Wednesday 7 December 2022

Ready When You Are: Four Little Words That Mean So Much

I’m just waiting on a friend.
— Mick Jagger / Keith Richards. “Waiting on a Friend.”

Pretty much every voice or video call that Fran and I share begins with me messaging her “rwya” — our shorthand for “ready when you are.” It’s become so much a part of our friendship that I rarely stop to think about it. Except today I did as I was waiting for Fran to call. I thought it might be interesting to explore what that little acronym means for us, in the hope others might find it useful.

I can’t remember exactly when we came up with “rwya” but it was early in our friendship when transatlantic calls were still a novelty for us. In those days, Fran was going through a protracted episode of mania. She wanted and needed frequent and often immediate contact. I loved spending time with my new friend and was happy to accommodate her need for connection, but we needed to figure out how best to do that.

I consider it a kindness and mark of respect if someone messages me before calling to check if I’m available. Fran almost always did so, but the request might come at any moment, day or night. It’s fundamental to our friendship that I never ignore her messages but she recognised it wasn’t always possible for me to chat or speak immediately. She’d wait for my “rwya” before calling. For some technical reason that eludes me, our calls always worked better when Fran called me rather than the other way round, and we’ve stuck to that way of doing things. It also reduces the chance of us trying to call each other at the same time!

First and foremost, then, “rwya” lets Fran know I’m ready. I have time and space to connect, and any technology I need is at hand. That might be my PC, tablet, or mobile phone, my folding stand, and my Bluetooth headset. (I can’t understand anyone not having a phone stand and headset. They make life so much easier!) We mostly use Skype for our voice and video calls, and that works much better on my phone if I have the app open in advance. “Missed call from Fran” notifications are annoying for us both!

Our acronym carries another important message, though, represented by the “when you are” bit. Fran and I soon settled on times of day which were as mutually convenient as we could manage given the five hour time difference between us. If we were both free at those times, then we had our call. Mostly, that meant if we were each at home, but sometimes we’d call if we were out and about. Sharing aspects of our lives in this way is a great way to deepen a connection between friends. It’s also fundamental to our supportive friendship, as we describe in our book.

It might seem as though a five hour time difference would make it difficult for us to connect, but our lives mesh well. On a typical day we talk briefly in the morning and meet twice later for video calls, usually at two o’clock in the afternoon and six o’clock in the evening for Fran (seven and eleven o’clock in the evening for me). This regular scheduling provides stability and structure, which are otherwise lacking in a life governed by illness.

We’ve always let each other know if we’re likely to be to unavailable, but inevitably there are occasions when I’m set to take a call at our usual time but Fran isn’t quite ready, or can’t make it but hasn’t had chance to let me know her plans have changed. This is when the “wya” bit of “rwya” comes into its own. It means precisely what it says: I’m here and ready when (and if) you are. Most importantly, it means “it’s okay if you’re not ready, or if something’s come up.”

This might sound obvious, but I haven’t always been as patient and understanding as that description suggests. On more than one occasion I became frustrated and cross if Fran didn’t show up for a call and hadn’t let me know in advance. It came to a head one evening. I was pretty sure Fran was at home, and couldn’t understand why she hadn’t called yet or let me know what was happening. When we did eventually connect, I wasn’t shy in voicing my frustration. Fran calmly explained that she hadn’t been able to call me or let me know because she’d been helping support a friend who was in acute distress.

I don’t use our little acronym with anyone else, but its wisdom applies equally to my other friends. No matter who it is or what we’re arranging — a chat online, a call, or a get together in person — I approach it with the understanding that we both want it to happen but that other things might get in the way. It’s an approach that’s served me well on a number of occasions, saving me a good deal of frustration, anxiety, and hurt.

I appreciate friends who let me know when they’re on their way to meet me, or if they are delayed or need to reschedule. There’s an example of this in a short piece I wrote in November 2019 titled A Few Thoughts on Friendship Whilst Waiting for a Friend.

I’m sitting at a table in Newcastle’s City Library. At my side is the library copy of High Tide, Low Tide, the book I wrote with my best friend Fran. I never tire of seeing it on the shelf. It’s a proud moment for any author; second only to not seeing it because someone has taken it out on loan. I’m waiting for a friend. We’ll meet for coffee and then go for a drink or two; maybe something to eat. We’ll catch up with what’s going on for us. We’ll laugh, share old memories and make new ones. It is at moments like this that I feel most blessed.

The piece ends: “My friend has just messaged to say she’s on her way. Time to return the book to its place on the shelf and head out to meet her.” As far as I recall, she was on time, but I remember waiting for a different friend on a different occasion. She was more than an hour late in the end, but she’d let me know the reason for the delay and offered to reschedule. I was happy to wait. I was “ready” but she wasn’t, and it wasn’t a problem at all.

Whatever the situation, ready when you are is about maintaining a healthy balance between honouring the commitments we make to each other, and respecting our boundaries and needs as individuals.

Over to You

How do you handle making arrangements with friends and loved ones? Do you get frustrated if they’re unavailable or delayed? Do you find it easy to let other people know you can’t connect when they want to? How do you navigate these moments in your relationships? We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by William Krause at Unsplash.


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