Connect the dots

Choose your friends carefully – they influence your life more than you think, says Rebecca Newman, from your choice of mate to your physical shape

Have you ever considered the pernicious influence of your friends? Not just in terms of that fatal fifth margarita at the Taqueria on Westbourne Grove, but in terms of your sanity, happiness, longevity, weight and sexual health? Neither had I until I read Connected.

Written by Harvard professor Dr Nicholas Christakis and colleague James Fowler, the book examines how a subconscious herd mentality drives all aspects of your life. The authors analyse what makes a man attractive to women, and discover that looks are neither here nor there: the most desirable men are those whom other women want. Studies found that if girls are given a photograph of a man and told that he is married, or if the same man is pictured being gazed at by a smiling, beautiful woman, he will be rated as better looking than if he is alone.

This behaviour pattern, known as ‘choice copying’, neatly answers the question of why all the best men are taken. ‘It also explains why that bitch Tanya went off with my man,’ mused Legal and Lovely Girlfriend, as we conducted our own, empirical research into dating in the Cocomo, a fantastic little cocktail bar off Old Street. ‘Presumably,’ I added, gently moving away from that recent and raw subject, ‘it would also suggest that all a single guy needs to do is surround himself with some choice girls and he will morph from frog to Jamie Foxx.’

Elsewhere, Connected points out that if one person becomes clinically obese, their friends are 57 per cent more likely also to become obese. Incredibly, a friend of a friend of that obese person is 20 per cent more likely to become fat, even if the weight of their linking friend remains the same.

Only a cruel person would suggest that that is why I have signed LLG up at the marvellous Absolute PT personal training studio on Curtain Road in the City. Absolute PT opened last autumn, beneath The Real Fight Club, and is run by Tony Stacey, a Barking-born boy who played for Spurs as a junior and then turned personal trainer. He has a fleet of underlings but I was to be trained by the man himself. Boy, how it hurt. Tony tailors each session to how you feel that day.

One of my earliest comprised an hour doing circuits; in between cycles he had me hang from the punch bag while he swung it backwards and forwards. Apparently you could hear me wailing from the coffee shop next door. But with a steady flow of banter – he saves the footie chat for the boys, and has excellent dating advice for the girls – and a heavenly stretching session at the end, somehow you get through it.

After only a few sessions you find your energy increased, but the best part is the degree to which your figure and fitness levels improve. After five weeks I have buns of steel. Anyway, aside from the benefits of boosted beta-endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine – mood-lifting chemicals which are especially good for the recently single – LLG wants to drop ten pounds for a wedding this June, so I have persuaded her to start training with Tony. I’ll let you know how she gets on.

Elsewhere, on the advice of Most Gorgeous Girlfriend, I went to the Berkeley Hotel Spa to try their signature Elegance facial. Using products created by the Italian Bollati family, the Comfort Zone line, the facial combines anti-ageing peels and a bi-phasic lifting mask, both of which are complemented by a series of delicious massages which stimulate lymphatic drainage and circulation. After an hour, my face had sloughed off five years. Perhaps another example of the benefits of networks?

On the way out, I paused in the hotel’s Blue Bar for their fine afternoon tea, and mused: if we exist as a part of a superorganism, and our fate is tied up with that of those around us, it behoves us – even in a selfish way – to put more effort into our relationships.

Connected concludes that getting a large raise is less likely to make you happy than having a happy friend – or even a friend who has a friend who is happy. Clearly it’s time to get out of the office and into the London scene to catch up with people. What better excuse for organising the next few nights out...

Original article published in The London Magazine, in March, 2010

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