February, 2022, the American Psychological Association's Speaking of Psychology reported on an interview of Marisa Franco. PhD, an expert on friendship. The focus of the interview was about the question, "Why is it so hard for adults to make friends?"
The main answer from Franco (2022) was that as adults we are not naturally in situations for unplanned interactions and shared vulnerabilities, like we were in our years in school. In the workplace there are stricter boundaries, such as professional decorum. Also, as we get older, we have less discretionary time and therefore focus more on the quality rather than the quantity of friendships. The pace of life is quicker, and the demands of family can be many.
Unfortunately adults are getting lonelier. It has been found that adults are four or five times more likely to have no friends compared to decades ago. Abrams (2023) in the Monitor on Psychology reported that this trend began well before COVID-19, although the social consequences of the pandemic accelerated it. The trend cuts across age groups and countries. The social disconnection looks to have worsened after 2012, when social media and smartphones became very popular.
Abrams (2023) noted that we all agree that romantic love is a positive. However, we are less aware that platonic friendships are also very beneficial. People with strong social networks composed of frequent social contacts, especially with friends and close confidants, have better mental and physical health. Abrams claimed, "Psychological research from around the world shows that having social connections is one of the most reliable predictors of a long, healthy, and satisfying life" (p.45). Of course, the combination of romantic love and and good friendships is especially potent. A survey showed that people were about twice as satisfied with their lives when they saw their spouses as their best friends. But when marriages were in trouble, support from friends could reduce the harm. Who are our friends? Franco (2022) thought that they are those who look out for us and want the best for us. They affirm who we are and don't try to make us into who they think we should be.
Yet Abrams (2023) maintained that even casual or "weak ties" can mitigate the negative effects of loneliness. Frequent contacts with acquaintances and casual ones with strangers can help. Research has found that when people have more than their usual number of weak tie interactions, they feel better. These brief, repetitive interactions increase the variety of human contacts.
Yet loneliness is toxic to physical and mental health. What to do? Dr. Franco advised people to initiate contacts. Science finds that those who regard friendship as taking effort are less lonely than those who expect it just to happen, like it did when they were younger. Another complication is the fear of rejection. Dr. Franco asserted that it is best to expect that people will like you. She said, "Take the risk and reap the benefits." Also further to deepen existing friendships, make regular plans to get together with your friends so that too much time doesn't lapse. Have making and keeping friends be a personal goal.
It is never to0 late. Both Franco (2022) and Abrams (2023) advise us to initiate contacts and when we do, to assume others will like us. Then after we have made a gratifying contact, we need to make the effort to nurture the relationship by continuing to follow through.
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