Thursday, January 31, 2013

Office hours UPDATED

For the record, I did not write that letter (third and final) to Jezebel's new friendship advice columnist, Sara Benincasa. But there is some overlap to my own experience. Granted, I live two hours from the city (an hour at least of train-time, but once you add getting to the train, then getting from Penn Station anywhere else...), not 20 minutes, but it sure does a number on the social life to move somewhere where seeing friends requires serious planning. There's far less play-it-by-ear for me now that NJ Transit is involved.

While I also enjoy hearing Dan Savage's advice to polyamorous centaur fetishists or whatever, in this case, I read Benincasa's response in the hope of actually finding out what one is supposed to do in this situation. Practical and entertaining!

As for the advice, I'm not sure. Some yes, some no. The whole thing about finding out who your true friends are, I mean, fair enough, but the point of having friends isn't just Lifelong Friendship, but also having people to go do stuff with. Losing friends-of-convenience without gaining new friends-of-convenience can also be annoying.

The bit about how some city-folk won't visit you in the country, yes, I suppose, although I personally have been bad about taking people at their word when they say they do want to come visit me in the woods. Those who have done so seem to have enjoyed it. But overall, expecting anything like a 50-50 arrangement of whose locale you hang out in is unrealistic. (Although 20 minutes? Eh.)

And the "office hours" advice... how to put this? First off, this "friend Baratunde" is a legitimate famous-person, so no wonder "[h]e was visiting a city for a short period of time and knew that he didn't have the time to see all his friends individually." But I've seen not-famous people do this as well - periodically my Facebook newsfeed will include an invite to a bar where a long-lost acquaintance is "holding court" or however it's expressed. In any case, the problem the letter-writer gave wasn't that she's so popular that every time she goes into the city, she simply hasn't the time to grace all of her many friends with her presence. It's not that she's offending Friend C by having only seen Friends A and B. No, her problem is that she's out of the loop. If she's at brunch, and has no specific plans to see specific friends, she'd better be fine with brunching alone.

Oh, and yoga, etc., this is entirely appropriate advice that's easier said than done, but must be said all the same, as it's the only answer.


Read some of the comments. Yes, as many point out, a "20-minute drive" means nothing to urbanites without cars. Lots of places are geographically near each other but super far with public transportation (see: Williamsburg and Park Slope). But it's not entirely clear why the letter-writer, who presumably has one herself, can't go into the city later at night.

As for the commenters who find it devastatingly simple to make friends at any age, and who are all, what's wrong with you if you don't share that experience... I do wonder how such a lack of empathy would be consistent with such alleged popularity (except in the middle-school sense, in which "popularity" = nastiness). Is it really so hard to imagine how certain life situations can make it more difficult to make friends? Or that, while there are some people who make friends instantly wherever they are, this isn't everyone's experience?


Britta said...

I was wondering about her '20 mins by car' line. It's highly possible if she lives outside NYC or another large city her friends don't have cars, and that trip for them could be 1-3 hours on public transit, if it's even possible. Also, I think there's an objective asymmetry between visiting the suburbs vs. center city, and that her friends reluctance probably factors in to this separate from her. She should try holding a real party with the option of crashing at her place or organizing an event, like apple picking or something and see who shows up, because that says more about one's friend's willingness to put in the effort than just wanting them to travel to nowhere to see her. Also, I agree that there's nothing wrong with "convenience" friends (I don't love that word). I have lots of real friends who I am close to but probably wouldn't put in the effort to see if they moved far away, but would be genuinely happy to see them and certainly would still consider them friends, and I imagine they feel the same about me.

Phoebe said...


You, like Benincasa, appear to interpret this as being about the letter-writer wanting proof that her friends really care about her. I guess I saw it more as, her social life took a nosedive when she moved, given that her commitment to seeing these old friends seems in part about her sense that she'd have trouble making new ones. That if she did have new friends, she'd see the older ones when she saw them, and it wouldn't be such a big deal.

Agreed that "convenience" sounds terrible. I suspect we all have (and are!) such friends. The issue is, if you live somewhere where you don't yet have a new set (some of whom might well become closer friends), you can end up expecting more out of less-close friendships from your previous locale. This is what can lead, I think, to a gratuitous (and potentially neurotic) 'see who your real friends are' approach. Feeling let-down by actual close friends is one thing. But this seemed more like the letter-writer was putting too much pressure on old relationships (that she need not end, just shouldn't expect as much out of) and wasn't looking into ways to meet people where she now lives.

Moebius Stripper said...

Hrm, I'd be hesitant to either set up "office hours" or attend a friend's, for the same reason that actual office hours tend to be poorly attended (that link certainly describes my own professional experience).

As for the yoga-etc advice...meh. I took up one of my pasttimes, Irish fiddle, in my late twenties and play in jam sessions once or twice a week with like-minded folks. I've certainly met people there, and most of them are pleasant enough to spend a few hours with over drinks, but the only thing we necessarily have in common is an interest in Irish music. I've had some great conversations about Irish music with these folks, and they're a good pool of activity partners if I don't want to go to, say, an Irish fiddle concert alone, but by and large, the Celtic music community has been a poor place to find "lifelong friends", which, as you say, the advice-giver seems to think is the most (only?) worthwhile kind.

Phoebe said...


-True enough re: office-hour attendance.

-Re: yoga-and-what-it-represents, the issue is, new friends need to be met somewhere, and if you work in an office with two other people, say, neither of whom you have anything in common with, and don't live near school-friends, what's left?