Busy Lament

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a friend’s birthday party at Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco — I got to bask in my friend’s company, I got to hug her wife, I got to see people I’d met long ago in similar social orbits, I got to meet new people and have interesting conversations. In short, I got to enjoy time together with old friends and meet some new ones.

Time Together used to be as ubiquitous as carbon — I’m thinking back to living in Ohio, where mobility and spaciousness around time were far simpler than my experience has been for the past 2 decades in the Bay Area. I went to college in Columbus and lived in a neighborhood close to campus (Victorian Village) that was eminently walkable and overflowing with front porches. In areas north and northeast of campus, there was a continuing abundance of porch life and warm, humid summer evenings where I would walk around town until I ran into people I knew. Summer held spacious possibilities — campus was more or less emptied of loud, witless hooting and it wasn’t uncommon to stumble upon a symphony concert while walking through Tuttle Park or run into friends at Larry’s. A few decades later, I long for the spontaneity and ease of social contact I often found on a simple meander through town.

I don’t ascribe that sense of spaciousness to being a student — when I studied, I worked full time, had a full load of classes and was an active participant in a student environmental activist organization. With no shortage of shit to do, I still somehow managed to cross paths with people I enjoyed and cared about without planning five months in advance and scouring 4 calendars to capture and kill the mythical creature we call Unscheduled Time.

Fast forward to living in the Bay Area, where you can feel like a prisoner to the town you live in (due to traffic) and it can take a dozen email volleys to get face time with a friend.

I moved to the Bay Area almost 20 years ago to write — I envisioned that there would be professional opportunities here that I couldn’t find in Ohio and I wanted to be in a more urban environment where people shared (I hoped) an expansive worldview. I sought a community where ambition (beyond the standard American study > work > retire) was the norm. Surrounding myself with people striving to make dreams come true was, for me, a way to be inspired and up my game.

Among the friendships I’ve created and nurtured since I moved here, my peer group has its own diverse set of interests

…and professional ambitions

…and children

…and their children’s interests to manage

…and intimate, primary relationships to nurture

…and households to run…

I got what I asked for. I know lots of incredibly interesting people whose lives are full to overflowing with commitments — people who have become statistics in the Activity-Rich / Time-Poor Epidemic. People who are busy. For several years, I’ve found it challenging to nurture existing friendships and damn near impossible to devote the time needed to cultivate new friendships.

I own my part in this Busy World. I, too, have interests: hiking, camping, martial arting, singing, studying languages, meditating. I, too, have a marriage I nurture. I, too, have a stepson whose schedule I help manage. When I choose to spend time doing a thing, I am choosing to NOT do a million other things. I built a community here and then overlapped my life with interests my friends don’t necessarily share.

In his Happiness Hack: This One Ritual Made Me Much Happier article, Nir Eyal referred to friendships that starve to death — that struck a deep nerve with me. For years, I’ve been trying to frame this difficulty I have accessing time with friends & it sounds as if I’m not the only one. His solution of a standing bi-monthly kibbutz night is lovely and elegant — the only way to insert a thing in our Busy Lives is to bypass the Gods of If and schedule the damn thing, abandoning spontaneity on the shores of certainty.

This isn’t a long rant about the inconveniences or difficulties of scheduling — it’s a long rant about my deep longing for ease of access to those people I want to nurture my connections with. (Same creature, different face?) In all honesty, the stakes are high.

“Love is deeply biological. It pervades every aspect of our lives and has inspired countless works of art. Love also has a profound effect on our mental and physical state… Without loving relationships, humans fail to flourish, even if all of their other basic needs are met.

As such, love is clearly not ‘just’ an emotion; it is a biological process that is both dynamic and bidirectional in several dimensions. Social interactions between individuals, for example, trigger cognitive and physiological processes that influence emotional and mental states. In turn, these changes influence future social interactions. Similarly, the maintenance of loving relationships requires constant feedback through sensory and cognitive systems; the body seeks love and responds constantly to interaction with loved ones or to the absence of such interaction.” (emphasis mine)

As much as we would love to think we’re products of gumption and force of will, these creature bodies we’re walking around in require eye contact or touch to maintain our social connections. We need this for our health and well-being. While email exchanges or voice mails or phone calls may help bridge the gaps between visits, face-to-face and body contact are crucial to me for connection satiety.

I don’t have The Answer to the struggle to find time together. I have a few strategies I have been or will be applying to see what can be done to hack away at this challenge and get more time in the arms of the people I love.

1. I am slowly building community around my meditation and martial art interests.

2. I won’t give up. I’ll keep calling those old friends who don’t respond on the first or second attempt at contact.

3. I will make more efforts to host dinners and parties.

4. When given the choice between face-to-face connection and restorative time alone, I will prioritize the time with friends.

5. I will ask for help — what do you do to overcome the challenges of Busyness and ensure you have time with friends and loved ones?

Carter, C. Sue; Porges, Stephen W. “The biochemistry of love: an oxytocin hypothesis.” EMBO Rep. 2013 Jan; 14(1): 12–16. Published online 2012 Nov 27. doi: 10.1038/embor.2012.191