TIME Heart Disease

People Without Friends Have Worse Outcomes After Heart Attack

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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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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:

Want to improve your relationships right now? Share this post with a friend. :)

 

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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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Getty Images/Flickr

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.

TIME Friendship

Study: BFFs May Have Similar DNA

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Really close friends might be as genetically similar as fourth cousins

Next time someone says “You would really like my friend, she’s just like you,” try to refrain from giving her the side eye. It turns out she might have some science to back her up. According to a new study from Yale University and the University of California at San Diego, good friends are often genetically similar, and can share as much as 1% of the same gene variants. In genetic terms, that’s a lot. As close as, say, fourth cousins.

“This gives us a deeper accounting of the origins of friendship,” says Nicholas Christakis, professor of sociology, evolutionary biology, and medicine at Yale, who co-authored the study with James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at UC San Diego. “Not only do we form ties with people superficially like ourselves, we form ties with people who are like us on a deep genetic level. They’re like our kin, though they’re not.”

To do their study, which was published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Christakis and Fowler looked at 1.5 million gene variants from the Framingham Heart Study, a dataset which has details on the friendships and genetics of its participants. Most of the participants were of European descent. Researchers genetically compared pairs of friends with pairs of strangers from among the same 1,932 subjects they studied. None of the pairs were related to each other.

The study found that, oddly, close friends are often genetically similar in their sense of smell. But it also concluded that friendship may play a role in evolution. The genes that were shared by friends saw the most “evolutionary activity”, or have evolved the fastest over the past 30,000 years. Whether the friendship or the genetic similarity came first is up for debate. Do we seek out genetically similar friends or do our friendships and mating affect what genes get passed on

“Human beings are one of the few species who form long-term, non-reproductive relationships with other members of our species,” says Fowler. “This role of affiliation is important. It ties into the success of our species.”

TIME Television

Lizzy Caplan: Masters of Sex Wouldn’t Be the Same Made by a Man

Masters of Sex
Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson and Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters in Masters of Sex Michael Desmond—Showtime

The show's female creator is important — but not for the reason you might guess

With the second season of Masters of Sex premiering July 13, the women who make the show what it is — creator Michelle Ashford, along with executive producers Amy Lippman and Sarah Timberman — spoke to TIME about how the show addresses the mechanics and the pleasure of sex, all while avoiding voyeurism.

But that’s not where their feminine sides really show through. Star Lizzy Caplan says that there’s no way to say whether a sex scene written by a man versus one written by a woman is more gratuitous — but that there is one element of the show’s arc that wouldn’t be possible if the show weren’t created by women. And, ironically, it’s something that has very little to do with sex (though it does contain spoilers for last season):

Our show would look completely different if it were run by a man instead of Michelle supported by two other strong women. I think the first thing that would look a lot different would be the love triangle between Masters and his wife and Virginia. I think we still have a lot more story to tell there but one of the things that fascinated all the women — Caitlin Fitzgerald, who plays [Masters' wife] Libby, included — was the fact that Virginia and Libby really did cultivate this loving friendship with one another while all of this was going on. The care given to that — not making the Libby character super two-dimensional and the Virginia character this man-eater — I think that has a female touch written all over it. Also, especially in the second season, there’s a lot revolving around Virginia and Dr. DePaul, played by Julianne Nicholson. Again, the meticulous care given to that relationship is something that only a woman would understand. There is a deep emotional love connection in female friendships and I don’t even know if guys are aware that’s going on.

But that’s not to say that Caplan doesn’t think their depiction of on-screen sex isn’t woman-friendly: “I think they’ve managed to do that,” she says of the show’s racier scenes, “where it doesn’t feel like it’s being made for 14-year-old boys.”

TIME health

How Dieting Changes Friendships

Dinner table illustration
Illustrated by Sydney Hass

Diet, whether we like it or not, plays a role in our social lives. Think about the culture of your office lunch — there’s the gluten-free faction, the microwave Easy Mac-ers, and those February Fridays when everyone just goes crazy and orders burgers because it’s snowing again?? Remember that one group dinner when no one could tell if anyone else wanted dessert, so you all just stared each other in silence while the waiter stood, clutching menus, hating you harder by the second? And, how about the dietetic minefield that is brunch?

Food has a way of drawing lines between friends, and it sucks. How many times have you started a diet with a friend in the hopes that you’d support each other and keep each other honest? Sometimes it works, and you spend a few weeks hitting the gym together, reporting every froyo skipped and every cocktail made “skinny.” And then, someone starts to deviate. Here’s a semi-true text I’ve both sent and received on more than one occasion: “My back is really bugging me. I think I need to skip yoga tonight. I’m so, so sorry! Are you mad?!” (Side note: My 30th birthday present to myself and all my friends was to quit it with the “are you mad” stuff.) Sometimes their response is “Thank God, I WANT WINE NOW PLEASE,” and then you just bring your mats to the wine bar and everyone is happy. Other times, you’re not on the same page. That’s when you’re no longer cheating on the diet, you’re cheating on your friend. At least, that’s what it feels like. And, it feels like that because that’s how you set it up.

(MORE: 10 Buzzy Superfoods That Work)

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. (Man, is anything fair with this food stuff?) Even when we’re not doing the buddy-diet thing, the way we eat always seems to be a part of the conversation. It’s a natural social inclination to discuss this kind of stuff, but it’s certainly been perverted by the diet-centric culture in which we live. Our great-great-grandparents might have sat around each other’s kitchens discussing food in different terms — the best recipes, the nutritional content, the economic value — and we might as well, to a degree. Goodness knows I get pretty excited when I find an avocado for less than $3. But, I’m pretty sure my great-great-grandmother never boated ‘cross the fjords to tell her bestie she’d found a sick recipe for low-carb smørrebrød.

(MORE: The Mindful Eating Trick That Saves Me)

People often say that it’s hard to have a social life when you’re on a diet: You can’t go out for cocktails because of the cals, you go home early so you can hit the gym early, you opt out of your own birthday cake. It sucks. The rude awakening I’ve had over the last six months is that giving up dieting is the opposite side of the same sucky coin. Have another cocktail, sure. Have a mudslide, if that’s what you really want! But, be prepared for raised eyebrows — even if you’re only imagining them.

 

Dinner table illustration
Illustrated by Sydney Hass
Illustrated by Sydney Hass

Food-related socializing can be challenging now. Even trickier? I’m finally realizing just how many of my social interactions are food-related. In the old days, I had friends with whom I was “bad” — those friends I’d associate with cheeseburgers and a back-up bottle of wine in the fridge. Then, I had friends that spoke the language of food-fear, and together we made guilt-free soups and counted out portions of baked chips. In all these relationships, we had more in common than food, thankfully. Though, because food was the axis I spun on, it became the center of these interactions, too.

(MORE: The Science of a Perfect Relationship)

But, the more I become an intuitive eater, the less food is my anchor. I don’t “cheat” anymore, and so gone is the thrill of the “cheat night.” I don’t constantly crawl the internet for low-point guacamole recipes, and now guacamole is just the thing we eat while we hang out, not the entire reason for hanging out (spoiler: that’s kind of the goal). Sometimes it’s as simple as not being hungry at the same time as my friend. I know, call Dr. Phil, how will we ever get through a crisis of this magnitude?

When you go against the grain, you will be challenged. Your usual support system might take a while to adjust. The one in your own head is what you really need to focus on. Because there will always be naysayers. There will always be moments when a friend might set you off on a diet-minded tailspin with her no-cheese, no-yolk omelet, accompanied by salad with the dressing firmly on the side. Faced with your perfectly acceptable pancakes in those moments, there’s no other back-up but you. And, you, if you’re me, is the toughest nut to crack.

My friends have been there for me from day one, but some of them didn’t necessarily get it. If I’m honest, I think some of them still don’t. But, what a relief to discover that that’s okay. My friends, my coworkers, my boyfriend and I don’t necessarily need to be on the same track about absolutely everything. Just because I’ve jumped off the bridge doesn’t mean my friends have to, too. This feels like something I should have learned in middle school, but I’m glad I’m getting it now.

This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

MONEY Charity

How to Tell a Do-Gooder Friend You Can’t Donate. Again.

Have a pal who's soliciting for a pet cause every other week? Use these conversational cues to decline without coming off as callous.

Got a friend who fiercely invests time and energy in a charitable cause—and always hits you up for donations to it? Supporting an organization your pal cares about feels good at first, but you may not have enough funds or passion for this particular charity to keep shelling out for gifts.

Your friend may not realize that repeatedly soliciting contributions from you is making you uncomfortable. “What’s blinding your friend? Probably their enthusiasm,” says Maggie Baker, a financial psychologist and author of Crazy About Money. Of course, the fact that your friend’s request is heartfelt makes it all the harder to say no to him or her.

Here’s how to gracefully put an end to your donations without losing a friendship.

YOU SAY: “I am so impressed by all the volunteer work you’ve been doing. I admire your commitment.”

Open the conversation by applauding your friend’s dedication to the cause, says Baker. If you’ve made your friend understand how supportive you are before you decline a request for money, your decision won’t seem like a personal rejection.

YOU SAY: “I’ve run through my budget for charitable donations this year, so unfortunately I can’t make this a priority right now.”

You don’t have to tell your friend all the nitty gritty details of your finances—or even that you don’t agree with the philosophy of the non-profit or political candidate that he or she is backing. Explaining that you’ve exhausted your giving budget this year will reinforce that your “no” is not personal and help you avoid any unpleasant locking of horns about your divergent opinions.

Another diplomatic response: “It’s great you’re doing that, but I’m very careful about how I budget for charity,” suggests financial therapist and money coach Amanda Clayman.This allows you convey to your friend that you have other priorities when it comes to charitable giving.

What if you don’t have a budget for your charitable spending? This is a good time to create one. “It’s helpful to have a budget,” says Neal Frankle, a financial planner and author of Why Smart People Lose a Fortune. “When that budget is up, it’s up.”

Related: How do I set a budget I can stick to?

YOU SAY: “I hope you understand where I’m coming from. For now I won’t be able to contribute any more to this cause, but thanks for thinking of me.”

Be polite but firm. Avoid over-apologizing for having different financial priorities. “Don’t try to manage other people’s feelings,” says Frankle. “If you approach someone with honesty and compassion, hopefully they’ll reciprocate.”

Though this might seem like an uncomfortable conversation, financial psychologist Brad Klontz says it will likely benefit both parties. “Being really honest with your friend is a test of the strength of the relationship,” says Klontz. “The person may be mortified that to find out he’s making you uncomfortable.”

TIME psychology

The Surprising Science Behind Earthshakingly Wonderful Friendships

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Blend Images - Colin Anderson—Getty Images/Brand X

Excerpts from my interview with Carlin Flora, author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are.

Not Having Enough Friends Can Kill You

Carlin Flora:

Julianne Holt-Lunstad did a meta-analysis of social support and health outcomes and found that not having enough friends or having a weak social circle is the same risk factor as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

We’ve had such great public health campaigns against smoking in the last 20-odd years, and now we’re finally learning that having a good and satisfying social life is just as important, if not more important, than avoiding cigarettes.

 

Friends Know You Better Than You Know Yourself

Carlin Flora:

They understand your behavior patterns, they’ve seen you over time in different situations, and they know the blind spots you have.

One researcher found that friends rate our IQ more accurately than we do ourselves. And what’s funny is we tend to give ourselves a lower IQ than our friends do — but our friends are more accurate.

If you are really willing to listen to a friend when she’s giving you a little bit of tough love, you can learn a great deal about yourself. This is a powerful benefit good friendships offer us.

 

The Biggest Mistake You Make With Friendships

Carlin Flora:

I think the biggest mistake we commonly make is that we’re not conscious about friendships. With romantic relationships, people spend a lot of time thinking “What kind of person would be good for me? What kind of person do I want to date”?

But with friendships, we don’t give it much thought.Sometimes that’s beautiful and it works out well. But a lot of times we just drift into them and, over time, adopt the values and habits of a group that may or may not be in our best interest.

“Peer pressure” has this negative connotation because we usually just apply it to teens pressuring each other to do bad things. For teens and adults it can have both positive and negative effects.

Research shows over time, you develop the eating habits, health habits and even career aspirations of those around you. If you’re in a group of people who have really high goals for themselves you’ll take on that same sense of seriousness.

And conversely, if you’re in a group of friends who are not that ambitious, then you too will lower your standards.

Being more conscious about how much our friends affect us is important, especially when we’re first meeting people. You have to ask yourself “Who do I admire? Who do I want to be like in five years? Those are the people I should be trying to get close to and trying to develop authentic friendships with.

 

What Books Do You Recommend?

 

The Number One Tip For Improving Your Friendships

Carlin Flora:

Reach out to your good friends and tell them how much they mean to you. It’s just not something we’re accustomed to doing. It’ll make you feel great, it’ll make them feel great and it will strengthen the bond between you.

Be more giving to the friends you already have. People in romantic relationships always celebrate anniversaries, yet you might have a friend for 15 years and you’ve probably never gone out to dinner and raised a glass to that. We need to cherish our friendships more.

More on improving friendships and making friends here.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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