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Making friends is easy when you're young, but it can be harder as you age


Psychologist Marisa Franco is on a crusade to help people become better friends. In her book, "Platonic," she writes that friendship is just as important to finding happiness and well-being as romantic and family ties. Kavitha George with NPR's Life Kit sat down with Franco to learn how to find new friends and deepen existing friendships.

KAVITHA GEORGE, BYLINE: When was the last time you made a new friend? As adults especially, whether you've just moved to a new city or fallen out of touch with old pals, it can feel like new friends don't just naturally fall into your life anymore.

MARISA FRANCO: Yeah. So here's what I would say. Don't assume friendship happens organically because, according to the research, that's related to being more lonely over time. So you can have to assume you have to try.

GEORGE: Marisa Franco has spent years researching friendships and compiled a how-to guide for navigating them. When you're looking for new friends, she says, seek out situations where you'll be in repeated contact with the same people. Instead of attending a networking event, join a professional development group that meets regularly. And remember, it's normal for things to feel awkward the first time you go. Don't be discouraged, she says, because we tend to underestimate how much people like us. People are a lot less likely to reject you than you think they are.

FRANCO: And then I would say, shoot your shot, which just looks like, hey, it's been so great to talk to you. I'd love to connect further. Do you mind if we exchange contact information? And reach out.

GEORGE: Once you've made a friend, there are a lot of ways you can start to deepen your friendship. Franco recommends practicing vulnerability with friends. And that doesn't have to mean sharing something painful or challenging. Think about what feels personal to you. Vulnerability tells your friend you trust them. And it helps build a deeper bond.

FRANCO: And this may not sound vulnerable, but it actually is kind of vulnerable for people. And that is sharing your joy with someone, sharing something, like, positive or an accomplishment that you're really proud of with someone. Sharing affection with people can also feel vulnerable, like telling someone something you like about them or something they said that really resonated with you.

GEORGE: Being generous is another way to show you're invested in your friendship. And make it personal. Franco recommends turning the skills and talents you already have into a generous act. Like if you're a great cook, offer to make a meal for your friend when they've had a hectic week at work. And last, remember that friendships aren't always easy. Conflict is a normal and healthy part of being friends. It can be tempting to push issues aside to preserve the peace, but Franco says that just creates the illusion that everything's going great.

FRANCO: The psychoanalyst Virginia Goldner, she talks about the difference between flaccid safety and dynamic safety. Flaccid safety is we feel safe because nobody brings up any issues. Dynamic safety is we feel safe because we rupture and repair, and we rupture and repair. And we know that if problems come up, we can actually work on them and still feel, like, intimate and connected.

GEORGE: When you're raising an issue with a friend, start by telling them how much you value their friendship. It signals that the reason you're bringing it up is because you're invested. Share how you feel using I statements like, I felt hurt when you bailed on their plans last minute. Ask for your friend's experience of the situation. And you can also describe what changes you'd like to see in your relationship in the future. But don't be too proud to admit where you've made mistakes, too. Like any relationship, friendship takes time, work and a fair amount of courage. But with practice, Franco says, it's also one of the best sources of connection and fulfillment you can find.

For NPR News, I'm Kavitha George.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNATHON FORD'S "GODFORSAKEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kavitha George