Friendships and unstructured time

Alex Williams of the New York Times has a very nice piece on friendships as we progress through life. One of the more salient points to me is that the three elements required for making close friends:

  1. Proximity
  2. Random, unplanned interactions
  3. Setting that encourages letting your guard down

Seems to me that pretty much everything works against that model. As we get older, we tend to live alone and keep space between us. We plan out our days with more or less rigidity. We tend to look at even parties with suspicion - consider how many gaffs happen at office Christmas parties.

This is pretty relevant to the current reshaping of my life. It's been shown time and again that your relationships are one of the most important keys to happiness - and that's not limited to having a romantic relationship. In fact, if you're only close relationship is with your romantic partner, that might actually be much worse than having many close friendships but no romantic partner - particularly if that relationship should ever run into problems.

As I've mentioned previously, up until now I've been very goal oriented. I'd set out to get something done, and find the right people to do that thing with. Hopefully the people involved would be nice and we'd have fun, but the joy was in whatever we were working on. I'm now discovering that this is a little backwards. In particular, having all of your time dedicated to very structured activities makes it pretty difficult to maintain friendships let alone make new friends.

This is part of the decision to drop getting my Commercial Pilot's License. The CPL training is excellent and I should do it eventually, but right now it's not what I need. With all of the changes that are going on, I really need to focus on being well connected. That means the opposite of having highly structured, goal oriented time. The tricky part is going to be not making the same mistake again. It's tempting to book music lessons or do something else that's goal oriented, but that's just regression to old behaviours.

If I'm going to follow what the happiness research shows, I'll need to plan unstructured time with friends and create chances for random encounters. I'm not exactly sure how to do that just yet, but I can at least start thinking about it. At the very least, thinking about who I want to be around instead of what is a big change.


  1. I read this post a few days ago (I suppose when you had posted it) and interestingly it had me stuck.

    The reason for that is the idea of being goal oriented. I was using this to evaluate myself and I realized that I am an *extremely* goal oriented person. What that means to me is that I have a vision of what makes me happy and I plan for those. I find music brings about happiness, so I sign up for music lessons, I book, on a weekly basis, time for myself to practice.

    I love painting and painting makes me happy. I block off time in my calendar on when I can paint. I write down deadlines for myself "finish painting X by this date".

    The reason I do this is because the alternative is I end up wasting a bunch of time on youtube or facebook, or just napping, the weeks roll by and I haven't made any progress on my personal projects and my projects bring about personal happiness... so then I am unhappy that I didn't push myself, that I didn't schedule, that I didn't manage my time.

    So, does that mean unstructured time makes me unhappy?

    This was the question I was stuck on. I certainly do love spontaneity, but if I don't plan the evening with "something" I feel like I'm "wasting" it. It's like I'm never going to get it back and if I didn't spend it doing something I enjoy (playing music, painting, even having a nice dinner with friends at Nerd nite), then that makes me rather grumpy.

    Today I realized what it is.

    It's not that unstructured time makes me unhappy, but I believe that I have developed very poor habits on how to USE my unstructured time. I mean, I could paint, and play music on an evening *without having scheduled it* but I don't. I end up *wasting* it doing things I don't actually enjoy all that much. Why? i think it has to do with 20 years of conditioning of being goal oriented. Deadlines of homework, assignments, time management, effective study skills etc etc. I have never missed an assignment or deadline at school and I have never not done my homework. (why that is the case is another long analysis likely to do with looking for external validation from parents of being "good" while growing up, and I received that through being a very good student.). Now as and adult, I have developed terrible habits and terrible internal statements that I can't help but plan my time in order to achieve the things that make me happy.

    I suppose the first step is making the discovery... perhaps its not too late to learn to unwind :)

  2. "Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted time."
    (This has been attributed to many people over the years)

    That said, if you're planning time for things that are usually left to "free time" and it's working for you and leading to more happiness, then that sounds like a good thing! If you're finding that you put too much pressure on yourself, then that's where you might want to make changes. It can be good to do something just for fun as a break from all of the structured goals.

    I also struggle with mind candy (FB, Twitter, YouTube, surfing the web). That's pretty much the reason that I didn't go to bed on time once last week. Perhaps booking time without a goal, but with restrictions like "no social media"? I'm thinking of declaring 21h my social media curfew!


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