I have plans to meet a friend for lunch this week. She’s someone who I’ve know for almost 30 years yet I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen her. Maybe it was a few months ago? It could very well be that six months have flown by since the last time we hung out.
It doesn’t really matter because we don’t keep score in that way. We get together when our schedules allow, usually meeting up at our favorite sushi place, sitting by the window drinking green tea until we have to rush off to get our kids. We rarely text or keep in touch in any way in between the sporadic times we hang out. And truthfully, we are both fine with that.
I love these dates, and the casualness of our friendship has always been refreshing to me. She doesn’t need me to be in touch all the time. If I invite her to a party, there’s no hard feelings if she declines. I’ll see her when I see her. At the same time, I know if I was in a jam, she’d listen without judgment and do what she could. And she knows I would do the same.
In the meantime, we are over the moon about our rare dinner dates, where we chat about the latest fashion trends and goings on of our lives, and then going on our merry way. It never feels like work with her; it feels like connection.
I have a similar relationship with my neighbor. We give each other’s kids rides around town when needed, but other than that, we don’t get together or chat about life. Just knowing we are available to help out when we can and we live close to each other makes us feel better.
These kinds of relationships are all around. My esthetician is a hoot, and we talk about being moms to teenage girls the entire time during my facial. My hairdresser gave me the best pep talk of my life before my first date post-separation. It felt meaningful because she didn’t know me that well and was speaking from a different place than my best friend or sisters were. A woman who used to work with recently recommended an amazing podcast to me.
Some may consider these types of relationships simple acquaintances. They might think they could do without them, and don’t really stop and think about the impact they’ve had in our lives. But being surrounded by low-pressure friends just might be the key to happiness. Mark Granovetter, a sociologist who has done research on friendship, calls these relationships “weak ties,” and told the New York Times that can make us feel more connected, empathetic, and less lonely.
Just because someone doesn’t play a big role in our lives, doesn’t mean they aren’t having an effect on it. In fact, according to a study, the more low pressure friendship we have, the better. Especially as we get older and our families and responsibilities become more demanding. Not to mention we don’t have the same energy we had when we were younger.
As I reach midlife, I often tell myself I don’t have time for casual friends, and there are times when small talk makes me cringe. But when I really think about what it would be like if all my low-pressure friends vanished, my life wouldn’t be as meaningful or enjoyable. These are the folks like the nice man I see in the grocery store who has been bagging my groceries for over a decade, or the ladies at my local McDonald’s who slip me a free Diet Coke once in a while — and they would definitely be missed.
There are times when all it takes is getting out of the house and talking with someone about how ridiculous the weather has been to pull you out of a funk.
There is comfort in seeing a familiar face and getting help from someone who doesn’t really know you very well. It can lead to bigger, stronger connections and you never know if the person sitting next to you at your kid’s baseball game is going to be your new best friend, help you land your dream job, or introduce you to the love of your life.
The more “weak ties” we have, the better our chances of living a fulfilling life are.
So, ask how your favorite waitress is doing. Stop every once in a while and talk to a fellow mom while you are picking up your kid from school. Strike up a conversation with your neighbor more often. You never know what will come of it. At the very least, you will feel more connected and that’s always a good feeling.