In 2013, I went to visit my friend Lydia in Milwaukee. She was in her first year of a grad program, and I was working my first Real Job three hours away. She and I got ready together while putting on our makeup and going-out tops, and talking about the bars we were going to hit. We were halfway down the stairs of her apartment building when Lydia stopped, turned around, said, “I actually don’t want to go out tonight. I just want to stay in and hang out. Is that OK?” I remember feeling immediate relief, because we were already having a good time together in her apartment. “Yes, of course,” I said. “That does sound better.” We walked back up the stairs, ordered pizza, drank beer, and played board games. And it was fantastic.
I think about that night a lot, because the idea of not “going out” or “doing something” when you visit a friend sounds boring and wrong. It certainly felt that way at 23, when I was figuring out how to navigate post-college life in a way that felt sufficiently more “grown-up” than pre-gaming frat parties. I asked Lydia why that random weekend stands out so much to both of us, even 10 years later. “It became an important part of our friendship lore!” she said. Which was true. Lydia and I have been friends since high school. One Friday night during our senior year, I asked her if she wanted to hang out, and she said no because she really wanted to stay in and read her book. It was an honesty that felt rare at 17, but it was something we decided we would always maintain in our friendship. This chill night in, five years later, made good on that promise.
The simple truth is that the best thing to do with your friends is nothing. Think about the best memories you’ve shared with your friends over the years: the laugh-till-you-cry moments, the birth of new inside jokes, the tearful confessions, the post-breakup unravelings, the life epiphanies, or even that sweet sense of calm, good-humored security you get from just sharing the same space for a few hours or days. I’d wager most of them happened somewhere unremarkable.
Like the time when I got food poisoning while visiting a friend in D.C., so we stayed in and watched six hours of Four Weddings on her sofa. When I was in Austin’s ungodly summer heat for a wedding with my college friends, we relaxed in the air-conditioned Airbnb, ordered iced coffees, and watched The O.C. When Lydia was here just a few weeks ago, we stayed up until 2 a.m. eating berries out of a giant glass bowl and having one of the biggest heart-to-hearts of our 20-year friendship.
All of these moments transported me back to college. It was that lack of responsibility, that easygoing feeling when the most stressful thing I had to do was some homework while I laid around someone’s apartment, snacking and watching TV.
It’s tempting to keep chasing something that isn’t actually there anymore.
Is the reason why we love doing nothing with our friends because it takes us back to the last time that we were doing virtually nothing? I’m not saying college isn’t stressful. But the pressures and responsibilities were different, and we were around our closest friends all the time. There is a level of intimacy that happens when you spend the better part of a year going through life with the same people. When all of your friends are pretty much walking distance from where you live, hanging out doesn’t take much planning. You don’t need to pack special outfits, make dinner reservations, or figure out who will be the designated driver. Visiting a friend with an itinerary that is simply eat, watch TV, play games, and talk? It’s like you scheduled a weekend trip back in time, where your leisure time was rarely spent alone, and your lives always seemed to overlap.
I think we underestimate this kind of pleasure because it’s tempting to keep chasing something that isn’t actually there anymore. We’re searching for a fleeting feeling that only exists in memories and movies and Instagram carousels. It’s the boundless optimism that doing something elaborate — like trading friendship bracelets at the Eras Tour or dressing up for the Barbie movie — will make us feel bigger, more satisfied, and more alive than what we’re doing right now.
The true intimacy of friendship is hard to capture. My closest friendships feel as bright, pink, and sparkly as the disco scene in Barbie, even if we’re just sitting in a living room, wrapped in blankets, tipsy on hard seltzer, and talking about our lives. It might be nothing, but to me, it’s everything.