They May Be Just Acquaintances. They’re Important to You Anyway.

Ilze Earner, 67, retired last year after 25 years of teaching at Hunter College in Manhattan. Life in rural Claverack, N.Y., had its satisfactions and friendships, but after a few months, “I started feeling like I was missing something,” she said. She began taking herself to lunch weekly, sitting at the bar at the nearby Chatham House.

Soon, the bartender had learned her name (and vice versa) and of her love of lobster rolls. Ms. Earner won a bar-top game of ice cube bocce against the highway crew who also came in for lunch. “They noticed when I disappeared because I had a knee replacement, and when I came back it was, ‘Hey, bionic woman!’” she recalled. “It’s nice.”

In Placerville, Calif., David Turoff, 72, a veterinarian, chats with his mail carrier and UPS deliveryman, and sometimes drops in on the mechanic who repairs his truck just to say hello or leave a gift of firewood. “They make me feel good,” Mr. Turoff said of such brief interactions. “I like having connections with people.”

Toby Gould’s day begins with a 7 a.m. visit to Chez Antoine, a bakery and coffee shop in Hyannis, Mass. Mr. Gould, 77, a retired minister, buys a takeout latte and speaks French, haltingly, with the Belgian proprietor, who bestows a slice of ham on Mr. Gould’s Australian shepherd, Layla. If the shop closed, “it would leave a hole in my life,” Mr. Gould said.

Weak ties, including those developed online, don’t necessarily turn into close ones and don’t have to. Close relationships, after all, can involve conflicts, demands for reciprocity and other complications.



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