Phone Calls

It may be that I live in another country from the people I’m closest to, but phone calls seem to be outdated. At times it’s useful to chat about plans, mostly to speed up decision making. Descriptive text messages can usually get the job done though. Messages provide more flexibility. Video chats, while still at the forefront for most, are definitely the best way to catch up. Once you realize you could be both talking and seeing each other, it’s an obvious transition. All of that said, my recent birthday made it clear why we should still value phone calls, and the reality that many people don’t.

If there’s any single change that happens as you grow older and start working, few are as substantial as having to spend most your time with people that aren’t your friends. ‘Colleagues’ is more appropriate. Sometimes they become friends, and hopefully they’re nice to be around, but it’s nothing like school. As a kid you’re with friends all day, every day. Much like an employee, you didn’t chose these people, but in a way your parents did, and these are your first friends anyways. When birthdays arrive, you’re automatically showered in birthday wishes, expected to throw yourself a classroom party with cupcakes or brownies. It’s a bit different as an adult. Some people bring in cupcakes and or gather friends for drinks, but most friends live elsewhere and lead separate lives. Obviously, none of this is new to this millenium, although I can’t be sure because I haven’t been working all that long. The way we send our best wishes, how we tell friends who we rarely see that we’re thinking about them, that has changed a whole lot.

Facebook has screwed up the whole birthday situation. I was lucky (I think?) to be a very early user. I was connected with almost all of my friends from the minute I entered college, but also remember being a high school kid without it, having to remember people’s birthdays and more importantly, not having a forum where my comments and conversations could be seen by the world. Posting on someone’s wall for their birthday feels like an easy way to manage a requirement. It’s certainly better than complete silence, but is there anything less personal? For an actual friend, someone that has been a partner-in-crime at one time or another, wall posts don’t cut it.

Messages are good, definitely a step up. A quick text can have a more personal comment, an inside joke that actually displays some effort. I wouldn’t expect it from everyone, particularly people I haven’t seen in ages and was never very close to, but the direct message is where most birthday wishes should happen. The way I see it, we all deserve to have about 35 people that we say happy birthday to. The former colleague that we were once close to, the fellow student, or the high school friend. When the cupcake parties go away and we’re all in the daily grind, these messages are important, they make someone feel loved. Far more than a weak “Happy birthday!!” post with little chance of an actual conversation coming from it.

For the people we’re closest to, current friends and family members, expectations ought to be higher. And by expectations I’m referring to the expectations we place upon ourselves. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal tracking of individuals over nearly 70 years, pointed out the importance of our relationships toward both physical health and happiness.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

It’s a point that I believe most people are aware of. While we all vary in our ability eat healthy and exercise, everyone has a respect for the role relationships play in our lives. Nothing brings out emotion in the same way our family and friends do. And that’s precisely where phone calls are so important. It’s not always possible to have a video chat, not when we’re busy with work or family or the rest of life. A phone call can happen so seamlessly though, when walking between places or doing chores around the house. Talking to someone allows for such a deeper sense of expression than messages, regardless of how many emojis we squeeze in. In the same way that it’s a better way to figure out the plans for the evening, it’s a quicker path to understanding one’s emotional state and the battles they’re fighting.

I’m lucky to have a lot of great people in my life, people who call me on my birthday and the 364 other days of the year. I make an effort to do the same, and often hear people talk about how they “should do that more”. If I’ve noticed anything about being away from the people I love, it’s the importance of good communication. Too often it seems like a burden, an effort being made to please someone else. I beg to differ.