Weak Ties and the Lasting Joy of Passing Friendship

On a work trip I once took to Arizona, I made the most delightful group of friends. There were six or seven of us who all worked for the same company, from different offices around the country. We had all flown into town for the same annual event. We met around the breakfast table on the first day, and immediately hit it off as a group.

For the rest of the 3-day trip, our little group met up for meals together. We’d wave and high five each other in the halls during the event, we even went out on a group hike on our one morning off. It was great.

But after the weekend was up, I never spoke to any of these people ever again. At this point I couldn’t even tell you any of their names.

It’s okay though. I am not disappointed in this in the least, and I hope none of my friends are either. I enjoy this memory fondly, because it is one of my favorite experiences of treasured weak ties.

The Power of Weak Ties

We all have some human connections with people outside our inner circle. These connections, known as weak ties, have great value to offer us if we’re ready to accept it.

Our tighter connections, or “strong ties” – like our close friends, families, and some coworkers – are important, too. That’s not at issue here. But that doesn’t mean that these are the only relationships we should put our energy into.

Everyone you meet and interact with is an opportunity for connection. But not every person we connect with needs to become one of our very best friends, or so close we consider them family. Imagine pouring that much of yourself into that many relationships. The time commitment alone would be staggering! There’s only so much of you to go around, after all.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t deliberately choose happiness in a weak tie relationship, too.

Think of the people who work at your local grocery store, or one of your favorite restaurants. You likely know a few of these people, maybe even by name, and they you. Even if someone isn’t destined for a key role in your life, does that mean you can’t both be friendly? Share some polite banter, maybe even learn a thing or two about each other?

Humans are inherently social animals. We want to connect to others, and feel like part of a community. Relying only on a few strong ties for this, and discounting everyone else, means giving up on a lot of potential to experience (and spread) joy.

In Defense of Single-Serving Friends

In Fight Club, the narrator at one point describes his life as constantly on the go. For him, everything is good for only a single use. From single-serving sugar and cream packets for his coffee, to hotel shampoo bottles, to the people he meets on flights. He refers to these as “single-serving friends.”

Despite the clear cynicism in context, I think that there’s something beautiful in these so-called single-serving friendships. Something worth treasuring.

There are many times in life when you interact with someone only in a certain context, likely never to see them again. Those you meet while travelling, for instance. Or while taking a class, or on jury duty.

You could take the fleeting nature of these relationships as an excuse not to invest in them. Or you can jump into the opportunity to treasure a weak tie friendship. Just to enjoy a moment of getting to know someone, understanding their experience, and maybe sharing a laugh or two.

These single-serving friendships, like my Arizona group, are one of my favorite ways to enjoy the possibilities of weak tie human connection. Why let the unpredictability of life get in the way of our simply enjoying moments, building connection, and creating memories?

2 Comments

  1. Karen Diamond said:

    Great read! Such true information. I like how you can put into words life happenings and make it touch base in my life. Each time I read one these it definitely relates to me in some way. (also each time I mean to send one of these replies) This “Weak Ties” on Smarter and Harder has brought back good memories of my ‘weak ties’ in life – and some were exactly how you said it, nice memories of good times, but no names in my memory….

    October 19, 2021
    Reply
    • Sam said:

      Always glad to hear when I’ve been able to touch on something relevant 🙂 I think we’re all aware in some way of the people we know, but don’t know that well. But I usually only hear this topic taken from a cynical angle about people being “so disconnected these days” or some such. But there’s plenty of room for beauty in these relationships if we’re open to it!

      October 28, 2021
      Reply

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