Last year, I tried to arrange a group dinner with four friends who lived in my neighborhood. What I assumed would be a simple process soon became bafflingly complicated as we all got caught up in a cycle of cancellations and logistical challenges. A year went by (a year!), and our email chain had stretched to the size of the WikiLeaks documents.

Then we gave up.

This wasn't the first or last time this happened. It's not a huge surprise—plans always seem to get sabotaged by last-minute snags at work, family demands, endless to-do lists or by one of us being too fried to pull it together for dinner. Also, visits with friends seem like the easiest things to cancel—you can't bail out of parent-teacher night or a meeting with the boss, but you can always postpone lunch with your old college roommate. She'll understand. We're all busy.

The result for me, though, was that my get-togethers with friends had dwindled alarmingly. Then, one Saturday, I was in the drugstore, waiting in a long line to get a prescription filled. My phone was about to die, and the line snaked through the Pain Relief aisle, so there was nothing interesting to inspect. This is so boring, I thought. I wish I had a friend with me.

Then it hit me: Why not text Lisa? She lived five blocks away. Surely she had something to pick up at the drugstore. (Doesn't everybody? All the time?)

As it happened, she was out doing errands, and the drugstore was on her list, so she swung by and stayed for ten minutes until I picked up my amoxicillin.

That was the first of what I now call microvisits: spontaneous, text-initiated get-togethers, taken during a mundane pocket of time that lasts 15 minutes or less. Yes, a microvisit is almost absurdly brief, but you can cram a lot of information and emotion into those few minutes. During our drugstore visit, Lisa and I, talking intently, quickly solved a complex problem with her kid's teacher that had been bothering her. She got a potential solution, and I didn't get impatient with the slowness of the line. Win-win.

I have since made arrangements with a few friends who live nearby. One might text and say, "I'm walking my dog, want to join me?" Or I'll write, "I'm going to the library, are you around?" If they aren't, I move on.

After I told my two suburban sisters about microvisits, the youngest started texting her friends to ask if they wanted to meet at the grocery store to do a quick trip together. Turns out, there are many dreary errands that could be brightened with a little company: Want to go to the flu clinic for shots and get it over with? I'll distract you! Hey, let's get our cars washed! I'll be waiting around while my kid gets her hair cut, want to pop over? I have to go to the post office, do you?

One caveat: Microvisits don't work if you have small children who will hijack your attention. Once the kids are in school, though, you can start with, say, a ten-minute coffee before school pickup. Another upside of the spontaneity: No deciding on a place to meet, no consulting calendars ("Oops, no, the 14th is no good...nope, the 15th, 18th, 23rd through 28th are out, too...").

A microvisit can be an intense, single-topic discussion, or silly (my friend Viv and I got into a giggle fit waiting at the library checkout when we realized everyone was listening in on our whispered gyno-themed chat). Another friend and I meet in a park near our apartments and sit on "our" bench for a quick catch-up. Once a friend just wanted a good cry after her boss yelled at her.

It's also immensely comforting to gab about even the smallest stuff. After my friend's mother died, she mentioned that one of the things she missed most about their frequent phone calls was that her mom cared about, and checked up on, the ordinary day-to-day things. Now I make sure to devote part of our micro-chats to the mundane: Did you decide on a paint color for your bedroom? What did the doctor say about your cholesterol?

Yes, these brief encounters are a disheartening commentary on our crazy-busy lives. But I've found over the year I've been doing this that nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, however short it is. (Also, who among us is going to be less busy anytime soon? Exactly.) As I found out last week with yet another friend, it really is possible to have a meaningful debate on what we think happens in the afterlife in 20 minutes at the carwash. Where I also got my car mats vacuumed.

I'm Afraid Your Teddy Is In Trouble Today Jancee Dunn is the author of, most recently, the children's book I'm Afraid Your Teddy Is in Trouble Today.


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