‘How are you?’, ‘Yeah, still the same’. ‘Have you experienced anything fun?’, ‘Well, worked and eaten…’. The topics of conversation with your best friends and relatives are getting a bit meager, editor Lizzy van Hees notices. Fortunately, The New York Times offers a solution: look up your lost friends and vague acquaintances. Right now!
You may have a steady group of friends, relatives and neighbors who have become even more important, especially during social isolation. We are all creatures of habit and many people therefore have a fixed list of contacts under their speed dial . Not surprising, because the fun experiences you share with friends often lead to more fun moments. And so some relationships are perpetuated, while others are extinguished. The he circle of life , shall we say.
Yet we should not just throw away those watered-down friendships, lost sheep and vague acquaintances. They are more useful than you think. Certainly during a pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, argues The New York Times .
Fishing outside your own pond
Research has shown that these ‘weak ties’ are more useful when you are looking for a new job or want to expand your professional network than your direct colleagues and friends. By looking outside your own circle, you not only enlarge the pond, but you probably also get more tips that you actually use. Your own colleagues and friends probably know many of the same people as you, they may think a bit more along the same lines and therefore give less out of the box advice. The latter is good if you want to do something new.
But apart from career opportunities, it can also just be a lot of fun to renew some old contacts. Especially now that everyone is at home a lot, you may have a little more time for it and the threshold is low. It can feel quite exciting to send someone a message after years of no contact. But the advantage is that we are now experiencing the same thing to some extent, even remotely.
A nice surprise
Although you think that people might be surprised to suddenly – after years – hear from you, in practice it is often not that bad. Plus, there are no expectations, you’re not planning dinner dates or road trips yet, and that option doesn’t exist yet. An app, email or phone call is very non-binding – and if you ask me – nothing more than a nice surprise.
“ Yes, I am at home and I work, eat and sleep. But beyond that, very little happens
Since I’m not looking for a new job myself, I’ve been looking for more personal contact with my weaker ties over the past few weeks . Because sometimes I don’t know what to say anymore when someone asks how I’m doing. ‘Go ahead, I guess ‘, is there any other answer at all at the moment? Yes, I am at home and I work, eat and sleep. But beyond that, very little happens. Time to tighten up some old or distant ties!
Covid-19 as a binding agent
No sooner said than done, and since the end of March, my sister and I have been on a two-week zoom date with American friends who live in Los Angeles. A friendship that started in my grandparents’ generation, then was kept warm by my parents – and now I’m happy to take it over. Normally that means we send a card or email every now and then, and sometimes an app, but since the end of March the contact has become more intensive and we have a joint cocktail hour every other week.
Never before have our worlds and experiences been so close together. We are all housebound and busy doing our work as best we can from home. The gyms are closed, and like us, they only went out for the bare necessities. Even now that the measures are being relaxed a little here, while they are not yet in Los Angeles, we are all still looking with anticipation to politics to guide us through this period. Although the latter looks a bit different in America than here in the Netherlands.
Picking up the thread again
I also had contact with two friends, whom I had lost track of. To be honest: it’s great fun to find out, after years without contact, that you can pick up the thread again. Much of what was once there is still there. “Still such a fan?” a high school friend asks when I share a photo of “Sekz and the city” on Instagram. Yes, I was indeed fifteen years ago. The common experiences and memories of the past are not just lost with time; you hear and read them between all the lines. For example, if we admit that we sometimes want to exchange that social distance for the narrow and overflowing pipe drawer of our favorite pub in Haarlem.
But the current situation also provides surprising topics for conversation with people you haven’t spoken to for a long time. It’s nice to hear what they’re up to right now and how their work is affected by this. While one has been at home for months, the other works in a hospital – where colleagues and patients suddenly had to recognize each other by a photo and nameplate on their suits. What insights have they gained recently?
In my opinion, these kinds of conversations help to keep life a bit fresh and innovative. Because even though the terraces will open again from June 1th, I do not foresee that we will sit and have a drink with Jan and everyone there again. And one and a half meters away, you may not be so quick to start a conversation with the people at the table next to you. How do you get to know new people now? Right, that’s not so easy. That is why retrieving old contacts is a great alternative, in fact: those weak ties suddenly become surprisingly strong again in no time.