Workaholic Missives: Sometimes I’m A Shitty Friend

Workaholic Missives: Sometimes I’m A Shitty Friend March 29, 2016
Selfie in front of my bookshelf.

In my Workaholic Missives post series, I talk (mostly abstractly) about the toll that being a workaholic takes on my social life, and how I navigate it. This post is specifically about friendships.

Being a super-busy person means being really mercenary about how I spend my time. This, unfortunately, includes my social time. I can’t be there for my friends as often as I would like to be, for both the good times and the bad.

As a feminist, I’m hyper aware of how much women are often called on to do emotional labor, and I like to comment on it and draw attention to it when I can. Maintaining friendships? That’s a form of emotional labor, and it’s not something I can delegate (not like I have a personal assistant, but I’m rapidly reaching the point where I might need to cave and admit that I need one).

The result, with me being as busy as I am, trying to save the world and whatnot, is that I don’t have a lot of time for my friends. And not just that: I don’t make a lot of time for my friends. I know that’s on me. The time for socializing only exists if I make it happen. It’s not going to magically fall into my lap from elsewhere. I’m not a Google-Calendar-mancer* who can cast some arcane spell to shift an hour from here to there in order to have time to have tea with someone I’m due to catch up with.

I would like to think that I’d drop anything to help a friend in need, and often, this is the case in emergencies (need help moving right the fuck now? stranded and need a ride? and so on). But even then, there are times when my packed schedule just can’t accommodate one more item, and I have to hope that someone else is on standby to swoop in and save the day.

And you know? Sometimes this sucks. Sometimes I wish I could be more available to my friends. But that’s not the life I’ve chosen for myself, and I just have to hope that the people who actually want to be friends with me understand and will stick around anyway.

I’m mostly okay with being a kinda shitty friend. I like to think that I warn people that this is what they’re in for: lots of “hey it’d be great if we could hang out” sentiments interspersed with the occasional super-fun adventure or truly engaging conversation. The land of positive sentiments but little action is where most of my friendships languish, and so long as you’re not one of those people who believes in relationship escalators (only applied to friendships), it can probably work.

I wonder if I’m alone in this, or if other ambitious, goal-driven folks have trouble maintaining friendships. I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to make time for someone if we have similar goals, or can make a work-date out of it. But I also like having friends who are different than me, with very different life experiences and perspectives. There’s little sense in living my whole life in an echo chamber, after all.

There’s probably no right way to do friendships as a workaholic… or at least, that’s what I tell myself during another night spent awake, alone, working. I get mild twinges of regret sometimes for choosing to live this way, but as with everything else it’s a trade-off. Would the alternate-reality version of me with more friends, or more time spent with friends, be happier? I don’t have a way of knowing; it’s like peering into a pleasant painting for a while, but realizing that my attention belongs where it always does: with my work.

*the idea of doing ‘mancy or a specific kind of modern/technological magic is found in 2 of my favorite recent urban fantasy books, Geeokmancy by Michael Underwood and Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz

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  • Kevin K

    To me, having people to hang out with, converse with, occasionally road trip with and hopefully rarely bail out of trouble is practically the definition of friendship. I’m not sure what else you or they expect. More of any of those things doesn’t necessarily improve the friendship, does it?

    Perhaps you’re trying to find a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist?

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      What, you mean I might be overthinking something?! 😉

      You do have a point, and I do manage to do those types of activities with my friends, though not as often as I might hope. Then again, accusations of being a bad friend sometimes find their way to me, so it could be that I’m overly sensitive about the topic.

      • Wei Yan Zhuo

        It depends on what you’re looking for. I am the sort of person who is reliable and makes time for others I care about, so I look for friends who are reciprocally reliable and will make time for me, and usually quickly drop someone who is flaky or doesn’t really seem to care that much. I call others acquaintances. That’s fine too, but that kind of relationship isn’t very fulfilling to me personally so I don’t waste time on it.

        But if you’re upfront about how you operate, and don’t expect people to spend more effort on you than you do on them I see no problem. You just need to find the kind of people who similarly have their priorities elsewhere and no feelings will be hurt! Win/win.

        • Jeana Jorgensen

          Ah okay, I take your point. I do tend to gravitate toward people who are reliable and who don’t take things personally. And it’s nice when we share priorities and goals, too, though I know not everyone is as goal-oriented as I am!

  • Sophia Sadek

    I’m not a big fan of Stephen Covey, but his paradigm of taking care of the big things first has merit. Don’t let the petty details swamp out the things that matter.

  • yazikus

    I wonder if I’m alone in this, or if other ambitious, goal-driven folks have trouble maintaining friendships.

    I’ve been trying to be better about this friending business. This time of year is super busy for me, and I usually just don’t make it out much, with my very, very limited free time. And when I do have free time? Sometimes I just want to spend it with a cup of tea and a show. Or a book. Or in the corner of my couch, in my pjs. However, I do value having friends, so I try to put in more effort to doing things, especially when this busy time is done.

    Also, if someone is friend material, they should understand your life well enough to know that you can’t always be there for them.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      I hear you, and as an introvert, I need a certain amount of alone time in order to recharge. Failing that, I’ll take one-on-one interactions, or very small groups, over large gatherings.

  • Anne Fenwick

    As a feminist, I’m hyper aware of how much women are often called on to do emotional labor

    I can relate to that. I have a family but the emotional (and other) labor is very much one way. After that, I have a choice – I could do something with my life or I could have friends*. I would like to have both but that’s not an option.

    * And sometimes my focus is so shattered and my time is so patch-worky that I spend what I have of it reading stuff on the Internet and writing comments instead of doing either. My bad.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      Emotional labor is tough when it’s unidirectional, yeah.

      And I hear you about the problems with having your focus shattered when you really ought to be working… that happens to me too. I will still try to be a tiny bit productive, maybe by breaking a task into as small of parts as I can manage, so I can check off something menial, mindless, or small… but it’s not a consistently useful strategy.