What Do We Really Mean When We Say We're “Busy?” 5 Possible Translations, Because We Usually Could Make Time If We Wanted To

Hi, I'm Suzannah and I'm a busy-aholic. Whew! Now that we've got that out of the way, let me explain what on earth that means. I love being busy. I love saying I'm busy. I relish in complaining about how busy I am. And I'm not alone. Kate Hakala reports at Mic that telling people we're busy is a popular habit among Millennials. "Whenever I say 'I'm busy,' it makes me feel a combination of accomplished and overwhelmed," one woman told her. Others spoke of rescheduling dates three times in a row or already having weekends booked through October.

On the one hand, maybe we really are a particularly busy generation. Smart phones keep us connected to work, friends, and events around the clock. "Having constant access to email really blurs the lines between your personal and private life," the same woman told Hakala. Social media and sites like Meetup.com provide us with endless invitations. Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time , writes that increases in cost of living and changes in the type of jobs we hold — from those requiring physical to mental exertion — could also explain the recent rise in busyness. People also just like being busy, regardless of generation. One study found that people are happier when they're doing something.

But sometimes, when we say we're busy, we actually mean something else — even if we tell ourselves we really are busy. Here are a few things "I'm busy" could really mean, besides what it means on the surface.

1. "I'm kind of a big deal."

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Since American culture considers busyness a marker of how productive, accomplished, and in-demand you are, people often feel like “if you’re not as busy as the Joneses, you’d better get cracking,” communications professor Ann Burnett told Schulte. After all, our society frowns upon laziness, and busyness is the polar opposite.

2. "I'm not prioritizing this relationship right now."

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Or ever. And sometimes that's totally fine. As Hakkala's interview subject illustrates, some of the times we're most "busy" are when we're arranging to meet someone from an online dating site — probably because it's hard to prioritize someone we haven't even met in person yet. And when we tell our friends we're busy, we often could make the time if we really wanted to — we'd just rather do our jobs to the best of our ability or work on a passion project or rest up, and that's OK as well. Sometimes there are bigger fish to fry.

3. "I don't have my sh*t together."

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Sometimes, we don't have time for other people because we got "busy" scrolling through our Twitter feeds or binge-watching shows or discussing said shows with our roommates. Let he who hath not fallen down YouTube's "related videos" rabbit hole cast the first stone.

4. "I don't want to date you."

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Better someone thinks you're busy than thinks you just don't like them, right? Except then they'll keep wondering if you do like them. If you don't want to break it to them, you're better off ghosting.

5. "I'm exhausted."

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Sometimes we say we're busy because we've been busy in the recent past and cannot stand the thought of another social or professional commitment. If you're in this predicament, there's really no need for an excuse. You do you. You've earned it.

Images: Transformer18/Flickr; Giphy (5)