Herald columnist and Radio Hauraki breakfast host Matt Heath has a new role as Happiness Editor for our Great Minds mental health project.
"Hey man, what are you up to? Feel like going for a walk with me?" Many Kiwis would feel uncomfortable sending that text to a friend. We find it much easier asking a buddy out for a beer than a stroll. I'm not talking about walks that need Macpacs and DoC huts. This is simply a friend asking another if they're interested in taking a walk. Nothing major.
For some reason, it feels forward suggesting a wholesome activity. With a beer, you can pretend it's about the drink and not the person. You can hide behind the emotional protection that you could just be after a lager and aren't necessarily saying you like and want to spend time with that particular friend. A walk request takes friendships into new territory. We worry it might be misconstrued.
I'm attempting to get over these anti-stroll sentiments. A walk with a friend is free, and healthy and you don't end up dangerously steamed on K Road eight hours later. Once you are on it, a walk is less awkward than meeting at a bar. You have nature to look at and not just your friend's face across a table. When you meet for a drink you fill the awkward pauses with booze, vaping and checking your phone. On a stroll, you can let the conversation flow at its natural pace.
A friend of mine asked another friend on a walk a few weeks back. I grilled both sides separately about the request to get to the truth. They're both named Tim and host a weekend ZB radio show together. I asked Tim if it was awkward asking Tim out on a walk? He replied: "A little".
"It's a threshold thing. It's saying to the person, without directly articulating it, I like you and I'd like to spend time with you. You worry they might think, oh my gosh, I barely know this guy."
From his side of the invite the other Tim claims he found the walk request "highly inappropriate" but followed that with "nah, just kidding, it was great".
"He's my colleague. I like him."
Why didn't Tim do the socially sanctioned thing and suggest a beer?
"Because I'm always trying to lose weight. Plus I genuinely love going for walks and being in nature. I enjoy sharing the tracks I discover. It's the best way to catch up because you're not taking on calories, you're not burning cash and you don't have to look at each other the whole time. That's not to be a wowzer about drinking. That's fun too, but to realize that catching up doesn't have to centre around alcohol is a great thing."
The other Tim reckons: "The beer get-together is the easier option, but Tim wanted to show me a walk he loves and it made sense. I was into it. Tim sees his walk offer as a friendship upgrade. We've co-hosted a radio show for two years. We've only seen each other outside of work once. So this was a new level. We've both got kids, so it isn't easy to find time."
The other Tim reckons: "It felt like an acknowledgment that we enjoy each other's company. It was like congratulations, you've got enough frequent flyer points with me. We are now at silver level."
The Tim v Tim buddy walk up the Ōmanawanui Track was a great success.
They both recommend asking mates out for a stroll.
The other Tim put it this way: "We're all mentally coming out of the doldrums of the past couple of years. It's been heavy stuff. I think we're all looking for meaningful connections."
To test the water with my friends, I texted three close mates the following: "Hey man, what are you up to? Do you feel like going for a walk?"
My friend from all the way back in high school Cass answered "Nah but I could do a lunchtime beer at The Morningside?". Manaia answered "A walk? What about a beer?" then a while later he added "was that a wrong number… was that txt meant for a lady?" Phil answered: "Yep, where? I'm getting fat. Need exercise."
One out of three ain't bad. Phil and I had a great 4km stroll around the picturesque Ōrākei Basin. We chatted and laughed and headed home to our families completely sober. It was such a success a few days later we wandered up Maungawhau (although that stroll did descend into several hours at the De Post Belgian Beer Cafe).
Suck it up and upgrade a friendship with a walk today - it probably won't kill you and it might make both your lives a little fuller.