Starting and maintaining adult friendships can be hard

Interesting article up at the NYT about friendships in adulthood and why those friendships — outside of the ones tied to your children and grandchildren — can be so hard to maintain. The Times interviews Dr. Marisa Franco, a psychologist who wrote the book “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends.”

First step: When you do meet people, help drown out self-defeating thoughts by starting out with the assumption that people like you.

New York Times: [Why is] assuming people like you is so important?

Franco: According to the “risk regulation theory,” we decide how much to invest in a relationship based on how likely we think we are to get rejected. So one of the big tips I share is that if you try to connect with someone, you are much less likely to be rejected than you think.

And, yes, you should assume people like you. That is based on research into the “liking gap” — the idea that when strangers interact, they’re more liked by the other person than they assume.

There is also something called the “acceptance prophecy.” When people assume that others like them, they become warmer, friendlier and more open. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I never used to be much of a mind-set person until I got into the research. But your mind-set really matters!

Times: Still, putting yourself out there can feel nerve-racking. Any advice?

Franco: 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 lecture; look for a book club. That capitalizes on something called the “mere exposure effect,” or our tendency to like people more when they are familiar to us.

The mere exposure effect also means that you should expect that it is going to feel uncomfortable when you first interact with people. You are going to feel weary. That doesn’t mean you should duck out; it means you are right where you need to be. Stay at it for a little while longer, and things will change.

Times: You also believe that it is critical to show and tell your friends how much you like them. Why is that?

Franco: Because we tend to like people who we believe like us. I used to go into groups and try to make friends by being smart — that was my thing. But when I read the research, I realized that the quality people most appreciate in a friend is ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel like they matter. The more you can show people that you like and value them, the better. Research shows that just texting a friend can be more meaningful than people tend to think.

I know some people find texting to be impersonal, but I am the opposite. Whenever someone in our busy world takes the time to text me, it means a lot and it makes any day just a little more special.

Dr. Marisa Franco, author of Platonic: How Understanding Your Attachment Style Can Help You Make and Keep Friends Paperback

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