After five years living in Europe, I noticed many things had changed upon my return to the States, most notably, the way people on the subway behaved. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but soon realized: no one was talking.
Five years before, subway cars contained bickering couples, yakking corporate execs and gossiping college co-eds, all of them adding their part to the beautifully cacophonous music of city life. Now, everyone was plugged into IPods, putzing around with games on their cell phones or watching TV on screens the size of guitar picks.
Soon, I realized the phenomenon wasn’t restricted to the subway. Facebook status updates and tweets now fill the space diaries used to provide for self-expression. Emails killed letter writing, while text messages have eliminated the need for those things our elders once termed “telephone calls.” The art of conversation, the back-and-forth exchange of ideas, the ability to express feelings in full, unabbreviated sentences, is dying. Americans no longer know how to communicate.
Thus, it came as no surprise that “talking” was a recurring theme at the March Man Panel. The topic under discussion was how to take a casual relationship to the next level. After nearly two hours of exploring the minutiae of “the dating game,” one panelist brought it home.
“You want to make a change in a relationship you’re having with a guy?” The panelist asked. “Talk to him. Communicate.”
The audience was dumbfounded. Some cocked their heads as if they’d just stepped off a spaceship and needed to ask, “what is this ‘talking’ of which you speak?”
Really, it couldn’t be clearer. Who needs Man Panels, self-help books, advice columns and understanding friends when you’ve got the one thing no one else on the planet has: your voice. Wondering if a guy’s interested in becoming your boyfriend? Ask him. If he bolts, he probably wasn’t into it in the first place.
But no gal wants to appear “clingy” or “desperate,” so much better to put a sock in it when it comes to making her desires known. We ladies of the modern age can demand six figure salaries, run Fortune 500 companies and reach second place in presidential races. So, why is it so tough to say, “I dig you. Wanna be my man?”
Maybe because both men and women are supposed to be emotional superheroes with easily controlled feelings and resilient hearts. Because we’re led to believe needing someone is weak. Because we no longer know how to talk about our deep selves in meaningful ways, and have few opportunities to express who we are or what we want, and have someone else listen much less give a dang.
And so we vanish into IPod shuffle world. We avoid strangers standing next to us in the elevator. We hide behind steely exteriors and wait around for the apples of our eyes to allow our relationships to step up a notch.
Of course, who am I to talk when I can’t even make eye contact let alone form words in front of my current crush. I fear I may collapse if I stood next to him, actually speaking might cause me to burst into flames. Even an extroverted, live-life-to-the-fullest chick like me wimps out after one too many heartbreaks. No matter what one has achieved, asking someone to validate your feelings for them is the scariest of life’s undertakings. I’d rather go to the dentist, speak publicly and die.
But I’m working on it.
So this communication thing? Much bigger than love and romance. This nation needs to get talking again. I, for one, won’t let Facebook be my diary and won’t let my daily interactions be full of trifles. I shall talk, I shall engage, I shall smile at strangers in the elevator.
In fact, if you see me on the subway, feel free to take the seat beside me. I’ve got loads to tell you.