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House Calls Podcast
Why Do Friendships Matter? (Part 1)
With guest Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Description

What’s the single best action a person can take now to live a longer life? How do you take the edge off depression? What can single people do to flourish, and partnered people do to revitalize their romantic relationships? One answer: having good friendships.

Our guest is Dr. Marisa G. Franco psychologist and author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep - Friends.” In this episode (part 1 of 2), they talk about loneliness, how to have high-quality friendships, friendship among men, and the pitfalls of leaning on romantic partnerships for everything.

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Transcript

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Hello and welcome to House Calls. I'm Vivek Murthy and I have the honor of serving as US Surgeon General. I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Marisa G. Franco, who studies, writes, and teaches about friendship. and today we'll be talking about how to make and maintain our friendships. This is part one of a two-part conversation. What's the single best action a person can take now to live a longer life? How do you take the edge off depression? What can single people do to flourish? And what can partnered people do to revitalize their romantic relationships? One great answer to all of these questions is good friendship. Yet, despite friendship's essential benefits, people are experiencing a friendship recession. A 2021 survey found that Americans report having fewer close friends than they once did, talking to their friends less often, and relying less on their friends for personal support. My guest today is Dr. Marisa G. Franco. She's the author of "Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make and Keep Friends As an Adult". Her research focuses on the powerful role of our communities in shaping who we are and how we flourish. Dr. Franco also writes for Psychology Today, and she has been a featured psychologist in The New York Times, NPR and Good Morning America. As an assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland, she also teaches courses about loneliness and friendship. Dr. Franco makes the case for strong friendships being a foundation for healthy lives. She believes that connection underlies everything, our health, our motivation, our work, and our sense of who we are. And she's practical in her tips for making and keeping friends through good times and bad. I wanted to have this conversation with Dr. Franco now because many people are experiencing loneliness, and are reevaluating their relationships as we come through the pandemic. What I hope you take from this conversation is that there are strategies and tools we can use to build new friendships and sustain old ones, despite the busy lives we lead. And when we do this, we are healthier, happier, and more fulfilled. As always, the House Calls team wants to hear from you. We'd love to hear your feedback and ideas for future episodes. Write us at HouseCalls@hhs.gov, or reach out to us through social media. We'd also appreciate it if you'd take a moment to rate and review the podcast. Hi, Marisa. Thank you so much for joining House Calls.

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, I'm so glad that we're having this conversation today about friendship, because friendship is a topic that people have been thinking about for a long time, but particularly over the last few years during the pandemic when many people couldn't see their friends in the ways that they used to in the early days of COVID. I think it's become more top of mind for folks, and I think a lot of people are reevaluating what they want out of their relationship. So this conversation is really timely, and I'm especially excited for us to have this conversation, because even though we all know we need friendship, it's not easy to make friends. And sometimes, especially as we get older, we know that when you're not in school or not in a place where you're just naturally interacting with lots of people, it can feel tougher to make new friendships and sometimes even to hold on to old ones. So I have so many questions for you. I'm excited for us to dig in, but let me start by setting some context. And I wanna ask you, what is this state of friendship today? Are we actually going through a friendship crisis? Have we gotten rusty at making friends because of the pandemic?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Yeah, Vivek, it's pretty bad out there. The research has found that our friendship networks have been shrinking for the past few decades. Around 2012, which is the rise of the smartphone, it was a sort of surge in loneliness. We're seeing after the pandemic, there's a Pew Research Center survey that found that about 21% of people are saying that socializing is more important, but 35% are saying that it's less important. Arthur Brooks, he calls it “learned loneliness.” And so we've kind of habituated to being alone and not… I think a lot of us aren't even realizing how it's impacting us and just how different we feel when we do feel connected. So unfortunately, I would say we are on a downward trajectory when it comes to connection. This is happening all the while with people, I think, intellectually understanding that friendship is very important because we went through this pandemic, and people were alone and felt really bad. Our mental health, it took a toll on our mental health. But I would say that practically speaking, it seems that the tides have continued to turn toward more disconnection.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, these trends are really interesting. And I must say, I find them reflected in my conversations with people around the country as well. When I travel and talk about the issue of loneliness, I feel so many hands go in the air of people who are either experiencing it themselves, or worried about somebody in their family. But this concept you just brought up that Arthur has shared, and he's a wonderful author, a great friend, but this notion of learned loneliness though, habituating to being alone, talk a little bit more about that, and how would somebody know if they are in fact, in a state of learned loneliness?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Ooh, it's hard to know. I can reflect on me being a professor, and I actually administered the UCLA Loneliness Scale to research participants. So I was like, okay, I might as well take this myself. And I was around people all day, so I was like I don't think I'm lonely. But then the questions were like, do you feel kind of known by people? Kind of getting at do you feel authentic around other people? And I was like, no, no, no. This is not how I'm feeling. Apparently I'm feeling lonely and I didn't even really know it at the time because loneliness has these sort of hidden symptoms. And I know you know this from your wonderful book as well, but when we're lonely, we might experience things like we're in a bad mood and we don't know why. We're experiencing more anxiety and we don't know why. We are cynical. We think through our relationships and we're becoming more resentful. We're thinking about all the ways people have kind of harmed us. We think we're gonna be rejected. If we reach out to people, we kind of assume that they are going to reject us. I like to say loneliness is not just a feeling, it's an entire mind state. It shifts how you perceive the world. John Cacioppo, he's done a lot of work on this, and he kind of argues that when you are lonely, from an evolutionary perspective, you are alone on the Savannah, you are in danger, you're separated from your tribe. And so what loneliness still does for us is it activates this kind of chronic stress threat state where we're kind of looking around, am I being threatened? Am I being threatened? Am I being threatened? That's why it tarnishes our mental health, makes us feel more anxious, even forces us to engage in these micro wakes where our sleep isn't as good. because we're literally waking up and scanning for if anyone's out there threatening us. And ironically, it causes a desire to withdraw from other people, because even if you wanna connect, if you think everyone's gonna reject you and/or hurt you, you'll probably decide to disconnect. And I think that's what we're seeing with this concept of learned loneliness. That loneliness could really unfortunately be a vicious cycle.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Absolutely. And these health impacts you point out are really quite profound. And I think I found for many people it's quite surprising for them to know loneliness isn't just a bad feeling, right? It has an impact on our physical and mental health. But something you mentioned earlier I think is also interesting concerning, which you mentioned that our friendship networks are getting smaller, they're narrowing. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about why. How much of this is due to the pandemic? And if some of this preceded the pandemic, what do you think was driving the narrowing of our friend networks?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

So I teach an entire class on loneliness, and we really get into the history. And there's a few, I think, historical trends that we could point to. "Bowling Alone," book by Robert Putnam, classic in the field, he looks at all of these factors that are contributing to people disengaging from their communities. And he finds that one of the biggest predictors was the creation of the television. Before then, people would spend their leisure time hanging out with other people. Then people started to spend their leisure time within the four doors of… Four walls of their living room. And not only that, it seems to that when we watch TV, it triggers this sloth-like state where we become de-energized, and interacting with people takes energy from us. I call it… Me and my friend Michael, we call it the plop effect, like plop down on your couch and you don't get off. But you could see how if that's what the television did, social media, scrolling through social media has only amplified this trend. And I think we do see that. I mean, the relationship between social media use and connection, it's very complicated. There's a bunch of caveats, but I would argue that it's a net negative. I mean, correlation doesn't equal causation, but 2012, loneliness really spiked. That's when we all started using the smartphone. One takeaway I think from the social media conversation is that displacement theory, which is the idea that when we use technology to displace our in-person interactions, we're just swiping all evening and going through these TikTok videos and lurking on people's pages, that's time that we would've maybe in the past spent around other people, that that's making us a lot more lonely. But if we do use technology to connect with people in-person by messaging someone on Instagram and saying, "Oh, can we hang out? We haven't talked in a while," then we're actually less lonely than people that are off social media. So that's why it depends. But I think if most of us were to track our social media use, probably most of the time we're spending social media in passive ways where we're just sort of lurking and scrolling, and that's what makes us feel more isolated and negatively impacts our mental health and wellbeing. So there's ways to use technology to connect, but the ways that it's designed is not for connection. And I think that's part of the reason why it's continuing to disconnect us.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Hmm. Yeah, that's very powerful. And I know that many people may have a love-hate relationship with technology. It helps us in so many ways. But as you mentioned, there are growing concerns that it may be separating us from people and draining us of energy and displacing the time that we would normally spend with people in person. But one of the things I think that technology has also raised for me is this question about what constitutes an actual friendship, right? If I'm, quote-unquote, "Friends with somebody on social media," I think many of us know that doesn't necessarily mean that they're a friend in real life. So when you think about high quality relationships, friendships, what in your mind makes a friendship a friendship?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

So I was at a friend's wedding, and her husband was talking about his experience of having a bachelor party, and how three of his friends had canceled last minute. Everyone ended up having to pay a $1,000. And I was thinking to myself, he's calling these people friends. But I have a very different definition of what a friend is, because I think maybe in his case, in other people's case, we consider friends someone whose company that we enjoy. But I in fact think of friendship as a responsibility, an investment and a commitment to be reliable, to show up in times of need, to support you and your success, to support you in reaching your goals. It's an effort, it's an intention, it is an investment. And there's a difference between good company and a good friend because of that. I think a lot of the issues with how we go about friendship are in fact definitional. Like how we think about friendship. We think about friendship as this is a person I will go to happy hour with twice a month. And in having that definition of friendship, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if that's how I define friendship, I'm not gonna go out of my way to travel across the country to visit my long-distance friend. I'm not gonna try to go out of my way to get my friend a gift for their birthday or pick them up for the airport. And so with these definition of friendship, we assume friendship is more trivial because of something inherent to friendship. Not realizing that if we have this definition, we are inherently making it a more trivial relationship. And so I'm really interested in expanding how we see friendship because I think there's this monopolization of intimacy for romantic love, and there's this view that there are certain behaviors that make for a healthy, intimate marriage, and that those are disconnected from what it means to have a healthy, intimate friendship. And I would argue no, that those skills are not compartmentalized. What creates intimacy creates intimacy, whether it's romantic or platonic. Setting up time to make someone feel special and appreciated and valued and showing up in their times of need and communicating through conflict, like all of the things people would talk about for a successful marriage is what we also need to build those deep and strong and lasting friendships too.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

It's so interesting because you're making me think about standards, right? What are the standards we have for friendship? And it reminds me of something my wife used to say. I hope she won't get mad at me for saying this publicly. But when we first moved to D.C. years ago, I remember her saying that she felt like everyone here referred to each other as friends, but she was like, well, they're D.C. friends and then they're are real friends. And what she meant by that was not that you couldn't have real friends in D.C., but she noticed that there was a type of friendship that was often described here that was really a transactional friendship. It wasn't that people were showing up for each other, cared deeply about each other, knew each other, but to some extent, it felt more transactional. Like this person can do something for me, I can maybe do something for them. And so it was an interesting distinction that she kind of made me think about as I went about meeting people here and building friendships. And we try hard to build friendships that are not transactional, that are really what we think of as higher quality friendships. But you're raising sort of an interesting point, which is that we get different things out of friendships, depending on the quality of those friendships and how well we're known and how much we're willing to do for each other and sacrifice for one another.

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Yes, exactly. And I also wanna argue that we get different things from our friends than we do our spouse. And that a lot of us have been fed this argument that you need one person to complete you, which means you don't need anyone else, and we need an entire community to feel whole. Again, John Cacioppo's work, he's identified three different dimensions of loneliness, only one of which is fulfilled by a spouse, which is intimate loneliness, the desire for a close intimate connection. But there's also relational loneliness, which is a desire for someone as close to you as a friend, and collective loneliness, which is a desire to be a part of a group working toward a common goal. So I think many of us during the pandemic, living with a spouse, realized that, okay, being around one person, I can still feel lonely. And I think this kind of cultural pronouncement that you only need one person to complete you and that romantic love is just a supreme form of love that we almost fetishize and undervalue other forms of love, specifically platonic, it's at the great detriment to people within those romantic partnerships who put so much pressure on their romantic partner, who shed their friendships and then feel very unhappy. I've had someone reach out to me and say, I'm so glad you're writing about this because I made a friend and I wasn't happy in my marriage, and I could have divorced them if I didn't realize it was because I needed more community outside of my marriage. But it's also at the great detriment to single people who tend to have stronger friendships and spend more time with their friends, and yet feel like their subjective interpretation of their level of connection is that it is poor because they don't have a romantic partner or a spouse. And we know that loneliness is a subjective experience, it's how you subjectively perceive your amount of connectedness. And if we undervalue friendship, that means that people who might have great friends and close connections but not have a romantic partner might interpret their connected experience as if they're at a loss, as if they don't have love in their lives, as if they don't have genuine connection.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

This point you're mentioning, which I think is spot on about how much weight and responsibility we put on romantic relationships, I think is really striking. And say a little bit more about that. Is that something that's unique to American culture, to Western culture? Or how broadly do you see this across the world, and where do you think it came from?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Well, so it's funny because in our history, this is a relatively recent occurrence, this love marriage, that early 1800s and before, in the Western world at least, people got married for practical reasons. This was someone who would maybe give your family resources, who had a good reputation, that would look honorable upon your family, your family would likely choose them for you and you might have a vote. And at the time, the genders were actually considered so distinct that the idea was that you could really only find intimacy from your friends because they shared your gender and your experiences. So friends would carve their names into trees and go on their friends' honeymoons with them and cuddle in bed with them and write love letters to each other. And none of this was an issue. Part of what changed was, at that time, having sex with someone of the same sex was taboo, but homophobia as we know it today was different, because if having sex was taboo that all the other behaviors like sharing a bed with someone or cuddling with someone that might trigger other people's latent sense of homophobia, and it wasn't the case because that's not sex, right? But then what changed is how we perceive sexual orientation. So Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Sigmund Freud, two psychiatrists, they wanted to decrease people's likelihood of having sex with people with same sex. They create this whole theory that if you have sex with people of the same sex, you actually have this disordered sexual orientation. Now it's an entire identity. Now what's stigmatized is all types of forms of intimacy that you might have with someone of the same sex, because they might suggest that you have this identity which is stigmatized, rather than the behavior being stigmatized. So you saw this big shift after that where people would start to wonder, am I loving my friends too deeply? Is this weird, right? Is this appropriate? And I think specifically with men, it was so sad for me while I was writing platonic to look at these archival pictures of men who were on the same football team, who are just cuddling in each other's arms, or men who would go to take pictures together with their best friend and just experience a lot more physical intimacy than is the norm today. There's this term homo hysteria, which is straight men's fear of being perceived as gay, which unfortunately very much limits men's ability to form intimate relationships with each other, because homo hysteria can make people feel like I can't reach out to another guy to just hang out and talk rather than engage in some sort of activity together. Or I can't actually tell him how much I love him because I fear of how it might come off or that I might be shamed, My sense of masculinity can be shamed. When I look at gender differences in friendship, and I talk about this with my class and I make them do a survey, and we find these stark gender differences, sadly, even in Generation Z. And what I've sort of observed is that for women, our script for platonic intimacy is highly overlapping with our script for romantic intimacy. We'll tell our friends, I love you. You're my soulmate. There's more physicality, more touch, more hugging, more vulnerability we tend to see. But with men, we tend to see that these scripts are starkly different. This is what I do with my spouse. I'm vulnerable with my spouse. I'm physically intimate with my spouse. This is what I do with my friends. We do activities together. There's this Atlantic article that describes it as the third object that men use. There has to be some sort of third thing when you're hanging out with another guy, like the golf club or the video game or the sports game that's on TV. And the third object means that we have something to focus on so we don't have to be too vulnerable or get too intimate with each other.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

I had wanted to talk to you about friendship among men, and so I'm glad you raised this already. I've been quite concerned and I think there's been growing research on the fact that men are experiencing their own friendship recession. And it's been difficult, I think for many men, especially as they get older, to form connections outside of a school environment or a busy work environment. And I'm curious if you could speak a little bit more to what the future may look like for men. If we want men to have the kind of rich friendships that they need because they're human and all humans need rich friendships, what do we need to do and what do we need to change so that men can enjoy those kind of fulfilling friendships?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Yeah, so Niobe Way, she's a professor at NYU, she has a lot of great research on this where she sort of finds that these boys, they want intimacy as much as the young girls, and they wanna tell their friends I love you, and be vulnerable with them. But then this sort of change starts to happen when they begin to internalize traditional beliefs around masculinity. And that's when there starts to be around adolescence, this great disconnection amongst boys where they're no longer as vulnerable and they're no longer as loving with each other. And so I think it requires us to engage in some sort of culture change around what men feel the latitude to do with other men. And for us to… I think if we challenge the system of oppression that is homophobia, everybody's gonna benefit no matter what their sexual orientation is, because homophobia is becoming crudely generalized to fears of intimacy with the same sex in general, not just sexual intimacy. And so I think that that's really important to change too. I think a lot of times what we see is that, for example, as men get married, they tend to shed their friendships a lot more than women do, who will kind of keep those friendships alive. And so men, I think we see this tendency to also for them to not be engaged in social institutions as much, that can create relationships, like going out there, engaging in PTA or hobbies and interest groups. And so I think it's important for men to understand that you can't be passive when it comes to connection. I say that friendship does not happen organically. People that think it does are more lonely over time. And particularly men are more vulnerable to being more disconnected and less lonely according to the research. So it's gonna take a lot more intentionality. I think what I've heard is that some men feel like they're struggling because even if they want those close and intimate relationships, it's difficult to be as vulnerable with other men or feel as safe to be vulnerable with other men. And so it might take a longer process. I think we should be aware that it might take a longer process for you to meet the type of men that are ready for the level of vulnerability that you might be ready for. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means that just like dating, along the way there will be some friends that don't necessarily match or work for you, and that you kind of have to stick it out to find those people that you can deeply connect to.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Hmm. Well, that is good advice. And I think you're right that I think some of these challenges around vulnerability for men start very early in life. And I think Naomi has been great in I think helping illustrate that transition. But I do think it's something that I think is tied to our conception of strength. And in my mind, strength and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think they very much go together, but I don't think that's often the message that we send young boys when they're looking at people a few years ahead of them and trying to figure out how to be a man. So this is very interesting. I wanna take a step back on a personal note and ask you about you. Marisa, clearly you care so deeply about the issue of friendships and you've taught about it, you've written about it, you speak about it. But where did this interest come from?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

So I would say I didn't always value friendship like I do now. I was definitely caught up in feeling like, oh, I need to find a romantic partner to be worthy, and I don't have connection unless I have a romantic partnership. And so in my young 20s, I went through a breakup. I felt really miserable. And I think my misery was informed by some of these beliefs about connection that, oh, now I don't have any worth. Now I'm completely… There's a vacuum of connection in my life. And so to heal, I decided to start this wellness group with my friends where each week we met up to practice wellness. We cooked, we did yoga together, we meditated. And it was life changing for me. And, Vivek, what was most life changing was not the wellness. It was being around people I love that love me every week. And I realized that some of my beliefs might be misguided. I was surrounded by proof every week that I had so many people that loved me. So how could I continue to believe that I didn't have love in my life without a romantic partner? And I just began to question some of these societal messages that were passed down to me and to start wondering like, why doesn't this form of love count? Why doesn't this form of love matter? And I started to see it as a sacred relationship, and it's sort of like a form of gold that we all just see as concrete in our friends. And I just became so voracious to try to find places or books, resources that held friendship to the same standard that I did as a relationship that was so sacred to me. And also as a scientist, I was getting my PhD in counseling psychology. I was like, I wanna see something science backed too. So eventually it got to the point where I was just like, okay, why not me? Why don't I write this? I love this topic. I'm so passionate about this topic and I feel like we so sorely need it. And as I was… I got a grant from the National Institute of Health to study connection and I was… As I was reading all these studies, I was like, people need to know this. Why do we not know these things? Why don't we get any help in figuring out how to connect with people? Why is it assumed that we automatically know how to connect? And so I became really fascinated and felt like, man, this information is so helpful to me, I want other people to have it as well.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, I'm so glad that you went down this path because I know you're providing a lot of really valuable information for folks. And I wanna talk a little bit about the psychology behind making friends. In your work, you talk about the importance of attachment style, and you talk about three types of attachment that we need to be aware of that may influence our friendship style or how we make friends. Can you talk a bit about that?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

So attachment theory. When I was writing my book, I started to realize while reading all of the research how we've connected affects who we are. Whether we are trusting, friendly, warm, cynical, all of these things are predicated on our previous experiences of connection or lack thereof. It shapes our personalities. But then who we are affects how we connect. These people that have had these positive experiences of connection, they're better at continuing to connect because they develop a set of beliefs that really facilitate connection based on their previous healthy relationships. And that is really what attachment theory is. Attachment theory is your previous relationships have set you with an internalized set of assumptions about relationships, which either allow you to continue to form relationships in positive and healthy ways if you're securely attached, or which might push you to want to protect yourself often at the cost of your relationships, which is what we see with insecure attachment. I wanna emphasize because some people are like, "Well, good for those people with healthy childhoods, I guess I'm doomed then." That attachment is malleable, that it's likely to change over time. That some studies find that even by learning about it, you begin to change your attachment style. And so the book is really about how can all of us figure out how to become more securely attached? What are these set of assumptions that these securely attached people have that allow them to continue to foster deep relationships with other people? What are some of the things that if we're insecurely attached, like either anxious, which means we constantly think we're being rejected even when we're not, or avoidant, which means we don't trust anyone so we completely withdraw from our relationships, what are some of these things that we do when we're insecurely attached without even realizing that tend to create more disconnection in our lives?

Dr. Vivek Murthy

So this is interesting. With secure attachments, you mentioned that the roots of this and with the other attachments as well are located early in life, right? With the relationships we form. So a selfish question I'm gonna ask you because I have two kids and I'm always looking for tips on how to do better as a dad, how should parents think about cultivating the kind of attachment style in their kids that will set them up for healthy friendships later on in life?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Hmm, this is a great question. We do see that attachment tends to be intergenerational. Like a parent with a secure attachment's more likely to convey that to a kid. And I think what we see in securely attached parents is the sense of responsiveness. It's almost like treating your kid like they're a person with needs, and being responsive to their needs. And not just being sort of top down like, this is what I'm doing because I'm the parent. But being responsive when your child is in distress. Okay, what is it? What do you need right now? How can I help you? Instead of being like, stop crying, you know? Trying to be in a place where you're on your kid's side, really. I mean, a lot of the times kids are doing things that harm them, or are engaging in behaviors that are harmful because they can't regulate their emotions. And so as a parent it looks like, okay, how do I help my kid regulate their emotions instead of going right into let me just start disciplining you. There's a really good book on this. It's called "Good Inside" by Dr. Becky. And she kind of talks about her theory is that your kids are good inside, and when they're acting out, it's because they can't regulate their emotions. They actually need your help because they're in distress rather than your punishment. And so I think it's a lot of that. It's a lot of treating your kids kindly and lovingly, and obviously having boundaries with them that are in their best interests, but explaining why that you have these boundaries with them. And when you've hurt their feelings, being able to apologize with them. It's like there's this queer scholar, Dean Spade, who kind of argues that you know if we think of our romantic relationships and our platonic relationships, we tend to have maybe certain strengths in each type of relationship. We're more likely to be on our best behavior around our friends than our romantic partner who we can maybe take for granted. And what does it look like? I've kind of thought about this. What does it look like when we try to hold ourselves… When we take the highest standard in each of these relationships, and try to hold ourselves to that across all of our relationships? When am I showing up as my best as a romantic partner and a friend? Now can I choose when I'm showing up best as a friend and try to apply it to how I show up as a romantic partner? Maybe I'm better able to give that grace and I can try to give that to romantic partner. And I think that's like with our children too. I mean, obviously having children's very stressful and there's times when you're gonna yell and you're gonna scream and you're gonna do things that you didn't necessarily intend to do. But all of the ways that you have learned how to be loving, can you also give that to your kids? If your friend was like, "I'm in distress and I'm upset," you wouldn't be like, "Stop crying, hey." You'd probably be like, "Oh my gosh, tell me what's wrong?" And so I think we also need to think of our kids this way. Like "Oh wow, I'm here to support you. I'm here to love you. I'm on your side. Tell me what's wrong?" And the other tip that I will share, because I met a woman, she was very good at connecting with people. And so I said to her, how did you get so good at connecting with people? Because I literally had to write a book on it. I had to read a ton of research studies to be good at connecting with people. And she's like, "My mom would always tell me, everybody wants to hang out with you. They're just waiting for you to ask." And that is a very secure assumption to make. It's this assumption, this is a big one that I tell people to make friends, assume that people like you. Because when you assume people like you, according to the research, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy called the acceptance prophecy. It actually makes you kinder and warmer and more open when you assume that people like you. Whereas when you assume people are gonna reject you, you actually become colder and more withdrawn even when it's ambiguous and they're not necessarily rejecting you. And it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. So we want to instill in our kids this sense of hope and the sense of optimism about social interaction. Like you're likable. There's things that are so great about you. You're gonna go into the world and people are gonna be like you. And if they're not initiating with you, that might mean that they're just scared rather than that they're rejecting you.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Yeah, I love the acceptance prophecy because it gives you more agency, right? It makes you understand that your assumptions can influence your reality. And one of the things I love about your book is you have great guidance, other tips and tools for helping people to make friends. One of them, which I was hoping you could talk about is I would say my favorite word in your book, which is the word “propinquity.” Could you explain to people what propinquity is, and why it's relevant in making friends?

Dr. Marisa G. Franco

Propinquity, everybody loves that word. It's a very fun word. It's fun when research words are fun. Very rarely are research words fun, usually very clunky and complicated. But propinquity, yes. Propinquity is really the idea that nearness contributes to connection. So if we are in the same place repeatedly over time, we are more likely to connect. This is based on a study that had found that when a researcher looked at who in this police academy is gonna end up being friends? What they found was that, well, one of the biggest factors was actually last names because last names determined who sat next to each other. So it wasn't magical. It was just people that had the most exposure to each other ended up being friends. And this propinquity theory, it really capitalizes on something called the mere exposure effect, which is our tendency to like people who are familiar to us and for them to like us. So there's this study where these researchers planted women into the psychology lecture, and at the end of the semester, no one remembered the woman. It was a large lecture, but they liked the woman that showed up to the most classes, 20% more than the woman that didn't show up to any. And it's unconscious because nobody remembered any of these women. And what that tells us is that if we wanna create connection, we have to find something that's repeated over time. Don't just find a happy hour, find a regular professional development group. Join the board of that group so you can get more propinquity and more nearness. The other implication of propinquity and the mere exposure effect is that when I was in college I wanted to connect. I go to a group once. I'm like, they're cliquey. They're not asking to hang out with me. This isn't working out. I'm not going back. But I wish someone would've told me that, oh, that discomfort you feel, that awkwardness, that desire to withdraw, that cautiousness, that weariness, that's not a sign that this isn't a good place for you to connect. That's in fact part of the journey to connection. Initially, we are sort of wired to be a little weary, to be a little less comfortable in the beginning. And if we stick it out, things are going to get easier. We're gonna get more comfortable. They're gonna like us, we're going to like them. And so expect that initial awkwardness. Don't use that initial awkwardness as a sign that you need to eject from connection.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

That concludes part one of my conversation with Dr. Marisa G. Franco. Join me for part two on the next episode of House Calls with Dr. Vivek Murthy. Wishing you all health and happiness.