Last night I shared incredible Malaysian food with a dear friend. It reminded me of home, and the leftovers I had for breakfast today were just what I needed to get me out of bed. Our conversation turned to friendships: “How do you do it? How do you keep in touch with people? How do you maintain those connections?” It’s these questions that this piece hopes to answer – it is sadly not an account of every dirty detail about that delicious dinner, but it is just as wholesome!
For my whole teenage and adult life, some of my closest friendships have been with people outside of my immediate social circles. Some friends are long-distance – cue Simple Plan’s ‘Jet Lag’ ft. Natasha Bedingfield – and some just never had the same classes as I did in school. This meant that I had to build and maintain these relationships through conscious effort, actively taking the time to chat and catch up, rather than relying on the fact that I would see them next week at choir practice. And today, these are some of the strongest, healthiest and most secure relationships I’ve ever had.
I’m really busy (some might even say overcommitted), so free time is a rarity for me. This is a choice I’ve made for myself, in trying to make the absolute most of my precious time at university. There are so many resources available, people to know and projects to pursue that many of us may never get to experience once we settle into the working world. Balancing sleep, studies, jobs, extracurriculars, physical and mental health and our relationships seems like a pretty huge task, and bailing on plans with friends may be the first port of call when things get hectic.
It’s so important to remember that taking time out to spend with others isn’t ‘unproductive’. Having strong relationships enriches so many other aspects of our lives, and is especially helpful to our mental wellbeing. Relationships are effort, whether they’re platonic, romantic, or even just plain unpleasant. Time and energy go into keeping in touch and, when our lives are so constantly changing, the thought of maintaining our connections through everything can be terrifying. But the people we love bring so much comfort, perspective and love into our worlds, and us busy ones needn’t be left out of that experience. From debriefing about bad days to seeking company after being on our own for days on end, social connections are definitely something that we should consciously try to maintain, especially when things get busier.
Love generously and communicate
Life’s too short to subscribe to the whole ‘playing hard to get’ shindig. While there are definitely valid barriers to not feeling comfortable with being super forward with our feelings and affections – read: social anxiety is real – one thing we don’t need is social norms that encourage us to hide it all just for the sake of it. If you really enjoy someone, even if you’ve just met them, tell them! Express what you liked – for example: “It was a break I really needed, and I had a lot of fun spending time with you”, or “I learn so much I didn’t know about the world whenever we hang out” – and tell them you miss them.
Do little things in the time you spend apart too. Drop them a message or a 10-minute call when you’re on the bus home from work. Tag them in memes. Tell them you found their Snapchat story hilarious. Ask them how their project they told you about is going. These sorts of things show that you’re interested in their life and, even if you don’t talk for very long, they keep the flame alive. During busy times so many of my Messenger chats with friends are just back-and-forths of “I miss you”, “I want to see you”, “remember to drink enough water” and “how are you?” And during these hectic times, this is enough.
Make concrete plans
When you do arrange to see them again, make concrete plans. “We should hang out” is a great expression of interest, but what really works is setting a time, place and activity. Heard about a movie you think a friend would love? Excited for a festival coming up? Having a very specific food craving? Get in touch with your friends and say: “Hey there’s [this thing] I really want to check out on [this date]. If you’re free, let’s go together?” Giving a concrete date and time to work with means that there’s a starting point to go from. If the plan given doesn’t fit into their busy life, it’ll be easier to figure out alternatives. And speaking of planning …
Schedule, schedule, schedule
Everyone schedules differently. Some people like calendar apps, others prefer diaries. I have little notes on my phone, one per week, with my days all listed within them. On any given week I’d usually have the rough skeleton of my schedule for the next two weeks noted down, which gives me a clear idea of how packed the near future is. This involves classes, meetings, assignments and any other major commitments. This also allows me to take a look at any free days I have and get in touch with friends. Personally, I don’t get much done past dinnertime, so scheduling in time to spend with others to do cute things, like face masks or video-call movie nights, works well for me. Figure out what’s on in your life in advance, and fit in wholesome fun times with others accordingly.
Go long, go hard
Set time apart for people. And not just coffee between classes, or seeing them at an event you’re both hoping to attend. Actually keep half- or full-days free to hang out with them. Naturally, these sorts of days don’t happen very often, but the infrequency is worth the amount of growth your relationship experiences in the time you are together. Every time you see someone you haven’t in awhile, there’s a “catching up” phase at the start of each interaction: what you’ve been up to, any big exciting news, etc. The shorter the meet-up, the greater the proportion that is taken up by this phase. But once you’re all caught up, that’s where the gold of the relationships lies: experiencing the world with these people.
This is where you make new memories, and get to know them better through just spending time together. Not all meet-ups have to be over food – although street food festivals are a definite favourite of mine! Picking a really specific activity to do (I love day trips to national parks) allows you to learn about each other in contexts you may not have encountered otherwise. Intentionally doing really cheesy or adventurous things with friends can come across as constructing memories (read: ‘fake’), but in my experience, it always ends up being a great time, and when we’re so busy being busy, that may be just what we need to do.
Having hectic lives doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get to experience wholesome things with beautiful people. Growing friendships while keeping up with our other commitments is definitely effort, but oh so worth it. On that note, I’m off to plan a full-day trip out with a friend three weeks from now.