When I was raising my kids, at the end of the last century, there was a lot of chatter in my life. Right before the explosion of the internet, texting, and email, so much of my time was spent talking to other people. If I wanted to order something from the Nordstrom catalog, I had to pick up the phone and call someone. If I had a question for one of my children’s teachers, I would go down to the school and wait for them at the end of the day to talk for a few minutes. I had to call around for estimates if I wanted work done on my house – none of this Yelp stuff where I ask a question and ten minutes later 95 electricians are emailing or texting. And of course, there were those kids I mentioned, who when they were small were an endless stream of words, questions, ideas, whining and, sometimes, a delicious “I love you, Mommy.”
The empty nest is certainly quiet, and for many of us, it’s far quieter than it was for our mothers. Our mothers may have missed their children when we left home, but that didn’t mean they stopped talking to people. If they wanted a new pair of shoes, they had to go to the store and talk to the saleswoman. There was no Zappos or Amazon where they could order up a pair of black heels and have them on their doorstep the next day. They actually talked on the phone to their friends. They didn’t have group texts filled with emojis and LOLs and OMGs and TTYLs. Not only that, but they couldn’t leave the house and be on their phones like we are, whether we’re strolling down the aisles of the grocery store or walking the dog or at a restaurant or in the airport. They would sometimes have a real conversation with a stranger because, of course, they had no smartphone to look at – so they made eye contact and remarked on the weather or the status of a flight and suddenly, a personal connection was made.
Because I’m a writer, most of my day is spent alone, but even if I wasn’t a writer, my world would still be exceptionally quiet. And I bet, if you aren’t working full time in an office, you spend much of your time without talking to other people too. Those little interactions that we used to have are so often replaced by email exchanges or online chats. It’s so much easier to text than call, but if you’re feeling alone in an empty nest, those electronic connections may not help – in fact, they might make you feel even lonelier.
It doesn’t help that our grown up kids are far more comfortable sending us a text instead of calling. Even our parents, the ones who are technologically savvy (and even the ones who aren’t, heaven help us) are texting and Facebooking and messaging. Where have all the voices gone?
We’re never going to go back to when, if we dialed a phone, a person would usually pick up and say hello. Because of that, it’s more important than ever to get out and talk to people – in person. Sometimes, when I’ve been alone too long, I make a point of chatting with everyone I see during the day – not a comfortable thing for me, a true introvert – but it makes a difference. Sometimes it’s boring, often people talk too long, and inevitably I grow a little impatient – but I push that away and simply stand there and listen. It’s amazing how much people appreciate a little personal attention – including me.
Next time your UPS person drops off your package from Amazon, the one that you ordered without talking to anyone or asking any questions or getting a “thank you for shopping with us,” stop a minute and ask how they are doing. And look them in the eye. It will feel nice.