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Book Summary: Platonic – How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep – Friends

Platonic (2022) is an actionable guide to making and keeping friends as an adult. It combines true stories of friendship with psychological research to give you clear, actionable, and practical advice on building better friendships.

Book Summary: Platonic - How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make - and Keep - Friends

Content Summary

Genres
Introduction: Improve your ability to make (and keep) friends.
Friendships shape who we are.
Making friends takes initiative.
Being vulnerable will help you connect better with friends.
Make friendships deeper by being authentic.
Opening up about conflict will strengthen your friendships.
Be generous – but know your limits.
Affection creates new friendships and deepens existing ones.
Summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Genres

Psychology, Mindfulness, Happiness, Relationships, Self Help, Personal Development, Science, Sociology, Adult, Mental Health

Introduction: Improve your ability to make (and keep) friends.

Why do you want to have friends? For the company? For the shared experiences? For stress relief?

The answer’s actually pretty simple. It’s because you, just like any other human on the planet, are a social creature.

You’ve probably heard that more times than you can count, but we can’t discredit how true it is. We thrive off of relationships so much that psychologists deem them as necessary to survival as oxygen, food, and water.

But while we’re hardwired to connect with others, it doesn’t mean making and keeping friends comes naturally to every one of us. That’s where this summary to Platonic, by Dr. Marisa G. Franco, comes in.

Outlining research-based techniques on how to improve your ability to build and sustain friendships, it aims to teach you how to become a better friend – and, ultimately, a better human in the process.

Friendships shape who we are.

Harriet had searched for a spouse her whole life. She envied her coworker Denise for having a loving husband and gorgeous twins – and wished she could have the same, too.

Thankfully, after decades of searching, Harriet met and married Frederico. She thought her life was finally complete. But then, Frederico sadly passed away. In that moment, Harriet made an intriguing realization: friends are more valuable than a husband. She found solace in them when she mourned. And after she healed from losing Frederico, she had friends to fill her time and make her life more meaningful than ever.

Westerners would probably frown at Harriet’s claim that friendship is more important than romantic relationships. This comes as no surprise, given how Western culture significantly undervalues platonic ties.

However, friendship, as it turns out, has a much greater effect on our lives than we often give it credit for. According to meta-analyses, exercise reduces mortality by 23–30 percent. But having a big social network reduces it by 45 percent! Another study reports that socializing with friends increases happiness levels more than time spent with spouses or children.

Apart from improving our well-being on the physiological and psychological side of things, friendship also molds us as individuals. For one, having friends teaches us to be more empathetic – not only to our peers but to people in general. This is because friendships provide opportunities to practice and cultivate empathy.

Having quality connections also boosts our appeal as potential friends. Research reveals that the better friends we have, the more moral, attentive, and, again, empathetic we ourselves become.

Simply put, friendship serves as a portal to our most authentic, generous, and rich selves. By shaping us into more well-rounded individuals, our friendships equip us to build relationships that last.

But how exactly do we make and keep friends in the first place?

Making friends takes initiative.

Let’s say you relocated to a new city to take that once-in-a-lifetime job offer. You moved away from everyone you knew, and now you’re completely alone. As a social being, you’d naturally want to seek out new pals.

But how can you do that when all you do is sit quietly at your desk and then head straight home after clocking out? Hate to break it to you, but people won’t just magically appear in your living room offering you friendship. It’s up to you to take the lead and put yourself out there.

The first step in doing so is to join a group with regular get-togethers. This could be anything from a book club to an improv class. This is where the power of propinquity, or physical proximity, kicks in. The more time you spend with people, the more likely it is that you’ll make connections with them.

However, attendance is just half of the solution. It’s equally important to talk to the group, too. Yes, that’s always easier said than done. After all, if you’re like most people, you’re probably wary of approaching someone you see as a potential friend – you think they might not feel the same way about you.

But that’s where you’re wrong. A 2018 study by Dr. Erica J. Boothby found that people underestimate just how much others like them. They often think that a new acquaintance doesn’t have a positive view of them; in reality, the opposite is true.

So if you need a confidence boost before approaching someone in the group, tell yourself that they already like you and won’t shoot you down. Then, participate in ongoing get-togethers for a minimum of three months. This will increase your exposure to the group. And the more exposure you get, the more your peers will grow to like you.

The last step is to invite your favorite person from the group to hang out one-on-one. This will help you get to know them better and build a deeper connection. Not so bad, right?

Being vulnerable will help you connect better with friends.

Say you’ve made a new friend by taking initiative. The challenge now is figuring out how to maintain and strengthen that relationship. This is where vulnerability comes into play. Being vulnerable means sharing the most fragile and humiliating pieces of yourself with others.

Admittedly, this isn’t an easy thing to do – you don’t want others to perceive you as weak. But contrary to popular belief, people feel closer to those who are vulnerable. As Dr. Anna Bruk’s research suggests, others don’t actually pass negative judgment as much as we think. In fact, when we’re vulnerable, they’re more likely to think we’re authentic and honest – and connect more deeply as a result.

To introduce vulnerability into your relationships, you need to be the first one to show it. Don’t sit around and hope that someone else will make the first move – because you’ll be waiting in vain. This is particularly true in male friendships, considering how the Western ideal of masculinity discourages men from expressing what’s perceived as “weakness.” If you’re in this kind of setting and unsure of your friends’ reaction to your vulnerability, you can always start small. Share something a little more personal than you normally would, and see where it leads.

However, it’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t be vulnerable with just anybody. You need to be skilled at picking and choosing who you’ll share that side of yourself with. If a friend has dismissed you in times of need in the past, they shouldn’t be relied on now. Get some real comfort and support from people who will genuinely accept your vulnerabilities wholeheartedly.

Make friendships deeper by being authentic.

Aside from revealing your weak side, another surefire way to cement the friendship is by being your true self. But what does being authentic even mean? Does it mean admitting to your friend that you actually dislike their partner? Or telling them that they’re having a bad hair day? Or giving them unsolicited feedback?

Well, no. These actions are all about rawness. Authenticity, on the other hand, goes beyond just expressing what you want, think, or feel.

The ancient Greeks and today’s social scientists define authenticity as behaving in harmony with your inner thoughts and emotions. Dr. Marisa G. Franco describes it as a “state of internal honesty.”

Sometimes, we become inauthentic and hide our true feelings to protect the relationship – or ourselves. For instance, if you’ve drifted apart from a friend, you might convince yourself that the relationship never meant anything. In reality, though, you feel rejected by that friend. To become authentic is to shed this kind of defense and show your innermost thoughts.

When you do this, you can tap into your highest self – a self that is empathetic and considerate at the core. As a result, you’ll be more likely to make and deepen friendships.

Researchers discovered this to be the case after asking people with social anxiety to forgo common defense mechanisms like keeping quiet when interacting with people. Afterward, the participants expressed an interest in hanging out with the researchers and becoming their friends. The reason for this was the increased presence, interest, and attention the socially anxious people showed when they dropped their safety behaviors.

That’s exactly what being authentic does to us. It helps us develop friendships in a more fulfilling way.

Opening up about conflict will strengthen your friendships.

Are you at odds with your significant other? Simply turn to friends and family, or read blogs and books, and you can get your hands on a lot of advice to help you work things out. But what if a conflict arises between you and your friends? Where do you turn to then?

Unfortunately, there are a lot fewer tips on resolving conflict between friends. That’s because, as studies report, we tend to avoid disagreements with friends more than with romantic partners. It’s difficult to open up about things that upset us because we often convince ourselves that we have no right to feel the way we do. So instead of expressing our frustration, we stuff it down and hope the problem goes away.

But by not talking about conflict, we set our friendship up for failure. Anger fosters feelings of resentment, which in turn fuels hostility, depression, and anxiety. All these things ultimately make us bad friends.

You need to communicate your anger if you want to save and deepen your friendships. To do this effectively, you need to follow seven steps:

First, calm your emotions. Never approach conflict while you’re still feeling furious.

Next, let your friend know ahead of time that you want to talk, so they can get themselves emotionally ready.

Third, when you do talk, don’t come from a place of blame. Instead, explain how your friend’s behavior upset you. Say, “I was hurt when you missed my son’s birthday” instead of, “You’re horrible for missing my son’s birthday.”

Fourth, ask to hear your friend’s side so that you can better understand why they acted the way they did.

Then soothe your triggers. It’s natural for you to get triggered as you talk about the conflict – but don’t let it control you.

The sixth step is to de-escalate when your friend becomes defensive. Reassure them that you’re not the enemy and that you’re fighting the conflict together. Agree with their valid points, and offer clarifying questions to ensure you fully grasp their perspective.

Finally, if the conflict is about a recurring issue, politely express what kind of change you expect from your friend moving forward.

Be generous – but know your limits.

You probably have that one friend who goes above and beyond, whether it’s by sending cookies they baked themselves or by bringing back souvenirs from their trips. You adore them not because you like getting gifts, but because they make you feel valued. That’s the effect generosity has on friendships. It’s like a magnet that draws people together, and it helps make existing relationships even closer.

This is exemplified in the results of a poll conducted by the investing advice firm Motley Fool. The company surveyed more than a thousand Americans – and found that generous people tend to have deeper connections, a wider circle of friends, and more social support in times of need.

So if you’re looking to gain new friends or nurture existing ones, be more generous. Offer coworkers a ride home. Help your friend move. Venmo them money for a fancy dinner. Generosity can take many forms, and it doesn’t always have to involve spending money.

Being generous is key to making and keeping friends, but it’s important to recognize your limits. First and foremost, be selective about the people you give to, so you don’t lose yourself in the process. Only be generous to people who genuinely care for you. If you’re not sure who they are, ask yourself whether you’re being generous because you love them – or because you want them to love you back. If it’s the latter, then you’re being generous to the wrong people. Stop and walk away.

Generosity should also be mutual. In other words, it’s OK to ask your friends for things, too. This isn’t a sign of selfishness or imposing on others. Instead, it demonstrates equilibrium. When you ask for things in return, you’re less likely to get burned out from giving – which, ironically, will make you even more willing to give.

Affection creates new friendships and deepens existing ones.

When was the last time you told a friend how much they mean to you? How much you enjoy having them in your life? How much you appreciate them supporting you through your problems?

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t tell your friends stuff like this very often – you’re not used to showing affection in friendships. Again, this mainly comes down to doubt. We don’t want to come off as weird, and we certainly don’t want them to think we have romantic feelings for them.

However, these same reasons work against us when it comes to creating deep friendships with others. Affection actually benefits relationships between friends in numerous ways.

For budding friendships, affection is the fuel that keeps a prospective friend’s interest in you burning bright. Robert Hays, a professor at the University of Utah, conducted a study demonstrating this. Over the course of twelve weeks, he observed pairs of people and discovered that those who went on to become friends showed a lot of affection toward each other.

Expressing affection to newfound friends also makes them more willing to invest in a relationship with you. The more affectionate you are, the safer they feel with you – and the more they want to become your friend.

Affection proves to be a primary ingredient in strengthening existing friendships, too. Posting on your friends’ social media pages, being there for them after bad news, and congratulating them online all contribute to a more fulfilling and tighter friendship. Affection also comes in handy when there’s a conflict. If you’re affectionate during difficult conversations, your friend feels more loved and empowered – which makes disputes easier to resolve.

Showing affection doesn’t always involve physical touch like hugs and kisses. You can express affection toward your friends in a lot of ways: smiling, greeting them warmly, praising their work with excitement, and telling them how great they are.

Try showing your affection the next time you hang out – and reap the rewards of reciprocity.

Summary

Whether we like it or not, friendships are essential to our well-being – maybe even more so than romantic relationships. That’s why it’s important for us to learn to make and keep friends. We can do this by taking the initiative to start the friendship, being authentic, resolving conflict, and showing vulnerability, generosity, and affection.

About the author

Dr. Marisa G. Franco holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Maryland and works as a professor there currently. She writes for Psychology Today and she has been a featured psychologist in The New York Times, NPR, and Good Morning America. Dr. Franco delivers talks about connection and belonging all over the country to private companies, universities, and non-profit organizations.

Marisa G. Franco | Website
Marisa G. Franco | Twitter @DrMarisaGFranco
Marisa G. Franco | Instagram @DrMarisaGFranco
Marisa G. Franco | Linktree
Marisa G. Franco | Email

Table of Contents

Author’s Note xi
Introduction: The Secret to Making Friends as an Adult xiii
Part I Looking Back How We’ve Become the Friends We Are
Chapter 1 How Friendship Transforms Our Lives 3
Chapter 2 How Our Past Relationships Affect Our Present 30
Part II Looking Forward Practices to Make and Keep Friends
Chapter 3 Taking Initiative 61
Chapter 4 Expressing Vulnerability 93
Chapter 5 Pursuing Authenticity 134
Chapter 6 Harmonizing with Anger 172
Chapter 7 Offering Generosity 201
Chapter 8 Giving Affection 236
Conclusion 269
Acknowledgments 273
Notes 277
Index 303

Overview

Is understanding the science of attachment the key to building lasting friendships and finding “your people” in an ever-more-fragmented world?

How do we make and keep friends in an era of distraction, burnout, and chaos, especially in a society that often prizes romantic love at the expense of other relationships? In Platonic, Dr. Marisa G. Franco unpacks the latest, often counterintuitive findings about the bonds between us—for example, why your friends aren’t texting you back (it’s not because they hate you!), and the myth of “friendships happening organically” (making friends, like cultivating any relationship, requires effort!). As Dr. Franco explains, to make and keep friends you must understand your attachment style—secure, anxious, or avoidant: it is the key to unlocking what’s working (and what’s failing) in your friendships.

Making new friends, and deepening longstanding relationships, is possible at any age—in fact, it’s essential. The good news: there are specific, research-based ways to improve the number and quality of your connections using the insights of attachment theory and the latest scientific research on friendship. Platonic provides a clear and actionable blueprint for forging strong, lasting connections with others—and for becoming our happiest, most fulfilled selves in the process.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“Dr. Franco’s book ‘Platonic’ is an ode to modern friendship, complete with a practical guide to making and keeping friends. It reminds us of the importance of platonic love in today’s society—bucking the notion that romantic love trumps everything else in our lives…the depth of research Ms. Franco weaves into the book sheds light onto an aspect of our world that—like an old and trusted pal—it may be too easy to take for granted.”—Wall Street Journal

“A remarkable examination of the epidemic of loneliness and sound advice for alleviating it…A pleasing mix of research, advice, and humor, this book is a useful tonic to a key social ailment.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A smart and savvy guide on forging friendships…This has wisdom to spare.” —Publishers Weekly

“As a culture we have long been obsessed with romantic love and parent/child love, and yet it will be our friendships that will most determine our health and out happiness. Reading Platonic will not only inspire a shift in your priorities, but will guide you to create the community you crave. Filled with studies, interviews, and real-life stories, Marisa Franco leads us back to what matters most: love in all its forms. If you want to feel genuinely connected, read this book.” —Shasta Nelson, author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen!

“There isn’t enough conversation around some of the central relationships in our lives: friends! We are craving information about how to make friends, keep friends, and be a better friend and Platonic delivers. I’m so impressed with the research and thoughtfulness in this book, and I learned so much about what might have gone wrong in my past friendships and what I want out of my current and future relationships. I closed this book determined to prioritize my friendships as one of the most important aspects of my life.” —Laura Tremaine, author of Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First.

“Filled with evidence-based tips and stories you can’t wait to share, Platonic is a fantastic guide not just for making and keeping friends—it’s also a manifesto for how to more effectively invest in the stuff that really matters in life.” —Laurie Santos, Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon Professor of Psychology at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast

“Platonic is an intensive exploration about the healing nature and safe-haven to be found in friendships. It’s a gentle, yet affirming, call-in for us to investigate how we’ve regarded the platonic relationships in our life and opportunities for deep fulfillment that we may be missing out on.” —Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., Founder & CEO, Therapy for Black Girls

“If you don’t want to see the doctor, see your friends. The evidence on this is very clear—having strong connections is the lowest-hanging fruit on the tree of a healthy life. What’s less straightforward is how you go about doing that, so see this doctor and she’ll help keep you away from the other ones.” —Billy Baker, author of We Need to Hang Out

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Chapter 1: How Friendship Transforms Our Lives

Connecting with Others Makes Us Ourselves

“Some of the widowed sit at home and watch television for the rest of their lives. They may be alive, but they’re not really living,” seventy-three-year-old Harriet remarks, referencing the members of the grief group she attended after her husband’s death. Harriet could have easily faced this same fate if it wasn’t for one thing: friendship.

Harriet didn’t always value friendship. In fact, up until she married Federico at the age of fifty, it wasn’t a priority. She was ambitious, working twelve-hour days and traveling enough to eventually meet her goal of visiting every country in the world. To ascend in her career, she moved across the US, chasing jobs-from the Northeast to the Midwest to the West and back to the Northeast again-disposing of friendships along the way.

But her ambitions never impeded her search for a spouse. “That was the training of my culture-to live your life to find a husband,” she says. She had a string of boyfriends throughout her life, and when those relationships clipped, she would hunt for someone new. She remembered visiting her co-worker Denise’s home and envying how she had it all: an impressive job, a husband, beautiful twins. Single at forty, she struggled to accept the reality that she might never have the husband and children she dreamed of. But, without the towering domestic obligations that arose from family life, she filled her hours with work.

Harriet admits friendship wasn’t all that fulfilling in her younger years because of how she approached it. She was ashamed of her childhood, as she grew up on a farm, dirt poor. During the summers, she worked on neighbors’ farms to pay for school. As she rose in her career, and her network increasingly churned with wealthy elites, she never felt like she belonged. Friendship was a place for her to live a double life, to perform the culture of affluence she never felt fully accustomed to: attending estate sales, dropping Benjamins on dinners, arguing over mundanities like the color of neighbors’ lawns. She never let herself get too comfortable around friends, lest they figure out where she really came from, who she really was.

Then, two things happened that resuscitated her view on friendship. First, when she married Federico, a social butterfly, she acquiesced to hosting friends in their home for regular gatherings. “People wanted to be around us because of how happy we were,” she says. From him, she learned that being around others could be a joy rather than a toll.

But it wasn’t until Federico died that she truly understood the value of friends. To heal her grief, she attended counseling for the first time, where she learned how to be vulnerable. She transferred the skill of vulnerability to her friendships. When she did, she experienced old friendships in new ways, as her bonds ceased to be places of pretend. While some friendships buckled under the honesty of her grief, others deepened, and she realized that being vulnerable, asking for support, could be a portal to deep intimacy.

In her old age, Harriet values friends more than ever. One friendship, she realized, has been her longest love story. She met Shirleen in college, when she was studying abroad in Marseilles. Shirleen was the least judgmental person she ever met, one of the only people Harriet could open up to. Although they lost touch after college, fourteen years later, Shirleen tracked her down and called her. Shirleen lived in London but made the effort to visit Harriet in Washington DC five times over the course of a couple of years. As much as Harriet loved Federico, he wasn’t one to talk about feelings, so throughout her life, Shirleen was her only true confidante. “For our life to feel significant, we crave someone to witness it, to verify its importance. Shirleen was my witness,” Harriet says. They still talk weekly, despite their five-hour time difference, and Shirleen has brought up moving to DC to be closer to Harriet.

Now, for Harriet, having friends is more important than having a spouse. She has a male friend with whom she goes for walks, and she’s unsure whether the relationship will remain platonic or become romantic. But she’s at peace either way: “I take measure of the value of the relationship in terms of whether we enjoy each other’s company, do things together, and share things with each other. The answer to all those questions is yes.” She’s in no rush to determine the fate of the relationship because “friendship is good too, and it’s not a second resort.”

At seventy-three, Harriet describes the way she’s come to value friendship as a sign that “I’ve finally grown up.” Every evening, she meets a friend for tea, dinner, or a walk. In this way, friends help her slow down and be present for life. “I don’t know about you, but when I’m alone, I eat standing up,” she says. “When I’m with friends, I eat paying attention.” In her old age, Harriet can’t travel as extensively as she used to, but instead she gets her thrills through the adventure of interacting with her different friends.

Harriet doesn’t have many regrets in her life-certainly not marrying Federico, even though he was nineteen years her senior and she spent a few years being his caretaker after he slipped into dementia. But she does wish she could have recognized the power of friendship sooner. Still, she’s thankful she came to value it before it was too late: “As you approach the end of your life, you realize each day is a gift, and you want to spend it in ways that are truly important. And for me, that means spending it with friends.”

Harriet’s trajectory reveals what we sacrifice when we diminish the importance of friends and what we gain when we value it. In Harriet’s time, and still today, friendship is cast as a lesser relationship, a buffer to soften the purgatory between leaving our family and finding a new one. But friendship doesn’t have to be so second-rate. As Harriet learned, it can be powerful, deep, and loving. And just like what happened with Harriet, friendship can save and transform us. In fact, it likely already has.

Why Friendship Matters

Friendship’s impact is as profound as it is underestimated. Ancient Greeks philosophized that it is a key to eudaimonia, or flourishing. Aristotle, for example, argued in Nicomachean Ethics that without friendship, “No one would choose to live.” Priests in the Middle Ages distrusted friendship, fearing its love could eclipse our love for God. Then, in the seventeenth century, it enchanted priests, who saw it as a channel to demonstrate our love for God.

These days, we typically see platonic love as somehow lacking-like romantic love with the screws of sex and passion missing. But this interpretation strays from the term’s original meaning. When Italian scholar Marsilio Ficino coined the term “platonic love” in the fifteenth century, the word reflected Plato’s vision of a love so powerful it transcended the physical. Platonic love was not romantic love undergoing subtraction. It was a purer form of love, one for someone’s soul, as Ficino writes, “For it does not desire this or that body, but desires the splendor of the divine light shining through bodies.” Platonic love was viewed as superior to romance.

The power of friendship isn’t just a relic of ancient thinking. It’s demonstrated by science. Psychologists theorize that our relationships, like oxygen, food, and water, are necessary for us to function. When stripped of them, we cannot thrive, which explains why friendship powerfully influences mental and physical health. Scientists have found that of 106 factors that influence depression, having someone to confide in is the strongest preventor. The impact of loneliness on our mortality is akin to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. One study found the most pronounced difference between happy and unhappy people was not how attractive or religious they were or how many good things happened to them. It was their level of social connection.

Friendship files down the barbs of life’s threats. When men were alone, a study found, they rated an alleged terrorist as more imposing than when they were with friends. Another study found that people judged a hill as less steep when they were with friends. I remember a time when I was arguing with a boss who refused to dole out my final paycheck. The conflict gave me a constant edge of anxiety until I told my friend Harbani how I was feeling over chai at a teahouse. As the story poured out, and the chai poured in, I felt better. It was the first peace I had had in weeks.

The healing force of friendship extends past our mental health and into our physical. In Marta Zaraska’s book Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism, and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100, she assesses the usual suspects that contribute to our longevity, such as diet and exercise, but she concludes that connection is the most powerful contributor. Meta-analyses have found, for example, that exercise decreases our risk of death by 23 to 30 percent, diet by up to 24 percent, and a large social network by 45 percent. When I shared this research with a colleague, she said, “Now I can feel better about being a social couch potato.” We all can.

While we can experience many of these benefits through other close relationships, like those with family and spouses, friendships have unique advantages. Friends, distinct from parents, do not expect us to live out their hopes and wants for us. With friends, distinct from spouses, we are not shackled with the insurmountable expectation of being someone’s everything, their puzzle piece to completeness. And distinct from our children, we aren’t the sole propagator of our friends’ survival. Our ancestors lived in tribes, where responsibility for one another was diffused among many. Friendship, then, is a rediscovery of an ancient truth we’ve long buried: it takes an entire community for us to feel whole.

Friendship, in releasing the relationship pressure valve, infuses us with joy like no other relationship. Without needing to plan for retirement, fulfill each other’s sexual needs, and work out who should be scrubbing the shower grime, we are free to make friendships territories of pleasure. One study, for example, found that hanging out with friends was linked to greater happiness than hanging out with a romantic partner or children. This was because, when around friends, people had fun-doing things like going bowling, or to the pumpkin patch, or to the dog park to steal some OPP (other people’s puppies)-whereas around spouses or children, they did the mundane, like washing dishes, paying bills, and reminding one another to floss.

Of course, friends too can sink into what friendship-memoirists Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow call “the intimately mundane.” Friendship can be a relationship of grocery shopping, chores, and shared retirements. As people unbundle sex, romance, and life companionship, they see that friends can make marvelous significant others. An Atlantic article called “The Rise of the 3-Parent Family” profiled David Jay, founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, who discussed spending his life with a friend he had “really intense energy with.” That didn’t work out, but he eventually settled into co-parenting with another couple. Friendship is flexible, depending on our needs. It can bring us a once-a-month lunch friend or a soul mate.

A key source of joy in friendship is in how unlimited it is: you can have many friends, whereas other core relationships are finite-a couple of caregivers, one spouse (for the monogamous among us), 2.5 children. Buddhism identifies mudita, or sympathetic joy, as vicariously experiencing others’ joy. In the Bible, Paul alludes to mudita when he writes of all of Jesus’s followers, “If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Our spouse, our children, our parents, they’ll all ping us with mudita, but with many friends to celebrate, joy becomes infinite.

I experienced the power of friendship for repeatedly invoking joy when I sold this book. My romantic partner at the time was excited for me, bringing me champagne and a strawberry shortcake with the word “BOOKED” written across it. We had a lovely night in. When I called my friends with the announcement, I got to reexperience this joy again and again, as they told me how excited they were, how they wanted to take me out to celebrate, and how much they hoped I would be interviewed by Oprah so they could come to the taping.

We choose our friends, which allows us to surround ourselves with people who root for us, get us, and delight in our joy. There’s no looming vow, formal ritual, or genetic similarity to retain us in friendship’s open palms. Through friendship, we can self-select into some of the most affirming, safe, and sacred relationships of our lives, not because of pressures from society to do so, but because we elect to do so. Cleo, who works for the government, told me that after her mother died, she felt alone and uncomfortable at the funeral. Her strained relationships with her family made her scared to break down. But when her friend Stephanie showed up, surprising her by flying in from Michigan, Cleo let herself weep.

The electiveness of friendship, coupled with its usual absence of romantic love, means that in friendship, we are free to choose relationships based on pure compatibility. British author C. S. Lewis once said, “Eros [romantic passion] will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” The consuming feelings of romantic love can sometimes drive us into mismatched relationships, as we erroneously use these consuming feelings as a litmus test for compatibility. But, as psychologist Harriet Lerner states, “Intense feelings, no matter how consuming, are hardly a measure of true and enduring closeness. . . . Intensity and intimacy are not the same.” When choosing friends, we are freer to prioritize the truest markers of intimacy, such as shared values, trust, admiration of each other’s character, or feelings of ease around each other. We don’t always do this, of course, which I’ll explore later in a chapter on navigating anger and conflict.

Friends don’t just support us personally; they benefit us collectively. When we zoom out to evaluate the merits of friendship on a macro level, we see how these relationships better society. As societies aim to increase justice and decrease prejudice, friendship provides a means. Research finds that having one friend in an outgroup (i.e., a group you’re not a part of) alters people’s response to that entire outgroup and even increases people’s support of policies benefitting the outgroup, suggesting that friendship may be necessary (but likely not sufficient) to trigger systemic change. Another study finds our hostility toward outgroups decreases when our friend is friends with someone in that group, signaling that friendship across groups can have ripple effects throughout entire networks. Prejudice thrives in the abstract, but once we become friends, others become complex beings who hurt and love just like we do, and no matter how different we think they are, we see ourselves in them.

A 2013 meta-analysis found friendship networks had been shrinking for the preceding 35 years, and the impact of this trend on society is grave. Friends research finds, increase our trust in others, and trust is necessary for society to operate. A study with participants from Germany, Czech Republic, and Cameroon found that across all three cultures, people who felt disconnected experienced something called social cynicism, “a negative view of human nature, a biased view against some groups of people, a mistrust of social institutions, and a disregard of ethical means for achieving an end.” Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, emphasized how when we share a social network with someone, we develop “thin trust”—we trust people we don’t know well, but, he argues, “as the social fabric of a community becomes more threadbare, its power to undergird norms of honesty, generalized reciprocity, and thin trust is enfeebled.” For banks to run, we trust our bankers won’t pocket our retirement and vacation in Katmandu. For grocery stores to run, we trust our kumquats aren’t laced with arsenic. For schools to run, we trust the teacher won’t force our children to spend the day clipping coupons for (arsenic-free) kumquats. And yet, this trust trembles when we’re disconnected.

Friendship is the Underdog of Relationships

By now, it may sound like I’m saying that to keep society from crumbling, we need to file for divorce, disown our families, twist up our tubes, and seek friends. That’s not it. What I am trying to convey is that, counter to how our culture treats friendship, it is as meaningful as the other relationship Goliaths. And yet, if you deeply value friendship, you’ve likely experienced your platonic love being relegated to second-class.

“What’s going on between you two?” people remark of close friends, their assumption being that platonic love alone cannot explain a tight bond. If two people aren’t romantically involved, then they’re not friends—they’re just friends. If they want to become romantic, they’ll say “let’s be more than friends.” People with friendship at the center of their relationships are unfairly cast as lonely, unappealing, or unfulfilled, a spinster with a choir of cats, or a bachelor who never quite matured. This happens when, all the while, research finds that friendship is what gives romantic love its strength and endurance, rather than the other way around.