Here’s Why Casual Friendships Are Important To Your Mental Health

I’m an introvert, and I have a close group of friends. At the start of the pandemic, I didn’t worry about my social life – everyone (okay, a small group) was just a text and call away. Plus, I created a pod with my family, so it wasn’t like I was alone. “Casual” friendships? Why would I miss people I only saw every now and then? They weren’t my core people. Sure, we’d comment on each other’s Instagrams, but it was never a “real friendship” – just interactions in passing. Casual friends were not a priority.

Why, then, was I so lonely during quarantine? 

Turns out, those casual friends – the baristas at the coffee shop where I worked, the clerks at the drug store where I got my prescriptions, the techs at my cat’s vet clinic – were deeply missed. I consider myself a peppy person when it comes to social interactions like these, and my goal is to leave people feeling better after we’ve talked. The benefit: I always get positive energy back in a loose, “see you later,” “so glad to chat” kind of way. So, not having those connections? It was, surprisingly, a total downer. 

It turns out, I’m not the only one to feel this way. Casual friendships are incredibly important for your mental health, even if you don’t realize it — here’s why.

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What Are Casual, “Weak-Tie” Friendships?

Casual friendships, also known as weak-tie friendships, are positive social interactions that aren’t necessarily deep. They’re the connections you make in passing – for example, with the woman you talk to after yoga, or with the guy you talk to about dogs at your local park. You don’t talk about the meaning of life and its intricacies, but you speak enough to come away feeling better after your interactions. 

The “weak-tie” term was coined by a Stanford sociology professor, Mark Granovetter, in 1973, one of the first to spearhead the social network theory (defined as “the role of social relationships in transmitting information, channeling personal or media influence, and enabling attitudinal or behavioral change”). He explained that strong-tie and weak-tie relationships depend on “the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.”

 
 
 
 
 
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Community Through Casual Friendships

In Granovetter’s study, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” he references Herbert J. Gans, another sociologist who studied relationships. Gans found that he and his wife were part of close social circles – aka, strong ties. However, they became acquaintances with neighbors, who then introduced them to other neighbors and relatives, thus creating a sense of community outside of their direct circles. Grannoveter describes this as “cohesion.” 

Think about it: when you go to your yoga class, you’re joining a community of people who have a similar interest. And then, when you talk to these people outside of your class, you build camaraderie. Or at jobs – you become friends with your cubicle mate, and you now have someone to talk to when frustrated. You might never talk to these people outside of class or work, but these casual friends give you a sense of belonging and connection in ways you wouldn’t otherwise have. (And some weak ties can eventually become strong ties!)

During the pandemic, many things closed. We stopped going to yoga. We isolated from others. And even though we may not have been close, that sense of connection was missing. As a writer from The Atlantic explained, “The depth and intensity of these relationships varied greatly, but the people were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was no substitute for them during the pandemic.” 

In a 2014 study by Sandstrom G. M. and Dunn E. W., students who interacted with more weak-tie relationships “experienced greater happiness and feelings of belonging on days when they interacted with more classmates than usual.” And in a 2016 study on group identification, researchers found that there were higher levels of satisfaction with life (SWL) in those who were a part of multiple group identifications.


Networking Through Casual Friendships  

To demonstrate that weak ties can be beneficial, Grannoveter’s study found that weak ties were more likely than strong ties to help acquaintances find jobs. This is because “those to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in different circles from our own and will thus have access to information different from that which we receive.”

Another surprising fact about how these people found their jobs: 45.3% of those searching for jobs received information from an intermediary between the weak tie and the employer. 

Searching for jobs can be tiring. Many people take to platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn to post about looking for work, and weak ties can aid in that search. If you only know those who work at the company you’re leaving, you’re not going to find job opportunities outside of your mutual place of work. But those who have casual friendships with weak ties at other companies are more likely to learn about outside opportunities.

For example, I had multiple friends working at a company, and it suddenly shut down without warning. Taking to social media, my friends were quickly picked up by other companies thanks to weak ties sharing jobs that were available at their own companies. Many are still with these companies to this day – and it’s thanks to a casual friendship.


How Do I Know It’s A Weak-Tie Friendship?

According to a 2018 study by Hall J. A., low amounts of time with someone (meaning less than 10 hours) creates an acquaintance. As he reports, “The chance of identifying someone as a casual friend rather than an acquaintance is greater than 50% when individuals spend about 43 hours together in the first three weeks after meeting.”

So, if you talk to someone once every week for half an hour, you’ll create an acquaintance slowly but surely. Continue talking to this person for half an hour for a year, and you’ll close in on potentially creating a casual friendship. Though these weak-tie friendships are slow to create, they’re beneficial to your mental health.

Overall, weak-tie friendships are critical to maintaining mental health – arguably, they’re just as important as friendships with your ride-or-dies. So text that casual friend about a relevant interest, or make up for water-cooler chat by messaging your co-worker on Slack. Nurture your social group as the world’s opening ebbs and flows, because time moves quickly. Chances are, your message will be a boost of serotonin for them, too, and it will open a reciprocal conversation (if not relationship!). And what’s better than feeling that connection?

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What are your thoughts on casual friendships? Do you miss them? Share with us below.


For More Articles On Friendship, Read These:

I’m An Adult Introvert, And Here’s How I Make New Friends

Friendship Breakups Are Just As Hard As Romantic Ones — Here’s How To Recover

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