her.
You might be saying well what if Cindy really was busy or had other plans on the days you invited her. To which I would respond yes, she probably did. The difference is that if Cindy really was interested in being my friend and I invited her to do something (3 times!) then she would have suggested another day to get together. It’s that simple.
It’s just like dating but for friends. If a guy asked you out three times and you politely declined each time didn’t you hope he got the hint and didn’t ask a fourth time? It just gets awkward. I don’t want to force anyone to be my friend.
I love all my friends and I love having so many friends. I value friendship. I don’t think there is ever a point of having too many friends, I always want more. I hope my friends know how much I value them. My life is better with each and every friend I have.
What do you think of my 3 strikes rule? Do you have any boundaries around new friendships? If so, I would love to hear them.