Being self- employed can make life very busy: between the actual work of providing client-sessions; the administrative work or record keeping, book keeping, advertising, communicating, etc.; and the important work of staying up-to-date through reading, training, and conversations, there often isn’t much time left. And that is not even including dealing with family, house, and life in general.
In all this busy-ness it is easy to miss calls to friends for weeks at a time — and to feel guilty for not having spoken to a friend in a long time – maybe even for a month or two. Email and texting makes it a bit more convenient to stay connected: it allows me to type messages at 12:00 am – often the only time of day that I seem to have for personal, relaxed conversation.
When a few years ago I was worried about the busy-ness of life keeping me from the important things in life I looked to nature. I realized that I was experiencing – and what a lot of my friends seemed to be experiencing – was just part of a natural rhythm.
It is an old truth that the only constant in the universe is change. Life consists of constant, ongoing, relentless change. However, within this constant change there is also is rhythm and order. Some rhythms are short and clear and repeat often, like the change of seasons. Some are longer but we know about them intuitively or from experience; life is such a rhythm we know although we haven’t lived it all yet. Some rhythms seem to be more random, less predictable, and sometimes hard to understand. I believe friendship rhythms fall under that category.
Some friendships seem meant to be. No matter what happens, no matter how often we connect – or don’t connect, no matter how similar or different our lives go: we still stay in contact and when we speak we know each other, love each other, and understand each other. There is no (or very little) guilt when we don’t manage to meet for a year or two – and yet we know that one phone call, one email, one visit will allow us to pick up where we left off. Those, I believe, are the friendships that are bound to our life-rhythm. They are of a quality and purpose that supports the long rhythm of a life time, from youth to old age. They are as patient and reliable as our bodies – with us, not matter what; sometimes not in agreement, but always true enough to keep trying.
Then there are friendships that are bound to shorter rhythms, e.g. the rhythm of our career: they change as our career changes. As we are starting a new job, those friends we made at the old company may fall away. Or those high school friends with whom we swore to be friends forever are suddenly not calling back or we don’t find the time to meet with them. It can be difficult to follow those rhythms, especially if the new phase into which we are moving is scary, unwanted, or vastly different from what we have known before. This often happens when a relationship ends in separation or death. Suddenly old friends stop calling or visit less often. It may hurt because it can feel like abandonment. But often it is just a recognition – at a very deep and unconscious level – that the purpose for this friendship, it’s time, has passed (sometimes it’s also plain fear of not knowing what to say; but that’s for another essay).
Finally, there are “seasonal” friendships. Those are the friendships that can be tied to very specific events – the trip to Europe, the summer at the lake, the yoga class, the book club, etc. Those friendships follow the shortest rhythms of our life and, although often deep and immensely healing, they usually aren’t missed as much as they pass. Maybe that is because we recognize their short-lived nature more easily because they are so closely tied into our activities.
What does all of this have to do with not having time to connect and feeling guilty about it? Well, the feeling of guilt usually comes up when we feel that we have missed doing something important, or if we feel we have done something that wasn’t warranted. But what if we recognize the busy-ness in our lives as a normal part of our life’s rhythm – middle-age, roughly the time between 30 and 55 when we are busy-busy building lives, growing assets, developing careers and / or families, etc? This is the time in our life-rhythms when we create our highest achievements and juggle the most things: work, kids, parents, house / mortgage, yard work, repairs, household, traveling, pets, exercise, diet, cars, continued education – oh yes, and friends and time for ourselves.
If this is true, if those years in the middle of our biography are the years of juggling and busy-ness, and if our friendships follow the rhythms of our lives in some ways, then maybe there is less reason for feeling guilty if we don’t manage to call our friends every week. Maybe we need to accept that this is a phase of life, part of a rhythm, and that those who are meant to be in this place with us, will be. That is not to say that we should – or could – willfully neglect our friendships; but if it is becoming an additional chore to call Jack or meet with Jill, then maybe Jack and Jill don’t belong to the particular rhythms we are living right now. Maybe at this time in our biographies we can only hold on to those life-rhythm friends.
Looking around I can see clearly that I am not the only one caught in the busy-ness of mid-life – even my single friends seem to be juggling and rushing most of their days. And while there is reason to discuss the value of down-time, relaxation, and de-stressing life choices, the bottom line is that this is a busy time in most people’s life. Those of my friends who are in the same boat are also those who understand that I may only be able to send that email at 12:00 am once every month. Indeed, usually their answer arrives about three weeks later, penned at 12:30 am and signed with a smiley.
I know that most of them will be there when this phase slowly morphs into the next, when we have a bit more time at our hands, when it seems easier to free a whole Sunday afternoon for a nice hike. Until then we will continue to email, phone, and meet whenever we can squeeze a minute out of our schedules. We’ll say as much in 15 minutes as we can, and we will likely connect just wonderfully. And if we don’t speak in a month or two, we will smile about that, too, and promise we’ll try to do better next time – knowing full well that, try as we may, it’ll probably be another two months until we’ll have coffee again. No use stressing about it.