Seattle native Alex Alexander has a passion for exploring the topics of community and relationships. Like many, she didn't have an easy childhood. Her mom passed away when she was 13, essentially making her a co-parent to much-younger siblings.
"My sister was spot-on recently when she said, 'That sounds like it must have been lonely,'" said Alexander. "Bingo."
Since she didn't find the support desired within her own family unit, her friendships became her anchors.
"Now in my 30s, my friendships are my support system. Certain friends are my chosen family," said Alexander. "They are the first people I call when I have a problem, the people I spend holidays with, the people I count on to help if something happens."
Among this crucial group, Alexander counts everyone from those with whom she's had 20-year friendships and folks she met this year, to acquaintances she'd like to know better and what she calls “defined friends” (like work or gym friends).
A former event planner, she ultimately experienced "burnout that became too intense to ignore," leading to a major career shift. These days, via her upcoming digital Workbook Your Community, Your Way she's working to change the dialogue around community, breaking down norms that may not work for everyone and helping provide the needed tools to define and cultivate a supportive community.
When defining her title, Alexander shrugs as she says "writer, speaker, influencer....I’ll probably accumulate a few more as time passes." She adds, "If I had to give myself one title, I want to be a thought leader. I want to shift how we think about, speak about and act regarding our friendships and community."
She's working to change the dialogue on many levels; for starters, she thinks we make adult friendships harder than they need to be. Also, we can have goals in mind when it comes to friendships and community, and these can be broken down into small actions (similar to getting finances in order or meeting a health target).
Alexander also believes our language around friendship is too limited, and there is not enough acknowledgment that men are struggling, too. People often say to her: “I don’t know if I have any friends. Well, I suppose I have friends at work, but they aren’t really my friends, are they?” (Newsflash: Alexander indeed deems these people friends.)
"There’s this invisible societal story that, as adults, we need a partner and a best friend," she said. "Those two people will fill all our needs. My question - doesn’t that seem like a lot of pressure on two people?"
Alexander is over generic phrases like, “it’s OK to break up with friends,” “friendships change,” or “make an effort to stay connected to your friends.” She wants to hear people’s real stories about these relationships and how they are using time and energy to show up for the people they care about.
Sometimes people find it harder to make friends as they grow older. Alexander advises that "it’s easier to find what you want when you know what you are looking for; get specific."
There's no question the pandemic has changed how many of us think about our relationships.
"The last couple of years have made us all reflect on how much we care about the people in our lives - spending time with them, staying connected, voicing how much our people mean to us," she said. "I feel like it’s safe to say that most of us are overwhelmed with gratitude at backyard barbecues, birthday parties and random movie nights. We are all saying, 'Wow. My people, they are incredibly important to me,' but many are realizing their actions don’t align with what they hold most dear. Now is a prime moment for us all to pause and reflect."
Alexander feels nervous when hearing how the pandemic has "whittled down people’s relationships," putting focus on only the most important ones.
"Simpler friendships can be influential and impactful in our lives," she said. "They fulfill certain needs/interests. They allow us the space to be someone new because they don’t know the past version of us. They are sometimes just easier and less complicated, which can be what we need in the moment. But most importantly, our simpler friendships are the people we turn to if we end a closer friendship or lose a part of a close friendship."
She is fascinated by the recent focus on "breaking up with friends."
"First, do you need to make a complete break, or can you just put up a boundary?" she asked. "For example, is this person the wrong person to talk to about parenting/money/family dynamics? It’s OK not to share all parts of your life with all your friends."
Secondly, she thinks merely pressing pause can do wonders for certain relationships. She suggests taking a breather and checking in at a later date to decide whether you want to invest energy there again. Alexander thinks we focus a lot on removing people from our life. "Maybe," she suggests, "we should be focusing our energy on adding the right people."
Alexander's upcoming digital workbook "Your Community, Your Way" aims to help readers get specific about what they want. She wanted to create a short workbook; once she started writing, it evolved into more of a full-on book.
"You’ll explore the relationships you already have. You’ll reflect on the ways you enjoy spending time with people (in a group, 1:1, texting, calling) and the ways you show up best," she said. "Once you have all this information, it’s easy to see the actions you can take to move the needle in this area of your life. The goal is to find and implement small, consistent actions into your life that add up over time and make a big impact on your relationships."
Her final words of wisdom?
"It’s easy to convince yourself that friendship requires grandiose acts, tons of time or the right circumstances, but in reality, it’s just small, consistent, imperfect actions."