So here’s a Friday morning in August when you’re 37: you can’t sleep, wake up around 4am, your dog’s not eating and lying in your closet, you bonded with some guy from Notre Dame who’s new to your neighborhood last night, you’re contemplating the gym if you don’t fall asleep, you’re listening to Adele for no truly apparent reason, you have a couple of texts you don’t really know how to answer, you’ve gotten one email of relevance and it looks like it’s going to create a long and worthless chain, and you start reading articles about why people lose friends in adulthood.
I can make it pretty simple for you on why people lose friends in adulthood: shit changes. That’s the main reason: people move for work, people have kids, people get divorced, stuff changes. That’s life. You can’t really avoid it.
In that first article linked, though, they make a good point that I think applies fairly universally to most of existence: people prioritize what they want to prioritize.
You ever seen John Mulaney do standup? He has a whole routine about life in your 30s. Here ya go:
I want to write songs for people in their 30s called “Tonight’s No Good. How About Wednesday? Oh, You’re in Dallas Wednesday? Let’s Not See Each Other for Eight Months and It Doesn’t Matter at All.”
Funny, and largely true. And if you think at 25, or even at 30, that you have any idea what your late 30s looks and feels like, you have absolutely no idea.
But think about this priority stuff for a second.
Priority in a personal context
That’s what the Mulaney joke is about, but we’ve also got David Brooks writing articles called “The Golden Age of Bailing.” Tech has made all this easier, for sure — it’s much easier to tell someone via text “Hey, can’t make it!” than call them or throw any context behind it. We can’t avoid it.
But look, the whole “I am so busy // I am so slammed // it’s my busy season” culture we often reside in? It’s complete horseshit. People prioritize what they want to prioritize. If I want to work out, I will. If I want to go to a bar, I will. If I want to get a work project done, I will.
You might think I’m talking specifically about myself and my drive/willpower, but I have absolutely no willpower and my drive is relatively suspect. I’m talking about most people in a personal context.
Vox article above (first link) makes a good point: after a while, it’s the decisions you make and the life you actually lead that shape who you are, not the life you aspire to or seek to reflect on social or something. You are the net sum of your decisions. You prioritize what you care about. If that’s making you busy, well, you made the decisions to take those things on. So wearing busy as a badge of honor is essentially just saying “I chose to be this day, and now I want to be acknowledged for it.” That’s like praising a dog for looking for food scraps. They’re gonna do that. They’s a dog.
Isn’t this more complex at work?
OK, a little bit. Because at work, you usually have a boss — and the boss can tell you what to do, i.e. prioritize things for you. This gets extremely complex at some places, especially offices where everything is “urgent” or where reporting lines are unclear. I was going to type something like “offices where priorities are unclear,” but let’s be honest: almost every office is a place where priorities are unclear.
Still, though, bosses often prioritize what they want to prioritize — which more often than not is what they already know or “where they came from.” You see this a ton with Peter Principle stuff — guy gets promoted and should be taking on broader responsibilities and managing people, but all he knows is the operational role he just came from, he’s in over his head, and he clings to the stuff that makes him feel good and relevant. He chose what he wanted to prioritize. It wasn’t what his actual job should be now, but it’s what he chose. That happens literally every second in offices around the globe. If you don’t think it’s happening where you work, you’re probably wrong. (This is the same reason people micro-manage, in part.)
I worked with a dude once who had an active role in his daughter’s swim team. Big deal to him. No issue with that on my side — I don’t have kids but if I ever had a daughter, I’d hope I care about her swim team. Anyway, this dude would be cutting videos of the swim team during the workday, or taking them to practice or meets or whatever. He wasn’t working, at least not in the conventional sense. I don’t personally give a shit so long as anything we overlapped on got done and I wasn’t chucked under a train in the process, but he chose what he wanted to prioritize in those pockets. It wasn’t work.
It’s the same shit with that one co-worker you always have who can’t stop referencing being busy, but anytime you log onto Facebook, she’s listed as green and active. You know it. First: being busy is very important at most jobs. Second: people prioritize what they want to prioritize. If that’s KPIs and spreadsheets, cool. If that’s Facebook, cool. I don’t think you should always be grinding, personally. I like myself some 52 minutes on, 17 minutes off.
One major argument you’ll hear from different social scientists and writers is that friendships are about “being present.” Absolutely true. Completely no shit. But that’s not the entire picture. I would say long-term friendships with real value are about being present, unquestionably. But a lot of intermediate-term friendships are about proximity, or your kids are friends, or you know each other from the local bar (like that Notre Dame guy last night!), or you work together, or whatever. This is part of the issue with male loneliness — males make friends better from group activities, and then those decline as they get older (less sports) and become dads (less time).
I think the harsh reality of adult friendships is often that when people aren’t present for you, you make up 10 bajillion excuses about why they weren’t there for you. The actual reason is because you are not a priority to them. Take a personal example for me. I got divorced in March 2017. Literally no one from my family (extended) reached out to me. Feels really shitty at the time, for sure. But then think on it: I live in Texas. No one does. They probably “didn’t know what to say.” They have their own lives. I get it. It hurts, but I get it.
But at the end of the day, that’s the reality: people prioritize what they want to prioritize, and in that moment, I wasn’t that. And all you can really do is be OK with it, ya know? And move on. It’s The Second Act Of Life.
And you get by with a little help from your friends — the ones you choose to prioritize, that is.