How to Make Friends as an Adult—and Keep Them
In New Book, Psychologist Debunks Myths, Offers Tips
By Karen Shih '09
Original painting: Automat by Edward Hopper
Photo illustration by Charlene Prosser Castillo
In an era when nuance is lost in text messages, carefully curated social media posts obscure real life and COVID-19 has limited in-person interactions, genuine friendships might feel more fragile than ever.
A new book called “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—and Keep—Friends as an Adult” by Marisa Franco Ph.D. ’17, assistant clinical professor of psychology, could help.
She was inspired by a series of failed romantic relationships, which led her to turn to friends for love and support. “I began to question: Why is romantic love the only love that matters in society? There’s a larger cultural problem around how we don’t value friendship.”
Being lonely can literally make you sick—the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, she says. “We need connection like we need food, water and oxygen,” says Franco. She explores this topic in a University Honors course this fall called “The Loneliness Crisis: Origins and Solutions.”
Franco clears up misconceptions and offers the following advice on making friends and maintaining quality friendships.
ASSUME PEOPLE LIKE YOU
“Everyone is so afraid of being rejected,” she says. “But research shows there’s a phenomenon where when strangers interact, they underestimate how much the person they’re interacting with likes them.”
People who feel spurned become cold and withdrawn, which leads to more rejection—a self-fulfilling prophecy. Go in with positive assumptions and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
MAKE AN EFFORT
Kids make friends easily because they see the same people every day and share the same experiences. “Adults can’t use the same template,” Franco says. She advises choosing an ongoing activity like Ultimate Frisbee or a book club, rather than a one-off networking event or happy hour, to make new friends.
Say your friend’s kid gets into their dream college, but yours didn’t. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction, either downplaying the accomplishment by putting down the school or simply pretending you’re happy. Instead, Franco advises being honest by saying, “I’m excited for you, but it’s also hard for me because my son didn’t get in.” That will lead to a deeper connection.
PRUNING IS OK
“In our 20s, our goal is to expand our sense of who we are. We take on a large roster of friends, people who expose us to different things,” she says. As people age, it’s natural to focus a smaller group, especially as you reach new stages in life such as parenthood, divorce or retirement, and make friends who reflect those shared experiences.
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