The second date with my husband, Jeff, didn’t start well. As the clock ticked over from 5:30 pm—the time he said he’d pick me up—to 6:30 pm, my feelings of concern also ticked over—to annoyance, that is. Sure, this was 1985, well before the invention of cell phones, but still. What kind of guy fails to show up without letting you know what’s going on? (I get that “ghosting” seems to be more of a thing now, but back then, it certainly wasn’t.) As time wore on, I came to the conclusion that this handsome pilot was probably a womanizer (I’m not sure how being late makes you a womanizer but stick with me.) Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. When I opened the door, the pilot stood there looking sheepish, which in my mind, confirmed my suspicions that he was probably a womanizer. Arms crossed, I waited for his excuse.
“I’m really sorry,” he gushed. “I got caught up reading a really good book and lost track of time.”
Wait, what? Seriously?? If this man was trying to cover up a (potential) womanizing streak, I would have expected him to say something—I don’t know—different. The book-reading excuse clearly threw me off because the next thing I knew, I was headed out on my date, more than a tiny bit intrigued by a cute pilot who got lost in a book. I had no idea that I would come to learn that the “cute” habit of the cute pilot was really not so cute after all. It took me a long time to figure that out, though.
I first had to witness many more “cute” examples of the pilot getting lost in reading. Oh, there was the time he went in to pay for gas and never came out. Thinking something awful must have happened to him, I went in to find him in front of the magazine rack, reading a comic book. Adorable, right? Then, there was the time in our first year of being married when he disappeared into the bathroom to read “a few pages” of his new book right before bed. I woke up 5 hours later to an empty bed and the light still on in the bathroom. He was sitting in the exact same position I left him in, except that the book was now nearly finished. As someone who struggled to sit still because I always felt I should be doing something (see last week’s post), I was in awe that his man had the ability to concentrate that long. I rationalized that because he was so smart—I never needed a dictionary or calculator when he was around—his brain required a regular feeding of sorts. Although this “cute” feature came in handy when I took him to the mall—I could drop him off at a bookstore while I shopped for hours without notice or complaint—it mostly became a pain point for me because there was little room for me in his world of ideas and information. And that became a problem. I just wish we could have understood that sooner. I needed to be able to connect with Jeff’s heart, not just his mind.
I could write for days (and I will in a future post) about the crucial need for an emotional heart connection in relationships, but that’s not my focus today. Let’s just assume that to be true. The point is we all face temptation every single day to disconnect from others, whether it be in books, television, phones, games, or music. As I look around, plenty of evidence indicates that temptation is winning. Families are scrolling on phones in restaurants; teens sit together, all on their phones, while white earbuds in peoples’ ears have become a universal “do not disturb” sign of sorts. I don’t make friends in the gym anymore because everyone has their “do not disturb” signs in. I despair that the only people left to talk to in any kind of line are the babies who are too little to hold a phone. It’s lonely out there!
Here’s the problem: we are made for connection—it’s in our DNA—so when we don’t get it, we will find other ways to compensate for the loss. It breaks my heart to witness the ever-increasing number of people who use food, alcohol, drugs, porn, social media, heck…even books… to disconnect from the pain of being lonely or alone. Disconnection can become an ingrained habit that is hard to break. Left long enough, connection—even connection with ourselves feels…awkward.
“The Lord God said, it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18)
Jeff and I found ourselves in this very situation. Although we compensated for a sub-par emotional connection in other good and healthy ways, living 24/7 in very close quarters for the last two years allowed our dysfunctional patterns to become more obvious—at least to me. Jeff was happy enough (or so it seemed) engulfed in a world of information—the war in Ukraine, fascinating coast-to-coast gravel-bike rides, the finer details of the theory of constraints—there was no end of things to learn and explore. In the meantime, I coped by tuning out or getting angry, but I most often tuned out. Reading and listening to helpful podcasts about healing through connection and emotionally attuning to other people (of all things) was one of the things I did to fill an emotional void. The irony of this was not lost on me. God was using my checking out to convict me that I (we) really, really, needed to check back in. This is where the topic of temptation comes in.
There is not a day that goes by that Jeff and I both need to either fight the habit or temptation to disengage or disconnect. After all, doing the same thing we’ve always done takes no effort whatsoever. Staying emotionally engaged—which sometimes involves having hard conversations—is hard work. Rather than defaulting to reading interesting articles, no matter how satisfying it may be to learn how to help people heal from trauma (me) or what would happen when the Cascadia fault line shifts (Jeff), we have committed to engaging with each other. No excuses. Thankfully, getting lost in social media or games is not a temptation for either of us, but I’m wondering about you, dear reader. Is it an issue for you? Are you tempted to disengage from others by scrolling? Or watching Netflix for hours? Or even by working hours on end without taking time for your kids or spouse? Honestly, the temptation to disengage is everywhere. My question is, what are you going to do about it?
Like Jeff and his books, we all face the temptation to disconnect from others. Not knowing what your own personal temptations are, makes it difficult to suggest specific interventions for your particular situation; however, if you begin by acknowledging that you could do better at staying tuned into yourself and others, that is a great start. Here are a few other ideas to consider:
- Implement a no-phone rule at mealtime, even if you eat alone. Try practicing being present and focusing on the experience of eating rather than distracting yourself with phone scrolling.
- Set a goal to engage your child/teen/spouse in meaningful conversation daily. Don’t assume that if your attempt at engagement is rebuffed, they don’t want to talk to you. Maybe it’s a bad time. Ask them when a good time would be.
- Refuse to scroll on your phone when you’re waiting in lines. Stay present. Bonus points if you engage someone in conversation while you’re waiting.
- Make eye contact and say good morning to someone you pass on the street.
- Give someone at the gym/ball field/store/ a compliment. Even better if you have to push yourself because they have headphones on.
- If you regularly walk around with earbuds in, commit to taking them out for at least part of the day—especially if there are people around you.
As always, I would love to hear what you think about this topic! Do you struggle with the temptation to disengage? If so, what, if anything, do you plan to do about it?