Relationships

Deep connections with friends and family are incredibly important to me. They form one of my three pillars for a meaningful life: relationships, experiences, impact.

Like anything worth doing, relationships require effort. They don’t thrive on their own - they need to be nurtured with tender loving care. If you cultivate them, your bond grows stronger over time. If you don’t, it withers away as you grow apart.

This post is about a simple habit that’s allowed me to foster meaningful relationships: birthday calls.

Birthdays

At first glance, birthdays don’t make sense. It’s an arbitrary thing to celebrate. There’s nothing inherently special about the anniversary of the day you were born. It’s just like any other day, except that we - as a society - decided it’s worthy of celebration.

But it doesn’t matter that it’s arbitrary - we each assign meaning to it in our own ways. The true purpose of birthdays is to act as a scheduled interrupt. It’s a hook that you can attach yearly rituals to. Some use it as an escape from their routine to treat themselves. For some, it’s an excuse to get their favorite people together. Others see it as an opportunity to reflect on the past year.

For me, other people’s birthdays are an opportunity to celebrate them and nurture our relationship.

Birthday Calls

I always call people on their birthday. It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly effective. It only takes a few minutes and helps you establish greater breadth and depth in your relationships.

Here’s how I do it and why it works.

Calendar > Facebook

I began by compiling a calendar of birthdays. This took a year of minimal effort. Every time I missed a birthday, I’d add it for the next year. Over time, the list grew. I started with just my closest friends, but quickly added more as I saw the value of this habit.

I prefer a personal calendar over Facebook for multiple reasons. First, it helps to have a defined list of contacts. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to call every one of your Facebook friends. Second, not everyone (or their birthday) is on Facebook. Third, I run the risk of getting regularly distracted by the news feed if I have to check it every day for birthdays: “it’s the digital equivalent of placing the milk in the back of the grocery store”.

Calls > Texts

When I get the notification of someone’s birthday, I call them. You may be wondering: why call instead of message? I’m glad you asked - this is a crucial distinction.

(Of course, it’s ideal to meet in person but that isn’t always possible.)

Calls are personal. They are more meaningful than texts, let alone a comment on social media. You only take time out for things that matter. So when you call someone just to wish them, you show them that they are important to you. I’ve found that this launches a virtuous cycle: you initiate, they reciprocate, the relationship strengthens and the friction to initiate decreases.

Calls are expressive. They are higher bandwidth than texts - you can communicate a lot more in much less time. Along with your words, you can also convey emotion. This goes a long way in establishing a deeper connection. It also means it’s more efficient - you can cover a lot of ground quickly. I often learn more about people’s lives during a few minutes of a birthday call than a few months of intermittent messaging.

Wouldn’t You Love It?

For many, this idea sounds great in theory but they hesitate to put it into practice. They don’t want to interrupt others’ birthdays; they know how busy it can be. This is especially relevant when you branch out of your inner circle to begin rekindling old relationships.

Here’s something to put your mind at ease: in my experience, everyone has been more than happy to get a call. If you’re worried about being intrusive, put yourself in their shoes: even if you’re too busy to talk, wouldn’t you be thrilled that they thought of you and decided to reach out?

I know I would.

This post took redacted minutes to write.

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