Grad school and parenthood are both immensely isolating experiences. So when you combine them, you tend to be… immensely isolated. I feel very lonely most of the time, but also too exhausted usually to do the things I think you have to do to keep a friendship going. So I start to feel like I have no friends, when really I have a lot of friends, but I’m just not communicating with them much.
This is, I think, actually pretty normal. This article I read for class a few years ago had the image below in it.
[caption id=“attachment_9253” align=“aligncenter” width=“514”] Figure from “Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries,” Robert S. Taylor, College and Research Libraries 29(3), 178-194[/caption]
The way I interpret this schematic, when people first become friends, there’s a lot of communicative acts that are of the getting-to-know-you type, not focused on any particular topic. But as the friendship endures and you know each other better, you communicate less frequently but more topically.
My friendships fall in line with this pretty well, but there’s not much communication that’s just on the topic of, you know, how we’re all doing, and how we value our friendship. So here’s me, lonely, missing my friends, too tired to do much about it, and also a little overwhelmed at the prospect, because what do you say to someone you care greatly about but haven’t talked to in months?
On Thanksgiving, W., M., and I drove over to W.’s brother’s place for dinner with that side of the family. M. hadn’t napped and fell asleep on the way over. I told W. to go ahead inside, and I would stay in the care and bring M. up if/when he woke up.
I’d brought books with me, but I found that my brain couldn’t process the words in them. So I played some games on my phone and watched “Pangs,” as is my tradition. After that I started to watch The Empire Strikes Back, but I got a text from Verizon saying I was about to use up all my data, so I decided to stop.
So there I was, in the dark, in a rare silent moment, all by myself, and I had a revelation:
All I had to do to connect with my friends was to say hi. It was as simple as a text. It didn’t need to be a dramatic letter full of reasons why I haven’t been in touch, apologies for ghosting them, lengthy updates on how things are going with me.
So I opened up the Contacts app on my phone and just started going through it, texting people I miss a lot and haven’t checked in with in a long time. (I did miss some people and only realized later that I should have included them, so the next time I find myself in a truly quiet moment like this, I’ll get to them.)
To each of them, I sent a customized version of a message that went basically like this:
"Hi [friend's name]! I'm in the car with a sleeping M. outside W's brother's house and taking the rare quiet time as an opportunity to text friends and wish them well. I hope you're having a great day!"
Some people just got “Hi! I love you!” and others just got a variation of “I hope you’re having a great day!” without the explanation about M. sleeping.
And in a few minutes, answers started coming in.
I am thankful for your friendship.
We just pulled off our first Thanksgiving in our house!
I love you right back and I hope you had a wonderful day too! 💜
Thank you! We did have a good day! I hope you and your family did as well.
Thanks for the Thanks-greetings! I hope you’re doing well and junk!
I love you too! And I miss you!
Hey lovely! I hope you’re well! I adore you!
Friends. They’re great, right?
Now I’ve opened up all of these conversations, I hope I’ll feel more comfortable just sending a note to say “Hey! Thinking of you! How are you?” I can’t believe it took this long for it to occur to me that it’s as simple as that.
And let’s conclude with this:
If you’re someone who thinks sometimes of reaching out to me and then doesn’t, because it’s too daunting or whatever, know that I always welcome a “Hi! How are you?”