Welcome to Unconventional Life Hacks, a regular feature wherein we propose one surprising, unlikely, or downright absurd idea that just might radically change your approach to life. (Or at least make you *consider* radically changing it.)
A text message I get from a friend at least once a week: “Let’s do dinner or drinks soon!”
A text message I have got exactly once in my entire life: “Don’t get movers, I’ll help you.”
In 2019 it feels like nobody can agree on anything, but I doubt anyone would argue with me when I say that moving sucks. So why, you may ask, am I recommending you offer your knees, back, and patience to a friend who has decided to relocate? Well, it’s to do with adult friendship. And the fact that—sorry to break to you—real friends aren’t made over dinner.
Despite having moved to the U.S. less than two years ago with only a backpack of belongings, the apartment I share with my boyfriend is completely full. So when we recently decided to move to a new neighborhood, I insisted we call in the professionals—this was a job too big for two. That plan would have gone ahead, and I would have at least $300 less to my name, if it weren’t for my friend Isaac. Instead of paying movers, he offered to help my boyfriend and me pack and haul everything we own from one side of lower Manhattan to the other.
An important thing to note is that Isaac doesn’t love moving. He’s just a good friend. And he came to be a good friend, to me and many others, by doing tedious shit with us. He’s the person who has helped me realize that if I want to go from being acquaintances to close friends with someone, we can’t only do fun things together.
In New York, getting dinner or grabbing a drink is one of the easiest things you can do. Whether you want to spend 99 cents or $99 dollars, there will always be somewhere to go and, usually, someone who’s keen to go with you. And maybe that’s the problem: Long-lasting friendships aren’t made over tapas or margaritas or movies or shows, because those are things you can do with pretty much anyone in your phone’s contact list. Moving house on the other hand? That’s something you can only do with a real friend. In this flakey modern world, where we all expect half our plans to get rain-checked at the last minute, the best way to know if someone’s a keeper is to commit to doing the un-cancellable together.
But it’s not just the commitment that sets this kind of friendship apart; it’s what happens next. The best way to build a connection that will last until you both look like the FaceApp versions of yourselves is through a gritty mix of hard work and acts of service. This logic explains why you’re more likely to make a new work friend packing up the chairs together after an event than you are during the cocktail hour. It explains why I’ll always remember the day I helped a best friend literally dig trenches for a goddamn irrigation system in her backyard, but will never be able to tell you the restaurant we went to afterward. Research has found that it takes 234 hours to make a “good friend,” but I can guarantee that five hours spent building IKEA furniture with someone will bring you closer than 20 hours of coffee dates and brunches.
When I think back to some of the most friendship-defining conversations I’ve had, it’s almost funny how few of them took place in a bar or crowded restaurant, given how much time I spend socializing in both. I’ve opened up more on hikes, over puzzles, chopping vegetables, and of course, packing boxes, than I have after any amount of red wine. It might be the concept of a shared goal or the distraction of having something to do with your hands, but there’s just something about physical tasks that makes it easier to skip past the small talk and get to the stuff that matters.
So if you’re looking to make not just friends, but close ones, I suggest ditching your dinner plans and committing to doing something with your bare hands instead.
Feature photo via Getty Images.