Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

To All My Friends: I’m Sorry.

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I used to be a good friend. I was the friend you could call if you needed to vent. I was the friend who would drive for hours in the car smoking cigarettes and listening to music while you mended your broken heart. I was the friend who would stay up all night laughing and talking about nothing and everything.

I was the friend who knew the ins and outs of your life and knew when you needed to talk even before you knew you needed it. I was in tune and in touch. Available.

That friend is gone. And I am so, so sorry. She didn’t leave because she values your friendship any less. She didn’t disappear because she couldn’t be bothered.

She’s gone because I refuse to be busy.

I needed to step back from the chaos that took over my life. She was busy. No busier than you. But busy. Frantically, perpetually busy.

I’m no longer busy.

I was exhausted and burned out and I decided that something had to give.

I found myself on the hamster wheel and it was all my doing. I was giving it all away and watching life happen all around me. I was running a house, raising three kids, being a wife and a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a friend. I was volunteering for a charity I am passionate about. I was working out and planning holidays and hosting dinners. I was squeezing in everything in a mad dash to get it all done and to make a beautiful and meaningful life. And it was glorious. I am not complaining about any of it.

And I started to write again. And I found myself wanting to write more. And more. The flood gates opened and my only problem was trying to squeeze writing into my already crazy life.

But there’s only so long you can juggle while running at full speed when all the things that you are juggling are too precious to drop. I knew I couldn’t sustain. I was multitasking my life away. I started thinking about what this would look like in hindsight. Would I remember the moments? Or would I remember the phone in my ear while I cooked dinner and helped my kid with her homework while texting about the swim carpool, all while cleaning up the dog pee? I was a traffic cop at rush hour in the middle of a four way stop. The frenzy and the crazy became the norm and I saw myself not absorbing and not focusing and not fully engaging any where.

So I made the decision to refuse to be busy.

I stepped back from some commitments. I set up a loose schedule for my writing. I vowed to spend certain hours of a few days a week focusing on my writing. I have things I want to do that will never happen if I don’t protect the time it takes to do them.

It’s not that I don’t care about connecting with my friends. I really care. I miss my friends. I miss long conversations on the phone. I miss the serious talks and the laughs and the support and the whole connection in a way that let me be a very current part of their lives.

I miss it but I’m not willing to be busy for it.

We are all busy. Our culture glorifies busy. We are all running in frantic directions every day just trying to keep up. It doesn’t matter whether I work or stay home. It doesn’t matter that I have more kids than the next person or less kids than the next. There’s always someone with more to juggle and someone with less on their plate. It’s all relative and I refuse to beat myself up because I should be able to make it work when the Bento Box Pinterest Mom has more kids and a full time job and a spotless house and 3 dogs and 2 cats and a high maintenance guinea pig.

It doesn’t matter. I refuse to be busy. I am trying desperately to simplify my days. To stop multi tasking my life away. I’m trying to dial down the frenzy. I don’t want my life to be a blur of stuff and obligations and squeezing ins. I want it to be savoring and relishing and languishing and satisfying.

But this all means something’s gotta give, so my friendships are taking the heat. And that breaks my heart but I don’t know how to do it any other way.

I love my friends. I love them fiercely and I will drop whatever I’m doing the second any one of them needs me. I will drive to see them, fly to see them, go out for dinner or drinks. I will hug them when I see them and I will tell them I love them. I will laugh at their stories and cry with them when the hurt they are feeling seeps into me. I will fight for them, go to battle against their enemies or be their biggest cheerleader when they accomplish amazing things. The women I consider friends are some of my real life heroes.

I will do anything for them.

But I won’t answer my phone if I’m cuddling on the couch with my daughter. I won’t answer the phone if my son just got home from school and is telling me about his day. I won’t pick up if I’m helping one of the kids with homework or eating dinner or driving with the kids in the car or enjoying some quality time with my husband. And I won’t answer my phone if I’m writing.

Unless you need me. In which case, you’ll need to send and SOS or a 911 or a simple “I need to talk.” Then I will tell my kids they will have to wait or I will get up from the dinner table or shut my laptop. I will stop whatever it is that I’m doing if you need me.

I haven’t perfected my life of not busy. I’m still figuring out how to balance it all and how to still try to be a better friend. And I’m still available for casual conversations and catching ups. Just not as frequently as before. Some of my friends and I have started meeting once a month for lunch. Some of us have planned weekend trips together. Some of us keep up in group text chats. Some of us connect in private FaceBook groups.

What I’ve discovered is that most of my friends feel the same way I do. Most of us have transitioned into the third phase of parenting. Older kids, different kind of busy. Our lives have become the lives of uber drivers for the tween set and new careers and busier activity/sport schedules that come with older kids. Most of them are feeling the same hamster wheel juggling act that is impossible to do unless you’re a Cirque de Solei acrobat. And most of them don’t have time for me either.

I’m sorry that that friend is gone, the one who used to make you mixed tapes to help pump you up after a broken heart or a lost job. She loved curling up on the couch on Sunday morning to hear about every minute detail of your date the night before. She loved talking on the phone with you for hours as our babies slept and hearing every moment and milestone you and your baby reached together. She loved the hours standing in the driveway talking while our kids ran around and wore themselves out before dinner time. She misses that.

I miss all that.

But now is good too.

45 Responses

  1. I could have written this whole post (though a lot less eloquently!) I understand exactly what you mean and recently have felt that I have started off my interactions with friends by apologizing by not always being in active conversations online, etc.

    1. I’m ALWAYS apologizing lately. I’m attempting to stop stressing about it. But the last thing I want is for the people I care about to think that I don’t care… online friends included!

  2. Something terrible happened in my life two weeks ago and I went into hiding. I mostly dropped out of social media. And I kinda like it. I miss reading my friends’ stuff. I do miss it. But I am happy to have a more relaxed pace, to let go of the anxiety of trying to read everybody’s stuff. I just can’t.

    1. I’m so sorry you’ve had something awful happen… I hope whatever it is or was is better now… I sometimes take a week or two off of social media. It’s never planned, it usually happens just because I feel burned out. And it’s kind of blissful. Honestly, if there was an easier way to keep up with my blogging friends I would forgo Social Media all together!

      I hope you’re doing ok. *hugs*

  3. You have taken the words right outta my brain. I used to feel guilty when I would just drop off the grid for a while but I found that I liked it. It takes so much pressure off. I’m tired. To my bones tired. So I’ve been doing the same. It’s that old saying….something about taking care of yourself first because if you don’t you’re really no good to anyone else. Obviously, there are always exceptions, but I’m really trying to embrace this same philosophy.

    1. I’m still working on it too Sandy. The online stuff can get overwhelming but it seems so necessary for what we do. And I love being able to connect with blog friends. I need breaks from it every once in a while. And really, I need to figure out a better method of managing it so I can be more productive with writing. I know there’s a sweet spot there somewhere, just haven’t found it yet…

  4. This is very much how I live my life. It’s the only way I can stay so busy—juggling what are essentially 3 part-time jobs (the nonprofit, the photography business, and the blog) and having a six year old and living in New Orleans—and be a sane-minded introvert. I have friends who I see sometimes, and who I know would call me if they had a disaster and who I could call in a disaster. Those friends are the same friends (mostly) that I had when I was younger, but these aren’t the same sort of relationships that I had when I was younger. Everything transitioned.

    On occasions, I miss life before that transition. Mostly, though, life’s much happier now.

    1. I don’t know if I’ll ever not feel guilty about not being more plugged into my friends’ lives. But family comes first. And writing is kind of a fluid second, third or fourth. But when I decided I was going to stop multi tasking and give myself permission to shut everything else out I was much happier. And saner. And probably a lot less irritating to be around!

  5. This reminds me of the changes I have brought to my life in the past year. I was burning myself out with commitments (although some people didn’t understand how I could be so “busy” since I didn’t have a paid job!) I am taking more time for my writing, organizing things so I don’t get swamped with 3 projects at once. I have slowed down to a few days a week on the blog and am taking care of myself in between the job hunt. I’m re-diversifying my hobbies and taking break from some. I still care about all my friends and my passions but putting myself first and making sure I don’t collapse is important to.

    1. Yes! You have to take care of yourself first. I have some friends who are in the same boat. And I completely understand that they are busy with life and family and jobs and hobbies. And I would never ever make someone feel guilty for doing what they need to do to manage their life and take care of themselves! I’m glad you’ve found some balance too. I am still working at whittling away at some commitments.

  6. I could easily have written this in the sense that even though I was not as social as you, I too refuse to expend my energy on the hamster wheel!! As you mentioned, I think each of us is in the same boat, except we don’t like freely admitting it!!

    1. I think most people deal with this issue.. although I wasn’t sure of that before I wrote this! It’s not an easy thing to admit. I think we’re pressured and conditioned to just do it all and make it happen. That’s always been my mentality. Sure, I can make it happen. But at what cost?

    1. Thank you! I have a small group of friends from college that are like family to me. We all live in different cities so we only see each other once or twice a year. And we only talk on the phone a few times a year. And each of us understands that that others are busy. They have never ever given me a hard time and it makes our friendship work!

  7. I have 4 children, worked full time, went to school part time, PTA president, Little League coach, wife, took care of an ailing parent, luncheons, dinner parties, and on and on…I was the queen of multi tasking. My husband would say “You need to slow down, you are going to burn out” and I’d say “I’ll rest when I’m older”. Well, I burned out. My body and my health took a dive in 2011. I got cancer, followed by fibromyalgia. I now can hardly accomplish one task, let alone many. I wouldn’t trade all the things I did and the time with my children, family and friends…but the signs were there and I kept pushing to be the perfect mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend. I should have slowed down, should have taken more time for me…I am taking the time now.

    1. Wow. I hope you have healed from the cancer and are in remission… such a scary thing to go through. And then fibromyalgia? Yikes. Just reading the beginning of your comment wore me out. I know some people like that, who just do everything and take it all on. I’ve always wondered how they do it. I hope that even in the midst of your health struggles you are having some peace and quality time. Thank you so much for coming here!

    1. Thank you! I like to think of it as wisdom to recognize what I value and how to spend my time. I read something last year that said “No is sometimes the bravest thing to say.” It was much more eloquent and there was more to it, but it did change my thinking on some of my commitments and made be step back and reevaluate.

  8. My true friends are the ones who I don’t need to speak with all the time because when we take the time to get together or chat it’s like no time passed. I’ve found that I don’t always answer the phone when I know I can’t commit one (sometimes two hours) on the phone. But keeping a toe on the “good friend” side of the fence, I do always call back. LOL. Living a simplified life is all I need. Great post. 🙂

    1. Yes, I have some girlfriends from college who are my “life long” friends. When we get together, (usually once or twice a year) it’s amazing, like it hasn’t been 20 years since we all lived together! And I have friends that I know if I answer the phone I will be on for at least an hour. I’ll usually call them back when I know I can spend the time. Other friends are more the quick conversation type. Those calls I can take much more often. And the simple life… sigh. That is the goal.

  9. That headline made me afraid to read for a day or two.

    I’m trying to simplify a bit, myself.

    And yeah. The writing. The writing has suffered this summer, and I tend to not do well when I’m not writing. Can’t let that happen again.

    1. Oh, I don’t think I considered how the title could be interpreted… oops! I’ve never been good with titles.

      I don’t do well when I’m not writing either. I get antsy and withdrawn. And it’s one of the few times I’ll just be a grouch with anyone who’s around me. It’s not pretty!

      1. LOL. Back when I was blogging heavliy politically, on a blog that has since been deleted, I once wrote a headline which said “Politician X Eats Children.” Of course, there was an actual politician’s name there. Ahhh, the good old days.

        Headlines are tricky.

  10. I needed this.
    I don’t have kids, just a full time job, a large family, writing commitments, and an energy disorder. Just… right…
    I feel bad turning down invites out with friends, or not answering the phone, or not responding to all the emails and messages. But it sucks to be busy, it’s draining and I hate not having any time to just relax. I hate feeling like I’m under this avalanche that just wont stop. And things have to give.

    1. I think it’s totally ok (healthy, actually) to take time for yourself. I feel like we need to protect the time it takes us to decompress or recharge or just do nothing. I didn’t include that in this post, but I also take time to do the “selfish” things that help me relax. I tell myself that my true friends will understand. I know I understand if it’s my friends or family that just need to disconnect for a while. I will never pressure my friends. And those who pressure me or make me feel guilty? I tend to get rid of them pretty quickly. I hope you find some way to find time for yourself. The people who love you will see that you’re better for it and they’ll understand. Your health and well being is way more important than any other obligation. *hugs*

  11. I spent a long time not having friends for this very reason. I just couldn’t find a balance. It took a long time, but I’m finally rounding it all out. Thanks so much for pointing out how very much we’re all going through so many of the same issues!

    1. Aw, thank you Donna! I’m still trying to find the balance. I’m getting better but I’m not quite there yet. I hope you’ve found some friends who understand and support you regardless of how often you call them or see them.

  12. Well said – and agreed. I try to choose not to be busy. But then I find I run into my husband impromptu scheduling people over, so it is what it is. I try for quality time with close friends a couple times a month. But then of course there’s the lovely story of my good friend from university moving back to town last year and both of us just realizing the other never knew … and just picking the friendship where we left off, because apparently we were both occupied with other stuff 🙂 So much of life is selecting how to best use your time for you

  13. I know I’m late to comment. I was so busy…

    Hahaha. No. I just forget to comment and I’m coming back to it.

    This speaks to me so much, especially right now. My least favorite phrase is “crazy busy.” Oy. Why must you be so busy you’ve gone insane? Dial it down.

    I have more time to do things than I have in a long time. Because I took a FaceBook break. I know everyone wants me back. I want to go back too. It was a few days that has now turned into a month. It’s been glorious.

    This is similar in spirit to a post I’m writing about the very, very insanely busy SAHMs. They irk the shit outta me. hahahaha.

    1. I’m absolutely awful with responding to comments lately! I’ll read it on my notification on my phone and forget to come back to respond.

      I feel like sometimes it’s an unspoken competition for who’s busier in my world. I always end up over-explaining my absence or lack of phone calls because I feel guilty. And I have found myself saying “I’ve been soooo busy.” I got tired of hearing myself say it. Yeah. Life’s busy. That ain’t gonna change any time soon. So now I refuse to say it.

      The FaceBook thing. It’s kind of crazy when you realize how much time it sucks out of your day. I’m cutting back. You inspired me to do so. 🙂

  14. I am making “No is a complete sentence” into a mantra. It’s OK to say no to stuff. Sounds like you’ve got that down. 🙂 Props to you!

    1. Ahhhhhhh… Vince. If only. If only I could just say “No” and be done with it. I’m the worst at over explaining. I’m only just now getting better at saying “No.” It will take a while before I can follow up “No” with a period.

  15. I love this so much because I went through the same thing. Lost a few friends along the way when I didn’t return phone calls ASAP or if I repeatedly turned down offers to go out. Just not enough time in the day, and Facebook is a HUGE time suck for me. Writing always ends up last on my agenda and I hate that. I need just five more hours to my day and then all will be will. 🙂

    1. I know some of my friendships have suffered because of it. But at the same time I have plenty of friends who get it, who struggle with the same thing. I’m kind of notorious with friends and family for not returning a text right away or picking up the phone. The same way we wouldn’t answer the phone during dinner time? That’s the rule I’m trying to apply to spending time with my husband and kids, exercising and writing. Of course, writing is last on my agenda too. It’s actually comforting to hear you say that, seeing all you’ve accomplished with your writing! Thank you Marcia!

  16. Wow, you were a traffic cop? Totally kidding. It’s just such a good analogy. I tried it. I got run over. I’m not even a parent and I have to draw the line when dealing with everybody else’s stuff.

    I really love how you ended the piece: “Now is good too.”

    1. Yeah, the multitasking traffic cop thing wasn’t a good look on me. And you’re right, this is not just a parent thing. I used to get so enmeshed in the things going on in other’s lives. The people I care about, if they were going through stuff I was right in there with them. It was my husband who pointed it out to me. It wasn’t healthy for me and not all that helpful for them. And yes, now is good. Thank you GiGi. <3

  17. Just found you. Thanks for following my blog, so I could come find your unbusy life. I GET being unbusy with some stuff. That is who the real me is. Life is hard. Try some chill, alone, in the midst of everything.

  18. Very impressive, you speak from the heart of many I’d say. Whoever does not understand it hasn’t reached that hamsterwheelmadness yet (fortunately?!) or doesn’t understand what life is really about. Thank you for writing down these wise words and sharing those with us <3

  19. I’m working on taking care of myself and being less busy, but it is so hard. My medical school classes start again next week, which means that craziness will be unleashed. Finding time to see friends is such a challenge, and whenever I take some me time, I always feel a little bad for not connecting with friends, even though I know I shouldn’t…

  20. Am a new visitor to your blog and enjoying every word. Do you think that those years of being there for others were instructive to where you are now? Do you think that the role you played helped you find your voice? Is this a universal thing among women who nurture others?? That it takes a certain amount of confidence to one day say ‘enough’? I am envious that you came to this stage at your young age. Certainly, the inter webs are richer for it. 🙂

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