Dear Sibyl, What do you think is the best and most gracious way to keep social life simple? I get a lot of requests to do things both for fun and on the professional level (i.e. sit on a committee or board) and I also want to have a good amount of unscheduled time, because I know that is what works for me, to keep me sane. But what is a good way to do this in a world that encourages frantic activity?
Sincerely, Lil’ Miss Popular
Dear Ms. Popular,
The most frequent answer to the question "How are you these days?" is "Busy!" What if people answered this question a bit more accurately and said, "I have a lot of tasks to complete all the time, but inwardly I feel a little disconnected." Because that is the true definition of a busy life.
Time is social capital. First of all, I'd like to commend you for taking the time to consider your social commitments and seek to knit something together that supports you individually as well as helps you feel a part of a greater community.
Much of our lives are made up of the people we spend it with. Some of that we don't have a whole lot of choice about: the co-worker that is hired after you and talks your ear off about their skydiving obsession, the fellow dog owner who tries to get you involved in puppy politics at the dog park, the neighbor with the backfiring van who will never move out.
So, when you have a rare hour of free time, you want to be sure you are investing it in something or someone who will add depth and continuity to your life, rather than feeling like you are flitting around from one commitment to the next, always playing catch-up with each person.
Personally, I often find myself falling head over heels for a person or an organization, and throwing myself into that friendship or activity with great fervor, only to find out a year down the line that they were not who I thought they were, or that I've outgrown them. If I stopped doing this, however, my life would remain stagnant, and I would eventually feel isolated from my own lack of willingness to risk and put my whole self into my relationships and endeavors.
Carl Jung had the idea that we are drawn to people who have something that we need, and can help us realize those parts of ourselves. Over time, we are meant to start doing those things on our own, and when we do, we may find that what we were meant to learn from that person, and what we had to share with them, has made the relationship redundant.
Does that mean you need to stop calling your best friend from elementary school, who have little in common with now but love seeing, for the tether she gives you to the past? No, but I would suggest saving visits with her for special times: her birthday, when the band whose songbook the two of you have memorized comes to town, or a holiday you love spending with her.
This may free you (and your old friend) up to do some new things. When you do, consider, "How is this going to help me grow as person? What is it about this activity or friend that I am particularly drawn to? Is that something I really want more of in my life?"
For instance, you may be excited about a certain couple because they have great parties that look cool on Instagram and give you blog fodder. If that is really your only connection to them, I suggest giving them a very slim slice of your life, perhaps accepting only every third invitation. However, if you have a friend who is exceptionally kind to your child, and who could teach you how to make terrariums, and remembers to ask after your sick cat, see if she can meet you for coffee tomorrow.
I have to say I am quite taken with your idea of preserving unscheduled time. Perhaps you can block that out in your calendar, and write "Reserved for Spontaneity" in the square. Then, when you are asked to fill that time with volunteer work or a baby shower, just say, "I cannot. I have an engagement with my mind." Then everyone will think you are weird and won't invite you places anymore anyway and you'll have lots of free time!
I am being a little silly there, but honestly, you have the right to curate your own life. Consider your calendar like an art exhibit, and choose the pieces that inspire you the most and that you want to look at all the time to hang on the walls of your days.
Feel free to create something beautiful with your community and your time, even if this means turning down some invitations. Choose beauty, however sparse that may be for you, over busy-ness.
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