Organising your social life can feel like a full-time job after being cooped up for so long. Kezia Rice knows the stress of taking on all of the friendship social admin all too well and is exhausted with the burden of expectation.
The last few months have been a whirlwind of social activity. Since moving to Berlin from the UK in September 2020, I survived Germany’s seven-month winter lockdown and, after Covid restrictions eased last summer, threw myself into exploring the city’s nightlife like an overexcited puppy. But alongside the novelty of going to real-life events with real-life friends came the return of an eye-watering amount of social admin.
Now, as the Christmas party season kicks into gear, all I want to do is stroll into a bustling pub full of my friends and have an ice-cold cocktail thrust into my hands by one of them. But like many others, I feel a heightened pressure to take on organisational tasks to keep my social life thriving.
I spend my evenings researching events, coordinating timetables and making bookings. Every spare minute during my workday, I’m on WhatsApp relaying arrangements. It gradually hit home that my friends were simply coming along to events that I’d planned. Without realising, I’d become the social secretary of my friendship group.
It didn’t surprise me that I’d fallen into this role. After my mum died when I was 17, organising social plans for my whole family was just one of several aspects of emotional labour that I took over.
My technologically incapable dad would hand me his mobile, frustrated by the tiny keyboard, and dictate texts for me to type out. Friends crowded around us to offer support but it was me who made the phone calls to arrange whose house we were going to for tea, or who would pick us up from the supermarket with our bags of shopping.
This extra responsibility was a challenge I stepped up to, desperate to prove to everyone worrying about me that I was coping. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realised the unnecessary pressure I’d put myself under, but by then it was too late. I was firmly entrenched as the first port of call for anyone trying to arrange plans with our family.
When it comes to my older sister, being her social secretary may as well be front and centre on my CV. Because she’s a long-time social recluse, friends and family constantly ask me for her contact details. The most mind-boggling message I received from a local family friend was: “I bumped into your sister the other day. What’s her phone number?” Apparently, asking her in person wasn’t an option; instead, I was called upon to fulfil my secretarial duties even while living in another country.
When bars reopened in Germany last May, I began organising nights out with the enthusiasm of an Ibiza club promoter. The first realisation that I was taking on too much responsibility came when, on the day of an event, I mentioned the requirement of taking a Covid test beforehand to a friend who was coming. She immediately blew up – why hadn’t I told her earlier! Even if the information hadn’t been clearly displayed on the event page, I thought it was blindingly obvious, simply because it was a legal requirement of going to a bar in Berlin at the time. I swallowed my annoyance so as not to ruin the evening I’d so carefully coordinated, but was left feeling dejected that my attempts to bring friends together were being criticised instead of praised.
During the Euros tournament last summer, my role as social secretary reached new levels of stress. The England v Germany game was a particular logistical nightmare – not least because the German guy I was dating wanted to join me and my British friends so we could all enjoy some healthy rivalry.
When I told him where we planned to watch the match – carefully chosen as a midpoint between everyone’s homes – he immediately replied, insisting I change it to ‘a real bar with real beer please, or I’m going to kill someone’. I brushed over this subtly threatening red flag, spent another evening choosing a different bar and created a group chat so everyone could answer each other’s questions. The group chat proved useless: when you’re the party leader, no amount of delegating stops private messages flooding in. As for the guy? England beating Germany and my inability to hold my beer when celebrating (I threw up the whole night), proved one cultural difference too many – that night was the last time I saw him.
Priya, 33, from London, told me she is just like me. The organisational tasks she takes on are “all of them! From reaching out to friends, to putting a date in all our diaries, to rescheduling them if one can’t make it and then asking everyone for their respective cuisine and location preferences, making a note of dietary restrictions, researching a restaurant we would all enjoy and phoning ahead with any special requests.
“I even send reminders a few days before we’re meant to meet and let them know that my debit card can be charged if we don’t cancel or reschedule well in advance. It’s absolutely exhausting.”
Since the UK opened up this summer, Priya says: “Though friends have reached out asking to meet, it often leads to nothing and I’ve always been the one making solid plans. Recently, I checked with my friends if they’d fancy going to this new pizza place in Soho and sent them the link to the menu. They said they were happy with it.
“I booked the place, and when we got there, one friend said she doesn’t eat pizza and basically complained throughout the night. Another friend showed up 45 minutes late. As it was our first meet up since Christmas last year, this was incredibly frustrating for me.”
How to take the stress out of playing social secretary
So how do you cope if being the social secretary is adding unnecessary stress to your life? Psychologist and friendship expert Dr Marisa Franco gave the following advice: “If you find yourself being the social secretary, bring it up to your friends. Often, they may be oblivious rather than wanting to intentionally frustrate you.
“The best way to address it is to express gratitude towards your friends and ask for what you want in the future. So you can say ‘I love hanging out with you all so much which is why I’ve been so willing to make all our plans, but I realise it’s exhausting me and I could really use some help. Do you all think you might be able to take the lead on planning sometime?’”
If your friends are still lousy at planning, consider setting up a regular standing meeting (ie get coffee every two weeks at this date and time) that no one has to plan for.
The biggest question I ask myself as a social secretary is whether the effort I’m putting in is appreciated.
I’ve consciously given up on three different friendships in the last six months when my texts suggesting plans would either be left on read or receive vague replies like ‘I can’t make it, but hopefully see you soon’.
There’s a difference between friends who lack the impetus to make plans, and those who believe communication is a one-way thing. I’ll continue initiating nights out because of my desire to keep my social calendar full this Christmas. But consider this article a callout to those I love: please invite me out for an evening where I can relax in the knowledge that every last detail has been organised by someone other than me.
Main image: Getty, photograph provided by Kezia Rice