It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.'” (“The Busy Trap“; NYTimes.com 6/30/2012)
This story was hard to miss. Not only was it the paper’s most emailed story for a couple of days, but it seemed to be plastered on everyone’s Facebook feeds. Overall, the piece is about our current culture of busy. It’s about how everyone is so supposedly swamped that they don’t have time for anything–fun, friends, relaxation–and how the author is trying to live the exact opposite life. One where, as he says, “on the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?”
It’s a lovely, if rare, attitude. Most people cannot blow off work for cocktails, of course. But even if they could, most probably wouldn’t. Because, yup, they’d be too busy. And, as author Tim Kreider so aptly points out, people love to talk about how busy they are–it makes them feel, or at least appear, important and purposeful.
The problem with all this busyness, though, is that it’s keeping us from forming and nurturing friendships. How can a person see her BFFs as much as she’d like if she’s buried under a mountain of work/errands/family responsibilities? I know that’s what has made my search such a long one. It’s not like in middle school, when it seemed like the majority of our to-dos revolved around hanging with friends.
I love this example from the article: “I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.”
This happens all the time! I’ll say to someone, “we should get together.” She’ll respond with “totally.” And then we’ll stare at each other for a second, me not understanding if her response was an agreement to take out our calendars and plan something or a polite brush off. Then she’ll say “I’m going to be out of town but then we should totally make it happen.” And then I’m left thinking, so am I supposed to call you? Or will you email me? Or should we both just text each other?
Busyness, it seems to me, is often just an excuse for non-committalness.
What do you think? Do people wear their “busyness” as a badge of honor? Is it keeping friends from truly connecting? Or do we just live in a world where people truly are busier than ever before?