To make and keep friends, risk regulation theory suggests that we don’t just need to be more secure. We need to make others secure. We need to become attachment sanctuaries, terrains of safety, and we can do this through showing affection. Making others feel secure is not just a selfless act for our friends’ benefit; it’s in our best interest. Secure people, we’ve learned, are better friends—they are more vulnerable and authentic and take more initiative. When we make our friends know they are loved and accepted, they let their guard down and melt into a secure pro-relationship mode. They feel comfortable initiating with us, checking in with us, affirming us, being vulnerable with us. They are invested in us. We bring out the best in them, and they bring out the best in us, in an upward spiral that brings out the best in friendship.
Risk regulation theory reveals just how harmful our culture of flakiness is. When we flake on someone last minute, we make them more insecure as we signal that we don’t value them—the opposite of what makes people feel comfortable investing in us. Instead of putting them in pro-relationship mode, we swing them into self-protection mode, and they stop reaching out to us. Of course, when we flake, we don’t always mean to convey that we don’t like a person, but regardless of our intentions, the impact is all the same. I’ve been guilty of this myself. A friend of a friend invited me to her birthday, and it was later on in the evening and cold out. I had RSVPed yes, but as the hour drew nearer, I didn’t want to venture out. This friend never invited me out again, and she even told our mutual friend how hurt she was that I flaked and that she worried I didn’t like her.
What should we do instead? How can we use affection to make people feel secure enough to invest in us? If we meet a potential friend at a happy hour, instead of checking our texts during the conversation, we can greet them warmly and stay engaged. If we want our new friend to invite us for pizza, when they text to ask how we’re doing, instead of saying “Everything’s fine,” we can say, “It’s so good to hear from you! There’s so much I’ve wanted to tell you about.” If we want our friends to keep us abreast of their lives, when they tell us they received an award, instead of saying “That’s cool,” we say, “I’m so proud of you! There’s no one I know who deserves this more!” Although when we crave connection we tend to focus on our needs, when we stop thinking about whether we belong and shift to making others feel like they belong, we’ll inevitably belong too.