Why don’t we just commit to having coffee when the suggestion is made?
What about social interaction via the means of human-to-human verbal communication, as opposed to screen barrier communication, freaks us out so much? I’ve thought about this for a while now. When I was in a new City at the beginning of the year, for a research course related to my current degree, I met a lot of people. I met locals, I met expats, I met academics, I met students, I met three tinder dates and many other people through these people. I made plans with some and have yet to get around to “a drink” with others. It’s too late now in most cases. During this time I noticed two things. The first was, that when plans are being made for drinks after class, non-committal language was always used by someone. This was even worse for weekend plans away or anything that requires effort beyond showing up at a pub. The second thing I noticed was people’s surprise when the answer to “do you want to do X, Y or Z this weekend?” was an immediate, “Yes, what time should I meet you?”. Not “yeah, that sounds great, I MIGHT join, keep me updated?”
During my time away, I met a great friend Nic (on Tinder). Nic and I were so happy to meet someone else that spoke English and has a general dislike of the international rat race towards corporate and emotional burnout that I think we instantly “friend-zoned” each other. We spent many hours having very deep conversations over San Miguel beers and particularly enjoyed a small pub on my side of town. Nic brought it to my attention that I commit to social engagements and that it surprised him that I was inclined to call and just ask “Hey, are you busy, do you want to go for a drink – now?”. I also immediately said yes to a hike to a 9th century Chapel on a hill. Perhaps my time away was the general exception to my usual rule. I have since then thought about this a lot. Why was he surprised? In one of our chats, I remember telling him that I think our generation plays life as if it’s one big Tinder app. You swipe, you match, you message in a semi-committed, semi-disinterested way until you are sure that nothing better is coming along; or until the app refreshes or your location changes. Do we treat friendships the same? We’re spoilt for instant and varied choice. Think about it. When was the last time you said to someone “let’s have coffee sometime!” and had no intention of being the one to set a time and date and actually do it? Is it the effort or the commitment? Are we waiting for something better to potentially pop up? Or are we so self-centered that we can no longer plan our days around others? I’m asking and I am guilty of this too.
I find we are surprised by action. But why? Probably because we are so used to hearing “maybe” and partly because we think it’s all about us. How many times have you jumped to conclusions about someone’s suggestion for coffee? He/she is “into” me, I can’t go to coffee, it sends the wrong message. He/she wants something from me, what can it be? This kind of thinking is exhausting and self-centered. Don’t over analyse coffee. This person may be genuinely interested in your company and is probably not already naming your kids and weighing up different surname combinations. If from the context of the conversation these are genuine concerns, address them.
I am ruthless in terms of career and academic chances. I apply for the grants that I am “unlikely” to get, I speak in front of people that are likely to challenge me but I stick to what I think is right and argue my point. Why then the weak approach to social interaction? “The answer is always no if you don’t ask” is my guiding principle in bursary applications. It rings true with coffee dates as well. How many degrees did it take me to reach that realisation? The answer is both -too many and none.
“Maybe” is so weak and wishy-washy. In a partner, I find assertiveness and decisiveness attractive. In friends and colleagues as well. Make a decision, stick with it and follow through. Do you want to have coffee with this person? No? Then don’t proceed with the empty conversation of “we should have coffee sometime.” Yes? Then commit. Commit to a day, commit to a place, time is also best to commit to immediately. It’s coffee, not marriage, it requires much less thought and deliberation.
The “lets ACTUALLY do coffee” challenge:
Think of 3 people that you have said “let’s do coffee sometime” to in the past year. Commit to seeing them in the next 3 weeks. One a week? That’s reasonable.
Message them, or better yet, phone or ask them in person whether they would like to have coffee with you. Beforehand, decide on the date, the pace and time options. Commit. If they can’t, they can’t, but you won’t not be seeing them due to inaction and hollow small talk on your part but due to an actual reason.
Be more mindful of hollow forms of conversation. If you have no intention of 1) having coffee with someone, or 2) making time to have coffee with someone who contacts you as a result of such a hollow comment, don’t say it. It’s not Tinder. And, even with Tinder, don’t be that person. The one that is all too eager to have a coffee or a beer and then something better or blonder comes along and ghosts. If you’re not interested don’t open the door.. or better yet, don’t swipe right – to continue the tinder analogy.
*coffee is really any beverage, and the act of going for coffee can be substituted with any activity – you know what I mean. Gym, book club, park run – you know.