Victoria Tirondola and Lam Gong first struck up a conversation last spring at the dog run in Brookdale Park in Bloomfield, N.J., when they realized that each owned a dog named Abby. Ms. Tirondola, 65, an insurance sales representative who lives in nearby Cedar Grove, has a tiny bichon-poodle mix. Mr. Gong’s Abby, older and portlier, is a terrier-beagle.
They chatted about dogs at first. Then they learned that they both cooked, so “we talked about food and restaurants,” said Mr. Gong, 67, a retiree living in Clifton.
“And how much better my cooking is than his,” put in Ms. Tirondola. They were sitting on a bench, as the dogs dashed around on a warm spring afternoon, with a third member of a growing collection of regulars: Pattie Marsh, dog walker for a miniature Australian shepherd named Ollie.
“All of us live alone,” Ms. Tirondola said. “My mom just passed away in July, and we were very close. Lam lost his wife a few years ago.”
“It gives us companionship” to meet at the Bark Park, said Ms. Marsh, 55. She and Ms. Tirondola, who bonded as born-again Christians, come daily. Mr. Gong joins them once or twice a week. So does Lee Geanoules, 69, a part-time restaurant server from Clifton, who soon arrived with Charlie, a pug and beagle blend.
Psychologists and sociologists call these sorts of connections “weak ties” or “peripheral ties,” in contrast to close ties to family members and intimate friends. Some researchers investigating weak ties include in that category classmates, co-workers, neighbors and fellow religious congregants. Others look into interactions with near-strangers at coffee shops or on transit routes.
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Such seemingly trivial interactions have been shown to boost people’s positive moods and reduce their odds of depressed moods. “Weak ties matter, not just for our moods but our health,” said Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England who has researched their impact.
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In her early studies, hand-held clickers were distributed to groups of undergraduate students and people over 25 to track how many classmates or others they interacted with, however minimally, over several days. Those who interacted with more weak ties reported greater happiness, and a greater sense of well-being and belonging, than those with fewer interactions.
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Most of these participants were quite young, but one study, published in 2020, followed an older sample of more than 800 adults in metropolitan Detroit over 23 years.
The researchers asked subjects (average age at the start: 62) to draw three concentric circles, with “you” in the center, and to arrange people in their lives by degree of closeness. Those in the innermost circle of close ties were almost always family, said Toni Antonucci, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and senior author of the study. The weak ties in the outermost circle included friends, co-workers and neighbors.