This is the Sunday edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing.
Alright: we need to go to the post office and drop off a package, go to two different grocery stores for what we’re making for dinner, return something at the outdoor mall with the annoying parking, but while we’re there, we can get a coffee in the middle of the day for no reason and also go to the candy store, and maybe just pop into that other mall store and mindlessly browse for a bit, and then we’ll come home, eat the candy we just bought, and watch the first half of Leap Year.
This is what you do with the Errand Friend: errands and the rest of your life. You probably have different routines with your errand friends, but here is a short list of things I have done with mine: waited in the lobby during a dental cleaning; picked up dry cleaning; helped address wedding thank-you notes; made an elaborate dessert for a Mother’s Day celebration I wasn’t actually attending; folded laundry; got the oil on the car changed; tagged along on preschool pickup; deposited checks at an ATM; picked up a gift certificate for someone’s coworker.
There are so many more, but I don’t remember them because like most of the stuff you do with an Errand Friend, it’s unremarkable. It’s just life, but with another person there. I tried to look for a picture from my past to accompany this post, but there was nothing to be found. You take photos of special events, of dinners, of nights out and camping trips and hikes and weddings and dress-up costumes. You don’t take a photo when you’re in Target browsing dishtowels for the seventeenth time.
Peak Errand Friendship time is probably college, when you develop very close friendships with people who are in close proximity to you all the time, but don’t have a ton of obligations to keep you from accompanying someone on their errands. I cannot count the number of times one of my friends said "I need to go get something at the SUB" (student union building) and I said "oh I’ll come." Did I need to make a ten minute walk across campus? Of course not! But why not check your campus mail and buy a Laffy Taffy for 10 cents at the bookstore? WHY NOT?
Errand friendship requires time but no planning. You just join someone on their life trajectory for awhile. You might get something done along the way, but the focus isn’t your own productivity.
I think this sort of friendship is often gendered: women stereotypically do a lot of errands and housework; women love to just hang out and chat. But men do this too, they just do it with sports in the background. Those hangouts are somewhat more appointment based, but when there’s three football games on over the course of a day, you can kinda just agree to show up. Same with playing golf: oh, you wanna just spend like four hours walking and talking??? You know what? Men also love to hang out and talk. Intimacy is for everyone.
When I lived in New York, I felt helpless to make friends. I hated "getting drinks" after work with someone I’d met once. I didn’t want to have to constantly plan my friendships. I loved my work friends but they were my work friends. I missed my Errand Friends, which is another way of saying I missed intimacy.
You can do errands with a boyfriend or girlfriend or partner, but it’s just not the same. The qualities of Errand Friendship are different. They’re softer, somehow, more comfy. And because Errand Friendship is rarely planned, it never feels like an obligation, or something you dream of canceling to free up time to just exhale, because the best Errand Friendship time feels as restorative as time alone.
This is how we are meant to live: with each other, in and out of each other’s lives, attending to one person’s errands and daily routines and then, naturally, at some point in the future, the other’s. I really do believe that. Granualized living isn’t just more expensive and wasteful, it makes us feel worse. Why are we all making dinner every night, dealing with our own laundry, being uniquely responsible for cleaning the toilet, handling childcare ourselves or dividing it between two people, and waiting in line for the post office by ourselves? COVID, I get it. But what about before?
Everyone says this quarantine has been a reminder of how interconnected we all are, etc. etc. But we should be leaning into that bond — instead of allocating so much time and energy to carving out spaces and routines and productivity obsessions that actively resist it. Don’t mistake me: I love being my myself, and will always need to find time for it. I feel like my weirdest, most purest self when I’m alone, but I’m my most relaxed, softest self when I’m with my Errand Friends, talking about nothing and everything, living the un-Instagrammable parts of our lives. My memories of Errand Time always blur. But the feel of it is stronger than any special or scheduled event.
Before the pandemic, so many of us had transformed our lives into packed calendars capped off by meticulously planned but often incredibly distanced events: girls’ nights, weekend trips, book clubs. The more scheduled you are, the less time you have for the actual restorative parts of being with one another. Because intimacy is built on honesty, but it is also built on time. The busiest times in my life, when I’ve allocated the least time to these friendships, have also felt the least grounded. It’s at once cruel and instructive that the thing that has forced us to actually stop over-scheduling our lives has also made it so difficult to share them with others.
There’s so much I want to do when all of this is over. But one of the things I want to do the most is show up at a friend’s house, drive around doing mundane shit, then go back to their place and do nothing, absolutely nothing at all.
Can’t Even came out this week in the UK!! You can find all sorts of options to buy (featuring the new, lovely UK cover) here. (And of course you can still buy it in the US).
And if you’re interested in Peggy and Steve content, subscribe to SOME DOGS
Things I Read and Loved This Week:
As always, if you know someone who’d enjoy this sort of thing in their inbox, please forward it their way. If you’re able, consider going to the paid version of the newsletter — one of the perks = weirdly fun/interesting/generative discussion threads, just for subscribers, every week, which are thus far still one of the good places on the internet.
If you are a contingent worker or un- or under-employed, just email and I’ll give you a free subscription, no questions asked. If you’d like to underwrite one of those subscriptions, you can donate one here.
You can find a shareable version online here. You can follow me on Twitter here, even though I’m currently avoiding it, and Instagram here. Feel free to comment below — and you can always reach me at [email protected]