From superficial to intimate relationships: these are the ties that define our social fabric


Throughout our lives and, as social beings that we are, we form different ties with our equals. From the superficial and instrumental, of courtesy, to the most intimate of communication, trust and deep affection. In this way we are building a network of relationships that constitute our social fabric .

Four levels of approach

Depending on the degree of intimacy and affection, four progressive categories are contemplated:

  1. Superficial relationships are instrumental and impersonal. For example, commercial relations or between user and provider of a service.
  2. The social or civic ones suppose a further step in the interaction, but generally continue to be governed by social rules. It occurs in interactions with neighbors, acquaintances or in the non-close work environment.
  3. The personal entail greater closeness. They stay with colleagues, relatives and relatives, people with whom we get along and communicate personal things.
  4. Intimate relationships are established on the deepest affective plane, both physical and emotional , with people we trust the most, such as family, friends or a partner, with whom we share the most private aspects.

The quality of a relationship

Depending on the predominant affect, positive and pleasant relationships are found , which are based on pleasant emotions of joy , love, security, pleasure…

Negative and unpleasant relationships are based on negative emotions of sadness, fear, hopelessness or violence.

Reciprocity or dominance

Considering the degree of symmetry and equity, on the one hand , egalitarian, equitable and symmetrical relationships appear in which people are in a balanced situation of equality, with the same capacity for power and decision. They are reciprocal, because there is a two-way exchange that ensures fairness and balance for the participants. Brotherly bonds, companionship bonds, friendship bonds, or partner bonds may be examples.

At the other pole are unequal, authoritarian, power relations , in which one person has control over another, who has to submit and abide by. Even reaching an asymmetric relationship of dominance-submission, of superiority versus inferiority, of subordination or dependency. This is what happens in cases of abusive and toxic relationships, mistreatment and interpersonal violence.

Solid versus liquid relationships

According to the Polish philosopher and sociologist Zygmunt Bauman , today’s interpersonal relationships are liquid, fragile, and ethereal . They are characterized by a lack of consistency and warmth and by a tendency to be increasingly superficial, fleeting and with fewer obligations and responsibilities.

And they are opposed to what we understand as solid, stable and firm relationships , which require commitment, dedication, fairness and reciprocity. It happens that this lack of depth and authenticity produces important psychological and emotional effects, such as emotional uprooting, loneliness , dissatisfaction, uncertainty, vulnerability and personal fragility.

The speed of virtual relationships

Cyberspace is today an important and essential context for interaction. It introduces novelties and not only affects the quantity but also the quality and the way in which we initiate, form, maintain and end relationships.

In cyberspace, bonds of friendship, erotic and love are built more quickly, because it becomes intimate sooner. There is a greater frequency of interaction, with more availability, at any time of the day and night. And one is perceived in company with less cost and effort than in face-to-face treatment.


Our networks of relationships

In everyday life we ​​have a complex network of social ties . The concept network of relationships refers to the set of interactions and links of a person. It can be understood as a network of networks such as family, neighborhood, friendship, work, love, spiritual, leisure, educational, supportive and virtual, among others.

If we think about the interactions that have taken place in the last week, we can see the multiplicity and diversity of connections that we have. We relate to many people, at various times, in different contexts and situations, we have various types of relationships and we play different roles.

Reflecting on our relational worlds, paying attention to what relationships we have, the characteristics of each one, the predominant affect, etc., is a necessary exercise that allows us to find out:

  • Are they enjoyable, satisfying, stimulating, enriching?
  • Are they founded on mutual well-being or are they unbalanced?
  • Are they solid, fair, warm?
  • Are we satisfied with our relationships? If we are not, what aspects do we think you need to improve?

It is necessary to keep in mind that, for the interpersonal network to be healthy , the interactions must be equal, respectful, positive, solid, honest and reciprocal.

Although the treatment and coexistence are complex and, on occasions, entail difficulties and conflicts that must be faced.

Our personal plan

The framework of these reflections can be a good time to make a personal plan to:

  • Expand, improve, strengthen or deepen any of your relationships.
  • Modify, take distance or break relationships that are not beneficial.

Let us not forget that the quality of the interpersonal relationships that we maintain with the people with whom we live determines both our well-being and satisfaction and their absence.

Author Bio: Ines Nuns Casares is Honorary collaborating professor in the Department of Psychology and researcher on Educational Psychology at the University of Valladolid