We Can’t Actually All Be *That* Busy
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Like so many other important revelations about humanity, this story begins with an incident of ghosting. I’d gone on three dates with a man who seemed invested, and then he rudely and abruptly stopped being in love with me. Why? It’s still entirely unclear, though it’s possible that the experiential thank-you note I sent him after our second date was too much. Or that I shouldn’t have brought him back to the treehouse I was living in. Or that he’d been abducted by Scientologists and could no longer speak to me. Whatever, I had to know. So, in the most mature way possible, I got wine drunk and politely asked him why he was so obviously ignoring me. He returned with some message about his work being so unreal right now. He even cited specific hours and days, then apologized. My first thought: What a psycho I was for expecting someone so immensely burdened to text me back. How could I be so demanding? This man was clearly too busy for words! My next thought: Ugh, I wish I wasn’t drunk so I could say something incredibly smart. But then, I started to wonder: When did we start invoking work to get out of life? Basically, why are we all so busy?

The phenomenon of “peak busy” isn’t constrained to the wild world of men who don’t want to date me. In spite of being a generally honest human, I’m a serial peak busy offender who often creates meetings, looming deadlines and work stresses to get out of doing things I don’t really want to do. Thanks to karma, I’ve been served the busy message in various forms by bosses, coworkers, friends, even Uber drivers. It happens so often that I don’t even question it anymore. Just think about how many times you’ve called pulled the professional fire alarm to excuse yourself from a social activity only to sit home and pick your cuticles while looking at Instagram photos.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, most of us aren’t really as busy as we lead ourselves and others to believe. As of a 2016 study, even those we think of as busiest tend to have a good amount of breathing space in their lives to say…return a text message to your mom. Most of us work around 42 hours a week and sleep around eight hours a day. If you’re quick with math,6 that equals a surplus of time for leisure pursuits. It’s also no secret our generation is getting married later and having fewer kids. So we’re generally not busy with the things that consumed our parents — i.e. waking up at 7 a.m. to take their future Olympians to U-10 soccer practice.

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Many of the things that used to consume our time and physical energy have been automated or otherwise start-up-ified. Thanks to Amazon, our groceries show up when we exhale. Service-based tech companies like Handy have built VC-backed businesses I am also not a current or past Olympian. Disappointing, I know. by making our busy lives less filled with the things we don’t want to do. “Just book a time, and we’ll do the rest,” the site advertises. Yes, please! Take my money, I’m so busy, says me. Even our clothes have started telling us we’re overwhelmed. Brands like ADAY are rethinking wardrobe staples through the lens of our hectic schedules. Because if you haven’t noticed: “Life is busy, fact. And what you’re wearing shouldn’t hold you back.”

In fact, businesses seem to be constantly reminding us of how starved for free time we are. JetBlue recently dedicated a short film to those who are so insanely busy, they’re “losing their humanity” — which is all of us, right? In a new series of ads, meal replacement brand Soylent’s robotic spokeswoman Trish reassures us that “eating isn’t easy.” But these geniuses aren’t serving up these messages in a cultural vacuum. There’s something about being told we’re so overwhelmed by our to-do lists that we can’t even pause to chew real food that stirs something in us — so much so that we buy into it. (And then broadcast it to the universe, away-message style.)

Why? Because work is one of the only semi-valid excuses to fall back on. I don’t have kids, who are probably the best scapegoats ever. I clearly don’t have a boyfriend or a dog or really any living thing that would require substantial effort. It’s hard to blame my cactus for why I have to skip out on brunch to stay home and drink Soylent in my ‘technically tailored’ leggings. Being busy seems a lot nicer than saying, hey, I would rather not spend my free time with you. I can only assume my former love interest was trying to save me the personal devastation of not wanting to go on a fourth date with me. Because disappointment is messy and weird. Excuses get the job done without hurt feelings so that we can get back to all the things we were trying to do.

If I were a social scientist, I would probably cough up some BS about our generation’s over-programmed childhood and the need to find constant validation for the things we do. Busy is, for some, a badge of honor. It smells like success. It legitimates the aforementioned lack of boyfriend, child, dog, plants. It says, I’m doing things that matter so much on a Sunday that I can’t spend time day drinking with you peons.

Where am I going with this? He wasn’t busy. He just wasn’t interested in making time for me. And that’s fine. I’m not busy. I spend most of my days at a desk, read a lot of Internet and had enough free time left over to write this illuminating essay. I don’t like letting people down and I have a compulsion to make too many plans. Sorry! You’re probably not that busy either. So text your mom back. And the next time you start to make up some meeting that you got pulled into at the last minute. STOP. Literally, no one wants to hear it.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Adam Selman x Le Specs sunglasses.

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  • _lauristia

    Clearly this is not about being or use it as an excuse.

    I mean, we have to take it easy, because sometime is necessary to take some distance and evaluate your not-relationship-with-a-guy-you-would-like-to-hang-out-more to see if you want to invest more time with this person. Have some guts and ask him for a date, be patient, have fun with somebody else and have in mind that if it is meant to be, it’ll be.

  • tmm16

    “He wasn’t busy. He just wasn’t interested in making time for me. And that’s fine.”

    Three sentences I’ve had to learn to swallow in the last few months. Busy = not interested or not as interested as they would be if they truly wanted to spend time with you. People are busy, but you make time for who you want to make time for.

  • Adrianna

    My first thought was something I’ve heard from some guys, including my boyfriend, that a guy will make time to see you if he’s into you.

    My second thought was that I’m an introvert, and I don’t want to deal with talking or responding to someone if I’m drained from adult responsibilities. It’s just faster to say “I’ve been busy” than to explain all that.

  • I think if we all replaced the phrase “I’m too busy to do X” with “I don’t value X enough to make it a priority” we’d do things a lot differently. We are busy, but that shouldn’t (always) be an excuse

  • snakehissken

    My friends and I have always openly stated that we need some time alone or some “me time” if we didn’t feel up to hanging out. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to see each other, it’s just that sometimes you need a break.

    As for me, I am too busy to do a lot of things that I want to do… because I have poor time management and I’m always scrambling to catch up from the five hours I spent deciding which headphones I wanted to replace the ones I lost shoveling the front walk.

    • Paul White

      Time management is one of my biggest problems currently. I always schedule too much and then can’t get it all done.

  • Lillian

    Sometimes a simple “Can’t make it, but have fun!” will suffice. Or “AHH how have you been?” if you’re absent. I know I put off replying because I can’t come up with an excuse, but then I remember explaining it away isn’t always the point.

    P.S. Hard to read with no subscript footnotes and other typos 🙁

  • lily

    “Most of us work around 42 hours a week and sleep around eight hours a day.”
    Currently a PA on a tv pilot. I work 60+ hour weeks and sleep like 5 hours and i STILL will respond to everyone’s texts (albeit mildly misspelled bc sleepy)

  • Yes this is exactly it:
    “..the invocation of busy is cowardly and shows a lack of confidence about our life choices.”

    It like saying “I don’t have time for…” instead of owning and be clear of how you prioritize and want to spend your time.

  • Fezzers

    My old ultimate frisbee coach used to say, you always can make time for something if you care enough. She has two kids, is a full-time professor, consults for the government, plays frisbee herself, and also takes the time to coach us for free. I graduated but man, I miss her.

  • Meg S

    I’m reeling over there being a legit company called Soylent that sells meal replacements. I dare them to come out with a green juice line, and call it Soylent Green.

    • Paul White

      Yes, I’m a little creeped out about that.

  • Paul White

    I’m really busy. Ok, I’m spending free time when I could be working reading man repeller. Tonight when I have to stay up late to get my work done I will complain that I have been too busy to sleep.

    Speaking of work, is it really that hard to make subscripts look like subscripts? You can do it in google docs.

  • Julia

    Please fix the typos! Great story but hard to read.

    • Yeah what’s with the random numbers dotted through the text?

      • Anya Livshyts

        They are references to lower down. I think it was a cool idea, just maybe formatted a bit odd. Awesome story though