In July, Marisa Franco took a solo vacation to Mexico. But when she flew back to Washington DC 10 days later, she had formed a whole new group of friends.
As a psychologist studying friendship, Dr. Franco gave most of us a head start when it comes to making connections, and she drew heavily on the strategies she learned while researching her new book, Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Find – and keep – friends.”
dr For example, Franco assumed that people would like her. And she recalled that people in transition — like those who’ve recently moved, gone through a breakup, or are traveling — tend to be more open to making new friends.
Buoyed by this knowledge, she struck up a conversation at a coffee shop with a fellow passenger, whom she overheard speaking English. dr Franco invited him to a meetup for people who wanted to practice speaking Spanish, which she had heard about on Meetup.com.
“At the language event, I met someone else, made the same assumptions, and we exchanged numbers,” she recalls. “I invited them to a lucha libre wrestling match and they came. That means: people are real Yes, really open to friendship.”
Nevertheless, Dr. Franco that in adulthood, making friends doesn’t always feel that simple or easy, and that could be one reason why friendships dwindle. In 1990, only 3 percent of Americans reported having no close friends; In 2021, almost 12 percent said the same thing. The United States is in the grip of a loneliness crisis that preceded the Covid pandemic.
dr Franco’s book acknowledges these headwinds while offering practical advice for making new friends and deepening existing relationships. She spoke to The New York Times about some simple best practices to follow.
Questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Much of your work focuses on changing our scripts around friendship. What are some misconceptions you would like to see go away?
One is that platonic love is somehow less important or meaningful than romantic love. We have the notion that people who have friendship at the heart of their relationships are unhappy or unfulfilled. It’s something I used to believe myself: I thought romantic love was the only love that would make me whole. I wrote “Platonic” because I wanted to level that hierarchy a bit.
Another misconception is that friendship arises organically. But research has shown that people who believe friendship happens organically — based on happiness — tend to be lonelier. You really have to try to put yourself out there.
Is that why you think it’s so important to accept people like you?
According to “risk regulation theory,” we decide how much to invest in a relationship based on how likely we think we will be rejected. So one of the big tips I give is that if you try to connect with someone, you’re going to be rejected a lot less often than you think.
And yes, you should take on people like you. This is based on research into the “liking gap” – the idea that when strangers interact, the other person likes them more than they realise.
There is also something called the “acceptance prophecy.” When people assume others like them, they become warmer, friendlier, and more open. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was never a very quick-witted person until I got into research. But your attitude is really important!
Still, putting yourself out there can be nerve-wracking. any advice?
I suggest joining something that meets regularly over time – so instead of going to a networking event, look for a professional development group, for example. Don’t go to a book talk; Find a book club. This takes advantage of what’s called the “mere exposure effect,” or our tendency to like people more when they’re familiar to us.
The sheer exposure effect also means that you should expect it to feel awkward when you first interact with people. You will feel tired. That doesn’t mean you should duck; it means you are exactly where you need to be. Stick with it for a while and things will change.
They also believe it’s important to show and tell your friends how much you like them. Why is that?
Because we tend to like people who we think like us. I used to go in groups and try to make friends by being smart – that was my thing. But as I read the research, I realized that the quality people value most in a friend is the ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel important. The more you can show people that you like and appreciate them, the better. Research shows that just texting a friend can make more sense than people think.
At the same time, you say very clearly that people shouldn’t blame themselves when they feel like they don’t have enough friends. Why does it feel so hard to make connections like this?
I want people to understand that when they are, they are much more typical Not friendship all figured out. The data shows that so many people lack community and there is nothing to be ashamed of. I try to teach people to swim against the current that is pulling us all in the opposite direction – because loneliness is a societal problem that affects most of us. Our communities used to be built-in, not coveted.
Social media is a good example. It can be a tool for connection, but more often than not we just use it to lurk, which is related to increased loneliness and separation. But that’s not necessarily our fault. Social media is designed so that we don’t use it consciously; we tend to just mindlessly hang in there. There are just so many societal reasons why people feel lonely.
But I also believe that we can hold on to both truths. Yes, this is a systemic problem. But there are things you can do as an individual to improve the connection.
For those looking to make a new friend or strengthen their existing friendships, what simple tip would you recommend they try today?
I would suggest swiping through your contacts or looking at who you texted this time last year and reaching out. You can say something simple, like, “Hey, we haven’t spoken in a while. I was just thinking about you. How are you?”