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How to stop 'catching up' with friends and start spending meaningful time together — even if you're really busy

Julia Pugachevsky   

How to stop 'catching up' with friends and start spending meaningful time together — even if you're really busy
  • Seeing friends regularly can be tough if you have a busy schedule.
  • Hanging out infrequently also makes your connections more distant.

In an old meme by Nathan W. Pyle that is always popping up on my timeline, two friends try to schedule a hangout, only to realize that they have no free days to see each other.

"It was so nice knowing you," one friend says mid-embrace. "I'll never forget you," sobs the other.

It speaks to me, and to an issue many Americans deal with: they're often too busy with work and household responsibilities (non-negotiable life commitments) to pencil in dinner with a friend (nice, but not essential). The result is increased loneliness.

And when the happy hour drinks finally happen after months of back-and-forth, it can feel anticlimactic.

"If you aren't seeing people very frequently, you end up catching up," Rhaina Cohen, author of "The Other Significant Others," told Business Insider. "I think catching up is very often a pretty unsatisfying way to see people because you're just ticking through life's headlines instead of actually creating memories together."

Cohen acknowledged that everyone is busy, whether they're raising kids, have a demanding job, or live in a different timezone. Drawing from her own experiences, she shared two ways to keep in touch with friends more — without adding more work to your life.

Pre-schedule a weekly activity that complements your routine

While scheduling one-off activities can take a while (and possibly some shared calendar apps), setting up recurring ones takes a lot of effort off both your plates.

"Reducing the friction to organize things makes it easier for you to see each other more frequently, which is something that you need to develop closeness," Cohen said. For example, she has a weekly call with one friend and a weekly run with another.

Sometimes, creating a consistent routine comes naturally: both of you met in your recreational soccer team or are interested in taking the same weekly pottery class. But if you have vastly different schedules and don't want to lose touch, Cohen suggested just being upfront with your friend about what you want out of the relationship.

"If you do this one-shot of vulnerability by asking if someone is willing to do this recurring kind of hangout, then you don't have to every single time do this reach out," she said. If weekly feels too demanding on your time, you can always call or see each other less frequently — and you'll still probably talk more than you did before.

Ditch dinner — run errands together instead

For some, the obstacle to hanging out isn't only time: dinners, drinks, and annual trips can get expensive.

Cohen thinks you don't need to break out the wallet to spend a fun afternoon together. In fact, doing mundane things together like going to the DMV can not only save you money, but teach you new things about each other.

"Some of the ways that I feel closest to people is when we are running errands together," Cohen said, rather than being limited to a time-blocked dinner. "I'm just going to visit and exist in your life."

She recalled a recent trip she took to see a friend, where she didn't have time to run to UPS before her trip. They ended up going to the UPS together before shopping for groceries her friend needed. Cohen said the experience made her "feel really close in a way that even having phone calls didn't necessarily do."

Plus, being in movement or doing an activity together can make any chat more interesting. Cohen believes hanging out while "doing other things or doing it in settings that are a bit unusual can grease the wheels to have more fluid conversation," because you never know what might come up.

If you don't know where to start, Cohen suggested looking for opportunities where people can be woven into your life more. Maybe the next time you need to run to the dry cleaner or set up for a party, you ask a friend to join.

"You end up getting to know the people who pass through their life or you can ask questions about how they decorate their home," Cohen said. "Anything that kind of puts you up close with the way that they live."