There are countless stories of students away at college abroad who are thankfully able to connect with their beloved family and friends every night through Skype or other Internet-based communication tool. There are just as many stories of husbands / wives and fathers / mothers who have gone away to another country to work; to eke out a better living for their families and are able to text, call and Skype to keep the love alive with their partners and to say goodnight to their kids. Technology has evolved amazingly and it has helped families, friends and businesses to stay connected in spite of the constraints of distance, costs, logistics and time. There is no question that technology has done a world of good for helping all of us to stay ‘in touch’. Sadly however there is another side, particularly as it relates to how men and women relate.
Back in the day, a woman had the distinct pleasure of having an interested man, behold her, and muster up all his manly courage to physical approach her to start a conversation. She would observe how he walked up towards her, the expression on his face, the clothes he was wearing, the sincerity of his smile or the nerves streaming down his forehead. She would notice if he was well put together, his sense of style and perhaps if his shoes were clean. “Hi, my name is John and I was just observing that you were sitting alone, would you like some company?” he might ask, or some other random pickup line. The woman then gets the chance to further notice and subconsciously process the tone of his voice, the way he said ‘hi’, if his voice warmed her heart or sent chills up her spine; if his eyes said ‘ginal’ or gentleman. She would notice his body scent and if his breath was minty or malodourous.
The beautiful enjoyable thing in this scenario is what I like to call the ‘masculine pursuit’ characterized by courage, desire and strength. After all she is an amazing, smart and beautiful woman and he is so taken by her that he is compelled to flex his manly courage to come over and audibly say something. These moments are palpable, unforgettable and intimate – the stuff good love stories are made of. (Yes I believe the man should pursue the woman and not the other way around – Proverbs 18:22 speaks to the man ‘finding’ a woman, which means he is the one looking or pursuing. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.”)
However with the proliferation of texting and messaging, some of this art of pursuing and connecting between a man and a woman is diminished. That initial intimate connection of being out in the physical space where eyes behold, palms sweat, legs tap and women cross their legs and feel the real connection with someone is kind of …well…fading. Many men now indicate their interest in a woman with a simple text message or tweet. Don’t get me wrong – nothing is wrong with expressing feelings through a text but it simply shouldn’t completely replace the physical interaction and the associated hypnotic chemistry.
Even when men and women actually get together, they spend a lot of time on their phones ‘WhatsApping’ and texting away and not necessarily to each other! Countless times I’m sitting in a restaurant and see couples busy texting or reading on a tablet without any beholding or real eye contact; no gazing upon one another. Ok I admit it, I am a hopeless romantic, but even so you must agree with me that these days are ‘colder’ and men and women are not as ‘present’ and genuinely connected to each other.
In a recent Time magazine article centenarian sex therapist, Shirley Zussman rightly observed that “There is so much less of actual physical connection. There’s less touching, there’s less talking, there’s less holding, there’s less looking. People get pleasure from looking at each other.” Yes they do and not only on a sensual level!
Still we can’t lay the blame for reduced intimacy squarely at the feet of technology. We have become a busy stressed-out society that hardly has the time, gentility, passion or energy for intimate interactions. With that in mind let us go back to the drawing board and use the technology to help us in these difficult times, bearing in mind that a text or tweet is not a substitute for having a direct conversation. We can actually use the technology to setup our physical interactions, which some men and women do quite well. “I miss you, can’t wait to see you later *hugs*” or “honey, I have something special for you when you get home *wink*,” are some examples.
Others however hide behind the technology – some men don’t actually tell their women “I love you,” with a slow deliberate embrace or kiss, instead they send a text. Some women don’t actually look into their man’s eyes, cup his beard and say “baby I’m sorry,” instead they send a text message and hope things will be ok when they see each other later on. In these instances the message sender and receiver inadvertently shortchange themselves from the ‘chemistry’ that naturally occurs when two souls come into physical contact and commune with words, feelings, touches and expressions. The fact is that a text robs you of the honesty of non-verbal communication: a smirk, a smile, a hesitant look, the initial reaction, the sound of your ‘lol’. By the way, so many people guiltily respond to messages with ‘lol’ when they actually don’t find the message funny and are not actually laughing.
Moreover, for some, sending a message has a false sense of protection and power – they get to send their message (whether positive or negative) without having to experience the direct reaction, without having to be emotionally invested, without being brave. They get to be a cozy coward tucked away from the non-word repercussions, good or bad.
In the end, those among us who want to truly and deeply sustain connection with our significant others must get more physical, honest and intimate again with how we approach communication. We must use the technology to help us to connect and not reduce our connection to 160 characters on a screen.
Shelly-Ann Harris is a communication specialist who has held senior positions at several public and private sector entities in Jamaica. She has also worked as a communication consultant and specialist for internationally funded projects locally in Jamaica and in the region. Follow this blog to get an alert when the next post is made or follow her on Twitter @harrisshellyann.