TIME advice

7 Signs You’re in a Toxic Friendship

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Miroslaw Oslizlo—Getty Images

Breaking up isn’t just for romantic partners—here’s how to know if it’s time to cut ties

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

Filling your life with supportive friends is seriously good for your health. In fact, one 10-year long Australian study showed that participants with solid friend groups were 22% more likely to live longer, and researchers at Harvard concluded that happiness was almost “infectious” amongst friends who lived within a mile of each other.

Every now and then, however, a friend grates at your patience, sanity, and overall happiness. While small infractions often pass, or can be resolved by talking it out, sometimes it comes time for a friend “breakup.” It’s something many women dread or delay—but why do we hang onto friends that are clearly no good?

“There’s a social stigma over ending friendships,” says Dr. Irene S. Levine, psychologist and author of Best Friends Forever. “There are no scripts or rules, so people are at a loss for how to go about it.” If you’re in denial, here are a few warning signs to watch for. Recognize a friend in one of these scenarios? It might be time to have “the talk.”

1. She needs you for absolutely everything.

While a friend who depends on you doesn’t seem like cause for concern, too much neediness can exhaust you and use up one of your most important resources: time.

“Women tend to rely on their friends more heavily for emotional sustenance,” says Levine. “But if someone is constantly depending on you, that’s when it’s toxic.” That neediness can range from acting as her consultant on decisions both big and small, to, in more extreme cases, becoming her main source for financial assistance. We all lean on our friends for support, but if you’re persistently serving as her crutch, beware.

(MORE: 5 Inspirational Friendships)

2. You dread seeing her, and you’re relieved when she leaves.

Keep in mind: “Friendships are voluntary relationships,” says psychologist and self-help author Dr. Laura Sapadin. “Nobody makes you be a friend.” So if you’re purposefully ignoring her calls or trying to come up with excuses to get out of your lunch date, it might time to break up.

3. You’re both in constant conflict (and not just the obvious kind).

It’s not just about arguing all the time—although if you two have started to make the Real Housewivesseem tame, that’s definitely cause for concern. Conflict can manifest in other places—like your schedules. If your friend doesn’t make time for you the way you carve out time for her, then she might not value your friendship.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Win People Over)

4. You suffer from “friendship whiplash.”

Some toxic friendships jump back and forth between great and awful—that inconsistency can be a red flag.

“The unpredictability takes a toll on you,” says Levine. “It can make you anxious, nervous, or depressed when you don’t know what to expect from a friend whom you’re supposed to rely on.”

5. You’re experiencing “symptoms.”

Friendships can boost your mental and physical health, but bad friendships can do the opposite. According to Levine, if you begin to suffer headaches or stomach cramps after getting together or in anticipation of seeing your friend, the relationship is doing more harm than good.

(MORE: How to Make Positive Changes in Your Life)

6. She can’t see her own flaws.

Sapadin calls this “enaction”: You finally confront your friend for being accusatory and demeaning, and she fires back with, “You’re too sensitive!” A good friend should seem open-minded and willing to acknowledge problems.

“If the response shows they don’t get it, then you know this relationship is not one you want to continue,” Sapadin says.

(MORE: How to Look Good in Pictures)

7. She betrays your trust.

“Women get very invested in their friends because they share so much of their lives with them,” says Levine. So, when your friend betrays that bond, don’t ignore a gut feeling that tells you it’s a big deal. Trust isn’t trivial—and any betrayal is a sign to reevaluate the relationship.

Sapadin agrees: “This can abruptly end a friendship, and it only has to happen once.”

(MORE: 6 Office Wardrobe Malfunctions to Avoid)

MONEY advice

Help! My Friends Aren’t Saving For Retirement. What Can I Do?

Here's your chance to give your financial advice in the pages of MONEY magazine.

Did you ever want to be a personal-finance advice columnist? Well, here’s your chance.

In MONEY’s “Readers to the Rescue” department, we publish questions from readers seeking help with sticky financial situations, along with advice from other readers on how to solve those problems. Here’s our latest reader question:

What can I do about my friends who are 15 years from retirement and not saving for it?

What advice would you give? Fill out the form below and tell us about it. We’ll publish selected reader advice in an upcoming issue. (Your answer may be edited for length and clarity.)

Please include your contact information so we can get in touch; if we use your advice in the magazine, we’d like to check with you first, and possibly run your picture as well.

Thank you!

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TIME psychology

The Single Most Important Thing to Do Today if You Want to Live a Long, Happy Life

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Abel Mitja Varela—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Might sound trite or corny, but go see a friend.

The research regarding what it takes to live a long life and what it takes to live a happy life overlap significantly. One of the things they share is spending time with friends.

Harvard happiness expert Dan Gilbert says that what brings us the most happiness is family and friends.

Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction.

By allowing unobserved individual fixed effects to be factored out from the life satisfaction equation, an increase in the level of social interaction with friends and relatives is estimated to be worth up to an extra £85,000 a year. In terms of statistical significance, this is strikingly large. The estimated figure is even larger than that of getting married (which is worth approximately £50,000). It can compensate for nearly two-third in the loss of the happiness from going through a separation (minus £139,000) or unemployment (minus £143,000). It is also roughly nine times larger than the average real household income per capita in the dataset, which is around £9,800 a year.

Most of what we do to relieve stress doesn’t actually work. Friends, however, do take the edge off.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

Can money buy happiness? Yes, but not how you might expect. Harvard’s Michael Norton explains that one of the most notable ways cash brings joy is by spending it on other people:

Connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

What yes/no question can likely predict whether you will be alive and happy at age 80?

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved. Conversely, as the social neuroscientist John Cacioppo has argued, loneliness is such a disabling condition that it compels the belief that the pursuit of relationships is a rock-bottom fundamental to human well-being.

The Longevity Project details a research project at Harvard that has followed 268 men for over 72 years, making it one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history.

What was the most important lesson the scientists learned?

…the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.

And, sorry: Facebook isn’t enough. John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, explains that technology is best if you use it to arrange face-to-face contact:

In one experiment, Cacioppo looked for a connection between the loneliness of subjects and the relative frequency of their interactions via Facebook, chat rooms, online games, dating sites, and face-to-face contact. The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

And choose wisely. Spending time with fake friends — or “frenemies” — is worse than spending time with real enemies:

“Friends that we feel ambivalently about raise our blood pressure more — cause more anxiety and stress — than people we actively dislike.

Want to strengthen your friendships? Go here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY

Hey Millennials, Watch What You Say About that New Job, Promotion or Raise

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DGP&C—Getty Images

Your friends may not be as happy for your good news as you'd think.

You earn a raise or a promotion, and the first person you want to share the good news with is your significant other or a close friend. It’s instinctive.

But these days, it’s best to proceed with caution—especially if you’re a Millennial. If your bestie isn’t doing so well at work, news of your big promotion or bonus could strain the relationship.

“Work trajectories are incredibly unpredictable for all generations working today, but particularly for Millennials in the early years of their careers,” says Lindsey Pollak, author of the new book Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. “With young professionals leaving jobs more quickly and the barrier to entrepreneurship quite low thanks to the Internet, it is likely that Millennial friends or significant others will have widely disparate levels of career or financial success.”

Friendships can be tested when there are income differences at play. When one friend has a lot of money to spend on fancy dinners, shopping trips and lavish vacations while other friends are struggling to pay the rent, says Pollak, it can lead to disagreements over how to spend time together or, at the least, a bit of discomfort.

So how should you break the news of a promotion, salary increase, or job change to a close friend who’s struggling financially or career-wise?

First, take a moment to empathize, Pollak says: “Ask yourself what you would want your friend to say if the roles were reversed,” she says.

Then, try to give the news a more sensitive spin. Concentrate on sharing it in a humble way, says Pollak. And as a general rule, leave out specific numbers, like the size of your salary increase. In other words:

“I’m really excited—I just found out I got a promotion to the associate role I’ve been wanting!”

or

“It looks like I’ll be getting a nice bonus at the end of the year. Can I take you out for drinks to celebrate?”

rather than

“I am getting a huge raise—like $35,000 more than I make now! Can you believe it?!”

Depending on the friend and how close you are, you may decide that it’s best to stay mum. “It’s really a personal choice depending on your relationship and how public the news is,” says Pollak.

But keep in mind that not sharing can be just as hurtful, in some cases. “No friend wants to feel that you excluded him or her from your career news because he or she isn’t as successful,” says Pollak.

Finally, what if your significant other is the one who’s struggling?

“Characterize your success in terms of ‘we’ — especially if you are in a long-term committed relationship,” says Pollak. “And use your promotion as an opportunity to thank your partner for being supportive and helping to make your success possible.”

If that doesn’t do the trick, she says, “then you might want to look at bigger issues in your relationship.”

Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money and author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. She blogs at Farnoosh.TV.

TIME Etiquette

How to Break Up With a Bad Friend

End of friendship
Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Minimizing pain for all parties concerned is key

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

“Friends forever” is sweet to write in a yearbook, but sometimes we outgrow old friendships — and that’s okay. Devastating, but okay. It can feel like the very antithesis of friendliness both to recognize when a relationship no longer serves us, and moreover, to retire it.

Think of a friendship like a piece of cake. (Not that friendship is easy, but — just imagine some cake.) You can let it sit out and forget about it; it’ll get stale. You can stick it in the fridge; it’ll be fine for a while, but at a certain point you’ll smell it and you’ll know it’s gone bad. You can shove it in the freezer and preserve it; but not indefinitely — the quality will degrade over time.

The best option, the one that requires the most amount of care: set that piece of cake under a magic glass cloche. This cloche will protect the integrity of your friendship over vast periods, so long as you maintain it.

Thing is, you only get so many magic cloches. You can’t use them on every friend, nor should you. Not every friendship is meant to last your lifetime. And when a friendship expires, the answer, more often than not, is: chuck it. Eating expired food will make you sick. Struggling to maintain expired friendships will make you sicker.

What are the warning signs that a friendship is past its prime?

You and your friend no longer share the same interests or values. Your friend injured you in some way. You frequently feel harassed by your friend to be a better friend.

All of the above are indications that the friendship may have merely lost its luster, or, more alarmingly, turned toxic, and the course of action varies depending on the issue at hand. The common denominator remains: minimizing pain for all parties concerned is key. Good friends remain just that — good, kind, considerate friends — even when a friend breakup is at hand.

The Friend Who…Who?

This is a formerly close friend who really isn’t high on your radar right now, but for some reason, one or both of you feels obligated to continue going through the friendship-upkeep motions. Maybe you two travel in different circles these days, or perhaps you’re separated by great distance. This could be a friend who puts painstaking effort into meeting up, even though you two aren’t really in each other’s lives anymore. Or this could be someone who, when you run into each other on the street, the stilted catch-up convo always ends in, “We should get lunch!”

Could the friendship be worth reviving?

Hey, maybe you really miss this person. Assuming that she is equally into the idea of reconnecting, pull out your day-planners and go for it.

If not…

This person sounds like an acquaintance. And acquaintances are terrific! Acquaintances are a delight! It’s nice to know a bunch of different cool and interesting people! But you don’t necessarily need to designate time towards boosting a relationship that’s not actually there. If you’re the one who typically caves with the frantic “Lunch?!” suggestion common to random run-ins, be strong. Don’t do it. Who says you need to pretend you want lunch? It’ll feel awkward to not extend yourself, but if the other person isn’t pushing you into Let’s Schedule This territory, end the conversation with a pleasant, “So great to see you!” AND SCENE.

What if the friend won’t let go?

Okay, so you’re just not that into Friend, but Friend’s rooted down and ain’t going nowhere without a fight. She may not realize that you’re not feeling it. If she isn’t doing anything particularly wrong, ask yourself: is there any real harm in sucking it up and committing to the occasional get-together? This person may need you in her life more than you need her, and the only thing you’d be losing is a couple hours, plus whatever personal pep talk it takes to stick a smile on your face.

The Friend Who Hurts You

This does not mean physical harm. (Run away. Run to the police.) Rather, this is a friend who causes you emotional anguish. This friend has betrayed you, backstabbed you, badmouthed you, lied to you, or belittled you. Those violations constitute manipulative behavior, and are unacceptable.

There’s also a subtler purveyor of manipulation: the narcissistic user. This is a person who is so consumed with himself and the litany of his own personal problems and aggravations that the entirety of your time together is spent on him. He can’t see beyond his own ego to connect with you as an individual, and uses you to feel better about himself. You often make excuses for him along the lines of, “Oh, it’s cool. I just know I can’t talk to him about my stuff.” What you may not realize is that this friend is inflicting real pain on you by erasing your needs from the equation. You’re his gratis psychologist; you’ve been scammed.

Could the friendship be worth repairing?

Let’s focus on that narcissistic user friend. (As for all the other, more abrasive harm-doers? Ditch ‘em and run-don’t-walk to your closest MeetUp Group activity.) Say you confront him on his past transgressions, and he apologizes. But will he change? Do people actually change? The jury’s in, and the votes are split. Optimistic humanists believe that people can better themselves if they try, while those nihilistic suckers who’ve been beaten down one time too many reckon you can’t teach an old friend new manners.

Here’s the long and short of it: YOU can’t change your friend. You can’t change your partner, you can’t change your co-workers, and you can’t change your parents. Your friend, like everyone else, needs to make the proactive decision to change himself.

For those positivity nutcases out there (and I count myself among them), practice caution and allow the jumpstarted relationship one more go on a trial basis.

If not…

The first time you feel taken advantage of or used in any way, pull the plug. You need to protect yourself, and you are worthy of friends who treat you as an equal, not as their servant/therapist/parent/maid.

What if the friend won’t let go?

Being blunt in this situation may feel very scary, and the last thing you need right now is a confrontation that devolves into your now ex-friend berating you. If you feel like you need closure with this person, be honest as you say goodbye. But also be prepared for the backlash. It’s almost impossible to walk away from conflict with a narcissist unscathed.

The safer tactic? Particularly if this person is quick to attack you? Cut off communication, and surround yourself with friends who legitimately support you. This is the recommendation for those struggling to leave verbally abusive romantic relationships; why not adopt the same strategy with friends? It’s not cowardice; it’s pragmatic self-defense.

The Friend Who Guilts You

First, let’s make one thing clear: The Friend Who Guilts You is NOT the counterpoint to The Friend Who Hurts You. There is no cause-effect here, as these are two different scenarios. This is a friend who guilt-trips you endlessly, and, over time, you’ve realized you’re actually not guilty.

This is the friend who tells you constantly that you are a terrible friend. “You never call me.” “You care about your other friends more than me.” “You’re abandoning me.” She’s high maintenance, and you suck at maintaining her.

Her mopey whining is another version of narcissism, sure, but many of us are less likely to nose this type of manipulation out — particularly those who prioritize caretaking above all and jump to self-improve when accused of falling short.

Here’s how this typically plays out:
Your friend confronts you.
You’re confused.
Your friend accuses you of various transgressions.
You’re still confused, but feel AWFUL.
You apologize.
Your friend forgives you.
You make sure to be extra attentive to your friend. How could she possibly feel bad/sad/mad now!
Time passes.
Your friend confronts you again.
Rinse, wash, repeat.

Could the friendship be worth refocusing?

If this is a friendship that means a great deal to you, and you feel like you’re being the best-friend-you-can-be-dammit, tell your friend how you feel. She may not be aware that her actions or words are so reproachful and causing you such grief, or she may have her own reasons for behaving this way that she needs to air out.

In either case, it’s best to be upfront. “I don’t feel great about myself when we hang out together,” is a good way to start, and you’re right if you noticed that this strategy begins by placing the brunt of responsibility only half-accurately on you. However, when you elaborate, it will be clear that there’s something off-kilter in this dynamic that reflects equally on you both. Coming from an angle of, “Help me help you,” as opposed to “Sweetheart, you’re batty,” invites a minimally combative interaction.

If not…

This friendship may just be too exhausting, with two few checkmarks in the pro column and several pages worth of notations in the con, to prolong. In that case, I don’t blame you for hightailing it out of there. You should still attempt to be honest about why you’re backing out of this friendship; but she may not be a person who’s able to receive constructive criticism. Do not feel badly if your friend breakup is, shall we say, an ordeal.

What if the friend won’t let go?

She may cry. She may beg. She may remind you of the good times you shared. But the fact remains: if your time together is not productive and beneficial to you both, leave. There are so many other life-sucking aspects to your day-to-day — job-related stresses, difficult family members, financial anxieties — and you need to ration your emotional resources. A friend who spins drama like your Great Uncle Larry spins torturous yarns is not worth the headache.

Ending a friendship is no fun.

Period. For any of these individuals to have stayed in your life this long means you care a great deal about them. You’ve probably had some super fun/wacky/memorable/life-affirming/insert-applicable-adjective-here times together. Let’s not discredit the good when cataloguing the bad.

But if you’re expending energy on a relationship that just isn’t fulfilling, consider exactly what you’re losing by putting the friendship aside, and compare it to what you’re losing by muscling to keep it afloat.

Protect yourself. Seek out friends who support you and validate you, and I don’t need to tell you that it goes both ways, because, let’s face it: Anyone would be lucky to call you a friend.

Stephie Grob Plante is a writer and former worker bee in the ever-buzzing NY film/TV production hive.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Heart Disease

People Without Friends Have Worse Outcomes After Heart Attack

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Getty Images

The importance of friends for heart health

Without the support of friends and family, you’re less likely to emerge from a heart attack healthy.

A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed the responses of 3,432 heart attack patients on their levels of social support one month and then a year after a heart attack. One-fifth of them had low social support—meaning they felt that they didn’t have friends or family they could confide in or lean on for emotional or financial support—and during their recovery this group showed lower mental functioning, worse quality of life and more depressive symptoms. The effect affected men and women equally.

MORE: A Happy, Optimistic Outlook May Protect Your Heart

Encouraging social support isn’t usually seen as a top priority for heart attack recovery, but this is just one more piece of evidence that it should be: one study showed that within six months of having a heart attack, depression increased the risk of death from 3% to 17%.

MORE: A Link Between Anxiety and Heart Attacks

“We shouldn’t just be concerning ourselves with pills and procedures,” said Harlan Krumholz, MD, the study’s senior author and director of the Center of Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in a statement. “We have to pay attention to things like love and friendship and the context of people’s lives. It may be that these efforts to help people connect better with others, particularly after an illness, may have very powerful effects on their recovery and the quality of their lives afterwards.”

TIME viral

This Owl and Cat Have a Beautiful Friendship

This video is a hoot.

Know that old bedtime story about the owl and the pussycat who sailed away in a beautiful pea green boat? This video is like a prequel to that song.

The camera captures an owl and a cat just chilling with each other like two good friends with nothing to do on a Tuesday night. According to The Telegraph, Cleo the owl and Forbi the cat struck up a friendship when they were young and impressionable and didn’t think it was weird to be friends with an animal that is normally your mortal enemy. They kindled their relationship thanks to sharing a home and an owner, Andre Costa, a Brazilian biologist, and now the two critters have become inseparable inter-species BFF. Since he posted the original video of this moment on Facebook on September 7, it has been shared more than 124,000 times.

It’s a beautiful display of an unlikely friendship that we could watch all day, while waiting for them to sail away under the light of the moon.

TIME relationships

Why It’s So Hard to Make New Friends

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Getty Images

This article originally appeared on Refinery 29.

So, you’re an adult now (even if you don’t always feel like one). Maybe you eat popcorn and fro-yo for dinner on the regular, but you’ve also learned — we hope — how to keep both your plant and pet alive and kicking. If you’re lucky, you might have an actual love life, as well as a decent job, maybe even in a city you like.

But, despite all that good stuff, if you’re like lots of 20- and 30-somethings today, there might be one area of life that feels a bit lacking: your platonic friendships. At 37, I’ve noticed a trend: As more and more of my friends — both guys and girls — have gotten married and had kids, I, in turn, have started feeling more and more alone. I’ve often found myself wracking my brain to find people to hang out with on weekends. It’s been even tougher since I moved back to my hometown last winter, to be closer to my mom. I hadn’t lived here since I was 18, so it truly felt like starting from scratch.

Rachel, 36, a writer and also single, can commiserate. Naturally shy and still adjusting after a move of her own, Rachel doesn’t just have a hard time reaching out to form new friendships; she also feels “less likely to make an effort to connect with women who seem to be in different [life] places than me.” Understandably, she has started gravitating toward younger friends because she finds it somewhat difficult to relate to most locals (South Carolina folks) her age, who tend to be married with kids.As Rachel and I can both tell you, gone are the days when scoring a new BFF was as simple as walking up to that cool misfit in your math class and demanding to be his or her buddy. Oh, how times have changed. Until now, explains Andrea Bonior, PhD, author of The Friendship Fix, “we spent our lives being around people our age. In school [and] in college, [we had] natural proximity to an immense amount of people to choose to befriend.” As grown-ups, though, we’re so busy muddling through the daily grind of managing our lives — landing jobs, booking as many vacations as possible, navigating in and out of relationships, fitting in exercise, moving to new cities. It may feel easiest to keep in touch primarily through texting, Facebook, and Instagram instead of actually catching up face-to-face.

(MORE: How Not to Be a Toxic Friend)

See People in Person

But, if you’re mainly relying on virtual avenues to sustain your friendships, you could be doing yourself a disservice. “We may feel like we know a lot of people [online],” Dr. Bonior says. “[But,]… typing ‘LOL’ under someone’s Facebook status [is not] connection. You feel too busy to go out and see friends, but you have time to spend three hours a night looking at people’s Facebook vacation photos?”

No one’s suggesting you jump up and close shop on your social accounts right this second. But, if you’re feeling lonely in your real life, you might want to try using those avenues solely for what they are: networking hubs to help you keep track of old school rivals and camp friends. Random Facebook acquaintances won’t be there to hold your hand through a family meltdown or when you’re laid off from a job you love.

Skimping on in-person social time can also be detrimental to both your soul andyour body. Experts claim that up to one-fifth of Americans currently define themselves as “lonely” (and, according to AARP, that number rises to about 35% for people over age 45). Approximately 20% of adults lament having only one buddy to talk to, and depressingly, another 25% say they have no one at all.

That kind of isolation can cause lasting damage. Dr. Bonior notes that “having good, quality friendships improves your longevity [and] your mood, puts you less at risk for depression, helps you get over trauma, and helps your blood pressure.” The problem is that most of us don’t adequately prioritize our friendships; heading out to meet a pal at happy hour can start to feel more like a luxury than a necessity. Instead, Dr. Bonior urges that we treat our friendships as a healthy part of our routine, “like going to the gym.”

Using Tech as an Asset

But, what if you’re one of those people who honestly feel they have no one to hit happy hour with? We daresay it’s time to get out there and find yourself more friends. We know the idea might sound overwhelming (you couldn’t pay me to approach a stranger in Starbucks, whether male, female, or monkey), but isn’t your health enough of an incentive to nudge you beyond your comfort zone?

Janis Kupferer had to do just that after moving to Denver a few years back. While scoping out men on a dating site, she decided to check out some of her straight-female “competition.” Kupferer realized that some of the site’s female members seemed, well, cool — like the kind of people she’d want to be friends with. Inspired, Janis decided to launch a new social networking site, SocialJane, which is devoted to helping women meet like-minded buddies. The site looks like your average dating site, with boxes to add a profile headline, photos, your favorite activities, and more. “[It has] all the same features and benefits that [can make] looking for love online a success (ease, convenience, and community)…but for platonic friendships,” she explains.

So, does it work? I tested it for myself: I joined the site, created a profile, and messaged some women who seemed to share my interests. It’s been a few weeks and, as of now, none of the women have written back to me (sadface). I do realize that a lack of response is par for the course on dating sites, but I guess I was hoping for a change of pace in the friendship zone. Still, it’s a cool idea, and one of a handful of similar sites that are springing up, promising to help with the ever-difficult friend search.

(MORE: An Ode to the Best Kind of Friends)

Make an Effort to Engage

When it comes to real-life strategies for meeting people, though, Dr. Bonior says you needn’t look much farther than your corner cafe, record shop, yoga studio, or coworking space: “Frequenting the same places over time [is a good approach]… You’ll [eventually] feel like member of a community.”

You can also try volunteering, attending spiritual services (meditation clubs, support groups, or 12-Step groups work, too), joining clubs based on your interests (check out Meetup.com — there’s a meetup for EVERYTHING), taking classes, traveling alone, wine- and beer-tasting, joining adult athletic leagues (bocce! kickball! roller derby!), professional and special-interest conferences (gaming, writing, you get the picture), getting a new job…the list is long. Dr. Bonior also recommends joining “listservs for your apartment building, [commenting] on a blog you like…lots of people meet some of their best friends on the Internet” — provided you vow to take those budding buddies off your laptop and into the real world.

As for me, I’ve been in my new home base of DC for eight months and I’m still trying to pin down more solid friendships. I made one local writer-friend via Twitter, but the tactic that’s worked best for me has been asking friends in other cities if they happen to know any cool people in my re-adopted hometown — i.e., getting set up on blind, but pre-vetted, friend-dates.

The takeaway? Some folks are natural introverts who may be content hanging out alone, or with just one close friend or two. If that’s you, that’s great; you keep doing you. But, if you’re unhappy with your present social-support structure — as lots of people are — it’s up to you to push yourself to do things differently. As Dr. Kupferer notes, you’ve “got to stick your neck out.” Think of it as the first day of kindergarten all over again, and strike up a conversation with a stranger — over coffee, perhaps, instead of crayons.

(MORE: 6 Relationship Talks Made Less Awkward)

TIME psychology

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Friendships

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Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert identified friends as one of the biggest sources of joy in our lives. Seeing friends and family regularly is worth an extra $97,265 a year:

So, an individual who only sees his or her friends or relatives less than once a month to never at all would require around an extra £63,000 a year to be just as satisfied with life as an individual who sees his or her friends or relatives on most days.

Not feeling socially connected can make you stupider and kill you. Loneliness can lead to heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Good relationships are more important to a long life than exercise.

Not spending more time with friends and family is one of the things people regret the most.

So what does the research tell us about how to strengthen and improve our friendships?

The Basics

Want to improve any relationship? The first step is try. Yeah, so easy you forgot to do it.

Simple things can have the most profound impact, like actively showing interest in the other person. Listen to what they have to say and ask them to tell you more.

Enthusiastically respond when they share good news with you. The best responses are active and constructive. What’s that mean?

It is engaged, enthusiastic, curious and has supportive nonverbal action. Ask questions. Be excited. Ask for details. Smile. Touch. Laugh.

Share your own good news when you have some:

…sharing good news with others increases the perceived value of those events, especially when others respond enthusiastically, and that enthusiastic responses to shared good news promote the development of trust and a prosocial orientation toward the other. These studies found consistent support for these effects across both interactions with strangers and in everyday close relationships.

Show gratitude. Gratitude is a miracle drug:

Stay in touch. Communicating every two weeks keeps friendships alive:

…“the leading cause of persistent relationships is reciprocity — returning a friend’s call.” Further, they said friends ’til the end tend to touch base at least once every 15 days.

Leverage technology to improve your relationships, don’t let it replace them.

Technology can increase happiness and improve relationships if you leverage it to connect with other people:

The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

The typical reaction to all of the above statements is: That’s obvious. I know that. And then guess what?

People don’t do them for six months and wonder what happened. Knowing and doing are two different things.

Work On Yourself

Improve your self control. People more in control of themselves have better relationships.

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

How do you strengthen those self-control muscles? Go here.

Trust beats out not trusting. Expecting others to be selfish can be a self-fulfliing prophecy:

The expectations people have about how others will behave play a large role in determining whether people cooperate with each other or not… One’s own expectation thereby becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: those who expect people to act selfishly, actually experience uncooperative behaviour from others more often.

Don’t be a conversational narcissist. What’s that? “Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves”

Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves. Your first reaction to this statement is likely, “Oh, I don’t do that, but I know someone who does!” But not so fast. Conversational narcissism typically does not manifest itself in obviously boorish plays for attention; most people give at least some deference to social norms and etiquette. Instead, it takes much more subtle forms, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Everyone has felt that itch where we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking so we could jump in; we pretended to be listening intently, but we were really focusing on what we were about to say once we found an opening.

Here‘s how to be a better listener.

Scientific Insights

Keep the 5 to 1 ratio in mind. Five good experiences for every bad one.

Via The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature:

It turned out that the fifteen high-performance teams averaged 5.6 positive interactions for every negative one. The nineteen low-performance teams racked up a positive/negative ratio of just .363. That is, they had about three negative interactions for every positive one…

And:

What’s even scarier is that Losada’s five-to-one ratio also appears to be essential when you get home and try to muster the energy for a successful marriage. John Gottmann at the University of Washington has found that couples with a ratio of fewer than five positive interactions for every negative one are destined for divorce.

Also:

Curiously, the magic number also seems to have a close parallel in the ratio of positive behaviors…and negative behaviors…among monkeys and apes.Thus the five-to-one ratio begins to look suspiciously like a basic primate need.

Don’t take that to mean you always have to be positive: Sharing negative feelings about a third party can increase closeness between two people.

We all value warmth over competence in friends but we often forget this:

  1. When assessing someone else, warmth plays a more important role than competence.
  2. When assessing ourselves, we believe that competence (the capability of someone to carry out intentions) is more important.

So stop trying to be useful and just be kind.

What’s the best way to give a friend advice? You need to provide a suggestion without it feeling like you’re telling them what to do:

Say “When I’ve had that problem in the past what I’ve done is…” instead of “You should do this…

And you’re gonna screw up. We all screw up. Know the keys to a good apology.

Turning Enemies Into Friends

Similarity is very powerful. Always always always always always be thinking about things you have in common.

How can you win over someone who already doesn’t like you? Compliment them or ask their advice.

Even fierce enemies can be turned into friends by working together to achieve a common goal. Robert Cialdini’s must-read book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion references this study:

…superordinate goals (goals so large that it requires more than one group to achieve the goal) reduced conflict significantly more effectively than other strategies (e.g., communication, contact).

Trying To Make New Friends?

Here are 4 things to keep in mind:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Friendship

5 Types of Friends Everyone Should Have

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Jerry had George, Kramer, and Elaine. Carrie had Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. They knew, as you do, that one person can’t fulfill every friendship function. Here, experts weigh in on the key personalities you shouldn’t be without

The Comic Relief

Recently a close pal and I were both coping with very ill parents. There’s nothing funny about disease and dying, but for a whole year we compared notes in a humorous way. We each used hyperbole to describe our plights and made dark jokes about whose family situation was more depressing. We made fun to relieve our sadness (albeit temporarily), and that ability to make each other laugh helped us both get through the tragedy. Another good thing about a friend with a great sense of humor? She usually has warmth and compassion to spare.

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including The Pretty One ($26, amazon.com) and I’m So Happy for You ($14, amazon.com). A former friendship and advice columnist for Slate, she lives in New York City.

(MORE FROM REAL SIMPLE: 5 Ways to Win People Over)

The Life Coach

Because of our busy lives, I hardly ever speak to one of my closest friends. But it doesn’t really matter. When we do connect, without fail, she reinvigorates me. Her pep talks make me feel more hopeful about myself and my future. What’s more, my energizer friend is strong and tough, with a vigor for life I can feed off of. Through her example, she makes me more eager to achieve my goals or just keep tackling my everyday. Talking with her recharges my emotional battery until the next time we have a minute to pick up the phone.

Courtney Macavinta is the author of Respect ($16, amazon.com) and a cofounder of the Respect Institute, a nonprofit that offers youths the tools to build self-respect. She lives in New York City.

(MORE FROM REAL SIMPLE: What Do Your Fingers Say About You?)

The Risk Taker

We all need an adventurous friend who nudges us out of the status quo—someone who introduces us to new ideas, philosophies, and activities that we might have otherwise not been exposed to or feared to explore on our own. I’ve long been inspired by a world-traveler friend whose preschooler’s passport has more stamps than most adults’. She has helped me become less intimidated and more excited about traveling. In fact, thanks to her, my husband and I drove an RV across Canada two summers ago with our three children, who were all four or under. Scary? Yes. But we had so much fun, we’re going again this year.

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of The Friendship Fix ($16 ,amazon.com). She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Challenger

One characteristic we underrate in a friend is the ability to be brutally honest. That’s why I’ve always admired the friendship of the women’s rights leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They led very different lives. Anthony was single; Stanton, a married mother of seven. And they continually and vociferously argued about temperance, abolition, sexual rights, and suffrage. But because they were able to challenge and educate each other, they accomplished much for females in the United States. It’s also why they remained close, trusted friends for more than half a century.

Mary Ann Dzuback, Ph.D., is the director of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University, in St. Louis.

The Loyalist

Every woman needs a “hot mess” friend—by which I mean a friend you can be a complete wreck in front of. This pal can drop in unannounced when you’re looking your worst. You haven’t showered and the house is a total disaster, but she won’t judge you. More important, she’ll let you be emotional when you’re at a low point. Recently I was at dinner with a friend when I got the call that I hadn’t landed a big acting job. I tried to pretend that it was no big deal, but she didn’t buy it. She said, “I’d rather you talk about being bummed than wear a fake smile all night.” And so I vented my frustration at not getting the job, and she really listened. We all need a friend who hangs in there even when we’re not at our best.

Ariane Price is a member of The Groundlings, a famed improv troupe in Los Angeles. She blogs about her life at Tales of a Real Hollywood Mom.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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