The March friendship challenge

When I have people track their time, they are often pleasantly surprised to see how much time they are spending with their families.

Friends, on the other hand, are a different story.

When people get busy with work and kids, friendships can be hard to push up the priority list. If adult-only time is available, you might make a rational choice to invest that time in keeping your marriage going (or at least getting some exercise). Getting together with friends tends to require making plans, and managing a career and a family already requires planning a lot. Sometimes it’s easier not to bother. So people will track a normal week and see close to zero time with friends who aren’t colleagues. Colleagues can make great friends, but if it’s not time outside of active work (e.g. happy hour or a lunch time walk) it probably doesn’t feel quite the same.

This is all unfortunate, because there is pretty good evidence that friendships make people healthier and happier.

The good news is that maintaining and growing friendships doesn’t need to take a ton of time. Investing 1-2 hours per week — out of 168 — can make a big payoff. Plus, knowing those 1-2 hours are coming up can change the feeling of the entire week as you know you have something good coming up and can look forward to it.

This leads me to my March Friendship Challenge. If you tracked your time in January — or even if you didn’t! — and felt that you would like to spend more friends, here’s the chance to hold yourself accountable. Here’s what you do:

  1. List a few folks you’d like to get together with. If you and your spouse tend to socialize together sometimes, you could create a joint list plus some people you’d want to get together with individually too.
  2. Look at your calendar for March and see what might make sense. Are some weekends more open than others? Maybe there’s a school half-day coming up where you’ll be taking a half day too. Look at events that your friends might want to join you for, or just get creative. As we learned a few weeks ago, no one is busy at 5 a.m. For long distance friends, a blocked out time to FaceTime/Zoom/chat can work too.
  3. Call/email/text these people and offer them a slot plus a back-up. As in “we would love to have you over [x weekend]! Could you do a Friday early dinner or Saturday lunch?” The back-up increases the chances of it happening — plus if the person can’t do either, they’re highly likely to offer an alternative, as your specifics have shown you are serious in a way that “let’s get together sometime” doesn’t necessarily show.
  4. Aim for weekly. Challenge yourself to get at least four such get-togethers on your calendar for March.
  5. Trouble-shoot any logistical challenges that might thwart your plans. Your proposed back-up slot might come in handy here. But the upside of planning at least four get-togethers is that 2-3 are highly likely to happen, and that’s probably more than were happening before.

If you already have some friend get-togethers on the calendar, great! Some people have book clubs, run with a group every Thursday morning, rotate houses for lunch after church, or have a neighborhood pot-luck once a month, and those are all amazing. All these count, but you could still challenge yourself to add another get-together or two to the calendar for March. If you don’t have such a regular get-together, March might be a good time to start one! Regular get-togethers lower the transaction costs of getting together because no one needs to plan it, and people start to protect the time on their calendars.

And as for people you see regularly? You might consciously try to turn an occasion where you regularly see someone into something more friendly. If you’re headed to the playground after pick-up see if another family wants to join you. If today doesn’t work, figure out another day that would. If you see someone frequently at the dog park, see if they want to set a time to be sure to meet (and let the dogs play).

Anyway, if this sounds of interest, let me know! Life is always busy, but when it comes to friendship, 1-2 hours a week can change the narrative from “I have no time for fun” or “I have nothing to look forward to” to something a little more positive. And when so much in the world seems bleak, that can make a big difference.

Photo: No flowers yet, but this photo was snapped on May 1 last year so they are coming!


14 thoughts on “The March friendship challenge

    1. @Dee- true, though if people think broadly I feel like many folks could make it work. Coffee with a colleague you like, a 30-minute phone catch-up with an old friend, maybe a playdate with a family you enjoy…It doesn’t have to be dinner and a show with a new couple every week.

      1. Yes, definitely! I’m now shameless about asking people to hang out with me. We met a really great couple friend on the bus. We got on at the same stop and their toddler daughter was obsessed with my husband. Each morning, she’d wave at him and then start handing him her shoes, socks, and glasses. At that point, we figured it’d be awkward if we didn’t introduce ourselves. We lived in the same apartment complex, all worked for the same university in different capacities, and met up for a casual coffee. We’ve all moved, but we still know each other and really enjoy each other’s company (and teasing their daughter about how we met!).

  1. Great minds, I was thinking about this as I’m not sure you or Sarah talk much about friends, but perhaps just a product of big families, big jobs, and the last few years.

    I’m split between two cities and am keen to find community in both. My goal for the year was 4 social events a month. I’m at 10 thus far. I’m pretty social in that I like lots of friendly connections, even if they don’t turn into deep friendships and I feel so much better! I like combining multiple goals – work, errands, exercise.

    I’ve been pretty creative on formats. In my home city, this includes a walk with a good friend (pairing my daily exercise with socialising), a work date with an older friend where we had breakfast, caught up, and then worked in companionable silence, a playdate with a bunch of preschool parents, coffee with my son’s bestie’s mom who I think is super cool.

    In work city, it’s mostly been getting to know work colleagues with coffee dates or a walk. I’d also like to get to know my housemate a bit better, we’ve been ships passing in the night but I think she’s super cool.

    At the beginning of each month, I think about who I’d like to see and figure out a time to book it in. This month, I’ve invited a colleague in another university to coffee when they’ll be in my work city, I also have a volunteer dinner for an organisation I’ve been informally involved with, which seems to be a good way of meeting local folks.

  2. Planning all those gatherings sounds exhausting! Also, in general, I’ve found most other people are available way less often than your friends appear to be.

  3. This is a great topic/challenge. I am older (just semi-retired), and found that when I was a full-time working mom, it was easiest to keep up with friends via group activities. I did Bunco for a number of years, and am now in 2 book clubs. I’ve found it easier to maintain my one-to-one relationships with long-time college and childhood friends who don’t live near me (perhaps because there is no expectation of many in person get-togethers-we can keep up by text and phone). Now that I have more time available, I’m trying to make more of an effort to do local one to one or couple things when I can. Several of our close couple friends have moved away, but we’re having one couple over for dinner this month. I also decided to invite each of my long-time book club friends out for an individual lunch-and those invites have been well-received so far-still a work in progress. I joined a local once a week easy hiking group and exchanged phone numbers with a couple of women last week-so maybe I will even make new friends in my old age 🙂 I sometimes find it hard to invite someone to do something one on one-residual shyness, I guess?

  4. Funny you brought this up, as I had been pondering friendships these last few weeks. Have you (or anyone else reading this) heard of Dunbar’s #?
    Here’s a New Yorker article link on the subject:

    Basically, the idea is that, in total, your brain can’t handle knowing more than 150 people (this is an average, for some extroverts this could be 200, for introverts perhaps 100). These 150 are further broken down into several “layers” of friends and acquaintances, with increasing/decreasing levels of closeness.

    The two closest levels of friends, from the article:
    “Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things.”
    “five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members).”

    My problem is that I have **too many** friends and acquaintances. OK, it’s not really a problem, as I have many people I truly adore and love in life. Let’s classify this as a “good” problem. But the problem is that I spread myself so thin across my friends/acquaintances that I realize I don’t have much of a “fiver” group. I do have the “circle of fifteen,” which for me is really 7 women with which I have dinner once every couple of months. My husband is certainly in my “fiver” support group…but that’s it. I don’t have ANY friends that I see on a regular weekly or bi-weekly basis. While I confide certain things in my 7 friends, if I had an emergency and needed all the social support possible, I wouldn’t actually call any of them. Our intimacy is based on having known each other for several years, but the lack of regularity doesn’t give me confidence in any of them being the person-I’d-call-in-an-emergency, which is what I feel a “fiver” should be. Family, or as close as family. And sometimes I do see them with more frequency but it’s always at large gatherings, never one-on-one in a way that would establish a family-like level of closeness.
    So I’ve been wondering lately how I can cultivate a “fiver” group. Maybe it’s really only 1 or 2 friends other than my husband (not 4 other people). I’d love to have a girlfriend with whom to chat with regularly, but I feel I must look outside my “circle of fifteen” because all but one live an hour away, and the one that is close by has a very busy life of her own…

    1. Just to add: my weekends are actually full of social events, but mostly they are with acquaintances and neighbors (hence the feeling of too many friends/acquaintces). And it is at these larger gatherings (backyard BBQs, for example) where some of my “circle of fifteen” friends may also show up, but of course we can’t have close intimate conversation at these large gatherings!

    2. @Sam – this is a good point – there may be people we are close to who aren’t close by…and we may have lots of friends but few intimates. It’s probably good to have some number of both.

  5. Originally one of my goals this year was to be more social. However, we are moving to Europe this summer and I decided to let that goal go. While I think people can make time, it seems like everyone is busy running kids to activities. Some of my best friends are still from my oldest son’s baseball team 3 cities ago. However, now that he is older (or this city is more competitive) I sit away from parents at games.

    It was a big transition moving here because it was the first time we moved with older kids so we didn’t make “family” friends-I’m sure covid didn’t help.

    I was also thinking about this because my husband has been out of town, but I have still done some one on one things with my kids. If a friend would have invited me to play pickle ball or see a movie (things I did with one child) I would have probably said I couldn’t because my husband was out of town. But that obviously isn’t true as I left the other 3 home while I did one on one things.

  6. When our kids were little we spent a lot of weekday afternoon/evenings socializing with other parents of small children. These are some of my favorite memories. Now that our kids are 8-16 there is something every weekday evening so we have kind of given up on group dinners etc. Husband and I do social stuff individually during the week (choir for me, being a soccer fan for him, etc). I have two close friends that each live several hours away and I have to plan really carefully to see them. Realized today that I hadn’t seen them since December so that did inspire me to pull out the calendar and text my friend to set up a date. 🙂

  7. Oh this is a good reminder for me! I run a zoom book club for my mom’s group but have been swamped by work lately so haven’t scheduled anything since January.
    I have a standing walking date with a friend every week or two. It started at the beginning of the pandemic, and never stopped… but having the loose standing date helps take half the mental energy out of planning it. We know we will get together, so we just text at the beginning of the week to see where our mutual free time is.
    And there are tons of texts from friends for “playdates when the weather gets nicer.” I think the weather is definitely getting nicer!

  8. My bar is much lower: Schedule a girlfriend meetup on a monthly basis. That said, I’ve set it as a repeating task on a weekly basis so I remember to reach out, especially to folks I don’t see in the general course of life, e.g. I lament when kids change sport teams as I don’t get easy contact to my sport mom friends.

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