Unwritten rules for catching up with friends

In life, we’re often faced with the task of keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances, but the potential venues for these meetups are seemingly endless. Should it be a catch-up over food? Beverage? If so, what type? Is asking someone to go on a walk too weird? What about inviting someone to study with you?

Since starting my surgery rotation six weeks ago, I’ve had to wrestle with these questions as I try to keep in touch with people in my little free time away from the hospital. Here’s my simple, evidence-based guide on the best ways to catch up with friends and people who think they’re your friends:


Perhaps the most classic of all of these, meeting up with someone for a meal reminds us of our common humanity: we all have to eat. There’s the ambience of the restaurant surrounding you, the chit-chat of your fellow patrons, the comforting rigidity of mealtime conversation structure punctuated by key events such as the serving of the meal and delivery of the check. Potential eavesdroppers hold you accountable for conversation topics. Of course, not all meals are created equal.

Lunch: “Wanna grab lunch?” rolls off the tongue far more smoothly than “I value you as an acquaintance but don’t want to carve out one of my evenings to spend with you,” but the implications are largely the same. Lunch is a perfect meal to catch up with someone you know well—but not that well. Ensconced within the hustle and bustle of the day, lunch has an intrinsic urgency to it. The conversational back-and-forth is colored by the impending afternoon’s labor, and the lunch is brought to an easy end when one party excuses themselves for a meeting, project or other excuse. Overall, a perfectly nice way to meet up with a friend in an organized, professional setting.

Dinner: Whereas the lunch crowd tends to comprise uniform-clad employees, dinner has a somewhat different cliente—families, couples, people with stronger connections binding them together. And every dinner invitation should be issued with this in mind. Now this isn’t to say dinner invitations can’t be platonic, as the majority are, but it’s important to be aware of the potential consequences. As the sun descends beyond the horizon, it reminds us of not only the end of the day but also our own impending demise. “What is life without love?” you may ponder before moving on to “Will my legacy in the world amount to anything more than my own carbon footprint?” If the glint of the sun catches your dining partner’s eyes just right, it might just illuminate their intrinsic hopefulness and goodwill, revealing them as a bastion of radiance in a world of iniquity. Such an image coupled with your own existential pondering can produce unanticipated effects. But don’t overthink it, dinner’s a good way to connect with friends and have deeper conversations than one might have at lunch, for instance.

Coffee: Honestly, I don’t have much experience with this one. In the past, whenever someone has invited me for coffee, I’ve always replied that I don’t drink coffee, and then they say tea, and then I say that I don’t drink tea. This usually leaves them exasperated enough that the conversation ends there. But what I’ve realized in recent years is that meeting someone for coffee is about more than just the coffee—it has a more carefree connotation than the businesslike lunch invitation. Coffee meetups are generally shorter and seem to be a good way of deciding whether someone is engaging enough in conversation to promote them to a lunch meetup. A trial run, if you will.


Catch-up sessions are often limited to meals/beverages, but there are so many other things to do in life aside from eating and drinking! 

Going on a walk: Meeting someone for a short stroll is a stark departure from the rigidity of meal conversation. While restaurants establish a dyadic interplay, with both people facing each other, walks remind us of our connection to nature and the world as both parties walk side by side. Gone are the potential listeners at the next table over, lending more privacy and candidness to the conversation. In my experience, walks are best reserved for weightier conversation topics but are no means exclusively for serious discussions.

Studying: Invitations to study with someone are best reserved for close friends. The purpose, of course, is not actually to study but to have stream-of-consciousness observations and thoughts that will distract you both from completing the objective that allegedly brought you together in the first place. Conversation is more free-flowing than it would be during a meal or a walk, so casual grousing will naturally result. It’s a good way of convincing yourself that you’re being productive while getting to catch up.

Driving to Frankfort, Kentucky: Historic Frankfort has everything that you and your friend need for a memorable weekend getaway. Leave all your worries behind as you enter this charming city nestled between Louisville and Lexington on the Kentucky River. Have a taste of the state’s esteemed bourbon, take a stroll in the walkable downtown and visit the capitol building in all of its gorgeous Beaux-Arts splendor. Your weekend will be filled with laughs and adventure, and you’ll leave with your friendship reinvigorated by the Bluegrass State’s signature hospitality. 

Nathan Luzum is a second-year medical student and a member of the DSPC Board of Directors. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. 


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