I hate the b-word. And it’s not the b-word you’re thinking of. I’m talking about “busy.”
Being perceived as busy, I realize, is not necessarily a bad thing. Busyness insinuates importance. And importance suggests power. One might even conclude that being called “busy” is a sort of compliment. That having an abundance of places to be and people to see is but a measure of how needed you are in the world. And even I can admit that that’s a positive thing.
I have quite a robust social and work life, myself. In the past month alone I’ve attended about three birthday celebrations, traveled out of town for work, and had two of my best friends visiting from different states. I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a week that was completely free of any social or work obligations.
Objectively, I am a busy person. However, being labeled as such evokes an overwhelming sense of guilt that hangs over my head like a dark cloud. I find myself experiencing this guilt, particularly when it comes to friendships.
I like my circle of friends to be deep, not wide—meaning, I’d rather have a small circle of really close friends than a big circle of more surface-level friendships. That may sound like a perfectly simple way to go about making friends until you factor in having grown up, gone to college, and settled into post-grad life all in the same city—which is, in fact, the case for me.
Over the years, I’ve made so many meaningful connections with so many new people, that it’s often difficult to give every individual the attention I think they deserve. The problem isn’t that I have too many friends, it’s that I’m a human being with human being limitations. I mean, there are only so many coffee dates I can fit in before and after work before I quite literally lose my mind.
Redefining What It Means to be a Busy Woman
My issue with the word “busy” lies in the connotations associated with it, especially with reference to women. Since the beginning of time, when God placed Eve in the Garden of Eden to be Adam’s “helper,” women have been expected to remain physically and emotionally available at any given moment. One need not even adhere to this particular view of humanity’s inception to recognize the often unspoken expectation that women must be useful. And while there is something beautiful in the nurturing qualities women seem to naturally possess, there’s no denying how this expectation often threatens our autonomy. When a woman is dismissed as being “too busy,” it is usually because she spends her time in ways that advance her career or doing things and being with people who energize her.
When I’ve been called “busy” in the past, I’ve noticed people using it in a way that is on the one hand dismissive, and on the other hand, self-minimizing. When someone says to me, “You’re always so busy now,” the sentiment seems to undermine the intention I’ve put into the relationship up until that point. In the same breath, it seems to suggest a disparity of importance, putting me uncomfortably on a pedestal that I never asked to be on. And while I recognize that this is rarely (if ever) the person’s intention, being called “busy” inevitably leaves me feeling guilty and somewhat on the defense.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been on the other side of this conversation in the past. It doesn’t feel great when I’m really in need of some quality time with a friend, but they’re too booked to make plans with me. In those moments, I’m tempted to make it about me and project my insecurities about my importance in their life onto the situation. It’s tempting to think, “If they really cared, they’d make time for me.” (Which, upon reflection, is actually a pretty unfair approach to the situation.)
It’s in these moments that my higher self kicks in and puts me in check. I realize that I should be secure enough in the friendship to know that my friend’s busyness is not a reflection of where I rank in their lives. And I’d hope that my friends feel the same security when I’m the one who’s too busy to make plans.
Moving from Guilt to Gratitude
Even with this understanding, the guilt I’ve been socialized to feel when I’m busy lingers overhead. It’s taken a conscious shift in my mindset to recognize that being busy isn’t something to feel guilty about. By changing how I think about busyness, I’ve realized that there’s no need to feel guilty about the abundance of connections and opportunities available to me at this point in my life. Rather, I should celebrate the connections I’ve made and manage my time in a way that energizes me.
Though the introvert in me is often quite flustered by the number of friendships I’ve accumulated, I recognize what a blessing it is to have so many people in my corner between whom to divide my time. With this in mind, I realize that to honor these meaningful connections I’ve made in my life, I must also nourish myself with the alone time that I need to be present when spending time with others.
I’ve learned the importance of pacing out my social engagements and not overextending myself simply as a means of appeasing everyone else. That means I have to be okay with the fact that I may only see certain friends once a month, or once every few months. It also means intentionally carving out alone time for myself when I know I’ll need it. Worse comes to worst it means canceling plans if I feel overwhelmed (but doing so thoughtfully, of course.)
Additionally, I think it’s important to let your friends know how important they are to you on a regular basis. So that when life gets to be a bit hectic, and you can’t spend as much time with a friend as you’d like, they’re not left wondering whether or not you care about them.
Becoming the Best Busy Friend
Lately, I’ve been putting this into practice by sending a simple text whenever a friend crosses my mind. A simple, “Thinking about you!” or “I really appreciate your friendship!” message is a great reminder to the people in our lives that we really do care about them, even amid the craziness.
The next time someone says to you, “I feel like you’re too busy for me nowadays!” take it as an opportunity to remind them how important their friendship is to you. At the same time, take a moment to remind yourself that being busy isn’t something to feel guilty about, but rather an indication of abundance in your life.
And lastly, to my friends reading this who I haven’t seen in a while, I love you. Let’s put something on the calendar soon 🧡