After experiencing a severe heartbreak, psychologist, author, and friendship expert, Dr Marisa G Franco struggled to make sense of her grief and loss.
Like many women, Dr Franco had spent much of her life believing that romantic relationships were the most important kind of connection.
For years, she had assumed finding the right romantic partner would mark the true beginning of her life. Suffering the breakdown of this relationship shook up her worldview and set her on a path to uncovering the sacredness of platonic love and meaningful, lasting friendships.
By losing the type of relationship she had expected to fulfil all her needs, she discovered an abundance of love and support. Her eyes were opened to the broad, beautifully diverse spectrum of relationships that can meet our inherent need for deep connection.
These lessons inspired her to create her new book, Platonic, which unpacks the drivers behind our society’s loneliness epidemic. Platonic explores the world of friendship and how attachment science can help us make – and keep – friends.
Why friendships are crucial to our wellbeing
It can be scary for adults to admit they have difficulty making or keeping friends.
Many people falsely assume friendships are forged in our youth, then maintained until we die. Others feel shame at their lack of friends, thinking it must reflect a deep personal failure or lack of lovableness.
In reality, relocation, friendship breakdowns, and growing apart can leave many of us without the social support we need.
Dr Franco encourages her readers to bravely look in the mirror and assess their attachment styles and communication habits. She gently guides them through a journey of empowering themselves to foster closer friendships.
Platonic unpacks the inextricable links between our experiences of connection, personality, and attachment style. It describes how wounds from our past can cloud our perceptions of others in the here and now.
“When we have felt connected, we’ve grown,” writes Dr Franco.
“We’ve become more open, more empathic, bolder. When we have felt disconnected, we’ve withered. We’ve become closed off, judgemental, or distant in acts of self-protection.”
Without mindful awareness and self-compassion, this can set us on a trajectory that sets us up for loneliness and turbulent, unfulfilling relationships.
Platonic helped me reflect on my experience as a classic middle child whose siblings both had serious health issues. Afraid to take up too much of their energy, I always felt like a burden on my parents. I refused to ask for help or express my emotions, yet I resented them for their lack of attention and for failing to notice the terrible pain hiding behind my hyper-independence.
By reading Dr Franco’s book, I realised this dynamic had been repeated in most of my adult relationships.
I fell out with friends, feeling like I had been betrayed, abandoned, or mistreated. I didn’t know how to ask for more support or reassurance without lashing out or ghosting them. I didn’t know how to embrace my vulnerability to bring us closer and get my needs met in a healthy way.
My attachment style was deeply insecure, and it was sabotaging my relationships and social wellbeing.
As I read Dr Franco’s words, I started to feel deep empathy, compassion, and forgiveness for those who hurt me and, more importantly, myself.
Navigating the complex social systems that are friendships
Platonic is full of amazing insights into the importance of friendships for our wellbeing and tips for creating more supportive, healthier platonic relationships.
It also uses psychological science to explore how shame, loneliness, and socioeconomic disadvantage contribute to how we connect with others.
Shame and fear had kept me closed off from my friends, reinforcing my view of myself as an outsider. I robbed myself and my friends of a closer bond by hiding my truest, most vulnerable self. I kept myself trapped by shame about my past, emotions, and needs.
In her book, Franco writes: “When we confide our shame, and friends accept us or even identify with us, we learn our disappointments don’t make us unhuman. They make us deeply human. Our friends permit us to accept our flaws, to allow them to be a piece of who we are rather than our scarlet letters.”
Using attachment theory to form better friendships
By the time I was halfway through Dr Franco’s book, I was convinced of the importance of deep, supportive friendships for keeping us happier, healthier, friendlier, and more optimistic.
I could hardly wait to get to the practical how-to section. I was desperate to know how I could play a more active role in building a strong and resilient support network.
I was not disappointed. I learned that my most traumatic social encounters were largely a result of my mind. I interpreted other people’s actions as hurtful, even when they were objectively neutral or positive.
“Attachment is what we project onto ambiguity in relationships… and our relationships are rife with ambiguity,” Dr Franco explained
Platonic is packed with helpful resources, woven in such a way that you never feel condescended or blamed for any friendship troubles you’ve experienced. It teaches you to unpack your attachment styles and the invisible social baggage you carry, which can tarnish even the most wholesome of connections.
Dr Franco goes beyond the tired trope of telling readers to ‘be themselves’ and unpacks how to realistically put that advice into practice. She teaches how to harness vulnerability to create space for your needs and make decisions that reflect who you are rather than defensively and unconsciously reacting to triggers.
While the book doesn’t shy away from heavy or upsetting content, it does so in a way that instils hope and optimism. It shares how, with self-awareness and compassion, we can unlearn the lies we have internalised about our place in the world.
We can learn to trust and believe in the inherent goodness of others. In doing so, we not only improve our relationships but become more trustworthy, kind, and friendly.
Zooming out, it’s easy to appreciate how the lessons taught in Platonic could lead to positive change in the world at large. If we were all secure in our relationships and hoped for the best of everyone, perhaps we could eventually become one giant, multifaceted community.
Instead of fearing, judging, or distancing ourselves from one another, we could all use our individual strengths to support the collective. Our weaknesses could be supported by others who care about our wellbeing just as much as they do their own. Fragmentation and loneliness could be replaced with cohesion, collaboration, and connection.
After finishing Dr Franco’s book, I felt a tangible change in how I interacted with others. I reflected on how I could become the kind of friend I had always wanted by my side.
I took responsibility for my friendships in a way that felt empowering rather than scary or overwhelming.
In the weeks after I finished the book, I reached out to old friends from whom I had drifted apart. I contacted acquaintances I had always wanted to get to know better. I became an active player in my social life, and I am so grateful I did.