Given that we all have limited time and energy, it helps to prioritise a few important friendships that we want to nurture. But we also don’t want to miss out on new friendships that might form from casual encounters. How to decide? Start by thinking of your friends in terms of active relationships or passive connections.
Strengthen your “weak ties”
Our casual social networks are larger than we think — we often have fleeting connections with our neighbours, the barista at the coffee shop or fellow exercisers at the gym. The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” While the ties are not strong, the benefits of these relationships can be great. They provide networking opportunities and make us feel more connected to other social groups. A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has, the happier he or she feels. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.
It doesn’t take much effort to cultivate these low-stakes relationships. Often it’s just exchanging pleasantries when you see another regular at the dog park or seeking them out for connection on social media.
Anna Akbari, a sociologist and author who often writes about friendship, describes these “weak ties” as passive friendships.
Nurture your active friendships
In contrast to our passive friends, our active friendships are those friends with whom we share similar values and a deeper connection — the people for whom “you go out of your way to schedule with, to show up for, to learn from, to make new memories with,” Dr. Akbari said.
If you’re not sure who makes the cut, Dr. Akbari suggests a few simple questions: Whom do I learn from? Who challenges me? Whom can I confide in? With whom do I find joy?
The bottom line is that by identifying our passive “weak” ties and our active “strong” ties, we can do a better job of cultivating budding friendships and allocating most of our energy and time to maintaining our established friendships.
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