“Exactly what I was looking for.”
Retired Mom of Four Grown Daughters
How it works.
I gather folks I think will really enjoy talking to one another.
Four people at a time.
Over text chat and phone.
The conversation topics? Videos, articles, conundrums, Tweets, podcasts — you name it.
After every conversation, I privately ask each participant if there was anyone in the group they particularly resonated with.
If two people express mutual resonance, I give them each other’s contact info and make sure they bump into each other in future conversations.
More logistical details.
Each day I send out a bunch of conversation invites. Each invite contains a link to a piece of content, a start time, and whether the conversation will take place over text chat or phone.
I go through all the members who accept the invitation. I assemble them into compatible groups of four. And I send each group a link to their text chat or a phone number for their call.
What the conversations are like.
Here’s one is from December 18th, 2016.
Four members got together over the phone to discuss a Washington Post op-ed, A new poll shows 52% of Republicans actually think Trump won the popular vote.
Why I do this.
It’s very difficult, once you hit your late thirties, to meet people you really like. When I introduce people who hit it off, it makes me feel unbelievably great.
How I got started.
I’ve been gathering folks for lunch conversations for nearly 35 years.
It’s a hobby I inherited from my dad.
He was a network television news producer and absolutely loved good conversation.
When he, mom, and 4-year-old me moved back to New York City in 1973 from Israel (where he’d been NBC News’ bureau chief), dad wanted to…
Read the rest of the story.
…reconnect with people. So he started planning four-person lunches with folks he knew from The New York Times, NBC News, and Columbia Journalism School.
These lunches took place, always at New York City Chinese restaurants, several times every single week, for forty years.
My parents split up when I was 11.
After that, if a day off from my school coincided with one of dad’s group lunches, he’d invite me along as fifth wheel.
And, boy, did I love it. Dad had a knack for putting together groups of people who would really like each other as human beings.
I got started organizing lunches, myself, in the autumn of 1986, during my first semester at college.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I arrived on campus, but a few hours after my parents dropped me off, I kept thinking to myself —
“There are two thousand kids here. Nobody knows anybody else. Everyone is dying to make a few new friends. And they’re all petrified to talk to one another.”
The next day, I called my dad and he encouraged me to organize the kind of lunches he did.
I’ve been doing it, pretty much non-stop, ever since.
In 2016, I started experimenting with gathering folks over text chat and phone. And, when the pandemic arrived, I put lunches on pause.
How much membership costs.
I can’t do this for free unless I advertise to my members or sell their data. I refuse to do either.
But I also want members to pay only if they’re getting their money’s worth.
So here’s what I’ve come up with —
If members get to the point where they feel they’re getting more than $35 worth of value each month, then I ask them to become paying members (at $35 per month).
If not, they can continue to be members for free.
That’s it. There’s no pestering. We’re on the honor system.
Frequently asked questions.
Who are you?
How often do members get invited to gatherings?
It depends on the member and their level of enthusiasm.
How long do the conversations last?
Most are capped at 30 minutes.
Are there are any minimum participation requirements?
None. I encourage folks to participate only when it fits their day and their mood.
Will I be meeting up with the same three people for all my conversations?
No. I like to mix things up.
Are there any discussion forums?
No. All conversations take place in real time.
How are you able to do this for free?
I have the logistics pretty organized. But, if the project gets big enough to require employees, I’ll have to implement some sort of monthly membership fee. I absolutely refuse to have ads or sell user data.
Are most of the members women?
Yes. About 80%. I’m not sure why this is. My guess is they are more abstractly interested in conversation than men. And, since most women are friends with other women, and almost all new members come through referrals from current ones, that tends to reinforce the gender gap.
If you know men who may be interested, please send them my way!
Do members use their real names in the gatherings?
Why not get members together over Zoom or some other video chat platform?
It’s funny. I used to always prefer video chat over the phone.
But video chat feels more and more inauthentic to me, particularly in this context.
More importantly, everyone should be able to stay in their pajamas 24–7.
Why do you call it 'The trees'?
Tree planting has always been my favorite metaphor for this hobby my dad invented.
The gatherings are the acorns. What grows from the gatherings — friendships, collaborations, the comforts of a safe harbor — are the oaks.
Is your dad still alive?
No. He died in 2015.