I recently got together with my friend Kelsey whom I’ve known for more than 20 years. After a long walk and coffee at a local cafe, we sat in the back sunroom of her house until darkness fell. Then we got in her car and drove to a nearby Christmas lights display. Kelsey and I had plenty to talk about that afternoon and evening, but whenever the conversation inevitably lagged the pauses made me anxious. “Should I leave?” I wondered. “Is it time to go?” But after a few moments of silence the dialogue would resume as one of us had an observation, question, thought or memory to share.
As the afternoon wore on I relaxed, realizing it was silly to worry about whether I was boring Kelsey or overstaying my welcome. Seven or eight hours was not much time at all, considering the fact that we only see one another every few months and have been friends for so long.
Scheduled vs. Unscheduled Time
I later realized that my “conversation-lapse anxiety” was because I’m so accustomed to time with friends being a discrete activity – like lunch, a cup of coffee, a yoga class or a matinee movie. Everyone in my life is so busy with career and household responsibilities that socializing must be scheduled in advance and last only an hour or two.
A long, leisurely afternoon is rare. No wonder it felt unnatural! In this case it was only possible because Kelsey and I both had extra time off of work during the week before Christmas.
Is it adult life, technology, or a combination of the two making unscheduled “free time” so scarce? It’s certainly a contrast to when Kelsey and I met back in 2002, during our freshman year of high school.
B.C.: Before Cellular
This was pre-smartphone. Kelsey, myself and the rest of our friend group frequently used the internet on desktop computers and some of us owned basic ‘flip phone’ cell phones, but technology did not replace in-person time together. As teens, we wanted to be out with one another and not sitting at home.
Besides school, extracurriculars and part time jobs, I recall lots of unstructured time: weekends and school holidays full of long drives; listening to our favorite CDs on the car stereo; trying on clothes at the thrift store; drinking lattes at the local coffee shop; staying up late to watch movies.
… I’m more introverted, and require a daily dose of “alone time” for my own peace of mind. I look back and marvel at my teenage self, who was constantly surrounded by her peers.
Is it merely age that has made me more introverted, or am I this way out of necessity?
Technology allows for self-sufficiency. We can conduct our entire lives from home. It’s possible for work, class, shopping, a visit to the doctor and chatting with our friends to all occur over the internet.
Interaction with a screen rather than with a real, live human being…pushing buttons rather than engaging in a conversation…it’s certainly contributed to a worldwide “loneliness epidemic.”
However, I don’t think everyone’s increased time at home is an entirely negative thing. Getting out of the house requires a lot of energy, time and planning. It can also be expensive if you factor in transportation, activity and food costs. Any sort of limit on one’s physical capabilities will make the barriers to getting “out and about” even greater.
As Sharing Housing’s founder Annamarie Pluhar puts it, “one of the easiest ways to have people in your life is to live with them.”
And I think it is my introversion that makes me prefer living with home-mates. Solitude does not become oppressive because I know that I’ll spend at least some portion of the day interacting with other people. And those interactions occur naturally, without the stress or pressure of an external timeline. A good home-mate may not be your best friend, but they can still be a stable, fulfilling presence in your life.
Time is largely how we build relationships with other people.
The longer you spend with someone, the more familiar you grow and the more space there is for meaningful exchange to happen organically. Time also allows us to know the full spectrum of another person; we see them on good days when they are loving and generous, as well as on bad days when their temper is short. We experience their full nuanced humanity rather than a 2D digital profile.
The holidays, for me, allowed extra time with family and friends. Most of that time was unhurried, occurred in a domestic space, and was a potent reminder that even though everything about 21st century life seems to move at a breakneck speed–the news cycle, business, technological innovations–home continues to be a peaceful, relaxed venue conducive to interpersonal connection.
I know that one of my priorities for 2024 will be to spend quality time with others–both the people I live with and the ones I hold dear.