Amy Newman Smith is married with three beautiful children and a wonderful husband. A full-time mom, part-time writer, editor, teacher and minivan road warrior, Amy thinks the Disney Princesses should embrace the values of self-reliance, internality and finding treasures on the tree lawn.
About this time two years ago, I noticed my husband didn’t always finish our conversation by telling me he loved me when he checked in from the office on his cell phone. Frankly, I was worried. What did it mean? Were we having problems? Did we need to talk to someone? (Admittedly, the fact that I was a hormone-crazed pregnant lady might have made this a bigger issue in my mind than it was in real life.)
After a few weeks of letting this swirl around in my head, I finally asked what was up. (Although, I didn’t literally say “What’s up?” as I find that particular phrase off-putting and indicative that you don’t really care what is up with the person you are asking it of. But I digress.)
My kind, patient husband explained to me that when he changed jobs (which coincided with the drop in I love yous) he had moved from a semiprivate office with a door to a cubicle farm, a place not known for its romantic ambience.
“It’s not anything I’m embarrassed by,” he explained, “but while personal calls aren’t forbidden, I always feel like I’m disrupting my co-workers and that whispering sweet nothings is inappropriate.”
And there’s the rub, two people having a communication breakdown fostered by one of the tools that is supposed to make our communication better. “Communication is key to a healthy relationship,” we are told by people who are 100 percent right, but how in the heck is communication supposed to work in the real world of married life?
The alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. All communication going on as the family rushes around to get dressed, have breakfast and make their way to their morning destinations is strictly functional.
“Get your coat on.”
“Do you have your backpack?”
On a good day, there is time for an exchange of “I love you” and “I hope you have a good day.” The day passes.
We try to reach out mid-day, but my call often comes as an important piece of work is at hand and his comes when I am in the car, busy with kids, etc.
My husband returns home at 6:30 p.m. Once again, minimal communication going on as dinner is made and served. We make it a point to ask about each other’s days, but the narrative is often interrupted by the demands of right now:
“Use a napkin, not your fingers.”
“No, you cannot have Pez for dinner.”
The children want their own chance to communicate with Daddy as we eat dinner and he gets them off to bed with stories and Sh’ma. Then, most nights, someone is out the door, me to a meeting, husband to learning, either of us to run a necessary errand. And after a certain hour, attempting conversation with Mr. Smith is useless. If he were a superhero, he would be “The Sleeper,” (complete with costume of pajamas with a giant S on the front.) He is able to fall asleep, sitting upright and holding a briefcase on a loud moving train.
As I recently told him a story I had read, of four Mossad agents who executed a Nazi war criminal hiding in South America while dressed only in their underpants, I was interrupted by the soft sound of a snore. (You would have thought I was discussing the wallpaper patterns.) Clearly, synchronizing our communications schedules is a challenge.
Obviously, asynchronous communication is the key. But we are a couple that neither texts nor tweets. I refuse to believe real communication be compacted into 140 characters. And you can call me narrow-minded, but I can’t see having a substantive conversation in the shorthand of the Blackberry world (e.g., “what yeshiva R we sending Ploni 2”???)
A private Facebook feed has its advantages, I suppose. A 420-character limit gives you space to get your point across while maintaining grammatical integrity. The conversation is logged, ending disagreements about whether you did or did not remember to tell someone that the kids have a playdate scheduled for Sunday afternoon. You could even establish a rule that disagreements that occurred more than three clicks of the Older Posts links ago may no longer be brought into current discussions. Mark Zuckerberg’s gift to the world certainly has its advantages.
Baruch HaShem for Shabbos, with no work, no cell phones, meals cooked ahead. An oasis of communication and calm. You may not be able to upload pictures and links to it, but I’ll take a Friday night dinner with my bashert any time.