Consider the communication pattern between you and two hypothetical friends of yours.
With one, you email, text, and talk at least once a week. You’re continuously in touch. If you live in the same place, you may even see this friend pretty regularly for quick bursts. Maybe you grab coffee before work. Or get lunch in the middle of the workday. If you don’t live in the same place, you’ll hop on the phone for 5-10 min phone calls at least once a week, or sometimes a full hour if the stars align.
With the other friend, you’re not in touch all the time. You occasionally forward articles to each other and sometimes exchange a fun text message, but weeks and months often pass without meaningful interaction. When you do talk to or see the friend, it’s a deep dive. It’s a longer interaction. Maybe you see this friend in person once a year for a full day or even a whole weekend. Maybe you have a 90 min video chat catch-up twice a year.
In the busyness of my adult life, my friends increasingly fall into one of these categories. For example, I’m “in touch” with Chris Yeh on a very regular basis; we’ll talk a couple times a week by phone for 10-15 mins each time. By contrast, my interactions with Brad Feld are less frequent, but when we interact, it’s usually for 36-48 continuous hours in person. Interestingly, the one time I’ve had a very long continuous interaction with Chris was when we spent 24 hours together on the Burning Man playa (and slept in the same car). I learned things about Chris that I had not known, despite 10+ years of being in regular touch! I suspect if I ended up talking to Brad 2-3 times a week, I’d appreciate a different side to him, too.
Both are deep, positive relationships. Both types of friendship can be very rewarding. They’re just different cadence patterns.
Of course, there are downsides to each model of relationship. People whose friendships primarily consist of sporadic deep dives probably feel a higher degree of loneliness day-to-day during dry spells in-between the deep dive nourishment. (If you’re in an intimate romantic relationship, this can be okay because you tend to share minutia/quick hits with your spouse so don’t need to lean on friends as much for this.)
People whose friendships primarily consist of regular quick check-ins and texts and workday lunches probably feel some lack of depth with some of their so-called “close friends.” They realize that after years of “how was your day?” conversations and staying up to speed on the real time relationship drama or work battles that will someday be easily forgotten — they realize that they’ve never explored life’s deeper questions with their friend.
If you’re lucky enough to have a deep dive rhythm with someone, I think it’s comparatively easier to add some more day-to-day flavoring — and then perhaps you have the best of both! I was intrigued by how Gretchen Rubin described her approach on Tim Ferriss’s podcast: Every 4-5 days she sends email updates to her family recounting very minutia, day to day details of her life (“I’m getting my hair colored today”) with the explicit expectation that the update is “boring” and no one is supposed to reply. Its function is to simply keep friends in the loop on day to day happenings, like you would around a water cooler.
Finally, I wonder if women and men trend differently on this topic. The women I know tend to be better than men at staying in regular touch with their female friends. There’s a natural, continuous snacking dynamic between especially younger women I know: group text threads buzz a couple times a week, regular walks around the neighborhood, quick “Love you!” text messages, etc. Many of these women also have plenty of deep dives of course but the regular staying-in-touch with quick hits is what I notice most.
Male friendships can be characterized by months of non-communication, and then punctuated — if they’re lucky, and that’s a big if — by a deep dive. The issue is, men like to talk about the “guy I’d take a bullet for” or the “person I’d go pick up at a 4am” — but the deep dives that create 4am pickups rarely happen, at least in the post college years. Many men are deprived of both continuous quick hits and regular deep dives. White, adult, heterosexual men have the fewest friendships of anybody in America.
I’m reading Knausgaard’s My Struggle Book 6 right now. Yes, it’s another 1000+ page opus — the final installment — and yes, I’m enjoying almost every page of it. That’s for a different post. Anyway, I recently came upon this paragraph:
When we moved to Malmö I had been afraid Geir and I would lose touch. That’s what distance does; when the time between conversations gets longer, intimacy diminishes, the little things connected to one’s daily life lose their place, it seems odd to talk about a shirt you just bought or to mention you’re thinking of leaving the dishes until morning when you haven’t spoken to a person for two weeks or a month, that absence would seem instead to call for more important topics, and once they begin to determine the conversation there’s no turning back, because then it’s two diplomats exchanging information about their respective realms in a conversation that needs to be started up from scratch, in a sense, every time, which gradually becomes tedious, and eventually it’s easier not to bother phoning at all, in which case it’s even harder the next time, and then suddenly it’s been half a year of silence.
Some old posts of mine on friendship:
- The nature of “2 AM” Friends
- How much emotional sustenance do you get from friends you don’t talk to often?
- Four dimensions of a friendship — personal/professional and emotional/intellectual
- Notes from Chris Yeh’s and my Junto lunch discussion on friendship
- Why older people fire friends more aggressively than younger people
(Thanks to Steve Dodson and Chris Yeh for reading drafts of this post.)