The best way I’ve found to regularly see my friends

22 February 2022

I’m not telling you anything new when I say that making time for friends – let alone making new ones – takes effort as an adult. Without some of the built-in opportunities for togetherness we enjoy when we’re younger, plus all of the time-consuming responsibilities of being an adult, making and keeping plans with the people I care about can feel like a part-time job.

And that’s just the logistics! If you’re an introvert like me, there can be a whole other level of fatigue from the vulnerability of putting yourself out there over and over again. Despite this, I’m always a bit shocked when I look around and realize (with much gratitude!) that I actually do have thriving friendships in my life. And one thing has been a game changer: systematizing them. Incredibly unromantic, incredibly helpful :)

Basically, I realized that my most consistent friendships – in many cases, the ones that feel the closest – have an automatic cadence. We’ve figured out the best and easiest way to spend time together and now we replicate it over and over. Here’s what that looks like for me, and how you might try this in your life if it sounds like something you need…

1. Name the friendships that matter most in this season. Get out a piece of paper and literally write down all of the friendships in your life right now – close by and far away, old and new, couple friends and college friends and church friends and mom friends and work friends and neighborhood friends and parents-of-your-kid’s-friends friends. Mark the ones you’d most like to nurture in this season of life.

2. For each priority relationship, brainstorm the best way to enjoy each other’s company. In some cases, this might simply be naming something that’s already in place. If not, maybe you can build off a rhythm that already exists, or replicate something you’ve enjoyed in the past. (An important point: the goal is not necessarily to have more social engagements, though that may end up happening. The goal is to make it easier to see the people who matter most.)

Another small aside: do you ever struggle with feeling like you’re the one who always extends the invitation? Does that feel unfair? Even though it is factually not true in my case (and probably not in yours!), the perception can leave me feeling vulnerable and resentful.

In recent years, though, I’ve successfully turned this feeling on its head. I GET to choose the activities that sound fun to me and work with my season of life! I GET to be the one to delight my friends! Instead of waiting for other people to ask, I can extend the invite with joy in my own time.

3. Implement the routine and make it sticky. No need to call up each friend and have a formal conversation, but if you’re suggesting a new rhythm, it might be helpful to broach the subject directly (“what do you think about meeting up for a walk on Thursday mornings?”). Once you’ve agreed to a rhythm (with the understanding that you can always adjust as life requires!), find a way to automate the planning. Usually, this looks like choosing a standing date (the first Friday of the month, every Monday morning) or putting the next date on the calendar before you part ways.

Of course, it goes without saying that even if you have a way you usually spend time with someone, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever do anything different. Of course you can! This is just an easy way to remove the burden of feeling like you need to reinvent the wheel every time you want to hang with a friend.

My friendships in adulthood have evolved alongside my life stage. They looked one way when we were engaged and newly married, another when we had just one baby, and now another when we have multiple school-age kids. Here are a few of the current friendship rhythms that are giving me life:

Articles Club, of course! We meet on a certain day each month, and our gathering for discussion and dinner is a delightful way to spend time with ten wonderful friends. Several years in, we all know to keep “our” Tuesday evening clear on the calendar.

— Many of you may remember that I worked with Kristin and Lisa for several years at Southern Weddings. Lisa and I literally sat next to each other five days a week, so we didn’t really need an excuse to spend time together outside of work. When SW retired, though, we went several years only seeing each other sporadically. Then, a few months into the pandemic, we cautiously met up on Lisa’s porch for Prosecco and snacks after kiddo bedtime one evening. We set a date to meet up the next month before we left, and I don’t think we’ve missed a month in the last year and a half.

— Our annual camping trip with the Rays is a guaranteed weekend of late-night fireside chats and kiddo bonding.

— Making Fridays even sweeter: we do preschool pick-up at the same time as two other dear families, walk to a nearby bakery together for after-dinner treats, and let the kids run around while the grown-ups swap work-week updates and weekend plans for an hour.

— New babies have us a little out of our routine, but a neighborhood friend and I were in a great rhythm of early-morning walks every other week or so.

— Pandemic notwithstanding, I stumbled into a pattern of hosting a larger party once a year for my best gals (like the garden party or book swap party). This is a great catchall opportunity to be with those friends I might not see on a regular basis and a fun chance to flex my party-planning-loving heart! Fingers crossed I can make the potluck party I’ve been dreaming up for two years happen this spring…

There are more examples I could give, and more rhythms I have ideas for but have yet to implement, but I hope this gives you something to consider as you think through your own friendships! Like many of the best ideas, this is a very simple concept – but one that has paid dividends in my life in recent years.

If you have a friendship rhythm that’s working for you, I’d love to hear about it!

P.S. 9 decisions that led to a life I love and how to make friends in your neighborhood

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February 22, 2022 7:11 am

I love this and completely agree that systemizing things makes things easier! I have two friends from college that live in the area, but for a while we were rarely seeing each other. This year, in an effort to see each other more often, we have all our hang out dates set for the year. If someone needs to change the date/time one month, that is completely fine, but we at least know we have a date to hang out on the calendar every two months. Without some form of a system, it tends to feel like friendships can fall into the “this is so fun, we should do this again some time” bucket, but some time rarely seems to happen.

February 22, 2022 8:32 am

This is great advice and something that has really allowed my friendships to blossom and remain strong in the last couple years! But taking the time to recognize the rhythms I have in place was valuable for me and also acknowledging that these rhythms don’t have to be the same for each friend/friend group.

February 22, 2022 10:25 am

Love this! Any tips for maintaining/strengthening long distance friendships? Similar to you, I moved halfway across the country after college. Most of my college friends are still in Texas and I try to see them when I go home for the holidays, but it can be hard to see everyone.

Victoria B
February 23, 2022 9:17 am
Reply to  Sarah

Long distance is difficult. For me, I had to accept that most of them were going to be friends I catch up with 1-2 times a year. My college friends and I do a Zoom chat 1-2 times a year and update everyone on our lives lately. It certainly isn’t the same as it was, but it does always feel so good to catch up and see how they are doing.

February 23, 2022 7:44 pm
Reply to  Sarah

I’ve recently rediscovered letter writing! I found a bunch of old letters with college friends from the years immediately after graduating and realized I would feel much less pressure to write a bit here and there rather than committing to the phone conversations that are always good but so long. (It’s hard to find time.) It’s been a delight.
My recent friendship “hack” has been batching friends. I’m in a couple of book-clubs over zoom and it’s been lovely to not have to plan separately to catch up with each of those ladies individually–it just happens naturally as we get together, together. I also do a “round robin” letter with some childhood friends which brings a huge smile every time it arrives in the mail.

February 22, 2022 12:26 pm

This post is exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you for sharing your rhythms and the thought process behind it, Emily! I’m in the midst of cultivating new friendships in a new city (which is one of my 2022 goals!) and trying to figure out how to be consistent without feeling like I’m asking too much of a potential new friend. I’m also still trying to find the best way to keep in touch with people from home without feeling like I’m the only one making an effort.

Victoria B
February 23, 2022 9:15 am

I remember some of your monthly goals a couple of years ago was to list out your friends and I thought it sounded strange, but then I did it last year! It really helped me narrow down on who and what was worth scheduling in advance.
“do you ever struggle with feeling like you’re the one who always extends the invitation? Does that feel unfair?” Yes yes I am the one that schedules everything. Most of the time I do view it as the Get To mindset you mentioned, but other times it is so nice if I didn’t have to make all the decisions haha. When I am feeling low, it even makes me feel that people don’t really want me around so they don’t invite me.
But I do 90% of the social planning in my life, that is not my husband’s work events, since that is more like work than play haha. I run a monthly book club at my house. I have another friend who I meet up with every other week for coffee. Last year I had brunch every month with another friend, but this year I am trying to schedule a separate girls activity once a month, without the kids. I also do a few play dates with kids, but I find the kid-free socializing is what really makes me feel fulfilled, so I focus on that primarily.

Kristen M
February 23, 2022 1:06 pm

I love all of this (even texted a friend after reading it that we need to set up regular coffee dates and get them on the calendar – the shift to a more flexible hybrid work environment is something that we all should try to take advantage of!)
One thing that has been a fun reoccurring friend date for us is there are certain holidays (that aren’t family focused) that we have now a routine of doing with friends – we have friends with kids who don’t live in a great trick or treating neighborhood so they come every Halloween and we do pizza and then we all do T&T together and it’s so fun to have that on the calendar yearly and see how the kids change!
I find that I really really value those friends who are like me and the plan-setters – I find when a friend makes an effort to make plans too we often see each other more often than when I’m the only one!
I also feel the past two years has helped lower some expectations of gatherings – a picnic date at a park w/ kids is now a perfectly lovely event and there’s no stress of hosting! I hope these sorts of things continue!

February 23, 2022 1:28 pm

A year and a half in, Dave still remarks that I always leave our monthly hangouts with a permanent smile on my face. I cherish our time together so much and am so grateful for the rhythm we’ve carved out!! (Though I do still miss sitting next to you every day too :))

February 25, 2022 6:42 am

Couldn’t love this post more! One rhythm I’ve started recently is finding out a friend and I work from home on the same day per week, so we’ve decided to set a standing lunch date on the day once per month. Fingers crossed it works out! Also, would love to know logistically how you plan and keep these commitments with kiddo/home responsibilities. For example, for the evening plans, do you and John share calendars so he knows you’ll be out of pocket? And vice versa? This could probably be its own separate post, haha!

Kaethe Pittman
February 26, 2022 7:30 am

A suggestion for the potluck: one of my groups continued to host these through out the pandemic, with the new rule that everything had to be individually portioned and wrapped: cookies in ziplock bags, salads in tiny bowls, etc. In the line, we each just grab an pre-packaged serving of the things on the table, using trays or platters instead of plates to accommodate the extra packaging. Prepackaged silverware/napkins/s&p work well, too.

February 28, 2022 10:43 am

I love your postivie take on always being the one who invites! We have long-time slightly introverted friends who have labeled my husband and I as “The Instigators”! We know they will be willing to help and plan, but just need a little starting push sometimes. Reframing it this way has helped me not feel so insecure about it.