A few years ago, Gina Handley Schmitt was in a slump— facing a combination of burnout and physical ailments. She found herself at the local urgent care being treated by a “rather terse” doctor, as she described it. She was trying to figure out how to get him to be invested in her health concerns.
She realized after a beat that he had some unusual boots on— they weren’t appropriate for the hospital, but neat enough. So she complimented the shoes. Instantly he grinned from ear to ear “like a proud school boy,” she said. It was funny, but also changed the tone of that interaction.
“I’m not sure it was fair that me, as a sick person, was responsible for turning this around,” she said. “But I will say it was a great lesson in affirmation. It was a good reminder how affirmation can completely change a relationship dynamic.”
Handley Schmitt is a psychotherapist, psychology professor and now author of her first book, “Friending: Creating meaningful, lasting adult friendships,” which features this story.
The new author has lived on and off in Renton for about 20 years. In that time, she’s been helping more and more clients that are looking for friendship, looking for a deeper connection with someone they lacked off the therapy couch. It made her wonder how those who couldn’t afford, or didn’t have access to therapy, were handling the issue of adult friendships.
She then spoke at a women’s conference in Renton, and her speech was regarded by a colleague as the “bones of a book.” After the suggestion, Handley Schmitt spent over five years gathering research and stories from her personal life and her practice.
What she found was while we often consider friendships a luxury, research shows those relationships are vital for our psyches, warding off anxiety and depression, and boosting our immune systems.
“We need friends in our lives in order to be healthy people,” she said.
In Handley Schmitt’s research, she looked at how the way we connect with people has changed in recent years, and that it felt she had deeper friendships before the digital age. While she said she doesn’t want to demonize social media and the internet, a lot of our technological advances are conducive to shallow relationships. She said shared face-to-face experiences help create more intimate connections, which can then be bolstered by social media. Problems come in, Handley Schmitt said, when social media is the only way someone fosters friendships.
In the book, Handley Schmitt also labels what she considers the core skills in lasting friendships: available, authentic, affirming, assertive and accepting.
From beginning a friendship to breaking it off, the book covers any stage someone may be in, Handley Schmitt said. She hopes someone from any background can pick up the book and have practical tools for their situation. The book includes a script for inviting someone to an event, for example, and at the end of each chapter, there’s questions for the reader.
“There are just a lot of people who aren’t going to come to my therapy couch to get resources on friendship,” she said. “But they might grab a book. Or grab an E-book, or the audio book. So that’s definitely my hope.”