One evening I went to dinner and sat alone. Well, not exactly alone, I was surrounded by lots of people, most of them couples.
At a nearby table, a man sat chatting to his phone and in the dim light it lit his face.
After a while, a girl sat with him, probably his partner.
– “Anything happen at work?” she asks.
– “Nothing much,” he says. “How about at yours?”
– “The same.”
And then silence settled between them. They spoke to place their orders, but that was all.
He returned to his phone like a baby to a bottle and after scanning the room and drumming her fingers on the table for a few moments she did the same. Perhaps they were texting each other? No, I doubted that very much. As a couple, they were together but quite separate.
What little talk they shared was something I call a ticking-off conversation. They only reason they spoke was to earn a tick for participating in the relationship. It was as if there was a contract between them which declared that they must produce a minimum amount of interaction each day. They had each just put in the least acceptable amount, and now they were free to go back fiddling with their little slabs of light.
They seemed contented enough, but as an observer it didn’t look to me like they had an exciting life together.
They sat like separate islands for the whole time that they were there. Anything they said just seemed to be in the service of inter-island diplomacy.
– “Is your meal tasty?” she said during the meal.
– “Yep,” he answered. “And how about yours?”
– “Mine is good too.”
These were the only words until:
– “So, shall we go?”
– “Yes, let’s make a move.”
What an evening. I’m sure they’d remember it for years to come. Two phones left the restaurant and took their people with them. At some point, these people would both end up single again and wonder what went wrong. I could have told them what was wrong right there and then. They showed no interest in each other, and drifted through each day together on a thin diet of platitudes, superficial questions and superficial answers.
Who knows, it might have been what they wanted but I doubt it. If you must insist on having a superficial relationship then at least make sure the surface is deep if you want it to last.
This one won’t last. They open conversations that are destined to go nowhere, and where enough conversations lead the relationship follows.
I wrote a book Twelve Hearts because it seems to me that we only realize we’ve made fatal mistakes in our relationships when it’s too late. Not sharing thoughts and feelings, and not enquiring after the thoughts and feelings of our loved one is often the biggest mistake. Not talking is not sharing. It’s ironic that humans are social animals who sometimes get together with others only to turn our gazes further inwards
When we’re together we’re supposed to think less about ourselves and more about the other, but perhaps over time complacency creeps in. We become comfortable, we feel like we know enough about them so we stop asking, but it’s never right to stop asking. We should keep showing interest and when we do, we should be mindful of the following: I am asking you this because it really does matter to me how you feel and what you need to tell me. I want to keep on getting to know you.
Mindfulness in all our interactions is a great asset. All you need to do is be self-aware, be in the moment as an observer of your own behaviour. You’ll learn more and behave better towards others than when you are just acting on autopilot.
It seems like a glaring paradox when spending more time with each other pushes us apart. It ought to be the opposite, that we grow into ourselves and each other as part of a couple, but that isn’t always what happens.
In the Twelve Hearts, I talked about the most frequent problems in relationships. Most of them start with non-communication, lack of interest, resignation. Every relationship is like a house. It needs the strong foundation of shared communication, open and honest.
There are a lot of them. 6 following questions should not be definitely missing . . .
How do you speak to your partner when they’re at the end of their tether?
Please, continue to the 2nd page.