Sunday, August 19, 2012

What It Looks Like

"The person in front of you is always more important than the person on the phone."
I need to be told things like this and she says it to me after I tell her that I have a friend visiting for the evening and our overseas phone conversation has lasted twenty minutes already. I'd been panicking inside as my friend walked around our yard while I sat at the fire pit and chatted. I couldn't figure out what was the right thing to do? After all, we'd arranged to chat at this time due to the time difference between her country and mine. Then my friend showed up. Once my overseas friend told me her perspective on the right order of things I was able to end the conversation without guilt and turn my attention to the person in front of me.

Her comment shone a light on my lack of ease when it comes to navigating social etiquettes.

I tend to be blunt and ungainly in social situations. It's taken years of work to lessen the panic that being in social situations evoke in me. Simple things like the rules of introducing people to one another or how to bow out of a conversation graciously - I don't do well. In my own home it takes work for me to remember to say excuse me instead of pushing past Dearest One. To wait my turn. To not change the subject on a dime. It's makes me feel vulnerable to admit all that. I want to chalk it up to the Asperger -ish symptoms most of my family exhibits or the self centredness that comes with being an alcoholic. I want to tell myself I should be further along the path than I am.

Yet here I am. And I can learn and change.

My friend made that comment to me a year ago. I have used it as a marker in my daily life since then. It's helped me ignore a ringing phone at work when a client is sitting across the desk from me. I've practised listening without speaking. I've reminded myself during conversations that it is polite to ask how the other person is doing instead of making it all about me. I sometimes wonder if people cringe when they run into me in case I'm one of those "can't get away from, won't shut up kind of people."

And I've learned - the hard way - that what things look like on the surface are not always the way they are.

I have a thing about not using/looking at a cell phone while in a restaurant. I feel so strongly about it that I once told someone once that they could choose to spend time with me or with their cell phone but it really was rude to ignore the person in front of them for the piddly assed messages on their phone.

Nothing like a pot calling the kettle black.

I've often looked at people in restaurants - couples especially - and wondered what's wrong with their relationship that their cell phone would trump their lover. I've had conversations in my head - jumping to conclusions about their whole relationship based on that one action.

And then came this day. Dearest One and I found ourselves busy with our cell phones in the aftershock of the appointment - too numb to talk because the tears were so close to the surface. I'd already gave my food order to the waitress with tears threatening to spill over. Dearest One and I looked at each other and found there were no words. Everything was happening so fast and we were spinning.

So we turned to our phones to let friends know what the next step was going to look like. I kept saying the word mastectomy to myself in my head and I looked up at Dearest One and apologized for being so rude as to be on my cell phone in a restaurant in front of him. We cut each other some slack.

I send a text to my friend who told me the person in front of me was more important than the person on the phone.

And as I pushed the send button on my phone I couldn't help but wonder if someone was watching us and jumping to conclusions about me and my lover.


Unknown said...

Yesterday a dear, dear friend and I had the opportunity to spend the day together. We had breakfast, shopped in Amish country and at an outlet mall. We talked non-stop, giggled and gafwed. It was delightful. When we sat down to dinner at around 6:30 in the evening, we both grabbed our phones to check messages. I wondered what peole thought, but it was for us a moment to catch our breaths. People thought what people thought. After we ate we spent and intense two hours working on her very emotional story (I'm going to write it). I'm thankful we took a moment of downtime before jumping in, but I'm sure there were some wondering why we were so attached to the blasted phones. People always judge and wonder. I hope to wonder and leave the judging to Another. :)

Peter said...

I'd say you are a social genius, from what I read here: the whole "social rules" bit is about appropriateness, of time and place and situation above a matrix of courtesy, and you and your husband nailed it. It's not every couple that can decompress in one another's company in such a creative way, given your circumstances. Bravo!