“I’ve turned my phone off,” I said to my friend just moments after arriving at her house. She raised her eyebrows and smiled. She knew what it meant.
It meant that tonight we were actually going to talk, to get to the heart of things and not be interrupted. And get to the heart of things we did.
When I talked about my current living situation, she asked me, “Are you happy there?”
When I later started to ask her some tough questions about her current dating situation, she said, “Don’t think I’ve forgotten who sat on the couch with me through multiple break-ups. I value your opinion,” she affirmed.
“Hmm, I’ll have to really consider if maybe my actions aren’t matching my feelings,” I said, as she cautioned me on my own recent dating endeavors.
When the evening ended, we had laughed and laughed. We had argued a little and smoothed hard feelings. We felt encouraged and inspired.
This heart-to-heart with my friend is not something we do every time we hang out. But it is something we both feel the need to do from time to time, to touch base, and to really spend quality time talking about our lives.
Turning off the phone helps this immensely, because we aren’t interrupted by texts, snapchats, or emails. We can focus on the person right in front of us and the topics coming up from this conversation. As it turns out, my friend’s and my decision to turn off our phones for deeper conversations is supported by studies.
“Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.”
The point of relationships–whether friendship or romantic–is to have someone who is invested in you; someone who is willing to walk alongside you, in the good moments and the not-so-good moments. But how can you really walk alongside someone else if you don’t know what they are going through and how they feel about those things?
Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who studies technology and its impact on relationships, says, “In conversation, things go best if you pay close attention and learn how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is easier to do without your phone in hand. Conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do.”
But for those of us who are so used to talking through texts on our phones, these sorts of conversations don’t always come naturally. They require a little bit of preparation. I like to think about two to three things I want to talk to someone about before we get together. Things like: Did they have fun on a recent date? Did that situation with their boss ever get worked out? Are they happy in their current living situation? Sometimes, when my friends and I are out someplace where we can’t get into a deep conversation, we’ll tell each other, “Remind me to ask you about that next time we can talk.”
When it comes to the actual conversation, as a friendship or relationship develops, my friends and I are not afraid to ask questions about each other’s feelings. We even point out how sometimes what we’re saying is not always what our facial expression or body language is saying. For example, my friend might say, “Yes, I’m happy in my job,” but also be looking downward and pausing in her response. And so I might say, “Why are you hesitating?” I can’t tell you the number of times that question has brought me or a friend to understand our own thoughts more. Observing body language and tone are an important part of these heart-to-heart conversations. As Dr. Turkle points out, “In these conversations, we learn who we are.”
Technology has made so many things about life easy. That’s a good thing! But life and relationships still are not always easy, and that’s a good thing too! I’ve learned sometimes you have to unplug from the technological world and plug into the people right in front of you. Sometimes it’s in the honest, difficult, heart-to-heart conversations that we come face to face with important aspects of our personality, and revelations about what matters to us and why. It’s with this self-knowledge, then, that we can be better friends and lovers.