I tried to figure out why women, in particular, were so crazy about the Priest character I wrote for Fleabag. Sure, he was handsome and charming and all that, but why go so nuts? In studying it, I eventually realized he was doing this one amazing thing in every scene—he was listening. —Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Here’s a fact—it’s actually pretty easy to say you love someone. People do it all the time. But proving you love someone is a lot more difficult.
One of the simplest ways to express love is to listen. To be present in the moment. Alert. Fully aware. With hands and fingers dead still. Eyes locked. Ears perked.
Even if you don’t quite love someone, you can still demonstrate you respect and care about them by being present, and often, the best method is to listen.
You can even listen with your eyes. Some of the best listening is done this way because words, even spoken ones, can belie the truth.
You can listen with your ears beyond just registering words. Because a drawn-out sigh, or a pause, or a burst of inflection at a certain part in a sentence can tell the real story that’s being camouflaged by verbiage.
But more than listening, being present means being invested with your person of the moment.
After all, why be with them if you’re not truly interested in their thoughts, their struggles, their triumphs, their life?
Today, in a sort of perverse way, getting a text has become almost as significant as a first kiss. It’s that prized and special.
For instance, you can be watching an intense film, or engaging in what you think is some really meaningful conversation, but if the other person’s phone chimes, everything changes for them. A smoke alarm goes off, and whatever connection the two of you had moments before disappears.
The real message—the one your friend is not so subliminally sending—is, What just came through on my phone is more important than you, than what you and I are doing right now.
A further irony is your friend might not even know what the message is, or even who sent it. But it’s a message. And it becomes your friend’s priority.
People have to share things. That’s what intimacy is. —Heather Christle
Today, phones are the arch rival of intimacy. According to The Bustle, 33% of all Americans would rather give up sex for a year than go without their phone. According to Bloomberg News, 40% would stop seeing their friends in person if it meant they couldn’t keep their phone.
Multitasking is another enemy of intimacy.
Why is being able to do six things at once so great? (Yes, I know there are times when multitasking is necessary. But multitasking while you’re with someone who’s supposed to be important in your life?)
When it comes to people, One to one, should mean One to one.
Here are some helpful tips for doing so:
When I worked in the corporate world, I so loved what I was doing, and the company I worked for, that I let it consume me. In many ways, it took over my identity. Even at home, at dinner, or tousling with my kids, my thoughts were elsewhere. I was present physically, but I was elsewhere emotionally. In a way, I’d become a ghost-parent, ghost-husband, ghost-friend. I could smile and nod and look someone in the eye and not hear or absorb a word. If you pretend to be engaged long enough, it’s like anything—you get good at it.
Part of the problem was I took others for granted. I figured if I was only half-present I’d be forgiven because So-and-So loved me. They’re weren’t going anywhere.
I suppose that’s how marriages slowly fracture, how relationships drift and dissolve. I’ve been very lucky those things didn’t happen to me, though they easily could have.
A good way to thinking about the idea of attention, of being fully present, might be to look back on when you were first dating someone you thought could be your person, maybe even your person for life. Back then, in those early stages of courtship and romance, you noticed everything. Your sensory receptors were on high alert. There was nothing you didn’t pay attention to. Even silly things like the way they sighed, folded their napkin, glanced aside when complimented. When they weren’t speaking, you were entirely glued to their most mundane gestures. And why? Because you cared. Because they might just be The One. And so, you wanted to learn every single thing about them, even the things they were telling you without the use of words.
Over time it’s easy to take the people we love for granted. It’s easy to cease caring as much, because demonstrating that you care takes a lot of effort.
The key is to use the writing craft adage: “Show, don’t tell.” Or to think about it in terms of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.”
Just as paying attention means being temporarily selfless. Listening means becoming temporarily mute.
One of the hardest things to do, when someone comes to you upset with a problem, is to listen without feeling the need to provide solutions. Typically, the other person simply wants to be heard. Maybe they want to bitch. Vent. Blow off some verbal steam. Unless they say, “Do you have any advice?” then they’re not asking for it.
To be present is to be conscious that you’re paying attention. Being present for others is how we tell them we care, that we love them, and that their presence in the world makes our life infinitely better.