Being Together

Being caught up at work over the weekends this month has taken me away from my family physically, but it was a story retold during a chat with colleagues that provided me with much to muse on.

A cab driver was sharing with his passenger the reason he became one. He had a successful career throughout his working years, climbing higher and higher up the corporate ladder. Finally, the day came for him to retire, financially comfortable. He started planning how he was finally going to spend all his free time with his wife; the places they will go, the fine food they were going to taste, and more, because he was financially very capable now.

Retired life presented him with a different reality. His wife, having lived through many years of not having her husband around much, had developed her own interests and her own circle of friends. She could not get used to having him around and ‘suddenly’ wanting to spend time with her, because they no longer had anything in common. He did not know her friends, and she was reluctant to change her lifestyle to spend her time with a “stranger”. He became the one who was left alone, with too much time on his own.  In order to keep himself occupied and get out of his wife’s way, he decided to become a cab driver.

This story struck a chord in my heart, and I imagined the desolate scenes of a couple going their separate ways, while remaining legally married to each other. Then I realised, to my horror, I am seeing these scenes, and hearing such stories or comments, regularly.

“After 12 years of marriage, what else can I talk to my wife about except the kids?” My ex-colleague told me many years ago, when I was just 2, 3 years into my own marriage and curious to find out more. I still remember the look of surprise on his face, as if I asked a stupid DUH question, when I asked him what he and his wife talked about as an ‘old’ couple with kids.

“I’m bringing our grandson along for our overseas trip, or else the trip would be sooooo boring. At least with the grandson coming along, we would have something in common to focus all our attention on.”

“Don’t let him know where we are going. I don’t want him to come along.”

And I see married couples going out for breakfast together, each with his/her set of newspapers. They occupy a big table, spread out the newspapers between them, and go about reading and eating ‘together’. Or he would be playing games on his mobile phone, and she would be catching up on the lastest feeds on Facebook. The whole meal would be spent in each other’s presence, but not with each other.

I do a lot of people-watching in my spare time, and whenever I can. And I don’t see many couples, dating or married, look into the eyes of their chosen partners anymore. It seems their smart phones are their partners instead. I can see the smiles on their faces, and the excitement in their eyes when they stare deep into their phones. What happened to the magic of staring into each other’s eyes, and seeing the smile and excitement reflected from the “windows to the soul”?

Granted, there is much pleasure to derive from the portable devices; little effort needs to be invested for maximum satisfaction. It is less complicated; you get the same or more in return for the energy you invest. There is instant gratification. Interactions with people are complicated. A lot of energy is needed to look into a loved one’s eyes, listen carefully to what is being shared, and contribute something in return to maintain the relationship. But who knows all the while, the mind is ticking off the seconds one can return to harvesting the crops, animals, coins, or whatever, and when the energy for the hero has been fully (or at least not 0%!) restored to continue the progress in the game. Or what the next episode of whatever drama is going to happen.

And it’s not just limited to couples; friends and families out for a meal together are glued to their own electronic devices. Streaming videos are now the time fillers and baby sitters. Kids are kept occupied and quiet, making mealtimes such a breeze. To each his/her own device. Fuss free.

And what happens to the partner, the family member who thinks all the time spent together on one’s own electronic device is wrong, and wants to make a positive contribution to quality family time, and even set a good example? She (I usually see the females) would be trying to entertain the kids and contain their restless energies, while he would be frantically working his thumbs into a frenzy, excitement glittering from his eyes. The only times he would stop are before and after the meal. And again, no eye contact during the meal because he is forced to stop his exciting progress in the game(s), and wants to get back to the game(s) as soon as he can.

What happens to this member who tries so hard to keep the family from sliding down the electronic slope of irrestible and instant gratifications in the long run?

I think, while it has taken the previous generation 20, 30 years for a couple to no longer have anything in common, the advance in technology will halve the time, if not more. Very soon, the meaning of ‘being together’ will cease to have any meaning at all…

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