Why Don’t Adults Hang Out Anymore? How Friendship Benefits Us.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been running an experiment: inviting friends to simply hang out and do nothing, or close to nothing. I’ve asked them to drop by for a cup of tea. I’ve volunteered to join them as they walk their dogs. When I found out that my local grocery store opened at 7 a.m., I asked a fellow early riser if she wanted to get her shopping done early with me.

Some were slightly suspicious at first, but everyone was game. (“Well, I do need coffee filters,” said my friend, who joined me at the delightfully empty supermarket.)

It’s well-documented that friendships improve our physical and mental health and are vital for well-being. But I was inspired to make it even easier to see friends after reading “Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time” by Sheila Liming, which argues that unstructured time with others can improve our relationships.

When you’re a kid with limited funds and modes of transport, hanging out with friends feels natural. But adults are often used to doing scheduled activities with one another, said Jessica Ayers, an assistant professor of psychological science at Boise State University, who researches adult friendships.

“Often, we don’t think something is beneficial unless it’s productive,” she said. We don’t always realize “that sitting around and resting with someone is still a productive state, and worthy of our time,” she said.

Liming, an associate professor of writing at Champlain College, said there wasn’t much research on hanging out and more was needed. But there’s evidence to suggest that face-to-face contact can strengthen emotional closeness. Plus, hanging out has an appealingly low barrier of entry, and it’s inexpensive: You don’t need reservations or tickets or special skills.

Hanging out also invites deeper conversation and builds intimacy, Liming said. (Dr. Ayers points to the trending desire on social media for a “couch friend” — a buddy that will sit with you on the couch and happily do nothing.)

But Liming acknowledges that it can feel daunting to spend time together with no formal agenda. Here’s how to get started.

There are different forms of hanging out, Dr. Ayers said. If you like a more face-to-face, conversational hangout, you can spend time in each other’s homes or sit on a park bench together.

If you would feel more comfortable doing something more active, grab a friend and run errands. “I’ve gone with my best friend to get gas,” Dr. Ayers said.

Or you might look for places in your community where people gather, Liming said. In her Vermont town, she said, people congregate at a public ice skating rink in the winter.

“I don’t ice skate, but I find that a lot of people end up hanging out by the ice rink,” she said, “so I did that yesterday and I saw a bunch of people who live near me and ended up chatting.”

If the idea of hanging out in your messy living room or at the carwash makes you feel a little vulnerable, Liming said, start small. Tell a friend you’re going to drop by for 20 minutes or a half-hour. “One thing that freaks people out about hanging out is that it feels open-ended and they don’t know how much time it’s going to take,” she said.

It’s natural to feel a little discomfort in the beginning, Liming said. But one of the advantages of hanging out is that “it allows us to see a more three-dimensional side of the people we see and interact with,” she explained. If you’re in their home, you might get glimpses of their domestic lives, histories or hobbies, she said. “If we can be in a room doing nothing with someone else, that is a pretty sincere form of intimacy,” she said.

Once you’ve hung out a few times, consider making it a regular habit that grows easier over time, Liming said. She has a friend whose house is near the campus where she teaches. Once a week or so, she will swing by his house and hang out with him in his kitchen while he’s folding laundry or prepping for dinner. “I have a cup of tea and then I head out,” she said.

Regular meet-ups with friends can alleviate the pressure of having to orchestrate a perfect hangout, she said: “If it doesn’t work out one week, you can try again the next week.”

And if you still feel hesitant about asking friends for some agenda-free hang time, “remind yourself that this person is not hanging out with you because they don’t have anything else to do,” Dr. Ayers said. “No. This person wants to be around you.”

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