Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Secret to Refreshing a Friendship

This is Day 2 of the 5-Day Friendship Challenge. To start at the beginning, click here.

We’ve all got them: work friends, college buddies, playground dads. Whatever you call them, they’re the discrete groups of friends from different facets of our lives. Even our “weak ties” seem to exist only in certain settings, like the neighbors you nod at while walking the dog, or the barista who has memorized your coffee order.

But there is value in decompartmentalizing such friendships, said Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and the author of “Platonic,” a book about making and keeping friends. Research has found that connecting in different settings or contexts can help bring friends closer, she added.

“Repot” is a term coined by Ryan Hubbard, who heads up Hinterland, a social lab that has generated reports on friendship. And it’s simple: Think of friends you tend to interact with in one setting. Then invite them to join you for something else.

Ask a colleague you usually gossip with on Slack to sneak out to a matinee with you. Ask a friend you normally meet for dinner to join you for a walk through a museum. Or maybe raise the stakes a bit and invite a friend on an overnight trip — you really get to know someone once you’ve hung out together in your PJs, Dr. Franco said — or to try something totally new to you both. (Clown cardio, anyone?)

Dr. Franco pointed to research showing that sharing unusual or extraordinary experiences can sometimes help bring people together. And researchers who study romantic love have long known that novelty can nourish relationships. But it’s not all about finding activities that are unconventional or adventurous.

You can repot a relationship by asking a friend for help, Dr. Franco said, or ask if that person wants to meet your family, something we do naturally all the time as kids. You can also “integrate” your friendships, inviting people who don’t know each other to meet up.

Whatever you settle on, your overarching goal should be to “challenge the norms” of your friendship, Dr. Franco said. If you feel unsure of whom to reach out to, she recommends simply asking yourself: Is there someone I would like to feel closer to in some way?

Repotting has risks. Your friend might screech at the idea of taking a beginner’s trapeze class with you, rather than meeting for your usual glass of wine. But the only way to know is to ask, Dr. Franco said. You might also discover that you don’t like spending time with your friend in another context, which can be valuable information as well, she added.

When it works, repotting can lead to a greater sense of ease and comfort with friends, Dr. Franco said, because you are each getting a more complete picture of the other person. “Every setting,” she said, “brings out a different side of us.”

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