Wright Foundation | September 10, 2019

Why You Need a Casual Network of Friends as an Adult


Your Uber driver, your barista, the buddy you meet at a business conference…these relationships may seem fleeting, but the truth is, they’re essential!

Wondering if it’s essential to make friends as an adult? Engaging with your network and building your connections will lead to positive results!

As adults, we’re used to operating within our close social circle. We may not think of those distant connections often or focus on cultivating them. But a lot of positive engagement comes from these lower-stakes relationships. Here’s why it’s crucial to develop a casual network of friends as an adult.

Reaching Out to Your Cluster of Connections

Think of our network like a hub, surrounded by clusters of connections. We’re in the center of the hub, and as we branch out, there are different groups. There are connections at your gym, pals from your church, or groups of people you interact with daily (the security guard, coffee shop waitress, or the person at the bus stop) you don’t even think of as “connections.”

People tend to think you need only high-powered connections to cultivate a great network of friends as an adult. While it’s important to have close friends and allies who push your boundaries, it’s also essential to engage with your peripheral relationships as well.

There are scientific approaches to networking, as well. Earlier this century, the US Army investigated network science to see if it truly fit the definition of social science. They hired a group to interview social scientists, system scientists, and more to see if there was indeed a social system or network and to understand the overlap with communication and technology.


Each of us has a vital social network. Each element (a person) is a node and two nodes connected are a link (a relationship). This network surrounds the hub and strengthens it. In fact, sometimes the weaker ties at the periphery are better than the connections at our center.


My colleague, Barb, suggested I talk with a woman she was working with in the Year of Transformation program. I found out the two of us had a shared relationship with someone who had passed away. As we started talking, I discovered she was a trust attorney, working in non-profit development. This non-profit had an excellent planned giving program.

As we got talking, she offered to do a seminar at the Wright Foundation on legacy and planned giving. As an attorney and expert in her field, people were thrilled to hear what she had to say about building trust and security, as well as transgenerational wealth. She was able to educate them and earn the right to bring up the issue of net giving and writing the foundation into bequests.

If Barb hadn’t run into this connection and helped facilitate our meeting, we would have never had the conversation we needed to. She wasn’t someone we necessarily expected to become central to the foundation, but now, thanks to this casual connection, we’re on the road to a whole new step in our philanthropy.

The Importance Of Cultivating Our Weak Links

The New York Times recently explored this topic in its Smarter Living section. In the article, “Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes, Casual Friendships,” writer Allie Volpe said:

Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park. The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr. Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations (I found my accountant via a weak tie) and empower us to be more empathetic. We’re likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.

A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.

Breakthroughs and changes happen in individuals’ lives at what’s called the “weak link.” “Weak link” doesn’t mean these relationships aren’t meaningful or won’t become significant. It merely means the tie hasn’t been cultivated yet. Many of these weak links or causal friendships are excellent connections to have.

Back in the 1980s, I hurt my knee. Being from Chicago, I thought who would know more about knees than the trainer for the Bears? We had a casual connection, so I called up their trainer, who was well-known in Chicago. He shared the name of the Bears’ top orthopedic surgeon.

While we’d never met before, I now had the right introduction and name to get in. I let them know the Bear’s trainer referred me, and I was immediately ushered into a top spot to get in. When I walked into the appointment, the surgeon said, “Well, you’re not the football player I was expecting!”

He went on to explore the risks. In this case, he told me that even though I wasn’t hoping to get back on the football field, my surgery was high risk and rehab was a better choice. Again, he then referred me to the top rehabilitation people he knew, and I recovered from my knee injury.

Networking is so important, and we must remember change happens at those weak links! Don’t fear that you don’t know someone well enough to engage with them. At the same time, don’t hold back in generosity when you cultivate those weak ties right back.

I encourage people to become net-givers rather than net-takers. This means offer to give more than you take away. When someone needs a favor, help with a connection or a referral, offer it up! You never know how it will come back to you years down the road.

Relating to Your Network and Making Friends as an Adult

Networks are only as secure as their connections. So, become a great connection for your network. As I’ve said before, the most crucial key in relationship building is to become a net giver. Wherever you are, generate value for others. The more value you create, the more others want to create for you.

Yes, there are plenty of net takers in the world. They take, and they don’t give much if anything at all. There are moments when it appears the net takers are the ones who are most adept at getting what they want out of life.

But, in the long run, net takers are easy to identify. After a while, people get just plain sick of accommodating their requests. Net givers, on the other hand, are generating reciprocity. When they need support, everyone around them is willing to give.

If you want to expand and broaden your network, cultivate those relationships that don’t necessarily hold a clear advantage or outcome for you. Every person has value and brings value to our lives.

Sometimes we aren’t sure where the relationship will lead, but we’re creating a chain of goodwill and positive interaction to serve us well in the long run.

This idea of networking is even applicable in the dating world. Although the advent of online dating has expanded the singles network for many people, it’s still necessary we stretch our comfort zone and understand the power of our network in dating.

When I was in college in 1967, the university president said 2/3 of us had met our future spouse already. I remember that statistic was such an eye-opener to me. While I didn’t meet Judith at college, it was a fascinating idea. People got married younger back then, and they tended to meet their spouse during their school years.

Now, the world has changed. People often end up with their partner at an older age, when they find someone with whom they share a lot in common. People aren’t limited to dating within their network anymore, BUT they certainly shouldn’t disregard their network when it comes to finding a match. After all, someone who shares commonalities with you is likely going to overlap in some regions of your network. You may meet through a friend (which is how Judith and I met), through an acquaintance, at an event, or yes, through a dating app.

The idea isn’t that you go out looking for people to build your network, whether your desired outcome is a great date, a new job, or a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. You should go out into the world with the intent to be a net giver. Think of how you will connect and engage with others in your network. How will you get to know people more? How will you build your social circle and your circle of influence?

In this world, whether it’s a job, getting into a school, or finding a service, it’s almost always about who you know. Get to know people and continue to build up your network of friends.

For more ways to build your connections, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where we’ll explore ways to learn more about yourself and those around you. We’re also proud to announce that many of our courses are available for download at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this excellent opportunity to learn and grow!

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.