Hadley’s intro: Never let the business of post-pandemic
life interfere with your desire to create rich connections
with your favorite people. How? Get success tips courtesy
written by Elizabeth Bernstein
There’s a perk I especially like about my job: I
receive many letters from readers offering their
relationship advice. Very often, the suggestions
are very good.
This hard-earned expertise informs my column.
Readers have inspired stories on the need to
center yourself, first—practicing meditation,
journaling or connecting with nature. “Get in
the water!” one man says, advice I wholly
This year, much of the advice centered around how
to strengthen social lives still in rebuilding
mode after the pandemic. People are thinking about
how to reconnect with loved ones and broaden
shrunken social circles. They’re also figuring
out how to hold on to relationship lessons learned
over the past few years: to slow down and pay
attention to what really matters.
One husband and wife set time aside after dinner
each night to talk. Another couple makes sure to
hug once a day—and to pay attention to nothing
but the hug while it’s happening. A woman says
she writes down how she would like her
relationships to look and focuses on making her
vision a reality. Another says she gives the most
energy to the relationships that give the most back.
Several other pieces of advice on how to
strengthen our bonds stood out.
Invite people over—and keep it casual
Many of us are eager to continue to reconnect with
people we’ve missed. But parties can be
exhausting and impersonal, and restaurants are
often loud, rushed and expensive.
That’s why Sarah McCue, 55 years old, an
international development consultant in Reston,
Va., invites friends, neighbors, colleagues—even
her kids’ coaches—to her home.
Ms. McCue says she learned the power of at-home
gatherings from her mom, who regularly hosted
dinner parties when Ms. McCue was growing up.
She’d set the scene with candles and music and
throw open the door to guests with a smile. “My
mom showed me that there’s nothing more intimate
and welcoming than saying: ‘Come into my
home,’” says Ms. McCue.
She began inviting people into her home again this
fall. “I was sick of being alone,” she says.
Ms. McCue is more purposeful about her invites
than she was before the pandemic, though. She’s
made a list of people she wants to see and is
reaching out, saying: “I miss you and need to
see you. Could you give me a specific date and
time that you are open and can come over?”
Her gatherings are also smaller and more intimate.
Sometimes she plans activities, such as pumpkin
carving for Halloween or a game night. And she
keeps the food casual: “drinks and nibbles” or
pizza and wine.
“Home is the perfect place to connect,” says
Ms. McCue. “You get to feel like you’re all
family for one night.”
Pick up the phone
This one hits on one of my biggest pet
peeves—how no one picks up the phone anymore,
either to make a call or answer one.
Bill Kalmar does, though. For years, he’s made a
concerted effort to call family members, friends
and cherished colleagues on their birthdays,
anniversaries and other significant days. To
remember the dates, he records them each year in
his new leather calendar as soon as it arrives in
October, then checks the calendar each week to see
what calls he needs to make.
Mr. Kalmar, 79, a retired director of a state
quality council, who lives in Lake Orion, Mich.,
estimates that he makes about 350 friendly calls a
year. In addition to the ones in his calendar,
many are spontaneous, to congratulate someone for
a promotion or a graduation or some other good
news he saw someone post on social media. “I
want people to realize that my friendship is more
than just a ‘like’ on their Facebook page,”
Sometimes he calls a buddy just to joke around,
maybe ribbing the friend about why a favorite team
lost. And each Friday he sends his 11
grandchildren a group text asking them their plans
for the weekend, then follows-up with phone calls
after they respond to hear more.
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Many of his calls are to show support. He reaches
out to friends who are sick, often offering help.
And he calls the family members of friends who
have died on the late person’s anniversary or
birthday. “It’s time to relive all the great
memories,” he says when they answer.
Mr. Kalmar has noticed that his habit of calling
has inspired others: Many people now regularly
call him. He tries to always answer the phone.
“What other thing do you have to do that is so
important—unless you are a doctor in the middle
of surgery—but pick up the phone and talk to
someone you care about?” he says.
Try something new
A lot of the focus on rebuilding our bonds these
days is on the people we miss. But let’s not
forget our nearest and dearest relationships.
Researchers have long believed that couples who
try new things together—even small ones, such as
a new restaurant or a walk in a new
neighborhood—are happier. New experiences help
prevent boredom and complacency. They also
activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it
with powerful neurochemicals related to pleasure
and bonding—the same circuits triggered when we
fall in love.
During their 17-year marriage, Lisa Mattson and
her husband, Damon, have always looked for novel
things to do together, from places to vacation to
new bars and cocktails. “Experiencing new things
helps keep our spark going,” says Ms. Mattson,
48, a wine marketing consultant.
During the pandemic, the couple began renting out
their home in Northern California and spending the
winter in Baja California Sur, Mexico. While
there, they began to explore a new place each
weekend: restaurants; roads, to look at houses
they haven’t seen; beaches. They try out new
fish recipes and new wines. And they’ve recently
started rollerblading again—something they
haven’t done in many years. (The old can be new
Ms. Mattson says the conversations she has with
her husband when they’re exploring something new
are energizing. And that this makes them both feel
as if their relationship is always growing.
“When you’re constantly doing new things
instead of a routine, your conversations are
different—you’re less likely to fall into your
usual rut or check your phone,” she says. “And
when you look at the other person you see
How will you create rich connections in your life?