Oh, the tyranny of a WhatsApp logistics group chat:
'When can we all hang out?'
'It’s been ages'
'We need a girls' night'
'When are you guys free?'
'How about 17th February 2019…'
With every short, sharp vibration my friends’ messages arrive in the palm of my hand to let me know that they’re beyond busy. Rapidly, I feel my desire to look at my own diary slip away.
It’s not that I don’t want to see my friends, I really, really do. I love them. I wish it was still 2008, when we all had more time than we knew what to do with, lived in house shares and, somehow, inexplicably had the money to go out all the time. But, it’s now 2018 and our lives are verging on being too full, too planned, too mapped out.
A flake in the eyes of a zealot is a failed planner but, to me, sometimes flaking on pre-made plans is the only way you can actually live your life. Of course, in my experience, planners will always make your desire not to plan about them. When, in truth, it’s all about you – sometimes you just need to create some space in your life. Space for recharging, space for reflecting and, perhaps most important of all, space to be spontaneous.
And, let’s be real, there is nothing less spontaneous than a dinner you can’t really afford when the date finally comes around because it was planned 7 weeks ago and, since then, your laptop has broken.
I said this to two of my best friends last Friday night as we sat in the pub. Earlier that day we had all messaged the group to say that we were bailing on the plan. Work was too much, hangovers were too bad, it was too hot. But, spontaneously at around 8pm we had all rallied and decided to revive the plan last minute.
Because we met, in the end, at a moment’s notice, there was no anticipation. Nobody had rushed to be there. We all got to the pub at different times, without taking time to get ready or think about how what we wore might look on Instagram. Our guards were down, and, because of this, it felt like we were actually connecting.
Three Negronis in, one of my best friends revealed to the group that her mum was having serious problems with her dad. So serious, in fact, that she is having an affair and planning to leave him. My friend is devastated. Why hadn’t she told us? 'It just never seemed like the right time.'
We talked and talked, we listened, we advised. We laughed. For the first time since I-Don’t-Even-Know-When, nobody mentioned work. And then, we danced.
Before last Friday, I had spent time with my best friends. I had laid eyes on then and spoken with them, but I hadn’t actually seen them or heard them. I knew exactly what they’d been doing but I didn’t know how they were doing.
We’ve been having dinner, squeezing in drinks and crossing paths at the gym. We have not been having any fun. Fun cannot be planned. Fun is not doing things because you are expected to do them, because you have always done them, because you need to do them or because you feel obliged to do them. Fun is doing things because you want to do them. Fun is living.
Fun brings us closer together, it is how we make new memories - and, when we are close, we are open and honest.
In contrast, look me in the eye and tell me you remember that rushed but long-anticipated post-work Wednesday night dinner at Wahaca.
While there can be no doubt about the necessity or efficacy that the ‘how busy are you’ gunshow that is pretty much every single WhatsApp group I am part of, I really believe that over-planning your free time can actually damage your friendships.
If every waking moment of your free time is scheduled with military precision, there is no space for things to go wrong but there’s also no space for things to be better than you expected. We all know, the night out planned three months in advance is never going to be as good as the one you decide to embark on at a moment’s notice because you’ve found yourself at a loose end.
In your early twenties, especially if you’re at university, it’s really hard to imagine that there will come a time when you will spend most of your time with people you don’t actually know well or, even like at work. The idea that you and your friends won’t be living in each other’s pockets, won’t be available at a moment’s notice, feels like an anathema.
And most of the memories you have created with your oldest friends will have been formed on nights out, holidays, adventures that were unplanned. Before you have obligations, debts to pay off, parents to check in on and a job to turn up to, you’re able to float more freely.
Would my friends and I decide to drive to Cornwall at 10pm on a Tuesday now? Probably not, and life’s the poorer for it.
Is it any wonder that we’re all so lonely? In real life, as on social media, we’re constantly connected but never actually connecting. In 2015, a study found that having strong social connections can improve your physical health – good connections make you less likely to be obese or to have high blood pressure.
The truth is, I don’t want friendship for the rest of my life to consist of scheduled evenings ending before midnight, everyone disappearing in an Uber with their respective other. I don’t want unhappiness or sadness to go undiscussed because 'it’s not the right time.' I don’t want people to fear reaching out because 'everyone’s probably busy anyway.'
And what are we waiting for? As I get older, I realise that you never reach a point in your life when everything suddenly clicks into place. You don’t suddenly wake up, knowing exactly who you are, what you want or where you’re doing. Because life never appears before us as a clearly marked path, do we try too hard to map it out? And, in doing so, do we box ourselves in too easily?
Studies show that we stop making new friends and, even, lose friends after the age of 25. We feel like we have less time to invest, romantic relationships and children enter the mix. But making time, in between other appointments, to see people is not the same as making space. Friendships are voluntary, unlike your work and family relationships you actively choose them. So, stop turning them into obligations.
People get tired, relationships break down, bank accounts run dry, stuff comes up. Life happens. But, if you’re too busy planning ahead and getting annoyed when people flake, you might not even stop to notice.