What happened to hanging out with people? The digital era, the COVID pandemic, and our ever-changing society have made this once-simple act extremely challenging. Dan Kois writes a relatable piece exploring the fact that many Americans — from adults to teens — don’t sit around and chat much these days, or carve out time for casual socializing and unplanned, unproductive hangouts. His inspiration and fodder for the piece? Flying up to Vermont and spending a day with Sheila Liming, the author of Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time. In her book, Liming offers advice on how to get back into spending time with other humans again, and writes that we need to push ourselves and commit to being social, but also finding equally committed people that can reciprocate.

I reflected on my own difficulty making friends when I reached my 30s, and how it took years for my wife and me to find friends who shared with us not only a desire to hang out but a willingness to open themselves up that we felt able to match. Had Liming made friends in Burlington, a town she’d come to in the middle of the pandemic? Real friends? The friends of her heart? “I don’t know yet,” she said. “They could be.” She told me that she had recently gone to a neighbor’s house and, after they’d been sitting on the couch for a while, the neighbor said, “Oh! I was about to put my feet up on the couch and tuck them under your legs!”

“Oh, man, I wish she had,” I said. “Wouldn’t it have been easier if she’d just done it?”

“She said she didn’t know if we were at that point yet,” Liming said. “But it means something that she almost felt like she could.”

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.