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Who are all these friends? - Scheduled Phone Calls Edition
I've had scheduled weekly calls with friends for eight years now, and it's a game changer.
Four years ago, I shared a video of a cabin build at our property.
With a couple million views, it’s racked up about 600 YouTube comments, god knows how many emails, and a mountain of Reddit/Instagram/et al discussion.
Curiously, the most common talking point isn’t about construction. It’s folks remarking on our robust community, lamenting their lack of friends to tackle a project with, or simply asking “How do you have so many friends?”
I’ve got a bunch of answers to that, but today I wanted to hit on one habit that’s served me well in maintaining relationships:
Scheduled phone calls.
How it started.
Eight years back, in 2015, my friend Charlie and I had just finished spending a weekend of quality time at a cabin with some friends and were lamenting how few are far between these resonant moments were. He’d moved to Texas, I was in California, and we just weren’t in each other's lives as much as we both desired.
So—I don’t recall who’s idea it was—we decided to put into our calendars a weekly reoccurring phone call.
Charlie, on the porch at the 2015 getaway.
Four years of weekly phone calls later, Charlie wrote a blog post about how beneficial the 200 or so calls had been for him and our friendship. A bunch of my friends read it, asked if they could get in the mix, and I since then I’ve had weekly and bi-weekly calls with six more friends.
Why phone calls?
Maybe getting on the phone doesn’t sound like much to you. (Or maybe it sounds terrifying, I dunno. I’m not in your head.) But let me unpack what a standing phone call meant for Charlie and me.
First, it’s an obligation. A reminder. It can be canceled or moved, sure, but it has to be Canceled or Moved. It’s a looming todo, not just an idea. There’s a meaningful difference between saying “We should talk more” and having a weekly reminder staring you in the face.
Second, he and I both agreed that our relationships are enriched by intimate connection, and without it they were more likely to fade.
Spending face to face time together is certainly top-tier intimate. (Better yet, spending long time together. Days and nights. But that’s a post for another day.) Phone calls are probably somewhere in the middle. And on the opposite end of that spectrum is trading texts.
Texts are the snack food of a relationship. It’s not a meal. They momentarily satisfy, but aren’t substantive long term. Better than nothing, sure, but something is lost.
Phone calls, to us, seemed like there was a lot more to gain… even if I really didn’t want to do them.
This might come as a surprise, given the topic of this post, but I fucking hate phone calls.
Phone calls are difficult. (And difficulty is a good thing.)
I know I’m not alone in fearing the phone call.
My friend Tom teaches product design at the University of Oregon and regularly asks students to make phone calls to boutique suppliers and little-to-no-web-presence manufacturers.
His students, raised on email, texts, and DMs, have anxiety about this. So much so that he’s found it necessary to insist that they call Mom & Pop Leather Co. right there in the classroom to work through the discomfort as a group.
It’s not specific to Gen-Z though. We’ve all been affected by the evolution of communication and technology. Emails and texts and DMs are undeniably easier. (Arguably better in some ways, in that it’s at-will and you can edit, but objectively worse in others, in that it’s hard to read inflection and sarcasm. Intent is lost. Confusion is had.)
Despite the phone call dread that’s persisted for eight years, I’ve found them to be 100% worth the effort, because dedicating my time and attention is difficult, and discomfort is where growth lives.
Putting in work.
Honestly, it’s a lot.
Those minor obligations with seven people add up and I’m a little grateful when one gets canceled. It happens often enough—we all have lives to lead.
But, my friends and I are better for it. We’re closer. (One of my bi-weekly calls, Ben, was a good friend 20 years back. We’d fallen into less-than-annual contact over the previous decade, but the calls revitalized the friendship and prompted visits.)
The calls are a good weekly reminder for me to go beyond good intentions. They remind me to keep close the people who matter in life. To not get lazy. To put in the work to create good habits.
And good habits beget other good habits: the scheduled calls have motivated me to be more mindful about getting weekly games of catch and disc golf on the calendar, to host an open-invitation sauna session every Wednesday, and to put a concerted effort into at-least-once-annual meetups with my more distant friends.
Cementing those habits now is crucial, as I know it’s only going to get harder to maintain relationships as I age. (Unfortunate, given those with rich social lives live longer and happier.) Age, apathy, remote work, urban design that’s often counter productive to socialization, and a reliance on the aforementioned snack food of texts and DMs means we’ve got a lot going against us.
It would be too easy for me to allow relationships to wither on the vine, and I’d prefer to avoid looking back with regret.
Phone a friend. Then set up a time to call them again. It’s an immensely powerful habit that I hope you try.
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