Don’t dismiss humble acquaintance

I finished Normal People by Sally Rooney today. It’s still not for me, for the very same reason I wrote yesterday. And that’s OK, not all books work for everyone! Moving on.

A good friend visited me in my city the other day and we had a lot to catch up about (and stuff our faces with). Eventually the conversation took a turn into the question of our current social lives. She just moved to an island 45 minutes ferry ride from where I live — and here we are in our 30s, contemplating on how to make new friends in a place completely new to us. I have lived in this city for close to 4 years, and although I did make a few acquaintances, not all of them blossomed into some meaningful friendships. We then talked about our lives abroad, and how we missed elaborate breakfast and lunches with friends. I mentioned that despite loving how chill this city of mine is compared to Kuala Lumpur or any other busy metropolitan cities, I do miss having a company of friends around (my closest friends, aside from herself, are based in Kuala Lumpur). She said, no — “you miss having a quality company.” I suppose she’s right.

So how do we start having a quality company, if in our 30s where our social capital is depleting, and we have pretty much have some definite criteria of people we want to keep around — and to be honest, they’re not abundant and the sample is not too promising? There’s this article on making friends that appeared in my inbox today, which again, had some semblance to what I have written in my thesis, don’t dismiss the strength of weak ties (that’s the network theory of Granovetter’s by the way):

To begin with, don’t dismiss the humble acquaintance. Even interacting with people with whom one has weak social ties has a meaningful influence on well-being, Beyond that, building deeper friendships may be largely a matter of putting in time. A recent study out of the University of Kansas found that it takes about 50 hours of socialising to go from acquaintance to casual friend, an additional 40 hours to become a “real” friend, and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend.

If that sounds like too much effort, reviving dormant social ties can be especially rewarding. Reconnected friends can quickly recapture much of the trust they previously built, while offering each other a dash of novelty drawn from whatever they’ve been up to in the meantime And if all else fails, you could start randomly confiding in people you don’t know that well in hopes of letting the tail wag the relational dog. Self-disclosure makes us more likable, and as a bonus, we are more inclined to like those to whom we have bared our soul.

I also loved this article on learning about a new place through a grocery store, because that’s definitely what I did whenever I go travelling!

The secret museum in every city is a grocery store. It’s where you can grab and squeeze and not-at-all-weirdly smell indigenous produce. The fishmonger runs an aquarium. The butcher is a zookeeper. But groceries also hoard the culture’s guilty pleasures — its Netflix-and-chill snacks are in its potato-chip flavors (my native London favorite was a packet of sea-salt-and-Chardonnay-wine-vinegar crisps, and Marmite ones always hit the spot, too). Its childhoods are in its confections (I loved Icelandic Prince Polo chocolate bars, which are actually imported from Poland). I am constantly on the lookout for jars of gently tart zarour jam, so freely available in my mother’s hometown of Bethlehem, in Israeli-occupied Palestine. It’s the last tree that still bears fruit in her abandoned childhood home.

Or maybe next time I should try something new — become a library archive tourist, where “it’s like a museum but with no people, and where you have to do all the work, which is honestly my idea of a perfect vacation”.

Honestly, I badly need a vacation now.

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