My best friend, Ariel, hung up on me yesterday. We were chatting conspiratorially about our husbands, and her 6-year-old daughter walked into the room. “Gotta go,” she said, despite the fact that we’d only been on the phone for approximately two minutes. “Love you!” she mumbled. Then the line went dead.
Was I mad? No, not one bit.
This is because after 23 years of friendship and seven years of living in different cities — not to mention the busy-ness of husbands, kids, jobs — Ariel and I have stumbled on the holy grail of keeping our love alive: the micro check-in.
Here is how it works: Call. Just call. Don’t schedule a phone date, don’t ‘calendar’ a time slot, don’t have any expectations of getting the person’s undivided attention for a long time (or even any time, really). Let all that go and just pick up the phone whenever you’re moved to do so. Leave a long, rambling message, as if the person is actually on the other end of the line, jokes and all. Send a voice memo. Volley with apps like Voxer, Marco Polo or Telegram. Do something as often as possible, even if that something feels like… well, not much. Because guess what? Those little moments add up — they add up to actual presence in each others’ lives.
I know, these two-to-ten minute chats and/or smoke signals over What’s App are a far cry from the meandering in-person conversations of old — you know the ones that started over a boozy brunch and ended seven hours later at a bar with a “should we just order some fries and another round?”
But who has time for that anymore?
I once thought the way around this was to schedule phone calls. We’d pencil in a phone date on our calendars and devote an hour or two to catching up while the babies slept, if we were so lucky as to be able to coordinate naps. But even so, this soon became unworkable, as older kids mean more complex family schedules. Anyway, you know the result: calls became fewer and far between. Someone cancelled. Someone forgot. Someone got annoyed that the phone date was missed. We lost touch because we never had enough time.
But the truth is that we did have time — it just wasn’t in one, uninterrupted chunk. Once you’re a mom, “down time” happens in tiny segments throughout the day (and night). If we could amend what staying in touch looked like, it turned out we could absolutely do it. I could “join” Ariel on her walk to school pickup in Brooklyn and she could keep me company as I sped through an L.A. grocery store.
There are a few guidelines, though, to help this method succeed:
- No guilt. Zero. None of this “you didn’t call me back!” business. We’re all doing our best.
- No need for a long catch up. That’s daunting and overly ambitious. Just drop in where you are, like setting the needle of a record down on whatever song, and trust that you’ll eventually play the whole record.
- Don’t overthink it. Got seven minutes in the car/in line at the DMV/during the kid’s ballet class? Try her. Acquiesce to the reality that the time will never be exactly right.
I’ve implemented this with many of my friends in far-off (and nearby) places, and it has worked wonders, buoying me in ways I could have never anticipated. On the practical side, we actually do end up talking more; we’re less precious about setting aside the time, so as a result, we connect more often. There’s a real thrill when we actually do catch each other — “you’re there!” — and a sense of deep, long-held connection that we can immediately fall into. It’s wonderful to feel that webbing of friendship even with so much else going on.
And guess what? It is a relief to skip the small talk, the long windup to the deep stuff. I’ve never been much for it anyway, but now we know there’s no time, and even less patience. We’ve known each other for over two decades now. We dive in deep, and quick. We had this awful fight last night and I just don’t know what to do. I am so beyond exhausted. I am feeling so lonely/happy/horny/afraid.
We show each other love right in the moment because it turns out that these small check-ins do a surprisingly good job of keeping us close. If we stop longing for the days of old and instead acknowledge that the rhythm of our everyday lives have shifted, we can dance to those new rhythms and stay as close as ever. Even if that means running the risk of being cut off mid-sente—