Friends & Family

Why Acquaintance Relationships Are Important—And 5 I’m Nurturing This Year

Source: Elevae Visuals
Source: Elevae Visuals

Many of us enter the new year with the goal of letting go of toxic relationships, yet we often forget that nurturing certain kinds of positive relationships is also a critical investment in our well-being. And yes, while staying on good terms with our family members and close friends is important, there are other (often overlooked) types of acquaintance relationships that can have a positive impact on our lives when we take the time to nurture them—like the woman you talk to every week at Pilates or the person you exchange pleasantries with each morning at the coffee cart outside your office building.

The Benefits of Acquaintance Relationships

Social scientists would call these more distant social relationships and friendly acquaintances “weak ties.” And while this may be a dubious title for a friendship, weak-tie relationships play a crucial role in our well-being by contributing to our sense of belonging. Friendly acquaintances can also benefit you by bringing new information and ideas into your life, especially when it comes to job opportunities and career advancement—we all know we can’t only network with our closest friends.

5 Acquaintance Relationships I’m Nurturing This Year

So, this year it’s time to put down your phone and start saying hello! Here are five acquaintance relationships I’ll be putting energy into this year.

1. The online-only friendship

It’s no secret that many of our social interactions have shifted from face-to-face encounters to online connections, often with people we’ve never met in real life. And as we continue to navigate the hyper-digital age we now live in, it’s time we recognize the value of online friendships.

For one, these relationships are often more consistent than others in our lives because we have access to them anytime, anywhere. Personally, I get a lot from the people who always take the time to leave a funny or encouraging comment on my posts or engage in a dialogue around something we’re both passionate about, whether it’s political activism or how to get a toddler to eat something (anything!) green.

All this to say, the stigma that can still exist surrounding virtual relationships shouldn’t hold you back from forming meaningful bonds. (Although, if they mention they’re stranded in a foreign country and are seeking a loan to get home you probably want to look elsewhere for friendship.) By embracing these connections, we can expand our social circles, gain new perspectives, and grow personally. I have a whole host of friends I’ve never met IRL with whom I love chatting about books and other hobbies.

2. The child care provider or teacher you just click with

We’ve all had that one of our children’s babysitters or teachers with whom we love chatting. The conversation flows, and you find you have much more in common than both being responsible for your child’s well-being.

While it can seem awkward at first, I’ve had some of my children’s teachers end up as people I’d call friends, especially once my kids moved on from their classrooms so we could grab coffee or drinks without worrying about any conflicts of interest. And we had one babysitter with whom I got along so well that we kept in touch even after my family moved to a new city. Now, when we’re back in town, we’ll sometimes still get together—without the kids—just because we enjoy hanging out.

3. The casual day-to-day acquaintance relationship

You see them every week at your child’s swim lesson or your kickboxing class. Your chats have grown longer, and you even have inside jokes wagering how much caffeine your instructor has consumed that day. (Answer: too much.) So, it might be time to take your friendly acquaintance to the next level!

While some people find it intimidating to put themselves out there with someone new (hi, it’s me), more often than not, it’s worth it. I spent nearly a year chatting with a friendly woman at the gym before getting up the nerve to ask if she wanted to have coffee. Turns out we have a ton in common, and now it’s something we do on a semi-regular basis. Friendship activated!

acquaintance relationships
Source: Elevae Visuals

4. The distant relative you actually really like

Maybe you only see your second cousin twice a year on holidays, but every time you do the two of you end up huddled in a corner talking and laughing like it’s your own private party. Why not nurture that relationship and see how it develops? Especially as we age, family connections and shared memories become all the more important. Plus, being related is an easy starting point for going from commiserating about weird family dynamics to having a deeper relationship.

Even if you don’t live near each other, text conversations and the occasional video chat are a great substitute for regular get-togethers—and you’ll have all the more material the next time you see each other at a family gathering.

5. The owner or employee at your favorite independent shop

If you’re like me, you tend to frequent the same establishments. I’ve been a regular at the locally-owned coffee shop near my house since we moved to the neighborhood a year and a half ago. I bring my kids in on a regular basis, and we’ve all gotten to know the primary barista there. She knows what the kids like and don’t like about school, how my various DIY home projects are going, and what I’m reading. In turn, I’ve learned about her brothers and sisters in the Philippines, her favorite restaurants, and what her life is like as a long-term immigrant turned citizen in a country far away from her family.

While I’m not expecting a new best friend, my life is better because of the relationship we’ve developed and the joy we take in seeing each other every week.

All this isn’t to say you need to put in the work to become lifelong friends with everyone you regularly encounter. But identifying the people you click with and cementing your relationship with the occasional coffee or smoothie date can firmly establish this person as a positive part of your life—something that will pay dividends for your well-being (and theirs!) for years to come.