Discover more from Meaning Lab
A Small Exercise in Gratitude
And a minor resolution about friendship.
As this year winds down, I’m trying to be a bit more intentional not only in reflecting on my own experience—but also on the role that others have played in my life.
Over the course of this week, I’ve been sending thank you notes to those who have been a part of my life over the past few years. I say “few” because there were a lot of people who helped me throughout grad school, and I never really got around to thanking most of them. I’m reaching out to friends who I’ve been meaning to text but haven’t. I’m sending brief notes to the people who came on my podcast and said something that really stuck with me. I won’t get to everyone. But I find that in thinking about my experiences with others and what I really value about them, I gain more clarity on my past year than I would from a more self-centered reflection.
Plus—what better way to start the New Year than with an inbox full of replies from the people you care about?
I don’t think we spend nearly enough time telling the people we care about how much they mean to us. I think we wait until it’s too late. And we regret it.
As Kierkegaard said, life is understood backwards but lived forward. Standing as a kind of purgatorial middle-ground between those two orientations is the week between Christmas and New Year. It’s a time for reflection on who we’ve been, as well as an opportunity to think about who we want to be. In thinking about who I want to be in 2023, one thought comes to mind: a better friend.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the hardest problem of adult life is making and maintaining friendships.
It’s not that friendship is, in general, the hardest part of adult life. Developing one’s career, selecting a mate, spending time with family, engaging in meaningful experiences, staying fit—these are all difficult. The difference is that we expend a lot of energy trying to be better at them. We care a great deal about how to be better in our professional and personal lives. But our social lives are a different story. As a society, we devote very little intellectual capital to how to maintain a robust and thriving social circle.
The further I get into adulthood, the more it feels like one big psychology experiment to see how willing we all are to hold onto friendships as an increasingly large number of variables are stacked against us.
Everyone, myself included, is so damn consumed with doing their own thing, it becomes harder and harder to relate to what other people are up to. We become more physically distant—whether we find ourselves moving somewhere new or someone we’re close to moving away. We also become more interpersonally distant. It can be tough to relate to someone where you both have well-defined expectations about who the other person is which are based on a version of yourself you no longer relate to. Time does that to a relationship.
And it’s not like social media has really solved the problem, has it?
This year, I want to find more and better ways of working against that schema. I want to make time for the people I really care about. I want to actually take the time to catch up with someone when I say “Hey! Let’s catch up soon!” I want to lift my head up from my own desk long enough to see what other people have going on in their own lives. Career? Family? Physical health? Absolutely, there’s things on those fronts which I’m thinking about in the coming year. But that’s exactly the point. For me, they’re not in danger of falling by the wayside. Friendship feels a lot more like it is.
And I’ve got a couple concrete ideas about what to do about that.
The first is that I’ve resolved to make birthdays a time where I go out of my way to reconnect with friends. I’m not super big on birthdays. But I’ve gotten pretty excited about the idea of using them as a yearly opportunity to get together with someone who it isn’t especially easy for me to get together with. I’ve got my thirtieth birthday coming up this year. My vision for it is to bring together a small group of people featuring friends from every era of my life—Seattle, LA, Boston, Oxford, etc—and celebrate this decennial milestone with the people who have meant to most to me throughout the years. And for as many different versions of “me” as I can make happen.
The second is that I’ve recently been testing out using a Calendly page to schedule calls with friends I want to catch up with. Everyone makes fun of me when I send them the link. (As they should.) But the truth is that so far it’s made the conversion from “Hey! Let’s catch up soon!” to actually catching up soon a lot higher. I’m still working on the details.
Other things I’m thinking about include: finding occasions for social connection which don’t revolve around alcohol; using social media in a more intentionally engaged way to connect with friends/people I care about (which I think it’s safe to say is no longer the default mode on most of these platforms); and how to encourage conversations toward more meaningful, rather than superficial, topics.
Anyway, these are just a couple examples of things I’m thinking about. I’d love any ideas from what other people find most effective in their own social lives.
Thanks for reading and subscribing to Meaning Lab. It means a lot to have you here. I just started this Substack in earnest at the end of November, and I’m really excited about the coming year. Friendship is definitely one of the subjects I’ll be covering—along with much, much else. And if you want to work on Strategies for Making and Maintaining Friendships™ together, then hit me up! In 2023, I’ll be in Vietnam from January through April; in Europe (with trips to the US and UK) from late April through August; and in London from September onward.