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consequential strangers

January 7, 2010

Post title is that of a book I just began reading, by Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman. Fascinating reading about the power of our weak ties – to people outside our inner circles – but who often allow us greater flexibility in expressing ourselves than our intimates because we’re only loosely-affiliated, so they’re not enforcing strict social norms with us.

Apparently you’re more likely to find a job through these people, rather than close friends or family.

I just made a list of the people I know locally that fit this category, and came up with 21 people. I clearly need to get out more (which I’d already dimly realized). We’ve lived here 19 months, and I only know 21 people? (And a few dogs, but obviously, they will not be helping me with my job search.)

I bet this is why I still feel unmoored, and not as socially connected here as I felt in Indiana. By the time we left Indianapolis, after 13 years there, I’m guessing my list of consequential strangers would include several hundred people. If we narrowed it down to just the consequential strangers that were of importance to me in the last year we were there, it would still probably be around a hundred people.

Spouse would likely remind me at this point that the first 19 months we were in Indiana, I did not know 100 people. Now that I’m thinking about it, the initial impetus to finding more people to interact with was, I believe, college. Which led to an internship, and jobs, and grad school.

Tangent: Spouse and I saw Up in the Air, the movie with George Clooney, a few nights ago. George’s character, Ryan Bingham, seemed to have a life filled with nothing but consequential strangers, but no intimates at all. Psychologically, I’m not sure that could work, unless you liked being a very emotionally-stunted, alienated person. The movie was very good though, and I thought all the actors delivered exceptional performances.

Since I’m a social animal, I like being nourished by a web of relationships at various levels of intimacy. And I guess I need to find ways to encounter more people to become friendly with.

P.S. Four bags and 1 box of books found their way to a new home at our local used-book emporium. My bookshelves have regained breathing room. Yay!

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