Can you imagine what it would be like to find “unicorn friends”? The kind you can have adult slumber parties with and just “exist” and do life with, unapologetically?
You’re about to hear an incredibly inspiring story of friendship between two families. Dr. Erika Michalski is an aggressive optimist, fierce authenticity advocate, and the founder of Strategically Authentic, a consulting company dedicated to helping individuals and teams leverage who they are to get where they want to be. Did I mention she’s also passionate about data, documentaries, dance parties, and dessert?
If things are feeling hard and limiting in your friendships, maybe the answer is to think outside of societal norms. To smash the box, and instead, build what feels right to you. I’m so excited for the conversations that are going to come out of listening to this one.
In this episode you’ll hear about:
- The challenges of building relationships where we’re constantly in a state of apology. The secret to authenticity is just existing as ourselves – not apologizing for our house being a mess!
- Flipping friendship questions back on yourself: Do you even want this friendship? What do YOU bring? What are you looking for? You have to serve yourself.
- The moment where Erika and her family formed a near “instant” friendship with another couple and their children (plus, how their story roots were created)
- What it means to have “unicorn friends” and how Erika’s most sacred memories in her friendship are tied to having adult slumber parties
- How to make your friends feel deeply valued and be able to enjoy the endless “do nothing” space that exists after you get past the barriers of catching up
Define your ideal version of a beautiful, unapologetic friendship. One that allows you to be yourself. What would you enjoy doing together? What would you talk about? How often would you get together?
Then, consider the power of adult slumber parties and how they have played out in Erika’s life. What did this conversation surface for you?
Notable Quotes from Dr. Erika Michalski:
“Friendships are that space where you recharge most authentically because it takes the least amount of effort to exist. Because that’s the secret of authenticity – you just exist as yourself, and you don’t have to think about it.”
“Part of the challenge with adult friendships is that none of us have enough time to recharge our batteries and manage relationships very well. So if you can find a relationship that also recharges your battery, that is a sacred magical unicorn or mermaid of a thing. They are our unicorn friends, and we are theirs. And they would say the same.”
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Until next time…
Podcast Intro/Outro 00:02
Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!
Podcast Intro/Outro 00:18
Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 00:50
I am so excited about today’s episode. And that is because we are going to talk about ways to be in friendship, that are things I do. But hearing somebody else talk about approaching friendship this way just makes me want to stand up and yell, “Oh, my gosh. See, I’m not the only one, you can do this.” It’s a confirmation that it’s possible. And, Erika, our guest today is unapologetically making this happen in her life. Now, this isn’t surprising, because she owns a consulting company called Strategically Authentic, which is dedicated to helping individuals and teams leverage who they are, who they are to get to where they want to be. And she’s living that out in her life. She is making the community and connections she wants her family wants to happen, no matter what box society has put her in, she’s breaking it down. We’re gonna get to the episode because I’m so excited for the conversations that are going to come out of listening to this one.
Alex Alexander 02:05
Erika Michalski 02:06
Alex Alexander 02:07
I’m so happy you’re here.
Erika Michalski 02:09
I’m so excited to be here. I must…
Alex Alexander 02:11
I have told I don’t even know like five or six people about meeting you, and your story of friendship. And I just think this is such a fun way for people to hear like, what is possible?
Erika Michalski 02:28
Oh, yeah, yeah. So the thing I think that’s so funny about, you maybe can gauge by my office that I am a former preschool teacher. And I think one of the things is that some of the best lessons of friendship are tucked into watching small children play or thinking about the things that we loved as small children. And they’re all these memes or Instagram posts or all these things about like, you know, your 30s is about realizing you’re not who you used to be, your 40s is about becoming that person or something. Like I’ve seen varying degrees of these things that are like, be the kid that you were that you thought you weren’t supposed to be because the world’s… I think friendship has kind of that same vibe of like, remember when you did stupid things, because you didn’t have a perception of how someone else was going to interpret the behavior you and your best friend had or like, you know, all those things. Yeah, we need to go back to that. We need to go back to those things that made us feel valued and rooted in the presence of another person without wondering if we should tweet about it, or if the Kardashians have done it on the last episode, or whatever else, and just be the people that we love being in the behaviors that we loved, executing when we were less aware of how much the world has paved into us and as a parent with small children now, that awareness isn’t present for my elementary schoolers the way that it was for me, which also was heartbreaking. And we can have a whole different conversation about how to create friendships when you’re being watched. But when we weren’t, I mean, I’m an Oregon Trail millennial, so I’m almost 40. And when I was growing up, it was like, how close can we get to the life that the Goonies had? That’s what we were… we’re working on and I think we everything has become so performative friendships included. I love this show. I love this idea of like, what does it mean? And I love thinking about, you know, the secret sauce, for me may not work for everybody, but man, it is what has kept me sane through a pandemic and all else.
Alex Alexander 04:22
I tell people all the time that if you think back to those friends you had in elementary school, middle school, high school, we didn’t have to think about all this like, vulnerability and opening up and sharing. Like you would go to your friend’s house, your friend would get in trouble from their parents in front of you. That’s pretty freakin vulnerable. You know, you messed up all the time. So if we weren’t so focused on being this picture perfect adult, putting our best foot forward, show your messy that’s how you used to make friends. It’s a lot of the same thing.
PODCAST EPISODE! How to Make Friends as a Grown-Up. Give it a listen!
Erika Michalski 04:56
Well, before it wasn’t… so now it’s like show your mess meaning that there’s a piece of you that you hide. Before we didn’t really know how to hide those pieces, we just existed. And I think that’s part of it is like, so one of my childhood best friends is a girl named Claire Woodburn and she’s married now but that was her name when we were growing up. And her mom Rebecca Woodburn 100% was responsible for some of my like, scolding as a child, because I was part of a unit, like we were just existed in this space of feeling valued and cared for in a way that included corrective feedback sometimes, you know, and so, going to Claire’s Haussmann, an extension of existing the way that I would exist anywhere else with adults who valued me and cared about me in a different way. And Claire’s parents taught me life lessons, too. And so that included, being invited as my son. They didn’t show up as, oh, which version is allowed to operate at Claire’s parents house? Every household has different roles. I always wonder like, what are the roles that my kids tell other people or roles that their house or whatever, because they feel like that’s true, right? Every house has like shoes on or off, or like words you can’t say or you can’t have drinks without coasters, you know, those kinds of roles. But you know, it wasn’t which version of me is allowed to be at Claire’s house. And so I think when you take something like that from your childhood, those places where you didn’t think about the version, that’s really what adult friendship is craving, because most of us don’t have a ton of that. I built a career on authenticity, because I only wanted that. But I realized that I have a unique success story around how I have designed a life that I like showing up in and all parts. But in general friendships are that space where you recharge most authentically because it takes the least amount of effort to exist. Because that’s your creative authenticity. Like you just exist as yourself, and you don’t have to think about it. You know, think about what am I allowed to do? What am I allowed to say? What am I allowed to wear? Right? Like…
Alex Alexander 06:53
Yeah, like, I am me. I think about this all the time. Adults nowadays are so scared to let other adults in their home. And then you walk into and it’s like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I haven’t picked that up.” Or “It’s messy.” And I’m looking around. I’m like, “It’s perfectly fine in here. You exist in your home. All I can see is that you live here.”
Erika Michalski 07:12
We have created the most broken expectation of apologizing for existence.
Alex Alexander 07:18
That’s what I mean by messy, right? Like you exist. You are human. That is what I mean by messy.
Erika Michalski 07:23
I used to make this joke that like if people would come over, I would say, my house is a disaster. I’m not apologizing. I’m acknowledging, but I won’t apologize. Because I live the way that I live. I have children and I run a company and my husband has a full time job. I don’t have time to always pick up all the things and I get that some people do and make the time for that. And I love that about them. I am often snuggling with my children watching or reading or doing whatever. And I look around and I’m like, oh, if I took… as soon as they’re in bed, maybe I should pick up or maybe I should do this stuff. And then as soon as my kids are in bed, my husband and I have date night every night because I love my marriage. But yes, we’ve become apologetic about our existence. And it’s really hard to build relationships when you are in a state of a constant state of apology.
Alex Alexander 08:09
Yes, all of these. And that’s what people want. And then there’s all these conversations about, you know, like, strategically letting people in or showing your deepest stuff.
Erika Michalski 08:20
… went to this whole concept or who made vulnerability the buzzword. We did not talk about this on anything. So buckle up.
Alex Alexander 08:25
Unleash it, let’s go.
Erika Michalski 08:27
If I had to go back and look at where do I remember the concept of vulnerability really starting to have a foothold, it’s the bachelor franchise, because every thing… think about it, think about it when they’re not giving it a rose is because someone wasn’t being vulnerable. When I was dating in high school, which I didn’t do really but like when other people were dating in high school, and they were telling me about it, no one was like, “Oh, he’s not being vulnerable with me. I don’t know if I can tell….” Vulnerability was born out of watching people have scripted relationships fighting for a prize.
Alex Alexander 08:58
I freaking love this. Yes.
Erika Michalski 09:01
This is a thought that I just had in this moment. When we were talking… when you said the word vulnerable all of the sudden I’m like, my brain started spiraling like where did I first hear that word used in sort of a metric of validity of another person, meaning they are not good enough if they are not willing to be vulnerable. And if you think about it, so I was a freshman in college, the first season of The Bachelor. And I remember watching that and watching a lot of seasons after that. I found off long before what it has become. But think about if you went back, I joke a lot that if I had millions of dollars, I have so many research studies that I would do but they’re all weird and no one would care about them. This is one that I would do is like if you could have a bot watch every episode of every franchise…
Alex Alexander 09:41
You probably got to do this.
Erika Michalski 09:42
Someone who knows how to code things teach about to watch Bachelor, so but if you watch all the Bachelor, Bachelorette, Bachelor Paradise, whatever else there is, I don’t even know and listened, had it track the number of times the word vulnerable or vulnerability or opening up any version of that, it would probably be sort of a sickening reflection of what it has become. And I think some of those people probably couldn’t even define that word if they actually…
Alex Alexander 10:07
I know, I don’t think a lot of people can. Because I think the definition is this, like narrow one end of the spectrum, you know, like, let me share my trauma with you. I’m like, okay, here’s the deal. What is being vulnerable? Just being yourself. And like being okay with the fact that somebody might not like you, because we are all unique, or you’re different than somebody. And there are 1 million ways to do that. It could be as simple as telling someone that this restaurant I’m taking you to is my absolute favorite restaurant. It’s my favorite. I love this restaurant so much. And knowing that they might go inside, and not like it. And that’s okay.
Erika Michalski 10:49
That has happened to me a couple of times in college, where I had something that was rooted in my childhood that I wanted to share with someone. And then as an adult sharing, it was very different than being a child experiencing it. And its excellence was not the same. So you’re like, I don’t know why I thought you would love this as an adult. But as a child, this was an iconic component of me. But the friendship comes from the fact that we all have those things where we can say, this is a weird food that I’m going to make you for dinner because it is… it tastes like my childhood. It tastes like my kitchen table. The ingredients don’t make sense.
Alex Alexander 11:24
This dip is really odd. I can’t tell you what’s in it. Yeah.
Erika Michalski 11:28
I really do have a couple of meals where I won’t tell people what’s in it until after they’ve told me how much they love it. Because there are some things that taste really good and are weird in pieces. Right? You put it all together. And it’s great. There was that Sesame Street thing for a while with Elmo, where it was like, they’re gross all alone, but you put it together and it’s great, or whatever it was with Jimmy Fallon. So I think being an adult is kind of like that some of your pieces are gross dependently. But when they become a part of your existence, and you’re allowed to bring them and you’re like, look, here’s the thing, I love oregano. I’m gonna put it in everything. It’s part of who I am. I’m only going to spend time with people who like oregano, right? Like that’s, I love glitter. I love glitter. I am delighted by shiny, sparkly things. I am basically a human fish which is fine. I don’t need anyone’s permission to like shiny things. And right after New Year’s Eve, you can buy a lot of really shiny things for cheap that didn’t get sold for new year’s…
Alex Alexander 12:19
Like your Super Bowl.
Erika Michalski 12:21
Yeah, it is. Like my secret to shopping for sequence is waiting for New Year’s Eve to be over. You know, conceptually, if someone doesn’t like this piece that I bring, I don’t want to be in a scenario where I have to hide it or gauge how much of it is… like, I just want to show up with my weird food that tastes great. This is not where I thought today was going. But look, here we are.
Alex Alexander 12:42
This is such a beautiful entry, though into the story about this friendship you’ve developed because I actually think it’s going to show people. I talked about this a lot like so much of friendship conversation is focused on the other person. Will they like me? And I always tell people, you have to kind of think about who you are, do they want this friendship? What do you want? What do you bring? What are you looking for? You have to start with yourself. And this is such a beautiful entry for everybody listening to hear you talk about this, though, because you like, I haven’t known you that long, you have a pretty strong sense of self. So, you’re showing up. Like, here we are.
Erika Michalski 13:22
To set the scene as a perfect transition. Let’s talk about what I was wearing the first day that this started to evolve. Okay, so the context is, I was in college as Facebook was starting, which is the only reason this friendship even exists. Because I connected with eleventy billion people because we were one of the universities that was early on. And so everyone was really excited. So we all connected and then went on and had our lives and what have you and fast forward a bunch of years. My partner had an opportunity to move to Colorado for his postdoc after he finished his PhD. So we moved to Colorado, and I’m posting things about being in Colorado, and I live in northern Colorado. And I posted something about how we were going to the Denver aquarium, or how we had gone to. Actually we had gone to the Denver aquarium to see the mermaid show because I have two daughters. And that’s what daughters do. That’s what… So I posted this thing about how we had gone and done this thing. So a past tense event had happened. And a friend of mine from college, who we both had cell phones, did not have each other’s phone number, but we’d see each other in bars, or other places you go in college and hug each other and acknowledge each other but like, and we’ve probably had friend circles that overlapped a fair amount. But on the whole. I don’t think either of us were like, “This is my friend Lindsey”, and she wouldn’t have been like, “This is my friend Erica.” It would have been like, oh, do you know Eric or do you know Lindsey, which is sort of a different energy in college that this is my person. So we had great friends a few that overlapped but on the whole like we were not overly connected socially outside of if we saw each other in a bar we would…
Alex Alexander 14:58
She was probably in the background. own in some Facebook photos when you dumped your album, you know, the line. Oh, yeah.
Erika Michalski 15:05
We all had our going out top that we bought at the same store in Columbia, Missouri. Well, a few stores but like Bridges was where we’d go. Anyhow fast forward Lindsey comments on my photo album of taking my kids to the aquarium and she’s like, “Hey, next time you go, let me know, we would love to meet you there.” So she lives in a suburb of Denver. So great, fine. I sent her a Facebook message. A couple of weeks or months later said, “Hey, we’re going down to the aquarium. Do you want to meet us?” She’s like, “Yeah.” So this was our second trip to the aquarium. By this point. I own mermaid attire. Because my kids… So I have mermaid in…
Alex Alexander 15:46
Also because you love sparkles. Because this is you. Yes.
Erika Michalski 15:49
I am all the things. So we go and the girls are wearing mermaid clothes. So we go down to the Denver aquarium to meet Lindsay and her husband and her two children who are close in age to my children. Her oldest daughter is like two months older than my oldest daughter. So, we go meet them. And one of my favorite pictures is actually my younger daughter sitting on Lindsay’s lap waiting for the mermaid show to start. Because by the time we got to the mermaid show, we had already maybe met up to go in or had lunch or something. I don’t quite remember. But by the time we sat down for the mermaid show, my kids had decided these were part of our new people.
Alex Alexander 16:24
As kids do.
Erika Michalski 16:26
Correct, because they do, because kids are awesome. They are so good at reminding us how relationships work. And her son who is a year younger than my youngest, so you know, she has the book ends and…but all of them collectively cover a close age range. Her son, I remember getting a message from her after this video that was like, “Josh has been asking when we get to see you again, because he had decided I was a great person.” Right? Like, so that’s what happens. But we just went down for this thing where we went to the aquarium, and then we went off and said, “Hey, we should do this again.” We all say these things as adults, we should do this again. And I can’t say to you with any sense of confidence what made me follow up or her follow up. But we both did. And if I had to guess, it was because of that thing, which was at no point did I wonder if I was allowed to say or do things. And we had relocated to a place we didn’t know anybody. And it’s really overwhelming to wonder how to make friends as an adult in a new place where you don’t have anyone and nothing feels safe, like emotionally safe, psychologically safe, right? And so we followed up and the next thing we did, we’re so good at mythical creatures, because I’m pretty sure the next time we got together, it’ll be a unicorn festival.
Alex Alexander 17:38
We see a common thread here, sparkly, exciting for the kids, magic.
Erika Michalski 17:43
Magic. So the next thing we did was get the kids together for a unicorn festival, we went to the unicorn festival. And then we went back to Lindsay and Scott’s house at the time. And they sat at a plastic red and yellow picnic table that Lindsay and I both would have sat at the exact same thing you probably did growing up too. The picnic table read. And we watched the four of them while we were sitting. And all of us just realized, like, they did it, they have instantly decided this is who we are, we should just listen to it. And that was the last time we were together before the great slumber parties of Colorado began. And that’s really the point of our story here today.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 18:26
Okay, we got to stop here for a second you are about to hear and not everybody is going to think that this has turned into some epic ideal friendship. Some people are gonna think this sounds like a nightmare, for sure. But everything you’re about to hear, I want you… I just want to mark the moment that is they sat at this picnic table, and they just decided. And the reason I want to point that out is because if you have listened to my episode about the roots theory, this goes along with the story route. So, story roots are created in three ways. Most commonly, you are friends with someone for a while. And their actions, basically create evidence that give you a belief. So, that takes time to get together. You’re a little uncomfortable, a little uncertain. You know, are they my friend? Are they not my friend? Do I trust them? Can I trust them? You’re like looking for their actions to create evidence that creates your belief over time. That’s one way. The other way. Number two is societal messages. So hearing your community, your connections, your family, as you’re growing up tell you certain beliefs and that sets expectations, so you know that like family will always be there for you. I’ve talked about that one before. That’s something you probably heard growing up, and you just kind of blindly accepted that belief. And for some people, the evidence lines up and supports it. And for other people, like myself, it does not. And at a certain point, you have to really look at this belief and decide if you should continue to believe it when there’s no evidence. Okay. That’s the second one. The third one. The third one is, you just choose the belief, act as if there is evidence, even though there is not. And I think that’s what happened here. These two families, kind of just decided, these are our people now. The kids verbalized it, and acted in such a way. And the parents sat at this table and watched and just looked at each other and said, “We’re going to try this, we’re just going to lean in and decide we are each other’s people.” Now, the story you’re about to hear is a beautiful example of how this can work out. And I have plenty of stories of doing something similar, honestly, and working out. It leads to kind of this like Fast and Furious friendship. There are also times though, where maybe one person chooses to just will leave a story route, without any evidence, and then they get hurt or frustrated later, when the actions don’t align. This quite often happens if you just meet someone, and maybe your social wellness isn’t great. And you just decide, they’re my friend now. And you act as if they are your closest friend, you expect them to act that way. But really, they were under the impression that this was going to be like collect evidence over a long period of time, and people can get hurt there. I do think there are some magical moments. And maybe the key here is kind of that agreement in the beginning. Because the times where this has worked out well for me, is where there’s something in the beginning, like a friend we’ve had for a really long time who’s basically, you know, well, they are chosen family, and then they get a partner. And the partner, kind of just cosines on this idea of like, okay, well, this is my new partners people, they’re now my people, and we all kind of just like, immediately lean in and build this really beautiful connection. So with that, I’m gonna let Erika go back to telling her story because I find this whole thing really inspiring.
Alex Alexander 19:01
So you got together twice before this…
Erika Michalski 22:52
Before we started doing this. And I’m pretty sure that first summer party we had was already… I can’t remember if we started with two… But yeah, we had only gotten together twice before we decided we should probably just have slumber parties, because it’s really frustrating. Here’s the deal, especially when you have kids. I know this is different with folks who don’t have children. And I still give this advice. I give this advice to lots of young adults as they are figuring out their lives and their friendships, have slumber parties, but not in the swingers kind of way. I mean, if you want to do that, that’s fine, too. But this is not an upside down pineapple outside my door kind of situation. This is when there is no expectation of departure, there is also no level of regulation of what I want to consume. Should we start the next game of cards or password or whatever else we’re playing? Because we play games, I’ve learned so many great games from Lindsey that come from her childhood playing cards with her grandma. And it’s so fun, because it’s an insight into a person that if I had to leave when my first whichever kid melts down first is when you leave a lot of times when you have children. So if I had to leave every time the first kid melted down and drive back to Northern Colorado, which you know, is…
PODCAST EPISODE! Let’s talk about how to build community for your family. Listen here.
Alex Alexander 24:00
That’s an important point. You guys live far apart. You live far apart. Because people are gonna hear this and initially and be like, oh, well, they’re probably neighbors or something like that. It’s like an hour and a half you said.
Erika Michalski 24:11
Correct. It is like an hour and a half.
Alex Alexander 24:13
So you’re making this choice.
Erika Michalski 24:16
Because if we would go for a two day weekend, we leave on Friday evening. So we would drive through Denver traffic to go to other parties with our friends. Because we love them. And we love ourselves when we are with them. And I think that’s the secret is we love ourselves when we were with them. And so we would drive, we would alternate. And we would take turns. I would drive down, you know, we would drive down. We would take our dog, they would bring their dog. Like it was very much… none of the work that comes with actual vacationing, all the planning you have to do. None of that happens. And there was one time where my kids forgot pajamas, and it was not a big deal, right? Because we just put them in other people’s clothes or they slept in the same clothes. Like who cares? So, you know, we figured out really quickly that there was magic in the presence of this collective. And when something happened with one kid, it didn’t matter which parent was in charge of responding. And sometimes when you are parenting, your kid is not interested in hearing your input. And these are also people who I trust to give feedback or guidance or support for my kid when I’m not the person eithe. Because I’ve had a week where I can no longer be that person. You know, if I’m overwhelmed too, and overstimulated over, or dysregulated parent, can’t regulate your child, so if I could share with you the text message exchanges that precede some of the summer parties, because we have a ton of them now, like tons of them. And they’re the kind of thing that we don’t have any photos of, or almost no photos of, because we don’t think about that part. There is very little documentation that these happened. But my most sacred memories are tied in some of these summer parties. But there are times where I would text Lindsay or Lindsay would text me about things that have been going on and whatever. And we would show up ready to be who everyone needed for each other, not just, you know, my best friend and I were going to try a new cocktail that she found on the internet, or whatever. It wasn’t just our kids reading it together, and we happen to like each other. It was like, all four of us could show up and be the people that all four of them needed. And part of the challenge with adult friendships is none of us have enough time to recharge our batteries and manage relationships very well. So if you can find a relationship that also recharges your battery, that is a sacred magical unicorn or mermaid of a thing. There are unicorn friends, and we are theirs. And they would say the same. I can’t imagine Lindsay’s husband Scott, talking about us being unicorn friends, but I really want to get him a teacher of… they’re my unicorn friends. But we are and they are and some of our routines at bedtime are a little bit different. But it’s okay. And we all piled together. And the parents take turns reading to this collection of four children. And we really are basically one step away from creating our own compound, which we would do if our life was closer together, but it’s not. And we have watched all four of the kids grow up. This has been going on for a couple of years, it started pre-pandemic. But during the pandemic, our bubble was people that lived an hour and a half away because we trusted them more than some of the other people that we were in close proximity to. And so we once a month would alternate who was there. But I think the most telling part of this whole thing, and I think it’s important to share because it is an honest player. So yes, two friendship visits in, we decided summer parties, partly because you and I are both like let’s drive less. And partly because we were like, let’s hang out more. Things like drive less and hang out more. But in the beginning, both Lindsay and I liked planning the visit of someone else. And so we would… I can remember sending it being so excited to send like the menu, here’s what we’re gonna do for these three days. Here’s what we want to eat, here’s the plans. Everything was very well orchestrated. And I like doing that. And she likes doing that. She’s a brilliant cook, and baker and I cook things from the Midwest that tastes like your mother made them which tastes a different way but good. Nothing that I make is fancy. I was never almost on Food Network television. But she was. Like, we compete in different arenas when we’re baking. It’s fine. But I remember they were coming up for Halloween, the first Halloween of pandemic. So, Halloween 2020. Prior to this, there had been a visit where I was like still making things that I had planned on making before they got there and all that. And I remember texting her and saying, here’s the thing. I cannot be who I have been before, I’m going to order wings for dinner because I can’t make… going back to our vulnerability word, I didn’t feel like it was risky really, because by this time, we’d spend so much time. And I knew Lindsey and Scott and their kids loved us not because of the food that I made. But it did feel like the one last piece that was like a teeny tiny risky was like, hey, I am going to phone it in.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 28:50
I’ve talked about this before. We love having friends stay over. We love having slumber parties. I am very practiced in this arena. We don’t have anybody that we necessarily do this consistent, monthly, like come-stay-at-our-house with but we have a variety of friends. And we are always encouraging them to stay here. And let me tell you why. There is just something so nice about what Erika is saying that you don’t have to leave, you can just be here and we can exist together for a few days. But part of the reason that’s so enjoyable is because as the host, we set the precedent. And by that, I mean when I say like we can just exist together, part of that as the host is not being super fussy. Because you can say oh, we just want to exist together. And then you’re fretting around the house doing all these things and trying to cook all these perfect meals and your actions don’t align. So when we have people come stay with us, we really try to just kind of have this, okay, here’s your room, here’s your space, we all want to hang out. What should we eat for dinner? Should we go somewhere, we have some leftovers in the fridge, come and go as you please. Like, quite often, we’ll give people kind of a key. So that if they want to leave and go on a walk, they don’t have to, you know, try and tell us as if it’s like something we need to give them permission for. They can just go and then come back. We tell people before they come, you know, hey, if you have other people you want to see, go do it, we’re not offended, we’ll entertain ourselves. And when you come back, we’ll be here. So the next time you host people, really think about as the host, if your actions align with what you’re saying. And it might take some time, as Erika is saying, like it took a little while to get there. But you can do a little bit of this upfront. If you take the time to think about it and like work on this skill set. I’m going to be honest, and say like, I’m tapped out, this is all I’ve got.
Erika Michalski 31:21
And then that was the concrete that held together what this relationship really exists now as it’s like, I very much was like, I want to outsource this piece because I am not mentally interested in it. And also, I haven’t had wings and oil and sounds good. And I’m not going to make them for eight people. But that peace, the ability to say, hey, I’m going to alter what you’re used to and I am hoping that’s okay. Or actually, I don’t even think I said is it okay, I just said I’m going to do it. And there aren’t a ton of relationships where you can say, hey, I know you’re used to this or you pick me because I make these things. Or this like, would it be okay, if I had an off day? And the older I have gotten, the more I realize I don’t have a lot of relationships where I can actually have an off day. Because I am a very definitive personality, you have figured this out in our time together. And I know that and I know that that’s why some people are drawn to me. And I appreciate that. And I love that. But sometimes I’m also tired, right? Like high energy people also get tired. Organized, strategic people also get burnt out from organizing and strategizing and wanting to go to the grocery store or whatever else. And so being able to say to my slumber party best friend, I am going to only host you and then not do anything else. And we would always… like what can I bring? What can I bring? I think I shared with you when we were meeting before. My husband has a very specific snack mix that he loves that Lindsay made. The first time she made it, he ate… on his own. And it became a thing because we would walk in and he would see it and get very excited. And in fact, this year for Christmas, you know, we give family presents, whatever. She gave him a present that was just for him. And it was a packet of the seasoning and it was like… this thing for him because it’s the snack mix. But it’s the Kui snack mix. It’s not just like anything, it’s just this from them, their household. It tastes like being valued. You know, I’m very big on what do things taste like and smell like. And they are emotions.
Alex Alexander 33:21
It’s like nostalgia. Like you’re… there’s a complete feeling.
Erika Michalski 33:25
Correct. They are gluten free household and I make a very delicious chocolate cake that is gluten free that we make and take there sometimes. And sometimes I forget or I’m actually… and I apologize to my husband on the drive. And I’m like Scott, I’m very sorry, I did not bring the… But when I was able to say, I’m okay that you’re coming.
Alex Alexander 33:45
And in fact, I probably want you here.
Erika Michalski 33:47
I actually need to recharge you but I need to do it through food that I don’t make in my kitchenand you know those kinds of things and fast forward. We had a similar scenario. There was a huge fire in December of 2021 in Lewisville, Colorado and it was like the largest fire in the history of Colorado and it happened. And it was… it was too windy to fight the fire and it made international news because people were watching…
Alex Alexander 34:15
I remember this.
Erika Michalski 34:16
Okay, so my husband’s company was the first place evacuated. Right before the evacuation, he sent me a video from their back deck because he thought it was dust storms. And he was like, “Look at this. This is crazy.” So it was a very anxiety inducing day for me. I was not super great. And then some of his coworkers homes were lost. We were prepping to potentially take in people and their pets because some of these people did live close. And so I was very like adrenaline pumping, stressed out to the max. And Lindsay and Scott were slated to come to our house for New Year’s Eve. And this fire happened like a day or two before that. And I actually helped provide some of the structure and organization to support that was being provided by my husband’s company to other things. I, you know when people are like in high stress, but they can be super grounded and focused on purpose and I will… craft messaging that went out, I helped organize things. Our car, our garage here in Fort Collins was full of things that we were taking in shifts to place, like we were doing all the stuff. I can tell you that there are very few people on the planet who I would have been able to say, “Hey, I’ve been doing this for two days. I am emotionally drained. But yes, you can come sleep in my house with your children.” But Lindsay and Scott were slated to come up, it was our turn to host and if I had said, hey, Linds, I want to see you but I can’t be in charge of anything like, can we come down there? She wouldn’t have said no. She would have been… of course. And in fact, I think she probably asked me 32 times. And I kept saying yes. And I don’t know that at the time I realized it. But part of it was because I was craving, the familiarity of this thing that helped me stay human. That is this relationship that we built over, you know, mermaids, unicorns, and summer parties, which sounds like we’re 12 at best, and that we love Lisa Frank, which I still do. So when they came, even just hugging my person and being able to do that. And I’m grateful that they are at a drivable distance. But I can tell you, even if they lived further away, we would figure out how to do this because it has become such a key component of who you are. And my kids draw their family as part of our family tree because we talk about framily a lot. So they are on our family tree. They are part of our existence as a family, they have a presence in our life. They are people we think about and talk about when we make plans for all sorts of things. And it was because we didn’t say,hey, I wonder if people think it’s weird that we have adult slumber parties with our friends instead of just driving home like, quote, “normal people”. We never wonder if this was allowed. We just did it and realized it worked for us, which is how adults are allowed to operate.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 36:57
Erika is just calling out. She’s saying the real thing. Did you hear it? Did you hear what she said, she said they’d never wondered if it was allowed. The friendship the way they’re doing it. They just did it. They realized it worked. It felt good. And that adults are allowed to make their choices that way. We’ve been stuck in these boxes, where we’re supposed to go out and get dinner with our friends are hosted dinner party, were supposed to come over and leave early. And sure all of those things are great. I love all of those things, too. But if you’re feeling like you are stuck in some parameters, so in their case, right, it’s this hour and a half long drive. They’ve said, okay, well, that’s our parameters. Those are our limitations. We’re going to get creative, and we are going to think outside the box. We’re going to ignore society’s messages. And we’re going to make it work for us. So just take that as inspiration in any of your friendships. If things are feeling hard, and limiting, maybe the answer is to think outside of the societal norms, to smash the box, and instead, build what feels right to you.
Alex Alexander 38:26
We love adult slumber parties. I don’t know if I didn’t tell you this, we have two guestrooms. We invite all sorts of people to our house. I understand that two guestrooms is a luxury. But that’s what we consider it as like a value to us to have space for our people. And it’s not just one set of one family to us. There’s a variety of people but we love having them come stay in our house and we love staying in their house because there is something about just like existing in each other’s space without, like you’re saying, like without an agenda. Wake up when you want. We’ll decide what we’re gonna do, picking meals together. My friend Sarah, who was on the podcast last time we were with them, staying in their house in New Orleans. You know, she kind of made this dinner plan and all of a sudden she was like, “Do you even want that?” I’m like, “You know, it’s fine. It’s whatever.” She pivots the plan all of a sudden, she’s like, “We’re going on a mustard adventure.” We went to like multiple grocery stores bought all this mustard to eat with all these sausages, like you’re just in the moment. You’re just in the moment, doing whatever silly, weird, normal, boring, exciting.
Erika Michalski 39:43
If you can’t be bored with a person, then your friendship has limits, which is okay. I have friendships that have limits and that’s okay. But Lindsay and Scott are the people where Dan and I can be bored and that’s… and like a little bit weirder than normal weird and I’ll give you a great example of this. So I mentioned Lindsay, and her culinary skills are very different than my culinary skills. And one year, my daughter for her birthday, it was their turn to come up here. And for her birthday, all she wanted to do was have a cookie decorating party. But she wanted Lindsey to run it at my house for her birthday. So I was like, hey, Gretchen is… so my oldest daughter is Gretchen. Gretchen is just really this… so Lindsay, like every person who at one point ran a business decorating cookies has a tackle box full of cookie decorating supplies. It’s amazing. So she brings up this stuff, she makes her version of royal icing, which is better than my version because it has a different consistency. And she can flood her cookies. And I learned a lot during my daughter’s cookie decorating birthday party. But we did, all eight of us sat around the table in my house while she ran a thing, because that just made sense. And like I say, we’re one step away from being sort of the commute… I get there are layers that I don’t get. But the idea of communal living makes complete sense to me because we created it, like weekend pockets. The most recent time that we were down there, before it went out, Lindsay sent a text message. And she was like, I’ve really been craving this, you know, I want to make a big roast and all the…like can I make this meal? Will your kids eat it? Because I want to do it. But it’s too much for the four of us to eat. And I don’t have leftovers forever. And so they’re the perfect people for this, like, this is the thing I want to do, I need more people, and you’re the only people I trust to be a part of this weird thing that I want to do. And when you do slumber parties, especially because we live in different towns, it also means sometimes we get to expose them to different restaurants that we like, whether it’s takeout or going out for brunch, or those kinds of things. And we used to do some of those things. But now a lot of the time, it’s like, we just spend so much time in pajamas together… together for two straight days. And it really is. And I should clarify too, Lindsay is also the same person when you see those memes that are like a really good friend of someone where you can have three different conversations going on on three different platforms. One is about reels, one is about actual life and one is about that, you know, she’s that person she knows. And she has seen all the things that if you went through my phone right now, there’s probably four different versions of conversations that are all happening in different pockets and locations. But I think part of that comes from the fact that because we have that kind of relationship, when we show up, we also don’t spend any time really catching up on large scale things. It’s really what has happened in the past three days, you know, at most or what has happened… Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, you were planning this last time when we were together, and tell me what happened. Are you just the one on this trip?” But we have so much awareness of each other’s lives, that we do not have to constantly be updating and that’s where you have space to be bored, but it isn’t boring. It’s… it’s I would say bored is the wrong term. It’s like do nothing space.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 42:52
When I talk about my your people framework, and one of the types of friends, right, that when I say that is like what most people consider their quote unquote “peak friendship” is present friends. What Erika is talking about, this friendship, this is such a beautiful example of a present friendship as adults. And if we all think back, we probably had friendships like this when we were younger, right? Slumber parties at our friend’s house in high school, or just doing life together, connecting pretty regularly in a variety of ways on random topics. Now, I know the older we get, the harder it is to fold our people into our lives. But I think that is really because we’re all just trying to follow these societal norms. You know, let me schedule a dinner. Oh, that’s three weeks from now, you can still be present friends with that. But when I talk to people, what people want is this. They want those friends that they can kind of just fold into their life on some level, and I want to, like carry out that right? If you’re a super introverted person, maybe you don’t want a family to come sleep in your house every month, I get that. But you might want people that you’re talking to on a variety of platforms or you might want the consistency of these like check-ins pretty regularly. It’s all going to be whatever is right for you. But if you listen to this episode, the things that brought on the present friendship were just being. It was just letting your unique self exist in whatever ways feel right for you.
PODCAST EPISODE! What is a Friend? and the 4 Types of Friends We All Have. Listen here.
Erika Michalski 44:47
We’re past the point of catching up.
Alex Alexander 44:48
Erika Michalski 44:49
… this case of just being.
Alex Alexander 44:51
I mean, if you think about catching up, catching up is filling somebody in on your past. Like you are not present and the other person was not there so they don’t have the visual, the sensory, they don’t have the experience. And yeah, we want to fill each other in. But there’s something so special about getting past that, honestly, kind of as quick as possible, because I’m sure a little bit of that will come up, you know, you might be wondering on day two. Say, you know, oh, that thing that you were going to do two weeks ago, did that go well? Whatever it is. And then the problem, like you were addressing earlier is if people you just go out to dinner, or you have a time you have to leave.
Erika Michalski 45:29
… feel guilty, because you’re costing someone a tip by not turning over the table.
Alex Alexander 45:32
Exactly, you have a time you have to leave. So you do this catching up, maybe you sit around and chat. But when you do that kind of stuff, you have to leave, versus this kind of endless amount of space for a few days, where you just have to exist together.
Erika Michalski 45:50
When you have to leave, when things are time bound, even though you don’t know exactly how long a meal is going to take, yu know, one of the things that you’re doing one of the cognitive processes is okay, if I have a finite amount of time, I need to prioritize the thoughts that I have. And so when you don’t have a finite amount of time, or that finite amount of time is 36 to 48 hours, you prioritize less and you’re present more. I would also say, because we don’t have a finite amount of time and because we just aren’t present a lot, if you were to say, “Hey, can I talk to your kids,” my children have inside jokes with the kids for sure. Which is normal, but like my children have inside jokes with and about the adults. And we have those with their kids. Like it’s like, we have this enmeshed history that’s so beautiful.
Alex Alexander 46:38
But you’ve actually had the time to like, truly develop a relationship with their kid. That is it. And you’re in a space. Like when you’re in each other’s homes and in each other’s lives, where, you know, you can pick up on all these cues they’re playing with a new toy. “Where did you get that? Who gave that to you? Did you have a good time when you saw them?” You’re not just asking these random questions like how’s school, how’s life. That is like really big for a kid. You can get into these more nuanced things and like truly build a relationship
Erika Michalski 47:14
And wanting to continue to cultivate that. Because sometimes you do that because you are somewhere with some other people for a while. And that happens, right? You, you meet people on vacation. And so you guys happen to both be at the beach the same time for two days in a row. So you get to know their kid a little bit like this has happened to me, where I’m like, oh, I know, these were things about this family because we keep showing up the same places together because we’re staying in the same area. But this is such a different thing. And I am so grateful that both sets of children are growing up in this scenario where we have normalized this thing that probably if I like took a poll out into the world and said, hey, like what are your thoughts on adult summer parties with children, even if I made it… worded in the least weird way, I think the average person would be like, why would you do that? Just like go to your own house.
Alex Alexander 48:02
I think people would say it’s like, what really is the value out of sleeping over? And you be like, you try it and you tell me because let me tell you that is where the value lives is in this long, endless block of time.
Erika Michalski 48:15
Yes, you know, if you happen to have all, not every person drinks, and I get that. But if all the adults want to drink an adult beverage, you don’t have to decide whose turn is it to drive home, everyone can do a piece of the thing that they want to do. Now in our scenario, we do have to decide like, who is going to parent in the morning. But it’s the same two every time and it is me and Scott, because that is what happens. We both wake up really well in the mornings no matter what. And we don’t… like we’re not excessive or anything. But we both wake up really well. And so we get up, we get going and then we fill in Lindsay and Dan when they wake up on what has happened. And it’s great. And we let the dogs out and the kids watch whatever they’re going to watch together because they do things quietly until at least the majority of the adults, three or more, are awake and then they can go play game. And they recently moved. And so figuring out how sleepover mornings work in a new space when you kind of had a system in the old space and I gotta move… there’s something really fun about being a part of that energy in their new house because it’s an extension of us. And our house is an extension of them and they know we’re getting ready to do renovations and they’re excited about it. And just because it is… our lives are enmeshed, that word is usually used in a negative way about relationships, right? Like if there’s an enmeshment, it’s problematic, but it isn’t that we are enmeshed as people. It is that our lives have been sort of mushed up together.
Alex Alexander 49:41
You’re really on this journey together.
Erika Michalski 49:44
We’re a casserole.
Alex Alexander 49:44
You’ve made this decision as two families, that you’re gonna depend on each other. You’re going to have fun with each other. You’re gonna spend time with each other. You’re gonna like watch each other grow and you’ve like, consciously chosen this and then set up a scenario to facilitate that, to actually do it and not just say you’re going to do it.
Erika Michalski 50:05
And how we manage and honor the relationship when we’re not together, I think partly is what contributes to that too. A great example of that is when I am struggling, instead of just like unloading in a text message to Lindsay, I will say, “Hey, can I share a thing?” Or “I had this weird thought, can I share it with you?” So I check in because we both, you know, all four of us have careers. And at any given time in your career, and even if we didn’t, if we were parenting, which is a career in and of itself, but we all have lives, I should say that. All four of us have lives. And at any given time, your life has tapped you out and even if you want to be a supportive person, you may not be able to do that. And so sometimes, that is one of the things like, hey, can I share a thought with you or acknowledging that you have something that needs attention, that person has the type of attention you want to give it. There used to be… I remember seeing cards in early Facebook posts about every person needs the following types of friends, right? And it’s like they’re party going friend and your study friend. I remember seeing this in college, where was like all these sorts of things. I think that you actually just need a person who honors where you are in the moment, instead of one person filling all these different roles. Like, we need friends who are willing to show up next to us even in our messiest mess, or our most Instagram worthy non mess. And Lindsey and Scott have celebrated things for me, we have celebrated things for them. They have celebrated things. Like we we celebrate each other’s pieces to good news that feels dumb that I’m, you know, laugh and tell Dan, I also laugh and tell them. Saying this was a win. It’s a dumb win, but I’m excited about it or what have you. It isn’t, they happen to be our friends who have kids friends, because there’s that’s a category once you have…like who are your other parenting friends. It is that they are the people who show up as themselves and want us to do the same in all scenarios, all environments. And we have this running joke about our retirement and things. And so sometimes those come up together, that we want to retire together to the mountains where drones bring us our stuff. And people only have access to us if we give them like physical instruction, like we’ll all have PO boxes in the town, so the mail will go to the town. But we will live not in the town. And people will basically be recluses, who you have to get physical… like… with a third pine tree kind of stuff. But it’s because we have chosen to be messy together. And everyone has honored it at every step of the way. And that is because you did that as a kid. Going back to our beginning of this conversation was, you know, my joke that said, do what you did when you were a kid. We were messy together as kids. We were trying to do the lift from dirty dancing in the pool. And we sucked at it. But we did it for like, over and over and over again, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And none of us could do it on land, really. But we could do it in the pool because water. So you know, we were messy. And we were exploring our own existence in a way that wasn’t restricted. And were there problems? Sure, probably especially once you had like being a teenager, I think everything is messy and hard at the same time. But in the beginning, it was like, no, we just… we were dumb together, like we were unbridled absurdity together.
Alex Alexander 53:33
We were all just admitting we didn’t really know we were doing, which is the same as an adult, really, you know, we now have a broader worldview. So even though we know more, we still don’t really know that much.
PODCAST EPISODE! Staying Curious and Managing Differences in our Friendships. Listen here.
Erika Michalski 53:45
Now when you have all the social media that says everybody knows what they’re doing, they’re supposed to and the number of times that you see a post that says, don’t forget, nobody knows what they’re doing is strictly because we have internalized this message that everyone does, or at least somebody does, some do and that there must be some that do… And so because of that it is like not only can we be messy together, but we can openly admit failures together. There are not a lot of places where whether it is parenting related or work related or whatever else. There are a lot of places where you as an adult, I think for most of us feel like if I admit a failure, it won’t get held on to for the next time I see this person or for five years from now they’re going to be thinking about this one failure that I shared. And again, I think some of that comes from the amount of time and energy you spend doing nothing together. I was recently connecting with our local fire department at their training facility and they were talking about why the relationship among firefighters is such a unique thing even among people in emergency services and it’s because they have nothing time together.
Alex Alexander 54:57
There’s… in the firehouse waiting.
Erika Michalski 54:59
They are present in each other’s lives, not just in each other’s work. And that is for us that comes from summer parties. And if they lived closer, we would…. I can openly admit, we would still do slumber parties, even if they lived in our town, because 2am, being at their house playing cards is the thing that makes my heart feels so great. And if we had to go home and someone… when the first kid was tired, or you know, or loading up kids who have fallen asleep into a car is just a bad idea. And everyone gets bad sleep, and nobody does. So even if they were local, we would have these goofy slumber party moments, because they create that space for presence in a different way.
Alex Alexander 55:38
For me, it’s when we get up. And my friends have maybe woken up before me and they are already on my couch in their pajamas and with a mug of coffee. That truly just stops me in my tracks every time. And I just think like, this is so special. I am so grateful for this.
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Erika Michalski 55:55
And even if you vacation together with people and do some of those other things, which I think are also really great. It’s different to be a part of someone’s arbitrary Sunday morning in their home, because you’ve let them in for starters, or they’ve let you in or vice versa, since we alternate, but like, it is so different to know that I am… this is a weird point of reference. But like, it is so different to be like, you know what? I have not put on a bra yet today. Right? Because on vacation, you get in your room and you do your things and then you like go out to be, right? You go out to be you prepared to be, then when you’re doing this slumber party thing, it’s like I don’t have to prepare to be, I just be, which is grammatically incorrect. I just am that’s what I should have said. I don’t have to prepare to be, I just am. And there aren’t a lot of places where that happens organically unless you look for it and then lean into it. So that’s what we did. We lean into the places where we could just exist, instead of preparing to be.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 57:01
Hi, me again, this is how I’m going to start describing what I was trying to describe earlier about like deciding as the host to have your space feel a certain way. And that is like create the space where everyone can just be. Decide that that is your guiding principle. If this is what you want, when you invite people over, stop fussing, preparing, entertaining, decide your home is a place where everyone can just be. And instead of fussing around doing all these things, spend that energy, controlling your own urges to fuss. And watch what happens because this is the best way to describe what I do in our home. This is the best way I’ve ever heard it described. It’s not that it’s less work, the work is my own work. The work is me stop being myself from fretting around when people are in my home.
Erika Michalski 58:08
We would not get roses on The Bachelor because I don’t… amount of effort that it takes to get a rose on The Bachelor.
Alex Alexander 58:14
One, I wouldn’t even make it, my casting video won’t even be allowed. They’d be like, oh, she’s a wildcard, not in a good way. She cares zero about ratings. I know people are gonna listen to this episode. Because this is so counterculture in the best way possible. But the people, I’ve already mentioned this too, have said to me, just like wow, I want to try that.
Erika Michalski 58:43
Do it. If you have ever thought what would it be like? Please do it, please just have one adult slumberparty, because it will change everything.
Alex Alexander 58:51
That’s what I’m gonna say to close this episode, is if you’re sitting here thinking, I want to try it, just try it. Just pick some good friends of yours and say, you know what? I know you were gonna drive home that night. Bring a bag. Like let’s just see. Let’s just see. Try it because there is some magic about it. Just try it. Erika, thank you so much. Thank you so much for like letting us have this little window into what your families I mean, your big family, your framily like this thing that you have built that I really think is going to inspire some people to give it a try.
Erika Michalski 59:28
You are so welcome. I really hope it does. I hope someone says, you know what? I actually never even thought about it. But now it kind of sounds fun. Lean into that too if you hear this and you’re like I’ve never thought about it but now I kind of want too, please do it. Please do it just one time. And if you don’t love it, please don’t come be mean to me about it because it may not be for everyone. But for most of us, waking up together is very different than hanging out together. And that’s where you will find grounding friendships that serve you during the hardest times.
Alex Alexander 59:54
I couldn’t agree more. I am positive that this episode has sent some of you spinning, your brains are on overdrive. Because doing friendship this way goes against the grain in so many areas, that you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, can I really do it? Do I want to do it? How would I do it? And I’m just going to leave you with that. It is possible. You can make it happen. You can make the invite, you can give it a try. The more you do it, the more comfortable it’ll get.
Podcast Intro/Outro 1:00:35
Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.