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Friendship & Connectivity by Natalie Yard, MA

If you want to cultivate friendships and experience meaningful connections, but you’re not sure how, you’re not alone. In fact, a myriad of studies show that many people are lacking a sense of community and are unsure of how to go about connecting with the people around them. Our communities used to be built-in, whereas today, they are sought after. As innately social creatures, for eons weve thrived on being connected to one another. Its through this connection that we experience a sense of closeness and belonging. Not surprisingly, research supports that connecting with others not only feels good, but is indubitably good for your health. In fact, one landmark study revealed that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety, higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, and strengthened immune systems. On the contrary, research supports that a lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Put simply, it’s evident that by being in connection with others, we improve our physical health, as well as our mental and emotional well-being. On the other hand, by not prioritizing connection, we put our health at risk. 

Connection Barriers 

Despite our desire for social connection being innate, we still face barriers that impede our ability to create meaningful friendships and cultivate a sense of community around us. These barriers include, but are not limited to: social media, unrealistic expectations, and anxiety. 

With the rise of social media and digital interactions, it might seem like the opportunity to connect with others is more prevalent than ever. After all, at its core, social media holds out the assurance of connection and presents the alluring promise of community with just a few clicks. However, it turns out that social media may not be the most effective way to lessen feelings of isolation and experience social connectedness. In actuality, researchers have found that people who use multiple social media platforms report more symptoms of anxiety and depression. What’s more, longer or more frequent use of social media also appears to predict depressive symptoms. That’s not to say that social media can’t help facilitate connections; rather, that we shouldn’t rely solely on likes, followers, and social media engagement to, “fill up our social connection cups.” We need real human interaction. This requires disconnecting from social media to allow ourselves the opportunity to connect with the people around us.  

Realistically, it requires more effort to foster connection and experience authentic engagement with others. Dr. Marisa G Franco, licensed psychologist and sought-after friendship and belonging expert, elucidates this concept by sharing that the belief that friendships happen organically can actually hinder our chances of making friends. To elaborate, one study found that believing that friendships happen based on luck was related to more loneliness, whereas believing that friendship takes effort was related to less loneliness. Why? Because the people who believed that making friends took effort, put the effort in. They showed up at events and intentionally pursued connecting with others. They had realistic expectations about what was required from them to foster and sustain friendships, and they hung in there until their desire for friendship came to fruition. 

Still, putting the effort in can be nerve-racking, right? Many people experience some degree of anxiety when meeting new people, which can interfere with their ability to connect with another person. They might fear being rejected or judged. My suggestion for these people would be to continue to show up, despite having uncomfortable feelings and fears. Here’s why—the mere exposure effect. This psychological phenomenon says that people like us more if they are merely exposed to our face. In other words, people tend to develop a preference for what is familiar. One study involved planting strangers in a college class, for a varying number of classes. The strangers didnt interact with the students. Yet, students reported liking the stranger who showed up for many classes more than the one who showed up for fewer. Students rated the likability of the stranger who showed up to the class the most 20% higher than the one who showed up the least. If you want to make friends and connect with others, the evidence is clear— you need to show up, and show up consistently. 

Putting Information Into Practice

We cultivate friendships and experience meaningful connections when we stop seeing ourselves as passive agents of our social worlds. We mustn’t wait for others to reach out, introduce themselves, invite us to events, or include us in their communities. Instead, we must embrace the idea that we have more agency over our social worlds than we might think we do. To reiterate, we must disconnect from social media to connect to the people around us, have realistic expectations about what is required from us to foster and sustain friendships, and keep showing up in pursuit of connection and authentic engagement with others, despite feeling anxious or fearful. The more intentional we are about pursuing connection, the more we benefit from our efforts. 

Additional Resources:

-New York Times Bestseller book titled, Platonic: How The Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—and Keep—Friends by Dr. Marisa G Franco

-Podcast Title: The Ed Mylett Show, Podcast Episode: The Science of Amazing Friendships w/ Dr. Marisa Franco

-Co-founder and CEO of Squad, Isa Watson’s book titled, Life Beyond Likes: Logging Off Your Screen and Into Your Life


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Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Sidani, J. E., Bowman, N. D., Marshal, M. P., & Primack, B. A. (2017). Problematic social media use and depressive symptoms among US young adults: A nationally-representative study. Social Science & Medicine, 182, 150-157.

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