Friday, February 7, 2014

What's Making Me Happy: February 7

I realized something interesting about what makes me happy this week, regarding human interaction. This being a week I have felt rather misanthropic, for mostly progesterone-related reasons, I've been especially attuned to what hasn't provoked that "I want to move to a cabin in Norway" feeling. My epiphany came as I was talking to my husband on the phone on Tuesday. Some nights he's home, but his work schedule often keeps him away, so we rely on the phone a lot. And the phone is no substitute for physical presence. Duh, right? But I mean, the two don't even compare. Skype doesn't help; what I want, what I miss, is his warm presence. Maybe it's pheromones, maybe it's oxytocin, I don't know, but nearbyness is a whole different thing from talk.



This understanding was further expanded when I shared a communal silence with my children later that evening. We were focused on different projects, but we were sitting close enough nearly to be touching, and I realized at one point ... I am soothed. I was unhappy fifteen minutes ago, but sitting near my kids, just being in their vicinity, has soothed me. It was a balm, like a lavender bath and chamomile tea and soft new slippers.

We are social creatures and need to be around other humans. But different interactions feed us in different ways. A letter, a phone call, a lunch, a cuddle: different forms of communication. For me, I think my preferred interactions with people in general are the following:

1. Hiking or walking together.
2. Writing back and forth on Facebook or a blog or email or (back in the day) letter.
3. Sitting down face to face over coffee or lunch.
4. Phone call/Skype.

Your mileage may vary. I prefer side-by-side interactions to face-to-face ones, and (sometimes) writing ones to talking ones. Any shared activity will do for #1: cooking, shopping, painting, gardening. I also very much enjoy sharing a space with people via the written word—I figure this is either a cause or effect of my identity as a writer. I love sharing thoughts with other people, and my own thoughts are only clear to me once I've written them. Other people's words, as I read them, become like my own thoughts, so writing back and forth can be quite intimate, like wandering through each other's minds. The spoken word, in contrast, can be unwieldy. Things come out of my mouth I don't mean, things I want to take back and edit. Speech flows past my ears too quickly to process. I'm still working on a phrase when another two sentences have gone straight past my brain, which makes it seem like I'm not listening.

The coffee klatsch: we are supposed to love socializing in formalized ways like this—everyone sitting on chairs, static, facing each other, speaking many sentences in turn. That this ever works is nothing short of a miracle. No other social animal does this: in fact, prolonged eye contact is a threat for most mammals. When you narrow it down to two people, it's even more stark; you have nowhere to look but deep into each others eyeballs. Now, let it be said that I have had many a lovely lunch hour with many a lovely friend. When people are sympatico, they're going to enjoy each other's company. But imho, the coffee klatsch is working against you no matter how much you love your pals. For me, I'd rather skip the Starbucks and go for a social stroll. (Funnily enough, I rarely think to suggest this.)


Which leaves the dreaded phone call: Takes away the eyeball problem but leaves the problem of too much talk and not enough oxytocin. Possibly some people get a social high from eye contact, but I get my people buzz out of proximity first and thought-exchange second. I have out-of-state friends who prefer to keep up with phone calls rather than Facebooking, finding the former more intimate. I believe them, but it doesn't work that way for me. Phone calls can leave me a bit exhausted. I should apologize to my far-flung pals I never call: it's not that I don't love you and miss you, I would just prefer a year of letter-writing punctuated by a week-long hiking/bicycling/canoeing expedition. (More practically, let's keep up via social networking and the occasional cross-country visit.)

So what's making me happy today, if not this week, is that my husband is coming home tonight. Hurrah!


14 comments:

  1. Hiking with you and Zoe is one of my most favourite things. Ideal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We did have fun! I wish we could do it every week.

      Delete
  2. I think the modern era of texting has exposed the phone call for the trouble it generally is.

    Your bit about the going out for coffee is interesting to me. I rather enjoy that going out for coffee bit. I find that people don't look at one another directly. Much of my youth was spent sitting across from one friend or two, for hours on end drinking bad coffee at Sunshine Cafe (Cafe del Sol to us), formerly The Waffle House (which we referred to as "the Awful Waffle),

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think most people do, or they must, because it's the default getting-together thing. It's not that I don't enjoy it, I just enjoy walking together more. I think I may have a touch of ADHD, as "sitting still" is not in my skill set.

      There might be a gender difference here: when I see men coffeeing together (yes: it needs to be a verb), they often sit side by side, leaning back in their chairs, and they people-watch as they talk. Sometimes they lapse into thoughtful, easy silences and let the world slide by. Women, on the other hand, often sit facing each other, heads bent together, looking at each other, talking intently. (Women do this with men, too.) Both styles are good in their way, but the guy style is way more relaxing.

      Delete
    2. "I think the modern era of texting has exposed the phone call for the trouble it generally is." I didn't process this the first time I read it. (See? I must have processing issues. This is why writing is superior to talking, at least for me ... if you'd said it, I'd never have come back to it.) Anyway: SO TRUE. You wonder why teens always text and never call, when calling is actually quicker? Yep. This is why.

      Delete
  3. I find I don;t need the tactile as much as you describe. I wonder if it is a biochemical difference between men and women?

    ReplyDelete
  4. That could well be. We're just anecdotes, but my son is the cuddlier of my two kids; my husband is also cuddlier than I am. I like being near someone, shoulder to shoulder, but I can get "touched out" by full on hugging. When my kids were babies and in their kangaroo phase, I'd practically toss them at their dad by the day's end, then retreat to somewhere nothing could touch me for a while. Still, on the whole, I'd be willing to bet women are more comfortable with tactile bonding than men are.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I enjoy my own company but I really shine when I'm around other people. I can feel it. It's like opening a door. Physical presence trumps all, but phone or written word works too. Leaning back in a chair next to a friend while we people (lady) watch is ideal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I really shine when I'm around other people" Yes, you do! You are possibly the most gregarious person I have ever met. And you do shine!

      Delete
  6. I've never been a fan of talking on the telephone, and get antsy when someone calls me with no specific purpose in mind. I'm in the middle of doing such-and-such, and you want to idly chat about... nothing? Ironically, as an amateur radio operator, I've often chatted with someone on the other side of the world for an hour, and enjoyed every moment of it. Weird, huh?

    But nothing beats face to face. (Or side by side; I'm not picky.) Stimulating conversation energizes me. Especially when accompanied by a glass of wine and copious quantities of laughter, preferably over a game board. (Scrabble, anyone?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amateur radio operator! That is too cool. I can imagine such conversations would be pretty engaging.

      Delete
  7. That explains a lot. But really, I'm not much into using the phone either. Doris and I communicate by email and text, or in person. It has to be a real emergency before we'll resort to the phone. Actually, I like getting phone calls, but not making them as I was conditioned over many years (of marriage) to feel like any phone call was an interruption. I was most decidedly encouraged not to do it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am discouraged from making calls (or sending emails) to the spouse while he's at work, as well. It's like a wall goes up. I wonder if it's that particular profession, since otherwise they are pretty different men.

      Delete
  8. I think I'm much the same way. I'd much rather "do something" together rather than just stare at each other and gab. That doing something can be just sitting on the couch reading.

    I hate phones, for so many reasons. Face Time and Skype are somehow even worse.

    ReplyDelete