¡hola papi!

‘How Do I Tell My Friends I Don’t Have Time for Them?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

This year, I finally decided to take my dreams and ambitions seriously, and have dubbed 2023 the Year of Work. Last year was pretty bumpy to say the least. I lost my job and nearly lost a parent to illness in quick succession. Now, I’m kind of back on track. I’m working full time and getting up early to write in the mornings on my various projects, like short films and a podcast.

I avoid making plans with friends midweek so I can get up early while my brain is freshest and bang out some words before doing the work that actually pays the bills. When it comes to the weekends, I’m prioritizing writing, too. I just joined a writers group at a local theater, so I feel like I have a bit more of a sense of community and less like I’m throwing paper into the void.

That does mean for the next ten weeks or so, however, that my Sundays are taken up with this writers group and making rewrites to the short play which will be exhibited at the end. This really only leaves Saturdays. 

I know this is a nice problem to have: “I’m working so hard and my friends still want to see me.” But I don’t know what to say to my friends to make them understand that when they text asking, “when can we hang out?” I realistically want to reply, “um, in six months maybe?’” I have tw, people I will always FaceTime or see eventually, and, to be honest, I’m happy for them to provide me with my requisite amount of social interaction for the next year. 

I’m a big “people person,” so it feels rude somehow that I’m closing my world tighter and tighter. I went away for Christmas, and have yet to tell some people that I’m even back. 

I suppose my question is, how do I tell friends, people that I do love but will survive without in this intensely selfish period, that I don’t really have time to see them… and how do I stop feeling so weird about it?

Anxious and Ambitious

Howdy, AA! Happy Year of Work to all who celebrate. I am not, but I love that for you.

Well, no, I’m actually lying. I work a lot. Indeed, I might work too much. I’m guilty of “burning the candle at both ends,” an expression that’s always interested me because it seems to imply a floating candle, or a very uniquely designed candleholder.

I, too, dedicate many weekends to writing. My weekend writing has a different flavor from my weekday writing, so it’s very important that I take advantage of that. I don’t want to do brunch, because one brunch knocks me out of commission for the day, and I don’t really want to go out at night, because waking up early the next day is what ensures me a good spot at the coffee shop and a clear mind to get things done.

This all conspires to make me not very fun, yet people do ask me to hang out at times, possibly due to my natural beauty or my accessible observational humor. My solution to being an absolute recluse is to blame the nebulous machinations of capitalism. “Ugh, I wish I could, but I have this thing due next week.” It’s often true!

Where we part ways, though, is that I kind of wish I was “out and about” more. My displeasure stems less from worrying about if I’m a good friend or not and more about if I’m losing out on fun or relaxation. Meanwhile, and correct me if I’m wrong here, you seem kind of happy?

I get a palpable vibe of excitement and pride from your description of the routine you’ve set up, and for good reason! You’re chasing your dreams, working to make them happen, developing skills, and integrating with a new community that shares your interests.

That’s great! That’s a good use of your time. You’ve even got besties to check in with, and you describe your dilemma as a “good problem” to have. Good problems are no guarantee here at ¡Hola Papi!. I would remind you of the man who thought his boyfriend was Colombian until he went to Thanksgiving dinner to meet the family only to discover none of them were Colombian at all. Good problems are hard to come by around here.

If your main issue is guilt, well, it better not be. I love all my readers, and I love the people who send in letters even more, but why on earth are you all so guilty all the time? Did you all grow up Catholic? Is it me? Is it the vibe I’m putting out? I’m reminded of the time many of my friends all sat down together and we slowly realized every single one of us had gone to Catholic school. It might be me!

Anyway, it sounds fine. I would make a conscious effort to maintain a healthy attention economy with my closest friends. If they are important to you, then, yes, some effort is required. People seem to forget that maintaining friendships requires some work. You will have to pull away from whatever you’re doing from time to time and tend to the duties of being a bestie.

You don’t have those duties with everyone, though. People bring different gifts and responsibilities to our lives. We love and appreciate each other in different ways, and sometimes it’s more casual and doesn’t require a press release about self-care or mental health to wiggle out of getting coffee together. Some of my favorite people are “I’ll see you when I see you” people, and that’s okay.

I think you should just do your thing and be open about it. You can tell people you’ve got a project going that you need to work on, but you’d love to see them when things free up. That’s fine. I do that all the time, and I get that all the time. People have things going on. It’s allowed.

Do keep an eye on your work habits, though. Make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard or isolating too much. It’s also important, I believe, to remember that sometimes the things we need and the things that nourish us aren’t necessarily things we want to do in the moment.

Sometimes planning something with a friend and actually getting up to do it feels more like a chore, but then, when I actually follow through, it feels great! It makes me remember why friendship is so good. Have y’all heard of fellowships and camaraderie? Very enjoyable.

Well, that’s all from me! I’m going back to work now.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on February 28, 2023.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘How Do I Tell My Friends I Don’t Have Time for Them?’