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The Importance of Lingering in a Friendship

Time affluence, and the intimacy of the mundane.

Key points

  • Lingering in friendship interactions provides an opportunity for the relationship to deepen.
  • To linger, we must cultivate "time affluence," which is the perception of having ample time to do something.
  • Lingering allows "the intimacy of the mundane," which is closeness that comes from doing the prosaic together.
Pexels / Cottonbro Studios
Pexels / Cottonbro Studios

Hosting a small Friendsgiving recently offered me a valuable lesson in the art of lingering, courtesy of my friend Kate. Despite Kate's arriving an hour late, which was fine as I had given friends a sprawling entrance time, she lamented that she didn’t arrive right on time. She prefers to be punctual, citing the intimacy that comes with arriving early, something she wanted us to have.

Kate had a friend who always arrived on time to gatherings. Initially, it made her uncomfortable since she wasn’t prepared. However, when that friend said she arrived early to share an intimate moment with Kate before everyone else arrived, Kate appreciated the gesture. Inspired, Kate now makes the effort to arrive on time herself. At the end of Friendsgiving, after all of my other friends had left, Kate lingered for another hour. Our conversation got more intimate as we divulged health issues, dreams, and relationship conflicts.

Often, our interactions in friendships are confined to frugal time blocks, leading us to leave prematurely out of fear of overstaying or of things getting awkward. However, if we linger long enough, we often find that instead of things plateauing into awkwardness, there lies an opportunity for the relationship to deepen.

Lingering can offer us what Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman call “the intimacy of the mundane” in their book, Big Friendship. It's the closeness that arises when friends can engage in ordinary activities together without needing to entertain one another. It signifies an ease that transcends the need to prove your worth as a friend via offering constant stimulation.

To linger, we must cultivate what researchers call "time affluence," which describes the perception of having ample time to do something. Having time affluence isn't about how busy you are. It's about a mental shift to surrendering to the moment with a friend. And time affluence is linked to improved well-being, enjoying the present moment, and having more intimate relationships.

Here are some tips for leaning into lingering:

  • Put time with friends in your calendar so you can mentally shift to seeing time with friends as a priority, rather than as time away from other responsibilities.
  • Give your friend your undivided attention. That means putting away your phone, as one study found the mere presence of a phone decreases relationship quality (though a follow-up study did not replicate this effect).
  • When the inclination to leave arises, consider lingering instead. If you worry about imposing, just ask, “Do you need some recharge time now? How are you feeling?” to see if they might welcome a linger.
  • Ask to hang out after you hang out: Maybe you and a friend had dinner together, and you then ask them to come over to watch a movie.

In the words of poet Mikko Harvey, "The number of hours we have together is actually not so large. Please linger near the door uncomfortably instead of just leaving. Please forget your scarf in my life and come back later for it.”

Facebook/LinkedIn image: AntGor/Shutterstock

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