Saturday, May 11, 2024

The power of superficial relationships

This photo, taken in 2016, embodies an interesting insight from social research.  I would again meet her and become close friends. Social scientists discovered that multiple “superficial” polite relationships sometimes make people happier than those who have only a few but profound friendships.  We know that a few rude people in our day can feel terrible; so the opposite is also true:  Nice and polite people can add a glow to our day.  Some can be neighbors, people at stores we frequent, at the gym, and perhaps a regular place to dance.  Added to this phenomenon, isn't it clear that without meeting people at a superficial level, there would be no chance to add friendships that would grow closer?

The beauty and power of many small but satisfying social interactions was the opposite of what the researchers thought they would find.  There is an overall bias against informal relationships. They are called "superficial."  An informal relationship may include the person who pulls you out of a burning car.  It may be the person who was kind to you, and because of that multiple good things came of it in your day or even life. If you are in an intimate relationship now, how did it start?  Superficially?  

All relationships start out superficially.  Informal relationships give a sense of a polite and kind world. “Superficial” kindness allays fears of losing profound friendships and not being able to replace them in a cold world. Some social scientists call the coming and going of friends a "friendship caravan."  Is the caravan getting smaller and smaller as we age?  Are you building some deeper connections along the way?

If a person seeks out kind and polite relationships at any gathering, then the likelihood increases that one will build and maintain a "Caravan of Friends."  Can people join your caravan through life?  If not, that is a problem because friends will fall off one's caravan for many different reasons on the trail of life.

In tango social events, something happens that is amazing. They are different from religious gatherings, bowling clubs, and many kinds of associations.  At a milonga, one doesn't say much, but the warm embrace of tango is a powerful connection--more powerful than short, polite superficial kind interactions. Some one-time dances stick in one’s memory forever. That is not superficial. It's not a verbal connection but a physical connection through music. 

At each milonga a person has joined my caravan. The dancer may fall off or become a close friend years later. Who knows? The important thing is that the caravan keeps going.  My caravan is rolling along. If you are reading this post, you have joined me and many others. Welcome aboard.

Photo credit:  Sarah Dick, Austin, Texas

Cf. Research and observations:
Friendship Caravan:
The Friendship Dip:

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