Wading in the Shallow End of Relationships
I Love People
For anyone who knows me, they know that I love people. I love being around people. I do need time on my own, I do, but I find that I thrive off the energy of people. If there is a social gathering of sorts, I will do my best to be there because I love chatting and connecting with people. I enjoy hearing peoples’ goals and aspirations. I love hearing their concerns and worries. No one is perfect, after all. I enjoy hearing stories and I enjoy the excitement that people generate when they are working at a job or on a project that they are excited about. And I will listen to someone when this isn’t the case and when they are simply looking for a person to talk to.
I enjoy asking questions and getting to know people and their interests. This could get me into trouble, though. Sometimes I leave a conversation knowing A LOT about that individual but realize that they likely didn’t learn too much about me. “Ahh! No biggy,” I think. There are a lot of people out there who are talkers and, with all this said, for the most part, they are fun to talk to.
Occasionally I will get my chance to speak. A question will be raised, and I will seize it. This is where things get dicey. I will start talking and I can easily see the attention of my “conversation partner” shift away, sometimes to someone else in the room, but more often than not to their phones. I will be talking, they will be nodding their head, and they may have a couple audible “yeahs,” but something is missing. Not only is the eye contact gone, but the connection and depth is gone as well.
I may finish a sentence or thought, but it doesn’t really matter. When the person looks back at me, they nod and smile, but they have clearly not retained any of the information I was just spewing. I might’ve known this person for years, but rarely do our conversations ever reach any meaning or depth, mostly because their attention is elsewhere when I am speaking to them.
This isn’t a problem that only I encounter. I see this sort of scenario happening around me on an almost daily basis. Often one-sided or even no-sided conversations (no-sided being when both “conversation partners” are on their phones). How do we grow, develop, and nurture our relationships when we are unwilling to dive into the deep end?
Testing the Waters
We have begun wading in the shallow end of the relationship pool. We stand there, enjoying the coolness of the pool, with our floaties on, making no real effort to exercise our muscles. There is no swimming required in the shallow end. With both feet planted on the ground, void of vulnerability, we can play catch with our fellow poolmates and have surface-level conversations. Not to say that playing catch and engaging in light conversation isn’t fun; it is and it’s where most relationships get their start.
One cannot just dive into the deep end when they have never swum before. This can lead to death! In a traditional sense, we start in the shallow end and learn how to kick our legs and stroke our arms. We learn to keep ourselves afloat with, then without, floaties. We even begin to swim underwater, beneath the surface, and soon we are reaching depths that we didn’t think possible. We feel confident swimming in the deep end. Heck, we jump, even dive, into the deep end, often from very high heights. We have trust in ourselves and our muscles, which we have thoroughly exercised, that we will be able to swim the waters confidently and safely, without fear of drowning. Soon, the swimming becomes even more enjoyable and we are better able to relish the water around us.
The Shallow End
I cannot say the same for the state of our relationships. Why are we so hesitant to dive into the deep end? Are we afraid of drowning? Are we afraid of going below the surface? Fear doesn’t seem to be the main factor in all of this. We simply aren’t interested in the deep end anymore. Why go through the effort of taking off our floaties and expending energy to swim when I can just enjoy the ease of the shallow end? Here, I am comfortable. Here, I don’t have to make much of an effort.
Our relationships, I find, are rarely reaching any sort of depth. We are much more content keeping things at surface-level. We don’t want to drown in vulnerability and in actually expressing ourselves. We don’t want to give someone the time of day. We don’t want to listen attentively when there are so many more interesting things happening on our phones. Because the phone is present, we are unable to reach any depth. The phone is our floaties. There is always the possibility of interruption and that phone will always take precedence over the conversation.
Listening and communication have always been art forms, but they are becoming rare art forms as we are no longer flexing these muscles like we use to. We must take the time to be attentive. We must develop the courtesy to give the person talking to us our undivided attention. If we don’t, then what are we doing? We must dive into the deep end with our relationships; otherwise, we will be sitting idly in the shallow end, not really living life or going anywhere.