Technology has not only changed the ways in which we communicate with each other but perhaps more importantly the degree to which we value each other. For many people, the primary form of communicating these days is via text. Short bits and bobs on life: nuts and bolts, quips and banter. When you run out of space or ideas, you just hit the send button or turn off. Whatever is experienced as a result of the words just sent out into the ether is experienced alone. Texting is easy and controllable. It requires very little work or thought. There are no silences between the words, literally or figuratively.
In real life, being with another person is not as easy as texting. Relating in real time takes effort and energy. There are moments when neither person has anything to say. These gaps are a shared experience and as important as the words that fill them, and often more powerful in their connective value. Still, silence can feel awkward and real life relating almost always includes an element of awkwardness. So too, emotions can arise in real life that are difficult. There are moments when things can get bumpy and painful with another person. Misunderstandings happen, hard truths are revealed, and feelings can get hurt. Real relationships are not for the faint of heart.
As texting has become our primary form of communication, I fear that we are losing our ability to work through some of the more challenging aspects of relating to other human beings. A disturbing trend has started to pop up. When difficulty or conflict arises within a friendship or any kind of relationship, rather than confront the issue, we are simply dropping and dropping out of the relationship. I am hearing of this far more often in my practice and I notice it more in my own life. We come and go, in and out of each other’s lives with remarkable ease, as if relationships are not really worth investing in or working for any longer. It makes me wonder if we are simply losing the ability or willingness (I am not sure which) to muddle through the messy and uncomfortable parts of life, no matter for what end.
When we address a conflict with another person, it is messy and uncomfortable. Conflict is not easy. It is not something we can control or package. How the interaction will unfold, come together or disintegrate, is unknowable. We don’t like to feel these things. They are hard. In truth, I don’t think there ever was a time that we liked to experience conflict or liked to feel difficult things. But the difference is that we used to accept difficult feelings, discomfort, awkwardness and challenge, as a part of life and relationship. We used to know that if we wanted to have anything good there was going to be an element of hard work involved. We no longer seem to believe that discomfort or challenge is an inherent and unavoidable part of being in relationship with other humans. It appears that we are attempting to eliminate the parts of relationship that don’t fit into our new, 140 character culture.
When we run into conflict with a friend, the reason we are willing to address the conflict, to go through that challenge, is because we want the friendship. We care about it… it matters to us. We agree to wade through that messy river to get to the other side where the friendship can be restored. In psychology we call this process rupture and repair. The bond that is formed after wading through the conflict together is actually stronger than if the conflict had not happened. I can’t help but wonder: Given our unwillingness to struggle through conflict in order to save something as important as friendship, could it be that we don’t actually care about anything that much anymore — not enough anyway to risk being uncomfortable for? Is there anything left for which we are actually willing to leave our comfort zone?
The ease that technology affords us has convinced us that relationships, like everything else, should be easy. When things get hard, we’re out, on to the next thing for as long as it’s fun and allows us to have a good and easy time. By no means is this to say that we should stay in relationships no matter what, or that the only reason we drop out of relationships is because we are unwilling to face conflict. We drop out of relationship for many valid and healthy reasons and some relationships need to end, hard work or not. This is not an observation on the way we end relationships, but rather on the way that we are disappearing from relationship because some bumps appear in the road and we don’t like bumps. There is an alarming flippancy these days in the way we relate to each other, a lack of investment in the meaning of relationship. The result of this flippancy is that we are left with a lot of friendship lite, but not much in the way of nourishing friendship. We have it easy but we don’t have it real.
In order to feel truly well, we need more than just ease and comfort in our lives. We will never end up anywhere deeply satisfying by avoiding challenge. Each moment that we are willing to be uncomfortable in a relationship, to live in and through the messiness, is a drop of gold in the relationship itself. The investment of the hard stuff is ultimately what makes the relationship be worth investing in. The willingness to be uncomfortable for something and the value of that something are part of the same circle.