Hi NSQ listeners — producer Rebecca here. We’re off this week celebrating Thanksgiving. So, we’re coming to you with two conversations from the NSQ archive that speak to a couple of the major themes of the holiday season: friendship and food. The first half of the show is a replay of the very first episode that Mike and Angela ever recorded together. And the second half is a conversation between Angela and chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton. We hope you enjoy listening to these old favorites, and we’ll be back next week with a brand new episode!
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DUCKWORTH: No! Really? Men want to have friends?
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.
DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: how do you make friends as an adult?
MAUGHAN: People are kind of like, “I’m good. I don’t want anybody else.”
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DUCKWORTH: Mike Maughan, I am, on a scale from zero to 10, I want to say 11 in excitement to talk to you today about something that we both care about, and that is friendship.
MAUGHAN: That is something we care about and something that we have.
DUCKWORTH: Exactly. So Minnie, who’s one of our listeners, writes to us with the following question: “I would like to know if it becomes difficult to make close friends — not acquaintances — as you grow older, especially in your 40’s and beyond.” And by the way, Mike, this idea of making close friends, even in mid-adulthood, it kind of is us.
MAUGHAN: I agree. I mean, look, I feel very lucky to count you as among my dearest friends. I also think that it’s an interesting question and I think you and I probably approach it a little differently. You’ve told me that I think I’m your most recent good friend. Is that fair?
DUCKWORTH: Yes, that is accurate, and I haven’t made another really good friend since then. So you’re still the reigning champion in the Olympics of Angela’s recent good friends.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, and let it be known that’s the only place I’ve ever been a reigning Olympic champion, so I’m going to take it for what it’s worth.
DUCKWORTH: Mike, I know we made friends in like, what, the last 10 years? But I can’t give you the exact date. What I recall is that I was coming out to Utah where the headquarters of Qualtrics is. And I think there was an annual meeting. And we had these conversations. All I can say is that, like, and then suddenly we were good friends. Can you remind me of what actually happened?
MAUGHAN: What I think is amazing now that I’ve known you for almost a decade, you give a lot of speeches and you show up at a lot of different events. And so the fact that you came and spoke at ours and somehow we ended up very close friends, to me, is pretty amazing, at this point. All I remember is you were looking for Ryan Smith’s place on your advisory board.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, that is so true. I was being strategic and shrewd. I was like, “If I go and give this talk for this Qualtrics summit, then maybe the founder and C.E.O.” — I think that was his title at the time, right? Now he’s chair. But that he’ll be so charmed that he’ll agree to be on the advisory board of my nonprofit Character Lab. I think that’s ringing a bell?
MAUGHAN: Which he was, and he did.
DUCKWORTH: I know, right. Look at that. I want to say a decade ago, but it’s probably not even that.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, it’s crazy. That was almost 10 years ago and look at where we’ve come since. I think a lot of things led to the friendship. One was that you were coming to speak. Two, obviously you wanted Ryan on your advisory board. Three, Character Lab and Qualtrics work together. And then as fate would have it, you and I both got to know Stephen Dubner individually and then the three of us started going around the country doing Freakonomics Live shows for a few years. And so I think all of those things led together. But then for some reason, amidst all your busy schedule, we had a weekly one-on-one. And you scheduled it for 7:27 a.m. my time because you said people were more likely to show up at an odd time than if it were just 7:30 a.m.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, Mike, I need to tell you, I have like zero recollection of anything that you just said. What? I scheduled 7:27 a.m.?
MAUGHAN: Well it was 9:27 your time, as you were finishing Pilates. So you would call me on your way home from Pilates and we would talk once a week, but at 7:27 a.m. and you were very insistent. You must have just read some research that we needed to do it at a random time.
DUCKWORTH: I must have read the research that said that we need to do it regularly, right? I do believe in that, by the way — if you’re going to try to do anything, doing it with a routine, like making it more habitual. So I probably was drawing on that research. I can’t exactly remember why the three minutes before the half hour. Did we really do that for years?
MAUGHAN: We literally talked on the phone every week for, like, years and you don’t remember any of it. This is so hurtful.
DUCKWORTH: Well, it’s disturbing.
MAUGHAN: Angela, my name is Mike Maughan. I know you.
DUCKWORTH: God. Yeah. Nice to meet you. Jesus.
MAUGHAN: I’m going to come up to you at a cafe sometime and you’ll be like, “Very nice to see you. Who are you?”
DUCKWORTH: We’ll have a great first conversation.
MAUGHAN: But let me go back to Minnie’s question for a second. Do you agree that it’s harder to make close friends into your 40’s? I don’t know that I agree. I talked to a bunch of people and I think that if you learn how to do it, it’s not as hard as it may seem — though a lot of people clearly do have an issue doing it. And so I think maybe what we can talk about is some of the ways to make it easier. But what’s your opinion?
DUCKWORTH: We know that friendships are a huge part of happiness. We know that perhaps the strongest predictor of whether you are a happy person overall with your life is the quality of your relationships, and of course that includes family, and it may include for some a romantic relationship, but friendships are a huge part of our social existence and our overall happiness. Despite that obvious importance, there is so little really good, or even any research on it. So I’m going to give you my opinion, but it’s not an especially sophisticated one. From the research I have read, and I have also reflected on this personally, the idea of friendship in adulthood, it may be actually that the number of new friends actually does decrease in terms of how many friends you’ve made in the last few months, or year — I think that number goes down, and maybe that’s not totally surprising, like as you enter, say, your 40’s or even your 30’s. I think what’s not clear is that the quality goes down. So there’s quantity and quality. I think if we focus on quantity, just because you are a new friend and I’m a new friend to you, I find it entirely plausible that the number of new good friends goes down as you march through a lot of adulthood — maybe, I don’t know, maybe until you get to like my mom’s age, and then all you have to do all day is make friends with the people in your retirement home.
MAUGHAN: Which isn’t necessarily bad. I also wonder, though, if our definition of friendship changes because we’re talking about the quality of your friendships and how it’s harder in adulthood, but it’s not like your friends in high school are that close when you look at them through the same lens that we define friendship now. I mean, it’s literally people that you happen to live in proximity to, you go to school together. Yes, it leads to a lot of spontaneous interaction. But it doesn’t mean that those are high-quality friendships. Look at how many people never keep in touch post-high school.
DUCKWORTH: But what is a friendship to you? I think you would say I’m a good friend. I would say you’re a good friend. But then if somebody said, “What does that mean?” Like, what does it mean that he’s a good friend? I’m not sure I would have a great, concise definition.
MAUGHAN: I think there are a lot of different ways to view friendship. One construct that I’ve found reasonably helpful is this idea of friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for life. And we can’t hold all friendships up to the same category. So friends for a reason are kind of like your coworkers or your kids playing the same sports teams. You’re on the P.T.A. or you’re planning an event together, whatever, right? Friends for a season, that’s a — you know, high school, you live in the same neighborhood, you went to college together. Friends for life — there are very few of these, and I think it’s important to set expectations accordingly. You shouldn’t hold the bar that everybody has to be a friend for life or it’s not worth having. And so it’s okay to have these different levels of friendships, and I think it’s easier to make friends than we think if we’re just a little bit more proactive about it.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, “friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for life.” First of all, where does that come from? That’s good. I like it. It rhymes.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, I think it came from a poem, but truthfully, I just saw it on TikTok, let’s be real.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. But that’s good.
MAUGHAN: Do you know what TikTok is?
DUCKWORTH: I have heard about TikTok. I’ve seen it over other people’s shoulders. That’s about as close as I’ve gotten. And so we don’t have to do, like, an exegesis of this TikTok saying, but “friends for a reason,” it’s like there’s some function. Like, oh, I’m friends with Mike because we work on Character Lab together. I guess friends for a season sounds terrible because that sounds like, oh, we just happened to be co-located in time and space for a period. Like, you have your locker next to mine and we’re in high school?
MAUGHAN: Yeah, but that’s okay. I mean, think how many great friends you have that way.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. I think it bothers me. I think me and my all-or-nothing temperament is inclined to only care about friends for life and to not love the idea of friends for a reason or friends for a season, honestly.
MAUGHAN: Which is fair, but going back to Minnie’s point, we live in a much more transient society. People move all the time. And you may have great friends for life, But if you live in a brand new city, you need some friends. And some of them might be your friends for life, but some of them might just be friends for a season. And that’s okay because nobody wants to just hang out by themselves all day. So let’s talk if we can for a minute about: How do you make friends? Because I think that’s kind of Minnie’s point. So I want to ask you this great trivia question. What do churches and pubs have in common?
DUCKWORTH: Let me then give the Bob Putnam answer. Bob Putnam, who wrote Bowling Alone, about how, as you know, I guess, Mike, that Americans are spending time alone that they used to spend with friends. And this is going to get all the way back to pubs and churches, but his observation as — I think it’s a political scientist. I can’t really easily categorize him because of the interdisciplinary vibe that he gives off. And his observation using lots and lots of different data sets is that American adults spend time alone that they used to spend with others. And he would, I think, say that what churches do, and what pubs do, and softball leagues for adults, and volunteering for the Salvation Army, and a lot of other institutions — I think what he would say is that what a pub and a church have in common is bringing together people who otherwise would not come together. You end up getting to know other people that you wouldn’t otherwise. Let me ask you, did I get the question right by invoking Bob Putnam?
MAUGHAN: I knew you were going to either invoke Bob Putnam or Ray Oldenburg, who wrote The Great Good Place and talked about the loss of third places. So, home being the first place, work being the second place, and we used to have all of these third places to which we would go, like bowling leagues, or churches, or pubs, or bookstores, barbershops, whatever that was. And that’s where we would gather in these areas that were more a neutral ground, a leveler. They were disassociated with home or, or work, and that’s a place where we could kind of gather together. But I think it’s so fun that Bob picked bowling because if you think about — there’s nothing grosser, right? You go to this place, you put on somebody else’s shoes and then you stick your fingers into this ball where like 8,000 other people have stuck their gross, grubby fingers — anyway, bowling can be really fun, but also like I get why bowling has kind of died a little bit. Let’s just be real.
DUCKWORTH: Of course, if you’re in a bowling league, you are not renting the shoes that they spray with that like disinfectant thing, which may or may not work. And you’re not using all those balls that have been grubbily handled by who knows who. Because if you’re in a bowling league, you are that person with their own ball.
MAUGHAN: You hopefully have a monogrammed ball.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, exactly. You have it engraved.
MAUGHAN: Okay, here’s my response to Putnam, because he is absolutely right. Obviously I’m not foolhardy enough to argue against Bob Putnam. But this idea that Minnie’s asking about — how do you make friends in your 40’s? — it’s a little more difficult, you know, Oldenburg’s death of third places. But I firmly believe that if you’re pretty proactive, you can kind of create or still find these third places. So I have a really good friend who just moved to New York, didn’t know a soul, and joined three different adult softball leagues.
DUCKWORTH: In sequence or joined three in synchrony?
MAUGHAN: No, at the same time, so that he can be like playing every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights or something. Another good friend of mine, she moved to Utah, didn’t know a soul, and so she joined all of these Facebook groups. One was called Utah Adventure Girls. She went to University of Michigan, another one University of Michigan Salt Lake City Spirit Group. Or Young Professionals of Salt Lake City. And found all of these ways together. Now, no offense to you or me, but I think if you and I joined some of these adult sports leagues, we would literally lose more friends than we could make.
DUCKWORTH: Why? Because we would get competitive and awful?
MAUGHAN: When’s the last time you caught a fly ball anywhere?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, right. We would bring down the teams so badly that we would cause harm.
MAUGHAN: I mean, again, no offense to either one of us, but maybe bar trivia — I think you’d probably do really well in a bar trivia league.
DUCKWORTH: Kidding aside, I think that if I were moving to New York or in some other circumstance where I suddenly did want more new friends — which I’m not on the hunt for, I shall say. I do want to increase the quality of my friendships, but I don’t want to introduce new friends into my life. I hope that doesn’t make me seem churlish.
MAUGHAN: But that’s what Minnie is struggling against, and other people, right? Because they go to these cities and people are kind of like, “I’m good.” I don’t want anybody else.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, they’re good. Exactly. I think that has to be true. And again, the research is thin on this, but just the motives of the people that you want to be friends with being less in the same direction because they already live there and they already have their friends. But if I did have to be in Minnie’s shoes, then I would do exactly what your New York friend did, which is I would join clubs. I think you’re right, so like, go find the club that exists still, even if the number of clubs is declining, even if Americans are not going to clubs as much. I was recently not only like reading everything I could by Bob Putnam — which is a lot, it’s kind of a full-time job. But then I came across this documentary that just came out from a student of his named Pete Davis. And it’s called Join or Die. And it couldn’t have a better title actually —.
MAUGHAN: Sounds threatening.
DUCKWORTH: I think the etymology of it is Ben Franklin.
MAUGHAN: Yes, the yellow flag with the snake. Is this about loneliness?
DUCKWORTH: The documentary isn’t about loneliness per se, and it’s also not about whatever Ben Franklin meant in the original “Join or Die” — I think that was actually a political thing about the colonies I guess staying together. I’m not a student of history.
MAUGHAN: Yes. And this sounds like something brought to you by ISIS, like, “join or die.”
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I know it could, it could have many different vibes. It basically is a biography of Bob Putnam from when he was a kid growing up in the United States when people did join things like bowling leagues, including the bowling league, if I remember correctly, that Bob actually was in. I think he was on the bowling team maybe for his high school. And then all the other things that people did. I mean, there were, like, bridge clubs. There were garden clubs. I’m not saying these things didn’t have their own dynamics that were sometimes problematic due to race or gender, but there were clubs. Like America had a heyday of clubs when Bob Putnam was coming of age. Then, as Bob Putnam has documented, that club culture, the joining culture, the kind of like, “I’m going to go and hang out with these people who are not my family. They may not even be like my three closest friends, but there’s this thing that I do every week and it’s a big part of my life” — that is what he’s documenting as being on the decline, which — he, meaning Bob Putnam, but also I think his former student, Pete Davis, now filmmaker, etc., would say that has been, yes, a contributor to loneliness, which we can talk about. Although it wasn’t the central focus of this documentary. I think their focus was more like, it’s the dissolution of social capital, which is undermining trust, which is undermining democracy. So I think they were maybe a little bit more focused on how we cannot have a democracy unless we know each other and trust each other. But I think as a psychologist, absolutely. My head goes to, like, “Oh God, that sounds lonely.”
MAUGHAN: I get the “join or die” now, basically he’s saying it’s an existential threat to our entire way of life.
DUCKWORTH: So now I need to ask about the friend — not the softball league, thrice weekly friend, but the other friend that you had who joined these social Facebook groups. Like, what happened to your friend? Did she use these Facebook groups to go out and actually meet people in person? I mean, even the very word that I say — “actually” — is just full of condescension and opinionated-ness.
MAUGHAN: Yes, these Facebook groups were specifically designed to get people together in person.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, so they were like a conduit.
MAUGHAN: Yes. I mean, this Utah Adventure Girls, they would get together and go hiking on weekends, or go skiing, or go do outdoor activities. But the whole point was to bring people together. So, back to Minnie’s question, Minnie is not alone. There was a 2021 survey from the Survey Center of American Life and they said that the number of Americans who report having no close friends has risen dramatically. And the number of people reporting 10 or more close friends has dropped dramatically over the same period of time. Now, I want to be careful because 2021 — I call a little B.S. on the data because we’re just coming out of the pandemic. I don’t know about you, but I felt like my ability to even make small talk had massively atrophied. But, back in 1990, 33 percent of people said they had 10 or more close friends, and in 2021, it was down to 13 percent of people who said they had 10 or more close friends.
DUCKWORTH: Can I ask you, how many close — well, you don’t have to tell me the number of close friends you have, but just to put ourselves into the data — in 2023, do you have 10 or more close friends?
MAUGHAN: Absolutely, yes.
DUCKWORTH: I knew you were going to say that, because I think I know 10 or more of your actual close friends. I think that’s remarkable.
MAUGHAN: Do you have 10 or more close friends?
DUCKWORTH: I don’t think I have ten close friends. I have three girlfriends that I talk to every week. As you know, these are friends who don’t live in Philadelphia, so we talk on the phone and it’s, you know, multitasking. So I’m, like, getting my workout in, but also talking to these girlfriends, not all at the same time, but individually.
MAUGHAN: Do you get together in person? Like once a year, you all gather?
DUCKWORTH: They kind of know of each other, but they’re not friends with each other. It’s like hub and spoke.
MAUGHAN: Oh, they’re not friends. Got it.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, so it’s like Angela’s friends with friend one, Angela’s friends with friend two, Angela’s friends with friend three, but friend one, friend two, and friend three don’t really have a meaningful relationship and they’re not friends with each other. I don’t think that’s unusual, by the way.
MAUGHAN: No, I think that’s very fair. I think that my hub spoke model is more, I’ve got friends, but they’re like groups of friends in different areas. So, Angela, you and I were potentially going to hike Mount Kilimanjaro last summer together.
DUCKWORTH: Which you did.
MAUGHAN: I did, and we missed you desperately. But that group of people, I was friends with all of them, but most of them did not know each other until we got on the hike. But they trusted me to put together a group that they would be with 24/7 for two full weeks because of that friendship model. And now they’re all very close. So one of the things I love to do is to take various groups of friends and bring them together. Because I think that adds so much richness, because if I really like hanging out with you and I think you’re a great person, then I — not that everyone’s going to bond, but I like that gathering aspect of friendship.
DUCKWORTH: So this idea of friends who are friends with each other — I called this psychologist recently named Gillian Sandstrom because Gillian studies friendship. I think she’s at University of Sussex now. And I didn’t know her very well, but I had read enough in this very slim friendship literature to know that she was one of the people who actually did good work. So just a few weeks ago, I called her up, I introduced myself. I said, “I’ve been reading your papers. I’m not a friend, but maybe we could be friends.”
MAUGHAN: And she said that she has enough friends and she’s not interested?
DUCKWORTH: She said that she would be happy to talk to me about it. She was friendly, I will say that.
MAUGHAN: Mm. I feel like “friendly,” by the way can be the exact opposite of “friendship.” Because sometimes it’s almost this very —.
DUCKWORTH: Ah because its superficial?
MAUGHAN: Yeah, it’s very almost condescending sometimes.
DUCKWORTH: What? Friendly is condescending? How?
MAUGHAN: It can be, yes because people are just like tolerating you and they’re being friendly, but not like —.
DUCKWORTH: God, Mike, that is such an unusually cynical thing for Mike Maughan to say.
MAUGHAN: I know. I’m sorry.
DUCKWORTH: That’s okay. Just, I’m like, wow. I think that’s like the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard you say. So Gillian Sandstrom has shown in a variety of very clever experiments that if you strike up a friendly conversation with a person that you’ll likely never see again you’re certainly unlikely to have a substantial relationship with, of any kind — that nevertheless, these very weak ties — these super distant, but she would say, like, still warm interactions — can be really meaningful and that we should do it more often, that we should talk to strangers —.
MAUGHAN: Minus if you own a windowless white van. Not allowed.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Yes. Children, do not talk to all the stranger — and definitely not if they’re in a van with blacked out windows. There’s some other warning signs that we could probably list.
MAUGHAN: Someone’s offering you free candy, probably not a good choice.
DUCKWORTH: Never take the free candy.
MAUGHAN: Here’s the thing, I think so often people are wearing their airbuds all the time or they’re — I find that sometimes I’m trying to be so productive that it kills those subtle interactions where you can have those passing moments. And I think while very rare — it’s not like I have had the opportunity to become best friends with the person checking me out at Trader Joe’s or somewhere else — it is possible that you can create good friendships that can arise in the most random of ways. And so I hear what you’re saying. We’ve sort of cut ourselves off from that opportunity.
DUCKWORTH: Well, here’s the thing. In this rambling conversation that I had with Gillian, and then in a second conversation — there’s somebody who I do consider a good friend, who wanted to get in on it. I have a good friend named Lyle Ungar. He’s a professor in my university. He’s a collaborator. He and I had kind of separately been talking about friendships. So when I said to him, “I reached out and called Gillian Sandstrom out of the blue.” He was like, “I want to talk to Gillian. So the three of us had a conversation.”
MAUGHAN: Look at you. See, this is called introducing friends to friends.
DUCKWORTH: It is. And actually, maybe if I keep doing this, all my friends will know all my friends and I’ll get what I always wanted. But in the three-way conversation we had — so this is Lyle, and Gillian, and me — we all then agreed like, “Wow, there should be more research on friendship.” There’s very, little known about how do you make new friends in your 40’s, etc. I think what Gillian might say is that these friendly conversations you have with your barista — I don’t think she’s saying you can’t have a good friend that comes out of it, but I think she’s mostly saying that that is an end in itself, like living a life where you are not totally anonymous, that you’ve recreated some version of the kind of communities that we used to — these are my words, not hers, but kind of like the small-town context in which probably most of human life was carried out. Like, that’s good. But none of us on that call said, “Okay, we’ve solved the problem for anybody like Minnie who needs to make new friends. I think we were all, at least in that conversation, focused on: how do I become better friends with Mike? Like, Mike and Angela are already good friends, but how would they maintain or even deepen that?
MAUGHAN: You’re saying Lyle was asking how to become better friends with me? I love that. Hey Lyle. I actually know Lyle, not well.
DUCKWORTH: You do know Lyle? How do you know Lyle?
MAUGHAN: We’ve met through you. You know what I’m realizing? Is that you’re more important in my life than I am in yours, which is hurtful but beautiful.
DUCKWORTH: No, I think you’re realizing I have no memory — obviously of anything.
MAUGHAN: Okay, here’s the story I want to tell you because I think it’s so germane to what you’ve just been talking about. There’s a guy, Dieter Uchtdorf, who told this story about a man who was at the post office during the holidays when it’s super busy. You know how long those lines gets, everyone’s mailing their packages. And there’s this guy there, an older gentleman, and he’s just there to buy stamps. And this woman right in front of him is trying to be nice. And she says, “Oh, you know what? You can actually just go to the autopay machine and it’ll just print out your stamps.” And the man looked back at her and he said, “Yes, but the machine doesn’t ask how my arthritis is.” And it’s this really, like, sad but true but beautiful story about even passing human connection allows us to feel seen. And that’s really important.
DUCKWORTH: Isn’t there some country that is not the United States that has the slow checkout line?
MAUGHAN: Yes, I know that one.
DUCKWORTH: What country is it, like — I’m going to guess somewhere like Denmark? It would be the kind of thing that Denmark would do, right? Like, and if you want to have a conversation with the person who’s checking out your groceries and you don’t want to zip in and out and run your credit card by yourself, then you can choose the slow line. Is that Denmark?
MAUGHAN: Yes. You actually emailed me an article about this recently and I can’t remember, but yes, I think it’s somewhere in Scandinavia and it’s that same idea, yeah. Go through the slow line if you basically need someone to talk to. It’s creating another third place.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, so, what I don’t think we’re doing for Minnie is telling her, “Go through the slow checkout line, you know, strike up a conversation with a stranger.” I think for Minnie, the best thing we’ve said so far is that she should join something. I don’t want to know if I want to say, “Minnie, join or die,” but like joining a softball league or joining a Facebook group that will eventually lead you to meet the people in the Facebook group.
MAUGHAN: I mean, the old adage is: if you want a friend, be one. Let me share a little from Marisa Franco, who’s at the University of Maryland, and she basically talks about the fact that some people who don’t have as many friends, or potentially are a little lonelier, are also hyper-vigilant for feelings of rejection. And they think that anyone who is kind of shutting them down, they’re like, “Oh, it must be me.” Research shows that those who view friendships as something that happen because of luck are lonelier later in life. And she talks about this and she said, “And those who see it as something that happened based on effort are less lonely in later years.” It basically comes down to this idea of locus of control. And if you believe that you can impact your friendships and you can create that, then it’s sort of this self-fulfilling prophecy. But if you think that you are someone that nobody wants to hang out with, then you, you know, fall into that same thing. Now, Angela, I have one last thing that I think is one more opportunity for Minnie and other people in Minnie’s situation.
DUCKWORTH: I’m all ears.
MAUGHAN: There’s this dating app called Bumble.
DUCKWORTH: I’ve heard of that.
MAUGHAN: And Bumble is this app that was built to challenge the rules of dating. And basically it requires women to make the first move. But then Bumble introduced a feature called Bumble BFF, for Best Friends Forever, B.F.F. And it was just a platonic way to meet friends. So same idea, you’re swiping left and right saying, “Yes, I want to be friends with them,” or not. But what percentage of men on Bumble do you think have logged into the best friends forever feature?
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. Oh, how wrong could I get this? Let’s see. How many men would log into the best friends thing? I am thinking 5 percent.
MAUGHAN: It is hard for you to have been more wrong, but you did a great job. 90 percent.
DUCKWORTH: No! Really? Men want to have friends?
MAUGHAN: Ninety percent, yes, of men have logged into it.
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. That makes me feel better about men, I guess.
MAUGHAN: People need friends, right? So this Bumble BFF thing — here’s my favorite. There’s a woman, Beth Gillette, wrote about her experience on Bumble BFF. Now, she said it didn’t work as well as she had hoped because most of the people she matched with were actually looking for roommates or they were promoters at clubs. And she said, this is what the promoters at clubs would say: “Why don’t you get a group of girls together for a free table and drinks?” And Beth wrote “Well, I’m always down for a free table and drinks. I feel like if I already had a group of girls to bring with me, I wouldn’t be on this app.”
MAUGHAN: But here’s the deal. If you do need friends, the best way is to go out there, form a group, find a group, do something like that — or Bumble BFF, maybe you’ll get a roommate, maybe you’ll be invited to a free club to hang out for the night. Who knows?
DUCKWORTH: My final word on friendship is very consistent with that. And that’s actually where the conversation that I had with Lyle, an old friend, and Gillian, a new friend, a friend in formation — where we came through at the very end is we said, “Gosh, there should be more scientific research. Maybe we should do it together.” And I think the hypothesis that the three of us came to is what I really believe, which is that friendship is — among other things, it is effort. You know, what Marisa Franco is talking about like, you have to invest. I think that is the number one mistake that I have made in my life where I have under-invested in the work, in the time on task, of friendship building. And so, the advice that I would have is very much consistent with what you’re saying. It’s like, people want it. People maybe want it even more than we think they do. Certainly men apparently want it more than I thought they did. But if you want it, you’ve got to work for it. But the dividends, they’re — I don’t want to say priceless because I feel like a Visa commercial —.
MAUGHAN: I think that’s MasterCard.
DUCKWORTH: Is it MasterCard? Yeah, anyway, that’s our hypothesis — that friendship requires investment now for a quote unquote “payoff” later. And that’s the model that we should have when we think about friendship and maybe not things that are automatic, not even something that’s easy, and definitely not something that’s like immediate.
MAUGHAN: Well, look, I hope to join up with the three of you. I’m going to bring the t-shirts that say “join or die” for our new bowling league.
DUCKWORTH: That sounds great. I’ll see you there.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: a replay of Angela’s conversation with chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton from April 2020.
HAMILTON: “We’re going to sit out here.” Make beautiful plates while everyone here is going to hell in a handbasket.
* * *
Now, here’s Anglea’s conversation with chef Gabrielle Hamilton from the early days of NSQ:
DUCKWORTH: Hi, Gabrielle. I’m so glad that you’re joining me. Can you introduce yourself to our N.S.Q. listeners?
Gabrielle HAMILTON: I’m Gabrielle Hamilton, and I am the chef and owner of Prune Restaurant in New York City and a columnist for The New York Times.
DUCKWORTH: I am dying to ask you a question that has actually been simmering as I read through, like, essays that you’ve published in The Times, and, of course, I read Blood, Bones, and Butter. Cheffing, if it’s even a verb — “cheffing” — it seems to me as a non-chef, that it requires a multiplicity of skills that don’t necessarily go together in the same people. To be a great chef, you’re creative, you’re interested in food, you love feeding people, but also, you have to somehow manage people, and deal with finances, and investors. What does the word “chef” mean to you?
HAMILTON: I mean, cheffing is the greatest verb. We often say someone needs to “chef this meeting,” because it’s not going well. The chef is the chief, the leader, the big boss. I don’t like to throw it around. Even when I opened my own restaurant, I didn’t call myself a chef for the first 10 years. And frankly, I wasn’t one. Even though I was running a restaurant, I referred to myself as a cook. There was a time when I started to realize I’m allowed the title now. I am the chief here, for sure.
DUCKWORTH: So in the study of excellence, what you find is that there are some people who are not just 10 percent better than other people, or 25 percent. They are factors better. They are true outliers. And one of the theories of human excellence is, the reason why the outliers are so outside the distribution is because they are able to be, say, in the top 10 percent on, like, eight different skills that you need to be successful in this overall endeavor. So, running a restaurant, being the chef of a restaurant, there’s so many qualitatively different things that you have to do, at least pretty well, if not really well. So, what’s your perspective on this? Because, if that is the case, it’s rare then to have all those things.
HAMILTON: Yeah. To be a chef and to be a great chef are two different things. Several years ago, I did a dinner at wd~50, Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant in New York. And it was a veritable, unreal, “who’s who” of the greatest chefs in the world.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, you made the dinner?
HAMILTON: I was part of the group, the team, that went and did this dinner. It was Redzepi. It was Daniel Humm. It was all the Swedish and Nordic —.
DUCKWORTH: The international luminaries.
HAMILTON: It was unbelievable. Someone, in fact, wrote that should there have been a fire in that building, the world’s 50 best would have gone down.
DUCKWORTH: I was literally thinking that. I was like, “I hope nothing happened. The future of food!”
HAMILTON: It was just a chef fest, a cluster eff of the world’s greatest chefs. And everyone’s working on their apple that explodes into pearls and their smoked seagull poop, or whatever the hell they’re working on in all their little corners. And no one is wearing a chef jacket. Everyone’s in their t-shirt, and no one has their hair pulled back. And Daniel Boulud walks in in his tight, crisp white jacket, his creased pants, his loafers. “Salut, bonjour everyone, hello.” And in 10 seconds, it was like, “Dad’s home.” Because someone had to actually chef the godd*** party.
DUCKWORTH: Somebody had to chef the chefs.
HAMILTON: And no one was doing it. Everyone was being their creative genius over in their little corners and their tweezers, and their smoke machines, and it took Daniel who was like, “Let’s go. What’s the run of the show? How is this going to go?” Chop, chop. And it was so fun to watch all the people in the room stand sort of up straight. I think that’s what cheffing is, in addition to all that creativity. All the fish have to swim in the same direction. You have to honor all kinds of individuality and at the same time get a group to work in common purpose. The expectations have to be made explicit, and you have to teach.
DUCKWORTH: So, first of all, I think I understand better what this verb that we both like really means. I think, in the French, what does it mean, actually? “Head,” right?
HAMILTON: The chief.
DUCKWORTH: The leader. The chief.
HAMILTON: And no one teaches you to be a leader. It’s one of the worst spots for a cook who’s been promoted to sous chef, because that is the first time you are really in charge of the crew and just about everything that has to happen in a restaurant. You’ve taught them all the practicalities of what goes in the recipe, or what the dishes look like, etc. But what you don’t often find a sous chef getting is a lot of education about how to bring a group together. It’s often people’s first experience with power, which is like a freaking atomic bomb and a lot of people mishandle it.
DUCKWORTH: When you first transitioned, I guess, to some version of a chef, with this additional and very different responsibility, did you like it?
HAMILTON: The problem with me is that I am a bossy person in general.
HAMILTON: I also have that adherence to excellence that drives me crazy. And so, I had already become accustomed to not making any friends, when I used to chef situations that I had no business cheffing. When I worked in catering kitchens, it’s kind of a mayhem, a sort of every man for himself. Sometimes there’s no clear chef in the catering kitchen. And so, you’re watching one guy making Buche de Noel the way they think it should be made. And someone else is roasting turkeys the way they think the turkeys should be roasted.
DUCKWORTH: It’s like a parallel play with kids.
HAMILTON: And it’s my nature, I can’t really help it. I am just like, “That turkey doesn’t look good.” And so, I had struggled with my innate chef-ness, long before I ever became a chef by realizing, “I’m alone crying in the van, because I didn’t make any friends today. And yes, it mattered to me that the turkeys were perfect. But how can I not feel so alone? How can I get the product the way it has to be for me, by my standards, without feeling left out and absolutely like I’ve ruined relationships, or that everyone’s standing 10 feet away from me, or no one’s going to invite me out for a drink after work?” I would say I learned really the hard way. And one of the things that I really cherished about owning my own restaurant was that I got to shepherd people through those brutal experiences that I had done on my own. Teaching people, like, “If you just move your cutting board a little closer here, you don’t have to lean over so far.” Or, “If you just raise this up, then you don’t have to hunch over so hard.”
DUCKWORTH: Can I ask then, maybe there was a time earlier in your career where you’d go back in the van and cry because you didn’t make any friends that day, but that is because the product came out excellent. Then, if I’m hearing you right, later, and maybe especially at Prune, there was a flip, so that it’s now about — not that the product suffered, obviously it didn’t — but the emphasis was on the people and less about the product. Do I have that right?
HAMILTON: I would say that it’s — maybe what you were talking about is you get good at eight things, or something, and that’s what determines excellence. For me, I would add it into the braid of my work life, so that not one thing — you don’t triage constantly. Like, “Well, the food’s going to suck today, but man, is this team going to be strong, or am I going to be well-liked.” It’s a constant braiding in of new things, which is actually very natural, in a way. Like, I used to — look, cooking is very repetitive. You boil a lot of water every day. This is how I would entertain myself. I would work this station at brunch. I would work the front station, and you’re doing a lot at the front. You’re, you’re splitting and toasting, oh, about 540 English muffins in five hours.
DUCKWORTH: Especially, for your famous brunch.
HAMILTON: And you’re calling the tickets, and you’re assembling the plates and putting them in the window. But over time, once you have the hang of all those things, I would look around like, how am I going up my game? I got this. What’s next? And I used to set these goals and meet them. And they were: I will finish this insane brunch shift with not a single stain on my apron. Or: I will finish this brunch shift and there will be no crumbs from the English muffins on the floor in my station. So, I consider teaching the line cook how to be a good line cook and the advanced line cook to become a sous chef part of the braid of: we should be more money-savvy in here too, and I should have some friends at the end of the day, and the food should be exquisite, and I should know a little something about lighting in a dining room. For some reason the people at the bar are not glowing the way I’d like them to.
DUCKWORTH: That makes total sense. You’re just adding. So, you’re a writer and you’re a chef. And I think you once said that writing a book was like a bajillion times harder. Can you tell me what is the same for you between writing and cooking? And what is different?
HAMILTON: I would say that the only sameness between writing and cooking is my need to know what the eff I’m doing and feel professional and legitimate doing it. One is so solitary and so almost unachievable.
DUCKWORTH: That’s the writing one, right?
HAMILTON: Yup. And that’s also because I come with such reverence for it, and it means so much to me. Whereas cooking, I’m like, “This comes pretty naturally and I know it’s tasty.”
DUCKWORTH: It can be light for you.
HAMILTON: That’s right. It’s very — like, “This is a freaking delicious roast chicken. Like, let’s agree that this is just tasty.”
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Yum. Let’s eat it and then it will be gone. You said cooking is a craft, not an art. So, for you, writing is an art? I really wanted to know what you even mean by that — that something can be a craft, and not an art.
HAMILTON: No matter how beautiful the plate, no matter how exquisite the craftsmanship, no matter how attentive to detail of the color scheme, or the textural contrast in one’s mouth, I am steadfast in the camp of, “You think that’s art, buddy?” Why don’t you lock yourself in a room and try writing a poem or painting a painting that actually, like, moves someone?
DUCKWORTH: You know, there are these two motivational tendencies that psychologists call, like, “approach” versus “avoidance.” And some people would say, “I work so hard because I have all these approach goals I want to do this.” Other people would say, “I work so hard because I’m avoiding failure.” I don’t know if any of that resonates with you.
HAMILTON: I used to joke all the time when people would say, “I don’t know how you do it. You’re a good cook and you’re a good writer. And how do you be good at so many things?” Oh, it’s so easy. You just need parents who didn’t love you. And so you just spend the rest of your life working harder, and harder, and harder! Like, please notice me!
DUCKWORTH: I’m good enough!
HAMILTON: All you have to do is breathe and your parents love you? That is not the household in which we grew up. And I would say we had some psychological dynamics of an even darker stripe, particularly with our father.
DUCKWORTH: And you’re raising your two kids totally differently, right?
HAMILTON: Of course, I’m sure I’m screwing them up in my own special way.
DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, are they going to be like really happy slackers?
HAMILTON: Totally. I don’t know who said it. But, you want to give your children just enough trauma, a little trauma.
DUCKWORTH: A tincture.
HAMILTON: So they’ve got some texture.
DUCKWORTH: Do you think that being somebody who’s so driven to excellence and who cares so much about the details, etc., do you think that’s causally related to insecurity? Or are those really just different parts of you?
HAMILTON: The confidences that I do have, ironically, come from having all of the same fears, and insecurities, and terrors, and senses of inadequacies as anyone, if not even more so, but having faced them. And so, I don’t know if you’re allowed to say this without sounding like an a**hole, but I find myself brave to have faced the things that terrify me, or that I think I’m going to fail at, etc. You hold your breath, and you squint, and you’re just like, “I’m going in.” It’s like jumping into an ice-cold lake off of a very tall rock. And you’re not sure what’s at the bottom. And some people just back down, like, “I think I’m not going to take that risk.” And having, I think, jumped into enough of those cold lakes, I’ve developed some confidence, but it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with tremendous insecurity. I have to ask a lot of questions and make sure I have a lot of answers before I finish an endeavor. It’s why it takes me so long to write. I think it’s very hard for me, you know, I can probably only manage a book every five years because I’m so afraid I’m going to get it wrong.
DUCKWORTH: Can you share an example of a past or present insecurity, or fear? Or like, “Yep, that was an icy lake I jumped into not knowing the bottom of”?
HAMILTON: Sure. First thing that comes to mind is about writing. Do you write?
DUCKWORTH: I only wrote one book, and I’ll never write another one, because it nearly killed me.
HAMILTON: I think people mistake writing as having a way with words, but actually writing is thinking and writing on the page — it reveals the organization of your mind and your heart, frankly. And so, to put that in draft form in front of someone who’s going to edit and receive that material, for me, is like being caught absolutely naked, and not good naked. Not like I’ve had a shower, and I trimmed.
HAMILTON: It’s like ugly naked, like I’ve been puking in the bathroom on a hangover naked.
DUCKWORTH: When I read The New York Times essay that you wrote during the pandemic about the closure of Prune, I did want to ask, do you know what you’re doing next? Prune could reopen, right?
HAMILTON: For now, it’s officially illegal to have indoor dining. And I don’t know if you know our block.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t.
HAMILTON: It’s a very short block, and we have some empty lots that breed rats. And then we’re on top of a subway station that’s hollow where rats like to live. So to open outdoors to me would be repulsive.
DUCKWORTH: You could start the bubonic plague to add on to the coronavirus.
HAMILTON: I can just imagine. Like, you get your tables all set up and your little potted ferns going. And then there’s a rainstorm and the cockroaches are going to come up out of the sewer drain. Not only would that be bad for business, but who would I be — like, “No, we’re going to sit out here.”
DUCKWORTH: Have brunch. Eggs benedict.
HAMILTON: Make beautiful plates while everyone here is going to hell in a handbasket.
DUCKWORTH: You know, I see a lot of signs on storefronts in my town, which is Philadelphia, that say, kind of more or less, like, “I’m retiring.” You’ve titled your book Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. You’ve said that you didn’t, growing up, think that cooking was going to be your passion — that at a pretty early age, or whatever, you wanted to be a writer. So I wondered whether you would also take the opportunity to exit off of the restaurant highway.
HAMILTON: It’s a great opportunity — and of course, I’m contemplating it constantly, and I happen to like change. Change doesn’t terrify me. So I am embracing the time and the opportunity to really think, and recalibrate, and understand who I am and who I’m not. But I must admit that I’m still a little bit in shock. The shock waves of such an intense and seismic shift, I need them to settle a bit before I am able to think again about what will come. And in addition, I don’t want to be playing this one-stringed violin just because I played a violin for 20 years. It’s not to say that I can’t, again, make beautiful music. I think I can get that going again at some future time, but I don’t want to be playing my old, one-stringed violin.
This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by Rebecca Lee Douglas and Katherine Moncure, with help from our production associate, Lyric Bowditch. And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation.
In the first half of the episode, Angela says the phrase “join or die” comes from Benjamin Franklin, and Mike says, “Yes, the yellow flag with the snake.” In 1754, Franklin published a drawing of a snake broken into pieces above the caption “Join, or Die.” in the Pennsylvania Gazette. He might have been inspired by a similar image published in France in 1685. The image isn’t a flag, though, and it isn’t yellow. Mike is probably thinking of the Gadsden flag, which depicts a rattlesnake on a yellow field, above the slogan “Don’t tread on me.”
Later, Angela and Mike discuss the slow checkout lines in grocery stores for people who want more social interaction. Angela guesses that those lines are at grocery stores in Denmark. In fact, they’re thinking of the slow lines at a supermarket chain in the Netherlands called Jumbo. Jumbo opened the first so-called “chat checkout” in 2019 as part of a Dutch government initiative to combat loneliness. The company plans to open 200 of these checkout lines in the Netherlands and Belgium. Some Jumbo stores are also implementing “cozy chat corners” for people to sit and talk.
Then, Mike says that people in public are often wearing their “airbuds.” He was likely combining the terms “earbuds,” which refers to a type of headphones that fits in the user’s ear canal, and “AirPods,” a brand of earbud made by Apple. Air Bud is a 1997 comedy about a golden retriever who learns to play basketball.
In the second half of the show, Angela shares that she wrote one book — Grit — and won’t write another, because the first nearly killed her. She is now in the middle of writing her second book.
Finally, Angela asks Gabrielle Hamilton whether she intends to reopen her restaurant Prune, which was forced to close during the pandemic. At the time, Hamilton said that she wasn’t sure. However, months after this episode originally aired, Hamilton announced that she was leaving her position as a columnist for The New York Times Magazine and returning to work at Prune. There’s currently no reopening date listed publicly for the restaurant, but locals have seen the lights on and renovations happening inside and out. That’s it for the fact-check.
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: How does word choice affect behavior?
MAUGHAN: Just go to a magic show, ladies and gentlemen!
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
* * *
No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne and James Foster. We had research help from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUCKWORTH: I need to ask about the friend who —.
SIRI: I didn’t get that.
DUCKWORTH: I’m sorry, did somebody say, “I didn’t get that?”
MAUGHAN: No that was my watch, I’m so sorry, I took it off.
- Daniel Boulud, chef and restaurateur.
- Pete Davis, co-founder of the Democracy Policy Network.
- Wylie Dufresne, chef and restaurateur.
- Marisa Franco, assistant clinical professor at The University of Maryland.
- Beth Gillette, beauty editor at Cosmopolitan.
- Gabrielle Hamilton, chef, restauranteur, and writer.
- Daniel Humm, chef and restaurateur.
- Ray Oldenburg, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of West Florida.
- Robert Putnam, author and professor of public policy at Harvard University.
- René Redzepi, chef and restaurateur.
- Gillian Sandstrom, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex.
- Dieter Uchtdorf, Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and former Senior Vice President Flight Operations at Lufthansa Airlines.
- Lyle Ungar, professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania.
- “Social Support From Weak Ties: Insight From the Literature on Minimal Social Interactions,” by Joshua Moreton, Caitlin S. Kelly, and Gillian Sandstrom (Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2023).
- Join or Die, documentary (2023).
- “I Tried Bumble BFF for 30 Days — Here’s What Happened,” by Beth Gillette (The Everygirl, 2022).
- Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends, by Marisa Franco (2022).
- “Grocery Store Opens ‘Chat Registers’ for Lonely Customers,” by Gabriel Geiger (Vice, 2021).
- “The State of American Friendship: Change, Challenges, and Loss,” by Daniel A. Cox (Survey Center on American Life, 2021).
- “Number of Close Friends Had by Adults in the United States in 1990 and 2021,” by Michele Majidi (Survey Center on American Life, 2021).
- “You’re Not Uncool. Making Friends as an Adult Is Just Hard,” by Peter O’Dowd and Kalyani Saxena (WBUR, 2021).
- “My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?” by Gabrielle Hamilton (The New York Times Magazine, 2020).
- “Why You Miss Those Casual Friends So Much,” by Gillian Sandstrom and Ashley Whillans (Harvard Business Review, 2020).
- “The Bros Who Met Their BFFs on Bumble,” by Rebecca Nelson (GQ, 2016).
- “Sex Differences in Social Focus Across the Life Cycle in Humans,” by Kunal Bhattacharya, Asim Ghosh, Daniel Monsivais, Robin I. M. Dunbar, and Kimmo Kaski (Royal Society Open Science, 2016).
- Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton (2011).
- “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review,” by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, and J. Bradley Layton (PLoS Medicine, 2010).
- Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert Putnam (2000).
- The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, by Ray Oldenburg (1999).
- Character Lab.
- “How Much Are the Right Friends Worth?” by People I (Mostly) Admire (2022).
- “Is It Weird for Adults to Have Imaginary Friends?” by No Stupid Questions (2022).
- “How Much Do Your Friends Affect Your Future?” by No Stupid Questions (2020).
- “Is There Really a ‘Loneliness Epidemic’?” by Freakonomics Radio (2020).
- Tell Me Something I Don’t Know (2017).