One evening a few weeks before my twin daughters were about to leave for college, I said, “We need to discuss when we will talk.”
“Huh?” one of them said.
“What are you talking about?” said the other.
“When will we talk?” I asked again.
“All the time,” one of them said, sweetly thinking she was addressing my pending empty nest angst.
“Whenever we want!” the other said with a “DUH mom” tone in her voice.
I was sending my kids off to college in my mid-40’s but suddenly I felt very old: “When I was in college, it cost money to make long distance phone calls home. Prices went down at 5pm after business hours, and dropped even further after 11pm and on weekends.”
“Seriously?” one of them asked.
Yeah. Seriously. I remember when Ma Bell (google it kids) broke up in 1984 and long distance plans got competitive. My mother was thrilled to find a plan with cheap long distance rates after 7pm. Cheaper rates aside, we still only talked once a week at most. It still added up. Fast.
My children were mystified. They could not comprehend why we would schedule a time to talk. I let it go. But I shouldn’t have.
At the start of freshman year, the calls home were frequent and focused. But quickly they went from being substantive conversations to snippets of conversations interrupted by friends in dorm rooms or an arrival at a destination or an “important” text needing an instant reply. We tried finding time to “just talk” but it was too easy to postpone or cancel calls. And if we did connect on the phone or over Facetime, distractions still split our attention more often than not.
I wasn’t pissed or even sad. I just noticed. I noticed that despite all the ways we have to stay in touch with each other – email, text, social media platforms, Skype – we were actually communicating less. This revelation in part led me to create HighLowGlitter.com, but while online HLG posts give a great snapshot of the little moments in one’s life, it doesn’t replace a good quality conversation. The kind where you focus all your attention on the person you are talking to and end up having a meaningful exchange that strengthens your connection and relationship.
My daughters are now seniors in college and I am an older wiser 50-something.
This fall, after too much digital-squawking, and too little real conversation, I said “we need to discuss when we will talk.” This time, I did not follow it with a history lesson. I didn’t have to. My girls agreed. I think we all knew we were paying a price for settling for the snippets. We were missing too many details, nuances and subtle intonations that only focused, meaningful conversation provides. Not to mention, the rich emotional connections and idea exchange that come when we talk.
Interestingly, now that we have a committed to conversations, all our quick texts, emails and HLGs are put in perspective. Before they didn’t feel like quite enough, because they weren’t. They weren’t satisfying or sustaining our need for deep, meaningful connection and communication. Now instead, our digital squawking feels like a delicious, fun snack that holds us over to a satisfying, healthy meal.