TIME Genetics

How Our Social Networks Impact Our Health

A new study says we may be genetically similar to our friends Digital Vision.—Getty Images

We share more than similar interests with our friends, we share genetics too

We might think we pick our pals based on who will best complement us—the old “opposite attracts” adage—but there may be something else at play. A new study published in the journal in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS) shows we are more genetically similar to our friends than to strangers. In fact, we’re about as genetically equivalent to our friends as we are our fourth cousins.

Though the latest findings were primarily reserved to a group of white people of European origin, the researchers say their findings suggest there is a genetic factor at play beyond physical appearance. Though the researchers say we only share about 1% of our genes with our friends, these underlying markers may make noteworthy patterns when it comes to who we decide to spend our time with, and could even influence our health.

The study is the second to recently show that the people we are closest to are also genetically similar to us. In May, another study published in PNAS found that people also tend to be genetically similar to their spouses. But why?

These questions are central to the work of researchers, James Fowler, a professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego, and Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist at Yale University. The pair have been building a growing body of research about why we choose our friends, and what evolutionary benefits these choices might have.

“Sharing genes with friends appears to enhance your utility to them,” says Dr. Christakis. “Consider the hypothetical example of speech. If you evolve the capacity to speak, its use to you is greatly enhanced if you form ties with others who have evolved the same capacity.” On the other hand, the researchers found that we tend to hang out with people whose immune system make up is different from ours, which also makes genetic sense, since evolutionarily we don’t want to be susceptible to the same illnesses as our best friend or partner. We could pass it to each other, and then who takes care of who?

In the past, the researchers have looked at how social contagion can spread generosity and have reported thar people are more likely to light up a cigarette if their friends do. And in a 2007 study, the pair showed that friends can influence our weight more than genetics or family members, showing that when a study participant’s friend become obese, there was a 57% greater chance that the participant would also become obese too. They believe it’s not just that we share lifestyle behaviors with our friends, but that friends change our opinions on what we believe to be appropriate social behavior. Conversely, friends could also help us stay on a weight loss plan for the same reasons. The researchers also show that social networks could also have the potential to predict epidemics given that most are set up in a similar way, where certain people are more connected and popular than others, and subsequently more likely to come in contact with disease.

In earlier studies on friendship and genetics, Christakis and Fowler suggested that genetics can influence social behavior in networks of friends, even impacting whatever predispositions those friends already have. For example, if someone is genetically predisposed to alcoholism, and they end up associating with people of similar genotypes who are more likely to have alcohol available, that could be a problem for them. But on the other hand, if that same person chooses a group of friends with a different make-up, alcohol may not be frequently present, and their predisposition remains un-triggered.

That means friendships might modify the way our own genes are expressed, the authors propose. Meaning human evolution is not just limited to the influence of physical and biological environments, but social ones as well.

TIME celebrities

David Schwimmer Helps New York Police Solve a Crime

Michigan Avenue Magazine Celebrates Cover Star David Schwimmer With Russian Standard Vodka At The Dec Rooftop Lounge + Bar
David Schwimmer attends Michigan Avenue Magazine Celebrates Cover Star David Schwimmer With Russian Standard Vodka At The Dec Rooftop Lounge + Bar on May 22, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Jeff Schear--2013 Getty Images

The "Friends" actor saved the day when he brought forward video surveillance footage that captured an assault that took place across the street from his East Village home

Let’s hear it for Ross Geller! Actor David Schwimmer, who played Ross in Friends, provided New York police with key evidence in an assault that took place early Monday morning.

Three men got into an altercation that turned violent in a first-floor apartment in New York’s East Village neighborhood, the New York Post reports. The fight eventually spilled into the apartment’s hallway before the men smashed through a glass door in the building’s lobby. Police arrived on the scene and though one man ran away, another was taken to the hospital with stab wounds to the face and a third man was arrested.

The police “had only the two men’s accounts of who did what to whom,” the Post reports, until they noticed a nearby surveillance camera on Schwimmer’s property, located next to the crime scene. Schwimmer reportedly invited the police right into his home to view the assault captured on his security camera. The police then “left with a tape that might be used in court.”

[New York Post]

TIME Television

The One With the Post-Nuclear Families: Why Friends Still Matters


The sitcom, which ended ten years ago, was innocuous by design. But its message was no less important: if you came from a broken family, or were putting an untraditional one together, it was there for you.

When long-running popular sitcoms come to an end, they generate a lot of discussion about what they mean or, as in the case of How I Met Your Mother, what will happen. But when Friends aired its last episode, a decade ago tonight, there wasn’t; it was just a popular, fun show that ran a lot of years and now wasn’t going to anymore. What else was there to say? It was Friends, for God’s sake!

The reason, I thought, was that there was a bias built into our definition of “important” sitcoms: they had to spur controversies (like All in the Family) or shake up the format and tone of the sitcom form (like Seinfeld). But that’s not the only way TV affects its audience: sometimes, shows are significant precisely because they’re innocuous. They make a statement not about what irritates our society but about what it has, sometimes without entirely noticing, come to accept. So I did a deep dive into the past season DVDs–this was 2004, after all–and wrote an essay for TIME about the show’s open-secret theme: that the “normal” family was a thing of the past, and that a mass audience, as shown by Friends‘ very innocuousness, was fine with that.

The essay, unfortunately, is paywalled. (TIME, fortunately, is glad to sign up you to subscribe so you can read it and everything else in full!) But here’s an excerpt, and the gist:

Being part of Gen X may not mean you had a goatee or were in a grunge band; it did, however, mean there was a good chance that your family was screwed up and that you feared it had damaged you. … For 10 years, through all the musical-chairs dating and goofy college-flashback episodes, the characters have dealt with one problem: how to replace the kind of family in which they grew up with the one they believed they were supposed to have. One way was by making one another family. But they also found answers that should have, yet somehow didn’t, set off conniptions in the people now exercised over gay marriage and Janet Jackson’s nipple.

There was, of course, all the sleeping around, though that’s not exactly rare on TV today. More unusual was Friends‘ fixation–consistent but never spotlighted in “very special episodes”–with alternative families. Like all romantic comedies, Friends tends to end its seasons with weddings or births. And yet none of the Friends has had a baby the “normal” way–in the Bushian sense–through procreative sex between a legally sanctioned husband and wife. Chandler and Monica adopt. Ross has kids by his lesbian ex-wife and his unwed ex-girlfriend. Phoebe carries her half brother and his wife’s triplets (one of the funniest, sweetest and creepiest situations ever–“My sister’s gonna have my baby!” he whoops). As paleontologist Ross might put it, Friends is, on a Darwinian level, about how the species adapts to propagate itself when the old nuclear-family methods don’t work.

It’s not as if Friends changed society single-handed, or that society has changed that completely at all. Even if audiences were unfazed by Friends‘ gay wedding (performed by Candace Gingrich!), gay marriage is still becoming legal only state by state. But it’s certainly true that Friends‘ running theme of untraditional, improvisatory families is now part of the standard language of sitcoms like Modern Family (in which Cam and Mitchell are readying to get hitched) and Trophy Wife. Transgender characters are more common, as on Orange Is the New Black, and given a more subtle portrayal than Chandler’s Vegas-drag-queen father. (Friends wasn’t that perfectly enlightened, the major case in point being its almost entirely white universe of characters.)

A decade after Friends, in other words, complicated is now normal. Maybe Friends didn’t proselytize for these changes, and it never sought credit for them. Today, if you watch the reruns, you probably think of the show, if anything, as The One Where They Drank Coffee and Dated Each Other in Various Combinations. You probably don’t think about the importance of Friends at all. And that means it did its job.

TIME Television

10 Ways Friends Gave You Unrealistic Expectations for Your Twenties

NBC via Getty Images

Hint: you won't have that apartment, that job or that many boyfriends. You probably don't have a monkey, and you definitely don't know how to cook

High-waisted jeans are back in, and people still drink a lot of coffee — but that’s pretty much all our adult lives have in common with the poker-playing, apartment-swapping lives of the characters on Friends.

It’s been ten years since the series finale aired, and for those of us who spent hour upon hour watching the show, it’s still a bummer that our lives aren’t exactly like those of Rachel, Monica, Ross, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey. Adulthood was supposed to be about coordinated New Years’ dances, football games for troll trophies and songs about malodorous felines. Dating was supposed to be fun! (It’s not.)

Here are 10 lies Friends told you (and us) about life in our twenties:

1. Your friends are always around and never have anything better to do but hang out with you.

On Friends, every room you walk into is automatically full of great company. This is not the case in the real world. In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll run into the one person you hate than the five people you love. We spend more time texting about when we’ll hang out than actually hanging out.

2. You can count on getting a seat on the comfy couch at the coffee shop.

This cruel lie set us up for a lifetime of near-misses with coffee shop couches. The couch at Central Perk is always unoccupied and always has exactly enough room for all the friends to comfortably sit. In the real world, there’s only one reason a couch in a coffee shop stays open for long, and it usually has to do with some kind of bodily fluid or spillage.

3. Working is more of a suggestion than a requirement.

Just to pick on Central Perk once more: you have to wonder what cushy jobs all the friends had that they could take hour-long coffee breaks at a coffee shop far from their places of work in the middle of the day. Which makes #4 even more befuddling.

4. You can pay for a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village on waitressing tips and chef’s wages.

Alright, Rachel and Monica “inherited” the apartment and all its amazing furniture from Monica’s grandmother, but they would still have to make rent on a part-time chef and waitress’ salaries. Seems a little too good to be true. Alas, it is.

5. You can have kids and still hang out with your friends just as much as you did before.

Nothing seems to get in the way of the friends hanging out at Central Perk, not even parenthood. Ben is born in the first season and Emma is born in the eighth season, but neither kid really seems to put a real dent in Ross or Rachel’s social life, which is mighty convenient. Emma tags along to the coffee shop all the time, and Ben basically becomes Ross’s ex-wife’s problem (even though Ross talked all the time about what a great dad he was.)

6. Having a pet monkey is totally allowed in New York City.

Newsflash: it’s not. It’s even hard to have a normal pet like a dog in a city with so few pet-friendly apartments. Don’t get us started on the chick and the duck.

NBCU Photo Bank NBC—NBC via Getty Images

7. You can’t walk down the street in New York without meeting an eligible singleton.

Oh, if only this were the case. The friends met their dates in coffee shops, restaurants, parks and even the middle of the street. What’s more, these eligible bachelors and bachelorettes ended up being ripped firemen, hot Dutch girls or tech billionaires. One of the friends had a date practically every episode, and Tinder hadn’t even been invented yet.

8. The person you’re “meant to be” with has been there all along.

On Friends, the great romances can be traced back hilarious and romantic moments from the gangs’ teens. Ross has a crush on Rachel since high school, and it’s only when the friends rewatched Monica’s old prom video that Rachel realizes how much Ross has always loved her. Monica and Chandler begin to develop feelings for each other during Thanksgiving vacations in college. If only there were real-life flashbacks that could tell you who “the one” is.

9. You can stay friends after you break up.

After some minor speed bumps — Rachel dropping “We were on a break!” every episode, Ross accidentally saying Rachel’s name at his wedding to Emily—Rachel and Ross were really, truly friends after their breakup, and not in a “friends who are trying not to fork each other in the eye” way. Most couples are not so mature.

10. Your friends will always be your friends forever.

Nothing can come between the Friends; not money, marriage or parenthood. Even after they drop off their keys in the series finale, you know they’ll always be friends. Sadly, that’s not always the case with our real-life friendships where people grow apart, meet other through work or social events or lose touch after they have their own families.

In other words, Friends is basically an adolescent conception of an ideal adulthood; your entire clique is hanging out all the time, with (almost) no parents and (almost) no responsibilities and plenty of cute boys. Sounds nice — but it’s only fiction.

TIME Television

Seven Shows to Fill the How I Met Your Mother-Sized Hole in Your Heart

Josh Radnor as Ted, Cobie Smulders as Robin, Jason Segel as Marshall, Alyson Hannigan as Lily, and Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Ron P. Jaffe / Fox Television / CBS

From classics of the genres to Mother's own spinoff

After nine season and 208 episodes, How I Met Your Mother aired its season finale last night. But whatever your feelings about it (and there were plenty of them), fans of the show will be without one of the most reliable comedies of the last decade. Fortunately, there are plenty of shows —new and old, niche and broad, live-action and animated — that can fill the void left behind by the Mother gang:

New Girl (FOX)

If there’s a genuine spiritual successor to HIMYM, it’s New Girl. Swap New York for Los Angeles, add a prominent player (depending on how you feel about the return of Coach) and you’ve got the very familiar early 30s, three guys-two girls, sexual tension all over the place, nonstop inside-joke formula that made HIMYM so successful. The archetypes don’t quite match up — though Max Greenfield’s Schmidt is a fan favorite in much the same way that Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney was —but it’s close enough that HIMYM fans should be able to seamlessly transition to New Girl. Plus, without an overarching gimmick that mirrors the one from HIMYM‘s, New Girl viewers shouldn’t be in for nearly as much disappointment when the show eventually finishes its run.

Community (NBC)

Dan Harmon’s critically acclaimed show already has a devoted following, but there’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon. It might not be quite as easy to slip into Community as it was HIMYM, but the payoff is almost guaranteed to be more rewarding. Rather than following a familiar formula week after week, each episode of Community is its own adventure — all set within the confines of the world’s worst community college. The show lost its showrunner (Harmon, who has now returned) and two of its cast members (Chevy Chase and Donald Glover), but remains as funny as it’s ever been and shows little sign of slowing down. Its partner for NBC’s 8 p.m. hour on Thursday nights, Parks and Recreation, is also a viable option.

Archer (FX)

If HIMYM‘s propensity for inside jokes is what drew you to the show, Archer should be your next stop. It’s true that it has little obviously in common with HIMYM other than the fact that they’re both half-hour comedies about humans (Archer is an animated series about about a spy agency-turned-drug cartel, soon to be turned-spy agency once again), but it takes inside joke-making to unprecedented levels. Archer also has the advantage of being arguably the funniest half-hour on television, so it’s hard to go wrong there.

Seinfeld/Friends (NBC)

You might have heard of them. The spiritual predecessors to HIMYM, Seinfeld and Friends are both worthy of binging if you didn’t catch them the first time around. HIMYM is about a close a clone of Friends as you’ll find — though there have been plenty of imitators over the years and HIMYM is, by all accounts, the best one. As for Seinfeld, if you haven’t watched it yet, you probably should just go ahead and do that. (Also if you watch its finale, you probably won’t be as disappointed by HIMYM’s anymore.)

Silicon Valley (HBO)

HBO’s latest comedy effort, created by Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill), isn’t likely to bear much resemblance to HIMYM as it chronicles the efforts of six programmers looking to hit it big in the tech industry, but it does start this Sunday and has received rave reviews. Never hurts to start something from the beginning, especially since that’s not an option for the five shows listed above.

How I Met Your Dad (CBS)

Of course, the other option is to wait for HIMYM‘s spinoff, How I Met Your Dad. The new show, which will not so much be a spinoff as its own standalone series, features an entirely new cast, headlined by Greta Gerwig as the dad-meeter. Though it will feature all-new characters and locations, HIMYD will be run by HIMYM showrunners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, as well as Emily Spivey. Few details are known at this point, but its a safe bet that HIMYD will feel very familiar to fans of its predecessor.

TIME technology

This Incredibly Creepy Robot Can Wear Your Friends’ Faces And Talk To You About Your Feelings

But it will most likely turn on you, as robots are wont to do


All robots are inherently at least a little creepy, but this one is the winner. It’s called SociBot-Mini and it’s basically a disembodied head and torso that can put on your friends’ faces and then analyze your mood and talk to you about it.

A team at Engineered Arts in the U.K. created the desktop bot, which uses a depth-sensing camera to capture and recognize gestures, New Scientist reports. Its software allows it to analyze your grimaces and smiles to assess your overall mood. It’s also equipped with chatbot software, so once it has sized up your feelings, it can talk to you about them. (Hopefully the technology isn’t advanced enough to pinpoint your weaknesses and then use them to bring you down, but we can’t be sure.)

The creepiest part, though, isn’t the abstract concept of a robot being able to determine your feelings. The creepiest part is what you can physically see with your eyes: the 3D screen that projects a face — either a generic one or one based on a headshot. Although, now we kind of want to feed it a headshot of Ryan Gosling and see what happens.

TIME Television

Netflix Comedy from Friends Creator to Star Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin

2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter - Arrivals
Jane Fonda on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. Mark Sullivan—WireImage

Netflix continues to build its roster of original shows with TV veteran Marta Kauffman

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin will star in the new Netflix show Grace and Frankie, a 13-episode comedy series created by Marta Kauffman of Friends fame.

Fonda and Tomlin teamed up 14 years ago on the series 9 to 5; in this new show, their two characters’ lives are upended when both their husbands announce that they are in love with one another and begin planning their wedding, according to the Hollywood Reporter. (The premise sounds somewhat similar to an early Friends plot line in which Ross’ first wife, Carol, leaves him to marry a woman.)

Grace and Frankie will join a growing number of Netflix original shows, including House of Cards. The streaming service is also preparing four Marvel series — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage — as well as a miniserires called The Defenders and an untitled family drama starring Kyle Chandler and Sissy Spacek from the creators of Damages.


TIME relationships

What’s Wrong with ‘Just Friends’?

Getty Images

Ours is a friendly world. Politicians are our friends. Teachers are our friends. Baristas are our friends. Personal trainers are our friends — except on leg day. But in spite of all of this amicability, I can’t help thinking, like Socrates in Lysis: “Though we consider ourselves to be friends to each other … we have not yet been able to discover what we mean by ‘friends.’ ”

A few Fridays ago, I was having dinner with a writer friend at a lovely Baltimore café. It was clear that most diners were romantic couples, but we were not. As the lights dimmed and the sweethearts inched closer together, I couldn’t but wonder if I’d gotten the short end of the stick. All of these couples enjoying love, and here I was with a… friend. Granted, he paid for dinner, which was nice, and complimented my appearance, which was nicer. But at the end of the date, as is often the case with friends, we exchanged hugs, and went our separate ways.

To be clear, he’s straight, and I’m gay, so romance isn’t really in the cards for us. But even framing the language this way makes it seem as if friendship is something we have to settle for simply because of the sexual accident of our circumstances.

Of course, we can’t deny that sexuality features into conversations about friendship. Increasing LGBT visibility has undoubtedly added a new dimension to discussions about same-sex relationships, much like the mid-century introduction of women into traditionally male social circles challenged the prevailing understanding of mixed gendered Platonic love. Further, our Freudian knack for psychoanalyzing every cigar we come across forces us to question even the most asexual of relationships. And thus, we’re convinced that the only lovers more passionate than Achilles and Patroclus are David and Jonathan. After all, that kind of love, that devotion, that fierce loyalty — how could anyone argue these men were merely friends?

One sometimes encounters the idea today that friendship is a lesser kind of relationship than romance. (I say “today” because the Ancients often praised friendship as a virtue.) This is most clearly seen in the language we use to reject would-be suitors: “I appreciate the offer, but I think we’re better off just friends.” Just friends? As if friendship were some sort of consolation prize — we were hoping for kisses, but hugs will have to do. The sentiment also bears out in our advice to those trying to rush romance. “Take it slow,” we caution. “Start as friends, and then see where it goes.” The idea being that friendship, if you’re lucky, might end up as something better.

Why do we think of friendship as the default mode for a relationship, the thing we settle for when DNA or the alignment of stars doesn’t allow us a more special way of relating to someone else? Perhaps this has something to with our desire to quantify our relationships. Good Homo sapiens that we are, we need our relationships to have specific goals. With romantic relationships, the goals are clear: they might be marriage, or commitment, or sex. And thus, the climax of a romantic movie is an engagement, or a kiss, or a handprint on a foggy car window. Similarly, we know what the goal of family is: survival. But with friendship, goals and milestones aren’t nearly as defined.

Further confusing the issue is social media. There is one fact about social media relationships worth considering, and it’s probably often overlooked due to its simplicity: Facebook has made friendship easy. The request is sent. Confirmed. And — voila — friendship! Because the acquisition of what we call “friends” is so easy, friendship no longer seems like an accomplishment. We’ve degraded the value of friendship by forgetting that it comes at a cost. No surprise, then, that we see it merely as a means to a greater end, a necessary and at times inconvenient banality on the way to a more intimate relationship.

But if intimacy is the goal, friendship is capable of achieving that. I’m not talking about sexual intimacy — as Joseph Epstein wrote in his book on friendship, friends, by definition, are without “benefits.” Rather, I mean intimacy to refer to a passionate way of knowing someone. Friends know each other; they learn each other, study each other and try to figure each other out. This, of course, takes time and hard work: the art of learning someone is a skill that must be cultivated over a lifetime. And, unlike romance — or Facebook requests — the goal isn’t always clear or defined.

Perhaps, though, the beauty of friendship is, like art, its lack of utility. C.S. Lewis famously put it this way: Friendship “has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

Brandon Ambrosino is a writer and professional dancer based in Baltimore.

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