The Scheduling Woes of Adult Friendship

To avoid the dreaded back-and-forth of coordinating hangouts, some friends are repurposing the shared digital calendar, a workplace staple, to plan their personal lives.

Earlier this year, I set out to make scheduling time with my friends more seamless—or as I, perhaps grandiosely, termed it, “to revolutionize my friend group.” Ten of my friends and I already had a group-text-message thread, which we used as our main form of communication, but even though we talked all day every day, sending one another dumb, meta jokes we saw online about group chats and checking in about who’d be at trivia that night, we still often struggled to plan hangouts. With so many schedules to coordinate, we felt like any impromptu event was missing a handful of people, and seeing one another in a big group setting become more and more rare.

Staying true to form—a love of organization is one of my defining characteristics—I created a shared Google Calendar. Everyone could mark when they would be out of town or otherwise occupied (denoted by an “OOO,” workplace parlance for “out of office”), as well as put down “holds” in advance for larger events (dinners, birthday parties, weekend trips). To my relief, my friends bought into the idea with only a little cajoling. “Check the G-cal” and “Put it on the G-cal” have become common refrains during our hangouts (even if those statements are sometimes sarcastic and come with an eye roll).

As people get older, the opportunities to simply find oneself among friends without any prior planning grow more infrequent. Adulthood often makes people busy, overwhelmed, and sometimes burned-out by all the tasks they need to get done.The lengthy back-and-forths required to organize get-togethers that align with everyone’s schedule have even become subjects of parody in recent years. The shared calendar doesn’t eliminate these scheduling difficulties, but it creates a home base for making plans that keeps our text chain less cluttered with “So, when is everyone free for dinner?”–type messages.

Though it might appear more bureaucratic than fun, other friend groups have also found organizing their time this way to be helpful. Kiki Pierce, 25, a development coordinator at a think tank in Washington, D.C., started talking about implementing a shared calendar with her friends as a joke, but the idea quickly became serious. She and her friends share their calendar via iCloud and use separate colors to denote work trips, family vacations or having relatives in town, work-from-home days, and volunteer opportunities, among other activities. “It’s shown us a different side of our friendship,” she told me. “If we have any sort of advance notice, we can put [an event] in the calendar, and it shows that we have a little bit more management of our lives; it’s not just one big mess.”

When Jordyn Holman, a 25-year-old reporter in New York, received a Google Calendar invite from one of her friends for a pretty standard hangout they had previously talked about, she found it amusing. “It was just so funny to me because it felt so professional but also so necessary to plan this personal hangout over Google invites,” she says. Since then, she’s used calendar invites, along with a shared Slack room, to organize plans with her friends.

This sense of feeling “professional” that Holman mentioned is one that came up in most of the interviews I did for this piece, and something I’ve thought about a lot during the seven or so months my friends and I have been using our shared calendar. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in using a technology mostly associated with planning work meetings and office happy hours to schedule what should just be fun. When work has already found myriad ways to permeate our everyday life, do we really need another, self-enforced reason to make our personal life feel like the office?

The answer is … maybe. In adulthood, impromptu hangouts, more common during childhood and when one is in school, become less attainable, says Shasta Nelson, the author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen. “One of the things we’re grieving as a culture is this idea that we can just hang out with each other and that it’s all easy and there’s no scheduling and no organizing and we can just have all the benefits of it,” she told me. “It’s like trying to exercise without getting sweaty.” Unless adults already have some external space in their life where they see one another, such as at their kids’ school, at church, or at a book club, friends rarely just happen to find themselves in the same place anymore. This can be especially difficult for young adults recently out of high school or college, where running into your friends was as simple as walking down the hall or around the block. Because of this, some amount of work usually has to go into seeing the people you most want to see.

The shared calendar can help. Like Pierce, I live in D.C. and share a calendar with friends whom I live close to, mainly for figuring out when we’ll have a chance to meet up as a group. Holman, though, uses Google invites with her friends from college. At school they all lived near one another—some of them used to be Holman’s roommates. Now they all reside in different neighborhoods of New York, which means they “really have to be intentional” about maintaining those connections, Holman said. “We’re learning that three years [after college],” she added, “but it’s working out. We’re seeing each other more often.”

Others I spoke with shared their calendars with their long-distance friends, not to schedule hangouts, which they couldn’t do anyway, but as a way of passively letting one another know what was going on in their lives. Camellia Heart started sharing a calendar with a couple of her friends when they were all living together in D.C. But after moving to Philadelphia for school, she discovered the calendar to be handy in a new way. “Long-distance friendships can be really hard and everyone’s so busy, so I think it just forces us to acknowledge, This is what’s going on in the other person’s life and it’s important that we talk about it,” she told me. The shared calendar also serves the purpose of eliminating some of the small talk when Heart and her friends do all catch up, because everyone can already see what the others have been up to recently. “The time that we do have to speak with each other is so precious that I’d rather talk about other things,” Heart said. Having a shared calendar “allows us to focus on how the others [are] feeling, or other details.”

Regular contact—seeing and/or talking with one another frequently—is one of the strongest requirements in any relationship, Nelson said, and without consistency, the relationship will naturally atrophy, even if all parties still care about one another. A sort of “scheduling fatigue,” as Nelson put it, can prohibit people from increasing that consistency, which is another reason adult friendships can be difficult to maintain. So even though the shared calendar adds the step of having to update and check it, the end goal is to streamline the process, so that coordination doesn’t suck the fun out of actually having fun.

So, did I really revolutionize my friend group? I don’t know; you’d have to ask my friends. But maybe wait until the end of the summer. They’re busy moving, celebrating their birthdays, and going on vacation. At least according to the calendar.