My children are in Nashville and Seattle. Sometimes we speak one or more times in a week. Sometimes several weeks will go by with no contact. I have no rules, nor any expectations around the number of connections we make within a specified time period. And when I am not holding myself up to what I often see happening around me, I feel the rightness of this for our relationship; for what I am personally after is quality, not quantity. What I am after is a give and take in relationship that honors where everyone is at; recognizing each person’s need for both sovereignty and interconnection, while understanding that that ebbs and flows over time.
This flies in the face of how many of us relate to one another now via our devices (With “to” versus “with” being the operative word). I hear this regularly from college students who text intimate others or parents multiple times a day; even when there is nothing to convey. It is less a communication than a neurotic, obsessive, dogged obligation. Too harsh? Maybe. But when you line up that for all of our ways to be in contact, too many of us do not allow, and are not allowed, any space to exist in the relationship outside of continuous contact, obligation gone bad becomes the most apt description of what is happening between us. For how else would we label how no to little time is allowed for anything of significance to arise or happen to us before we are back in contact again? How else would we label how we leave no to little time anymore to be on our own, or to digest an experience before we report it back out?
These same ever-in-contact students often talk about feeling harangued, dissatisfied, and burdened with so many obligatory and meaningless exchanges. But they find it impossible to break free as this way of doing things has become the new agreed upon currency of love and connection. Without which one risks violating a social norm of what it looks like to care. Without which one runs the risk of looking like there is not much of a bond between you and those you care about.
Why have we done this to one another? Why do we continue to do something that so burdens and diminishes what is between us? Why have we taken something so precious and so life-giving and reduced it down to a neurotic numbers game. Have we so little faith in each other? Have we so little faith in ourselves to experience life without immediately reporting out every last detail ad nauseam to anyone that we can text?
Texting is not talking. And quantity does not equal quality. It never has, and it never will.