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Episode Transcript

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: Angela talks to Mike Maughan, senior executive at Qualtrics, about how to 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 — close friends as you grow older, especially in your 40’s and beyond.” And by the way, Mike, Minnie says some other very friendly, positive things in her email to us, but that’s the part that I want to really focus on today. 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, where we talked every morning. 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. I hope you’re okay with everyone knowing you do 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. And Minnie’s question about how do you ever make a new good friend when you are already well beyond your high school years, your college years, even like your college 10th-year reunion years. And I’ll say this, Mike: there’s actually not a lot of research on this. But I will say, from everything I know about behavior change, 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 we did that and it was a delightful part of my life. And so it was good. 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 month, or year 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, right? 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. So I think it’s an interesting way to look at it.

DUCKWORTH: 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, and whose work I think you know of. Wait, let me ask you, do you know who I’m talking about? Bob Putnam.

MAUGHAN: I do know who you’re talking about.

DUCKWORTH: So Bob Putnam wrote Bowling Alone about how, as you know, I guess, Mike, 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. I think you would say that 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. 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 and then it’s like a dark— 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, and I think we should talk about that. But I don’t want to introduce new friends into my life. I don’t need to make the ticker go up, even one, for new friends. 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 if we don’t get to know one another.

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 because you need that.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions, how do you get your friends to become friends with each other?

MAUGHAN: Someone’s offering you free candy, probably not a good choice.

DUCKWORTH: Never take the free candy.

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Now, back to Angela and Mike’s conversation about friendship.

MAUGHAN: So, back to Minnie’s question, Minnie is not alone. There was a 2021 Gallup survey on the 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 friend with friend one, Angela’s friend with friend two, Angela’s friend 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. 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. We said, “Hey, Minnie, if you just want a completely scientifically based response to this question of how do you make close friends in adulthood? There’s, like, not a lot of science.” Let me tell you that there’s also not a huge amount of science — at least that I’ve been able to find, and I’m not a friendship expert — but on this additional question of: I not only want friends, I want friends who are friends with each other. And 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.” And I asked her about friends who know friends, in other words, cliques.

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. And I wasn’t asking her to form a clique with me, but yes, 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. That’s okay. Just, I’m like, wow. I think that’s like the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard you say. In this conversation, she was, not in a condescending way, just very like, “Oh, good question.” She assured me that I hadn’t missed this huge research literature that was just staring me in the face. And then we had this really fun conversation about what was known. I think the thing that we have agreed is probably true — but again, we’d love to collect some data on it — is that in contrast to romantic relationships and what she actually studies, which is acquaintances. 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 earbuds 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 not a lot of research on how to make higher-quality friendships out of the ones you already have. 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 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. And so we would love to hear from all of you our listeners about a time when you’ve struggled to make friends in adulthood, but found a way to do it. So if you’ll tell us your name, where you’re from, and record in a quiet place, speak right into the phone and then email it to And then maybe you’ll hear yourself in a future episode. 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. 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 gotta 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.

This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by me, Katherine Moncure, with help from our production associate, Lyric Bowditch. And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation. Early in the conversation, 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, accompanied by the same phrase in French. That 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.” Then, Mike says there was a “2021 Gallup survey on the Center of American Life” about the change in close friendships from 1990 to 2021. The 1990 data was from Gallup. The 2021 data was collected by the Survey Center on American Life, which is part of the American Enterprise Institute.

Later, Angela and Mike discuss the slow checkout lines at 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 into 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. Finally, when talking about Bumble BFF, Mike says 90 percent of men on Bumble have logged into the BFF feature. According to a Bumble spokesperson quoted in GQ, 90 percent of men on Bumble have opted in to BFF; they may not all have used the service. That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts about our last episode on the essence of fun:

Eliza ALLENDER: My name’s Eliza and I’m from Melbourne in Australia. I have recently returned to horse riding after a 20-year break and have found myself enjoying it far more than I had originally thought I would. I have always had trouble quieting my busy mind, and I find that when I am riding, I am practicing mindfulness as I need to be fully in the moment to make sure that I am safe and my horse is safe. Yet I am also really, really enjoying the experience. I know that you mentioned in your podcast that you believe that a flow state is separate from a fun state in that you tend to reflect on a flow state as being enjoyable after the fact. However, I have found the most enjoyment that I’ve had in a very long time has been whilst I’m riding my horse. I am in the moment, but also cognizant of how enjoyable it is. Thanks and love the show.

Miranda FAN: Hi, my name is Miranda and I live in Colorado. I, like Angela, think that I’m totally not fun or funny, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do about it. I’ve picked up table tennis in the last few years, and it can be so much fun that I’m jumping and screaming like a little girl again. But it really depends on the attitude of the other player or players. Competitive people aren’t fun.

Tom DIEGEL: H i, my name’s Tom and I’m in Salt Lake City, Utah. Like your caller, I love to ski. I mostly backcountry ski and I mountain bike and I trail run and I climb and I kayak and I hike. And when I’m doing it with partners, which is most often, I’ll just yell out loud at them, “Fun!” which usually sort of startles them and makes me chuckle. And I took it to sort of a different level about 20 years ago when I decided to start tracking all the little activities that I did on a day-to-day basis. So I’m now embarrassed to admit that I have about 6,000 entries of all the various activities that I’ve done. So it’s geeky but is indeed fun.

That was, respectively, Eliza Allender, Miranda Fan, and Tom Diegel. Thanks so much to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love to hear about a time you tried to make new friends. Send a voice memo to Let us know your name and whether you’d like to remain anonymous. You might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Angela and Mike discuss what makes people fall for scams:

DUCKWORTH: You’re on the knife edge between trust and distrust, between, “Sure, I’ll give it a go,” and “No, I’m going to be conservative and risk-averse.”

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 we had research help from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. 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 To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit 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.

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  • Pete Davis, co-founder of the Democracy Policy Network.
  • Marisa Franco, assistant clinical professor at The University of Maryland.
  • Beth Gillette, beauty editor at Cosmopolitan.
  • Ray Oldenburg, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of West Florida.
  • Robert Putnam, author and professor of public policy at Harvard University.
  • 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.



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