What science says about how to truly show up for people.
By Tom Burns
Last updated on Sep 06, 2023
Photo: Zinkevych, kb group | Canva
When was the last time you dropped by to share good news with a friend or a family member?
We mean the old-school definition of “dropped by.” You didn’t text them. You didn’t FaceTime. You didn’t send a wild-eyed emoji followed by a million exclamation points. OK, maybe you did that, too, but when was the last time you actually got in your car, drove to someone’s house, and shared the good news with them in person?
Research reveals what the people you love really want from you
It’s been a while, right? Because it’s just so easy to pass along happy thoughts and warm wishes with our phones nowadays. It got us thinking — Is virtual time together just as valuable as face-to-face time? If you’re going to be there for the people you love, do they have a preference for how you do it?
Because, sure, it’s incredibly quick and convenient to spew heartfelt gifs and “likes” into the ether, but we wanted to know if being physically close to someone makes our interpersonal interactions inherently more satisfying.
Does seeing a flesh-and-blood smiling face make us feel better than the cutest smiling emoji ever could?
So, in collaboration with Ford, we decided to poll people about what it means to “be there.” The results could not have been clearer.
People overwhelmingly declared that they felt most valued when their loved ones moved beyond their screens and took the time to BE THERE for them.
When polled in 2018 about the various ways they could interact with a loved one, 55% of the respondents said they felt the most loved and appreciated when their significant other spent time with them in person — the clear winner.
For the rest of the results:
In second place, 30% said they feel most loved when someone “shows up unexpectedly to surprise me.”12% feel the most love from texts.Only 3% preferred it when their S.O. posted something sweet on social media.
That means a combined total of 85% of the respondents felt the most love when they were visited in person.
And the majority of the survey’s subsequent data backed up that conclusion.
26% said that their first response to hearing that a friend or loved one received good news was getting in the car to congratulate them in person.Calling was the most popular option for good news at 51%.Texts and social media clocked in as the third most popular option for good news with 22% of the vote.Thankfully, 52% said they prefer to visit the important people in their lives when they receive bad news.37% preferred to call to commiserate over bad news.Only 11% thought it was best to offer their bad news support via texts or social media.
That in-person time clearly has the greatest influence on how loved the respondents felt. Which made us ask ourselves — if showing up makes people feel more loved, what other benefits are there? Is there any way to empirically measure the value of making someone feel loved? It turns out there is: Your health.
Scientists have recently begun to offer compelling evidence that love plays a MAJOR role in both our physical and emotional well-being.
In 2013, noted scientists Dr. C. Sue Carter and Dr. Stephen Porges authored an article titled The Biochemistry of Love, in which they argued that “Without loving relationships, humans fail to flourish, even if all of their other needs are met.” They explained that love is not just an emotion, but also “a complex neurochemical system.”
It turns out that “the human heart relies on the chemicals associated with love as part of its normal process of protection and self-healing. The same molecules that allow us to give and receive love, also link our need for others with health and well-being.”
This means that love, literally, has been proven to help heal a broken heart. Thus, not only do people who prefer in-person contact feel more loved when we visit them, but we’re also making each other healthier too. However, the health benefits don’t just stop there.
Being there also combats loneliness.
Drs. Porges and Carter assert, “Individuals with strong emotional support and relationships are more resilient in the face of stressors than those who feel isolated or lonely. The protective effects of positive sociality seem to rely on the same cocktail of hormones that carry a biological message of ‘love’ throughout the body.”
Further, a 2016 Washington Post article reported that people who are lonely or socially isolated have a greatly increased mortality risk. In fact, there are some scientists who are now referring to loneliness as a significant public health hazard, regarding it as potentially deadly as smoking or obesity.
A life without love or human interaction is clearly not a healthy life. And it’s not particularly fun either.
Listen up, everybody. It’s time for us to show up for each other.
In the world of constant connectivity, those moments where we are truly present and tuned into one another have become increasingly rare and therefore are more valuable than ever. But it doesn’t mean that you have to reject technology.
Feel free to grab your phone to fire up Spotify or find that new gelato shop people are raving about, but, when the opportunity presents itself and you have the choice to interact with your friends in person or just click a heart or a thumbs-up on their social media accounts — grab your keys, hop in your car, and hit the road.
It takes more effort, but endless research shows how good it is for you and your loved ones as well. It’s what people really want from you.
Here’s some additional evidence — In the 2015 Ford Trends report, 62% of adults under the age of 35 worldwide said that more than anything else, they seek experiences they feel can’t be replicated.
The author of that report — Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s Global Consumer Trends and Futuring Manager — acknowledged the social and physical importance of showing someone that you’re specifically making time for them.
“When you’re multi-tasking, you become over-stimulated,” she said. “It triggers a sense of stress and you’re more prone to agitation and anger. And people are saying, ‘If I can get back to center or level myself out, one-on-one, I am not only happier, but I’m more productive and healthier.’”
That attitude definitely correlates to the responses we received in the Ford/YourTango survey.
One respondent noted how much they valued the alone time they get with their significant other during long road trips, saying how loved they felt by knowing that “either of you can spend time with anyone else in the world but you want to spend what time you have together, no matter what.”
Another person said, “I have the same text conversations so often that I could almost do them on auto-complete. But a text can’t look me in the eye and tell me something I’ve never heard before.”
Yet another said that they always valued traveling together because it allowed them to “enjoy each other’s presence while on the way to do something you’ve been waiting to experience with someone else for your whole life.”
(We also asked, “When you’re going on a road trip or long drive with friends and family, what is THE most important aspect of that trip being successful, fun, and pleasant?” The #1 answer, by far, was “Great company.”)
Spending time together enables you to create new, unique experiences with the people you love, not just copy-and-paste moments. And we now know what a powerful effect that love can have on us.
So what are you going to do about it?
Remember that actions speak louder than words. Show the most important people in your life that you care enough to spend your time with them. Look them in the eye and say “I love you.”
Drop by, grab lunch, and hit the road together. Ditch the emojis and embrace them with actual smiles, thumbs up, and heartfelt hugs.
More for You:
Zodiac Signs That Are Terrible At Relationships (And Why)20 Little Things Women Do That Guys *Secretly* LoveThe Perfect Age To Get Married, According To Science5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day
Tom Burns has served as a contributing editor for 8BitDad and The Good Men Project, and his writing has been featured on Babble, Brightly, Mom.me, Time Magazine, and various other sites.