Strong vs. Weak Friendships
A common trope on social media is the refrain: “followers are not friends” or “Facebook friends won’t come to the hospital for you.”
That’s true, but it misses a point worth understanding. The distinction between “strong” and “weak” connections – between “dear friends” and “distant acquaintances” – is important. We need both types of relationships.
“Strong friends” or “close friends” are the “David and Jonathan” types. They are the ones who come when you’ve had a car wreck and are in the hospital. They bring meals for the family, pick up chores, and so on. Because of the time commitment and the required geographic proximity, you usually only have a handful. The typical person probably has less than two dozen “close friends” (and those “strong relationships” usually include family).
The caveat with a “strong friend” is that they usually know mostly the same people you do, face mostly the same situations, and likely have the same assumptions and the same knowledge set. Each person has unique differences, but close friends have more similarities than not. One of the reasons you are close friends is that you do things together, giving you plenty of time to bond, to appreciate both the differences and the sameness. People can “read” each other because they have a common viewpoint.
“Weak friendships” or “distant colleagues” or “respected associates” are people you don’t know very well–people who are in a different enough situation to see things very differently from you, to know different people, to have different knowledge sets. You appreciate them for these differences, as well as for connections they can make–connections you can’t get from your close friends. When one of your friends “has a problem” and “you know a guy”–that is a weak connection. If it were a strong connection, likely your friend would know the guy already.
Unforeseen job opportunities often come from weak connections, not strong ones. Unknown cures for ailments often common from weak connections. The list goes on.
What social media has done is make it possible to have daily updates on what our strong friends are doing–but also, made it easier to make new weak connections and to get updates and responses from those weak connections. Before, only people who traveled a lot, who were with big companies, who were in certain circles, who frequented large conferences, who wrote a lot of correspondence–only those kinds of people could have large “weak connection” circles. Now we all can.
The important thing is to value both kinds of friendships for their strengths, to understand their weaknesses, and to intentionally set out to cultivate both. No, weak friends probably won’t show up at the hospital. But if you’re looking for a particular rare kind of treatment, a weak connection may be far better than your deeply compassionate dear friendship.