After rescheduling three times due to unforeseen work travel, I recently made plans to get together with a long-time internet friend in Washington, DC.
“Hey!” I DMed him, “any chance you would want to meet me for a drink somewhere by Union Station around 7pm after work on Tuesday? I have an 8:30pm train but we could hang for an hour before.” He replied, “sure!” We met up, I sipped a seltzer, we had a great time chatting and by 8:15pm I was in line to board my train.
There was a time, earlier in my 20s, when I would have felt bad about this. And according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, I still should. Abiding by the advice in the article, I should have pushed my train later, exhausting myself and sacrificing sleep before a long flight the next day so that my friend knew he was prioritized.
The article suggests that “busyness” is a choice or a brag, and that those who set hard restrictions on their time are rude and inconsiderate.
This is bullshit. Anyone who thinks this way should be cut out of your schedule immediately. There is nothing worse than a “friend” who thinks they are entitled to your time.
Earlier in my 20s, I surrounded myself with people like this. I bent and caved to other people’s whims and schedules.
A friend was feeling sad? It didn’t matter if I had an early meeting, I’d drink with them until 3am. Someone else was feeling bored and lazy after a breakup? I’d cancel yoga and spend all day cheering them up and watching Netflix. If a friend wanted to hang out with me, I would make time. If an acquaintance was in town and wanted someone to show them the city, I was there. If some random person online liked my tweets and wanted to meet up in person, I cleared my schedule.
For years I sacrificed my own mental and physical well being in service of other people’s needs. I gave everything I had to every friendship and it was never enough. There were always more birthday parties, readings, dinners, drinks, housewarmings to attend. There was always someone who wanted my time or felt like hanging out or catching up and I had no ability to say no.
One day, I woke up hungover and exhausted. I texted another friend who I hadn’t seen in a while to meet me for brunch. “I’d love to, but I’m actually going for a run then gonna chill. I’m free the Saturday after next if you want to meet at 10:30am at XX before I run errands at 1:00pm though.”
I remember taking a screen-shot of the text and thinking, “You can do that?!” It was freeing.
Ever since then my view on friendship has changed. I realized that my time is just as valuable as anyone else’s. You cannot give everyone who wants your time full reign of your schedule or you will never have time for yourself. I repeat: never.
My schedule now is planned out weeks in advance. I have a much smaller group of close friends who I will still drop almost anything for if there’s a crisis, but I realize that with the right kind of friends those “crises” are few and far between. I am almost always free for a heart-to-heart phone call but, for me, busyness is a means of self-protection.
The notion that saying you’re busy is some type of bragging is ridiculous. The idea that anyone who is “busy” is simply horrible at time management or they’d have endless hours to dedicate to any friend or acquaintance who comes calling is also insane.
When most people say they’re “busy” they mean that they’re busy, as in, they have other plans. It’s not up to you to deem which plans are more important.
This doesn’t mean I value any of my friends any less. I just know that if I don’t protect myself and my own time, I won’t be able to handle my own problems, much less be there for anyone else.
Make new friends, but protect your time. In ideal world we’d all spend our days “gabbing over cocktails at a new Vietnamese restaurant,” but good friendships, like all relationships, require good boundaries.
I guard my time specifically because I want to be able to be there for friends when it’s most important. I want to have extra time in my week baked in so I can be spontaneous and maybe do an unplanned meet up. I never want to go back to those frazzled years when I was spread so thin I couldn’t be a true friend to anyone.
The next time a friend invites you to dinner with a hard stop at 8pm or sends you a meeting planner for a scheduled hangout two months from now, don’t take it personally. They’re probably just busy, and that’s okay.