Showing up for those you care about.

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal relationships.

Moving to a new country means inevitably slackening physical ties with close friends, and despite Skype, the experience presents lots of opportunities to have some in-depth conversations with yourself.

How important are relationships – even to introverts like myself, who relish time alone?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out they are pretty bloody important.

That being said, being caught up in the blossom of new city, old comforts gone, I’m a keen observer and sponge of all the energy and behavior around me, and also acutely aware of my own.

And you know what’s weird? I’ve only really started to see how a certain genre of relationships – facilitated by technology – is affecting our happiness.

Sure, there are plenty of positive connections and stories of relationships not previously possible before da INTERNET, you can find evidence of these “real life” online>offline relationships under every rock of our culture, from internet dating sites to the truly incredible Facebook stories site (launched just this week).

The sort of relationship phenomena I’m referring to however is “the cop out” mate. The ability to flake out via text or a Facebook message, mere hours before a party started or a coffee date with your friend. It’s the sort of behavior fueled by ubiquitous access to real-time communication and a lack of physical (or even verbal) connection. A whole new kind of relationship standard is being born around these two factors. Just tonight on the train home I heard a couple arguing over the indeceny of a friend to only respond to a golf invite the day before, when they had emailed during the week. Old mate rituals are not as reliable as they once were.

More and more, this is the norm. We can drop out at a moment’s notice and avoid the awkward “I can’t make it” conversation with a SMS.

What does this mean? This enables us to do exactly what we prefer to do exactly when we want. So you get home, tired from work and over talking to people? You don’t need to head out to your friend’s Facebook event you RSVP’d to this week … really you just want to hang out at home, and with minimal effort or conscience you can back out of a commitment and you can satisfy your present needs. What I think is most confronting, both as a behavior I observe in myself and others, is this goes beyond ditching loose connections, which seem easy to revive at a post/tweet/SMS notice, and crosses into the full spectrum of relationships.

How does not turning up affect you? You’ll probably never know exactly, but chances are bailing out of these little, seemingly inconsequential moments might not work out in your favor.  We are starting to sacrifice developing and building on personal relationships for the long haul with alarming ease. Aren’t we all such suckers for instant gratification?

Remember when you had to get driven around to your friend’s place for a play date? I’m guessing all that playing the sandpit/doing each other’s hair/baking cookies/watching movies with your mate added up to something special. Even if your mum had dragged you kicking and screaming to your friend’s house, at the end of it all, hanging out with your friend just made you feel good, didn’t it?

Tonight my Dad sent me this great story, which was definitely not going to fit into a tweet, but I felt it was worth pasting up in a post to share, and to remember myself.

“I just finished taking an evening class at Stanford. The last lecture was on the mind-body connection – the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.

Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality “girlfriend time” helps us to create more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well being. Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going. Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes. Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf? Yes. But their feelings? Rarely.

Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very good for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working  out at a gym.

There’s a tendency to think that when we are “exercising” we are doing something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged—not true. In fact, that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking.”

Cut off those which dance around the periphery if you aren’t digging them, but make sure you show up to the genuine connections, old and new. Those special connections, which get lost in the ocean of instant messages and instant networks, they are rare and worth paying attention to.

photo credit: Sharon Pruitt

6 thoughts on “Showing up for those you care about.

  1. One of my favorite things when I’m traveling abroad and meeting up with friends, new and old, is NOT having a phone–mostly because it forces people to show up, on time. When I was traveling in France recently, friends (whom I’d made online and off) kept asking if I had a number so that they could text if they were running late or couldn’t make it last minute: nope! In the end, everyone showed up and we had a brilliant, disconnected time. Bonus: I wasn’t checking my phone while we were chatting!

  2. Agree with Christine. It’s really really nice NOT having a phone while abroad. Sure, its inconvenient sometimes, but it also lets you be in the moment…all the time while you’re with others. I have enough time on my laptop to geek out on my own…

  3. Thanks for the reminder to think about how it does matter, every time i cancel on plans at the last minute. You are right. It is way too easy to do… and its really up to us to have the focus and intent to encourage behaviours that really connect us, often face to face, sometimes involving food fights/ or whatever that paint/muddy substance is on that photo above.

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