#153: Rethinking “weekend plans”
The real building blocks of Sat+Sun
On my latest advice podcast, my cohost Danny and I answered a question from someone about the tyranny of maintaining a social calendar. The questioner said that they have a “fairly normal social life,” just with one problem: they often find themselves feeling anxious about filling their weekend with fun plans. “In the past, I dealt with this anxiety by simply making a ton of plans,” they said, “which usually worked in the short-term but also made me feel like I was on a hamster wheel—going through the weekend, then immediately worrying about what the next one would look like and rushing to fill it again.” They wanted advice for getting off the wheel without, presumably, becoming a hermit or feeling friendless. I chose this question because I’ve asked it several times myself.
Danny’s advice was practical: He suggested they experiment with spending a weekend entirely by themselves, not just to give their social battery time to refill, but to recast a fear (no plans) into a choice (no plans). My advice was for them to interrogate what they’re afraid having no plans might say about them. To ask themselves what specific feeling they’re running from, when it felt most potent growing up, and what tools they have now, as an adult, to soothe that fear instead of exhaustively catering to it. Basically inner-child stuff, and yes I used that term, I’m sorry! I stand by our advice. But the next day, I happened to come across an old journal of mine from high school, which I masochistically read, only to find an entry that had me suspecting there’s another, more systemic issue at hand when it comes to filling the modern weekend.
The entry was written on August 8th, 2006, during my summer vacation prior to my senior year of high school. I woke up that day at 10:30am, made breakfast, read in bed for three hours, made lunch, then checked MySpace and watched TV until 3:16pm—“and I have yet to see a living soul.” I then debated returning to bed to read, but instead decided to “make something of my afternoon,” and became delighted when I thought of an idea: to drive to a strip mall to deposit my $60-dollar Chili’s paycheck and withdraw some cash to pay my brother the $24 dollars I owed him. I went on and on about what I planned to wear (boxers and a Yankees hat) (lol), what I planned to bring (my family dog and a water bottle—“my new goal is to drink NONSTOP water every day”), and what my new account balance would be ($110 dollars, a number that thrilled 16-year-old me).
The entry is comically dull, but my joy at this simple errand is palpable. Reading it, I was struck by the memory of how much time it took, even as recently as 2006, to do things that today are done immediately, automatically, or from our couches—like getting paid, or paying someone else. Obviously this becomes truer the further you go back in time, to a point that sounds genuinely tiresome (e.g. spending an entire day washing your pants). But there is a sweet spot, at least in my imagination, in which errands took up a good portion of my life without completely overtaking it. Today, meanwhile, my to-do list is infinitely longer than it’s ever been, and yet real, out-of-the-house errands—afternoon cleared, sneakers and sunglasses on: the kind of errands my mom seemed to be running during my childhood—are harder to come by. I think this is true for many in my cohort, and I think it’s fundamentally changed the makeup of our calendars, particularly our weekends.
If we associate leaving the house only with seeing friends, seeking pleasure, or simply getting out for the love of god, it follows that going out is something we only do voluntarily, rather than for the general business of staying on top of things. Under this purview, “having weekend plans” means having fun plans. While staying home—whether to work, take care of business, or relax—is “not plans.” And that distinction feels correct. Sure, we could argue that sitting on our computers or puttering around our houses should count as plans, but neither connotes the life-giving kineticism of executing a plan outside, with friends, or in public, and I don’t think we should pretend it does. Regardless, this is a distinctly modern mode of operation.
In this recent Slate story about life before cell phones, a group of Gen-Xers describe their experience of being 27-ish around 2002. Their accounts are filled with what today we’d consider inconvenience: the inability to make plans on the fly, driving to people’s houses to see what they were doing, calling a number to check movie times and making a separate trip to the theater to buy tickets, organizing one’s calendar around a TV show that was on at a specific hour, going to actual stores to buy things, the inability to respectfully flake, the need for “common hangout spots” in case the person you were supposed to meet didn’t show up. The tone of their recollections is a little mystified—how could they have lived like that?—and yet their excitement in remembering is palpable. Some of that’s probably just nostalgia, but the details speak for themselves: The simple things they’re describing required a genuine spirit of adventure.
In 2006, depositing money and paying my brother back took an afternoon. It pulled me out of the house, got me dressed, felt like “plans,” made me feel like I’d accomplished something. Today, doing those things would take me 30 seconds (the Venmo, I mean; getting paid takes no time at all), and I could do it in my pajamas, leaving the rest of my afternoon open like a wound I needed to dress with something else, and quickly. That something else could be more digital chores (requires focus), something social (requires planning), or something mind-numbing to blot out both options (screentime). This is one effect of convenience culture: We can get things done so easily and predictably now that we have time to do more things in a day than we used to. But what are those things exactly?
In Four Thousand Weeks, a philosophical book about time management by Oliver Burkeman, he explains something he calls “the efficiency trap,” whereby the more we do, the more there is to do. This is of course counter to the mythology of productivity, which tells us that the sooner we can get things done, the sooner we’ll be able to relax and enjoy ourselves. Instead, Burkeman argues that “what needs doing” simply “expands to fill the time available.” Become efficient at work and you’ll be given more work. Answer all your emails and you’ll get all the replies and more. Finally reach your goals and you’ll think of new ones. There’s not actually an end in sight, and so by placing our faith in ever-decreasing segments of time spent on individual to-dos, we simply create the opportunity to complete more errands in less time, and in a more boring way. This reality presents us with the following paradox: Because it now takes less time to do things, we have way too much to do.
All of this brings us to the state of the weekend in 2023. I suspect that this modern bifurcation between getting things done (often executed at home) or having fun (mediated through plans), has placed an immense amount of pressure on our social lives to get us out, about, and participating in the world. Because we’re able to pack so much productivity and nimble planning into any given weekend, the possibilities feel endless, and the prospect of “making the most of it” is overwhelming. But what if this doesn’t really jive with the human sensibility? What if we’re not energetically suited to doing so many things in so little time? As my friend Cat recently put it, “Having social plans should feel like a treat.” Which is to say, not a chore, and definitely not a hamster wheel.
Slow errands, I’ve found, are a balm to this frazzled modern condition. Maybe this was a result of a post-lockdown romanticism, but I’ve come to realize that my favorite days aren’t the ones that are completely free and open to be filled with extracurriculars, but organized around getting quaint little things done outside of the house. Errands aren’t only a great way to “have plans” by yourself (Cat recently texted me that she spent an afternoon walking around the West Village getting copies of her keys made and taking some shoes to the cobbler, and was perfectly content), but they’re also the perfect texture for socializing. Cat and I have been making a concerted effort to organize our hangouts around doing errands—going somewhere to work, picking up a pair of glasses, dropping off a package—at an impossibly slow pace. This is just as pleasurable as standard-issue social plans, which tend to be expensive and require more creativity and forethought, but it can be a lot more intimate.
Granted, this approach requires forethought of its own. I’d guess that many of you reading share my errand-romanticism, but fall out of it just as easily as I do. We’ve been trained so well by tech and advertising to think faster is better, and provided with so many tools to accommodate that value system, that resisting convenience takes constant re-commitment. But I find that the more I practice making real, genuine plans out of errands, thereby embracing their slowness, the less I dread them, and the less I dread making weekend plans. Meeting my brother at his tailor to help him decide how much to take in his pants becomes a perfect Saturday. Getting groceries and picking up a prescription with Avi becomes the perfect Sunday. Errands, whether we do them alone or with friends, are inherently social. By doggedly pursuing easier, faster ways to do them, we place an outsize burden on more “official” social outings, and lose something precious and lively in the process.
My favorite thing I read last week was “Is It Classist To Be Against Fast Fashion?” by Derek Guy for Put This On. Friday’s 15 things also included the best bread I’ve ever tasted, my dining chair obsession, me getting scammed, and more. The Rec of the Week was best articles of the week. My pocket’s full now, thank you!!
Hope you have a nice Sunday!