Making More Time for Friends
With the onset of the summer months and jam-packed calendars, it’s so important to prioritize the things that are most important amidst the hustle. While we’re talking on Choice socials this week about how we are staying productive this summer, we also wanted to emphasize the critical nature of staying engaged with our dearest friends. I know that I’m the best version of myself when connection with my friends is injected into my calendar.
It’s been top of mind for me recently because the last two weeks, both Dixon and Thackston were away at camp. Matt and I were immediately returned to our early years of marriage, without children. We found time to reconnect with each other, of course, but also made our friendships a priority. When it was time to pick the boys up after two weeks, we felt refreshed, rested and grateful for the time we were all separated. And a great deal of our joy came from prioritizing friends.
This falls to the bottom of the to do list, doesn’t it? You’re juggling so many commitments and obligations already, how can you add time with your friends into the mix? You’re still trying to figure out how to get date nights on the calendar. Listen, I hear you. Among meetings and work commitments, baseball practice and games, buying groceries, fixing dinner, keeping my house clean, making sure everyone has been to the dentist, keeping Dixon in shoes (he’s a men’s size 12 and he’s 12 years old!) – it’s just all A LOT.
So often, I’m asked how I can run a business, be an invested wife and mother, mentor college women and still find time to spend with my beloved girlfriends. It’s not easy, let’s be honest. And, it doesn’t happen every week or, frankly, every month. But, I found something that has worked for me and really deepened my relationships with a close few. Over the years I’ve discovered a few things about myself: putting healthy foods into my body, exercising, spending alone time with Matt and each son and finding time for my girlfriends makes me a better Heather. So today I’m walking you through a few ways that have worked for me to make more time for my friends.
Small Dinner Parties:
You’ve immediately shut down, haven’t you? You saw “dinner party” and got intimidated and thought, “That’s WAY too much work. I’m exhausted. I can’t add hosting to my list.” STOP! Don’t let fear of a perfectly clean home or the most beautiful homemade meal deter you from inviting people around your dinner table. Matt and I have learned through the years that small, intimate dinner parties with just a few couples provides us with richer conversation and a lot less of the feel to serve as “host” instead of engaged friend.
When Matt’s birthday rolled around in January (right after all the holiday craziness), I wanted to do something special, but I didn’t want it to be overwhelming. So, we had two couples over for a blind wine and bourbon tasting. I made a cheese and charcuterie board for us to nosh on while we did the blind bourbon tasting. Stop right there! You can literally just make this and serve it with some wine and call it a night. Your friends will LOVE you and you won’t have killed yourself. I went on to make dinner (it’s so much easier when you’re only feeding 6 people) for us during the blind wine tasting, but if that feels like too much for you, then stop at the cheese board and be done. The important part is the time you’re spending with your friends.
While the boys were gone to camp, we hosted two couples for dinner one night. I literally ran into Whole Foods and bought their super yummy crab cakes and all I had to do was throw them in the oven and bake them for a few minutes. I served them with roasted asparagus and potatoes. It took me 15 minutes to cook the entire meal. Again, we started with a cheese and charcuterie board and my friends loved that the best. It’s always a winner.
Annual Girls’ Trips:
In 1994, I pledged Alpha Omicron Pi at The University of Georgia. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I am still involved and engaged with AOII as this fall will mark my 20th year as an adviser. AOII is where I learned what deep, rich friendships look like. Still to this day, some of my most cherished and closest friends are from my 1994 pledge class. Just last week one of my pledge sisters, who was also a bridesmaid in my wedding posted that her beloved Meme was nearing the end of her days. I have not seen Miranda in person for a few years, sadly, but I immediately picked up the phone and reached out and told her I would drop whatever here and come be with her if she needed me. I know her Meme and I love Miranda like a sister. Even though we aren’t geographically close, that doesn’t mean that she can’t be a part of my life.
There’s another group of girls from my pledge class that I travel with once a year for our annual girls’ trip. We’ve been doing it for years. When women come through recruitment in the fall at MTSU, I share with them that this is what a life-long commitment to AOII can look like. These girls have seen me at my absolute worst and also at my best and have walked with me through every single season.
It takes some planning on our end, but every single year we travel somewhere to be together. We’ve traveled to the mountains of North Carolina in Highlands and Cashiers (Old Edwards Inn wine garden is a fave), the quiet serene escape of Serenbe (just outside Atlanta) and “It City” Nashville. This year we’re considering the beaches of 30A. The idea is that we make it a priority and we plan well so that everyone can be a part of it. Some years that means doing a less expensive, low key trip that’s not too far from home. Other years we want adventure. There are seasons where we’re all exhausted and we just want to be pampered and eat in, while other years we want to explore and live it up. We spend months determining the date, the location, the accommodations, the daily activities and most importantly what we’re eating. We always do some kind of gift exchange. Some years we each bring our new favorite thing and do a white elephant-type game to see who ends up with what. And then some years we bring one of everything for each other – books, hats, bracelets, wine glasses. I always leave grateful for the way they love me and truly know me.
Let me acknowledge that a girls’ getaway not only takes some planning to organize the actual trip, but also commitment from your partner that they’ve got it all covered while you are away. Make the time for yourself. Your husband and children will be just fine and you will be all the better for them when you return. I also know that not everyone can afford lavish trips, but a weekend away could just be at someone’s home. It doesn’t have to be expensive for you to get valued and cherished time with your girls.
The fine art of a perfectly crafted dinner party has fallen by the wayside with the onset of “fast casual” restaurants springing up on every corner. As a woman with a gift and sincere appreciation for hospitality, this saddens me to no end. Several years ago I decided to revive the dinner party and began gathering people around our kitchen table intentionally to build a stronger community and deeper relationship with dear friends.
In February 2014, I attended a conference in Austin, Texas called IF: Gathering. As community builders, the IF team challenged us to consider hosting an IF: Table event in our own home. The idea was to host six women for two hours and IF would provide you with four questions for conversation during your time together. I jumped at the chance and thoughtfully invited a close group of treasured friends. Our first dinner in March 2014 ended up being four women, one question, four hours. For the next three years, I invited these women regularly into my home. They only had to bring themselves. I planned and prepared so that every detail was intentional — the menu, the flowers, the music, you get the idea.
As a working mother, there are so many things vying for my attention — my boys, husband, employees, clients, volunteer work, mentees, school, even the laundry and Netflix. But, for me, being really intentional with the friendships I invest in deeply matters. These women don’t want to be just one more thing on my to do list. Like me, they are equally busy but desire rich friendships — people to live life with through every season. When I invited them, they eagerly agreed.
Then the calendar dance began. You know the one. June 6? We’re on vacation that week. August 25? That’s the first week of school for the kids. November 2025? This is where Doodle came in handy for me. If you aren’t familiar, it’s an app (or site) where you can plug in all potential dates and times for whatever you are trying to schedule – a conference call, play date or, in my case, dinner party. Then your recipients plug in what options work for them and, voila!, you can easily select the best date that the most people are available. We planned the dates months in advance and then encouraged each other to fiercely protect them.
Once the dates were set, I went to work on all the logistics and planned my calendar around what I needed to get done. This evening was a priority to me, so I wanted to be invested in the time with my friends, not running around crazy while they were there, unable to actually enjoy our time together. It took preparation on my end. Everything I could assemble beforehand, I did – flowers, food, decor. My husband and children were given plenty of notice and kicked out of the house. You know, sometimes grabbing pizza and heading to your girlfriends’ house is totally fine, but for these particular dinners, I wanted them to walk away feeling loved and adored. For me that meant really investing the time to create a special evening. I selected the meal carefully and cooked everything myself. I built custom playlists for the background music. I set the table with china, crystal and cloth napkins. Was it time-consuming? Yes. But, because I planned well, communicated in advance to pertinent parties and made the necessary room on my calendar by prioritizing and protecting, I was able to make it work. Could I do that every week? Of course not.
So when my girlfriends arrived, I was able to really engage with them; be an active listener. Rather than a bunch of small chit chat around the table, we had deep, meaningful conversations where we were transparent and candid, honest and vulnerable. Having the questions from IF really fueled that. And, it led to stronger connections with each other. I loved the way that the intentional questions brought on such meaningful conversation that I started selecting specific questions for our Choice team dinners and smaller dinners in our home. It’s a game changer for true connection.
It’s been a little while since I’ve had a dinner together with these specific women. Life gets in the way, as you well know, and our seasons of life change. I’m constantly running from a work meeting to the baseball field, while another friend goes from the courtroom to golf lessons for her daughter. Two of those girlfriends went on to have a third child. I’m exhausted thinking about it. But as I was writing this article and reflecting on all these images and special memories, I texted those same girlfriends and asked if they were ready for another dinner together. Within seconds they all responded and were immediately in. Now for the calendar dance.
I have treasured friendships with the girls in my life group from church. Just recently we went to brunch on a Saturday morning to celebrate one of the girl’s birthday. We live life together every single week. We already meet on Sunday nights for our life group sessions with both our husbands and our children. But sometimes, you just need to be alone with the girls. After having advised AOII for nearly 20 years, I have a group of women who I’ve journeyed through life with and known since they were freshmen in college and now they’re married and raising their own children. There are times when we all get together for dinner out or they come over for the latest discussion on “Southern Charm” and some yummy food. Because both my boys play sports, I have a group of moms that I’m connected to because their sons are on the same team. We spend a great deal of time together with practices and games and shuttling them from one place to the next. Just last night at practice we talked about finding a way for all the baseball moms to have a night out (without the kids).
Your friend groups are going to look different from mine. Regardless of where they came from, where they live now, how often you see them or how long you’ve known them for…make them a priority in your life. I promise you are going to be a much better version of yourself if time with them is on your calendar.
What are some of the best ways you spend time with your friends? How do you make time for them a reality? How do they help you be the best you?