It’s seems easy to pick up a phone and check on someone, yet not everyone does. Some are loath to be the one to initiate a call. Maybe, they’re shy or don’t like talking when it’s not in person. Others say they’re too busy and can’t take the time. Or maybe they just don’t care.
These days, during Covid-19, who knows what’s really going on in someone’s life. They could be desperately ill or have long-term Covid-19 effects, which has zapped their energy and spirit.
Whatever the reason, there is something we do know. Staying in touch with those we care about requires some effort and regular communication. We don’t consider putting a check by a “like” or writing a brief comment on FB real communication. Otherwise, relationships tend to wither and die like grapes on a vine, to borrow a cliché.
Of course, there are long-time relationships where we don’t check in regularly but can easily pick up where we left off when the timing is right. Those friendships usually are rooted in years of connectivity. The frequency may have changed because of distance or a problem or just plain being busy…or being ill. No hurt feelings here.
However, most relationships need some fuel—in this case contact--to keep them going and revved up. The glitch is that everybody has their favorite, most comfortable way of communicating. You may prefer to talk on your cell while someone else likes to talk only on a landline, text and keep it brief, and still another person wants to email when the mood strikes. Or someone else may prefer to send a cute note or card through U.S. postal snail mail.
So, how do we get around these personal preferences and stay in touch? We think it’s best to talk it out if the friendship matters. Here are six steps to help you decide how best to proceed.
- Do a direct ask. Don’t be a wuss. If you always call and you get an email reply, but you dislike email, come out and say, “Do you only want to email, or might we talk some time on the phone? We can keep it brief if you’d prefer.” Be honest if someone asks this of you. Maybe you tend to talk on and on when the other person has limited time. We do this even with our kids by asking, “Is this a good time? I have one quick question.” And there are others who want to stay in touch with in-person contact—a lunch, glass of wine together, dinner.
- Put together the clues of someone’s daily routine like a jigsaw puzzle.Barbara is an early riser and has a few friends who also are. They check in by cell often in the early morning hours before everyone gets going to work, volunteer, exercise, a hobby or watching a grandchild. She’s learned that it’s fine to call “P” at 7 a.m. and Margaret then, too. She also knows not to call her mom’s friend “N” before 10 a.m. And she’s told a few friends she likes to keep her evening hours for her beau unless it’s an emergency or one of her kids catching up. Margaret prefers afternoon or early evening phone calls, when she has a block of time to really talk and listen. Any communication after 9 p.m. is unwelcome except if one of her kids or Barbara. Texting is fine, but she keeps her phone in the other room to avoid being distracted by the ping of texts when she’s working. Emailing is the best way to reach her all day long for she’s most always on her computer when home.
- Note the patterns we form in terms of how we communicate with different folks. Barbara has a coterie of friends of friends she’s in regular touch with, a few from two Zooms she participates in, and a few very close friends. She also has others she may call once a month or every few months to see how they are or even just once a year. There are also a few she stopped calling or emailing because the phone or emails never worked the other way. Of course, if she heard from them, she’d be delighted. Those out-of-the blue contacts can be wonderful—a gift if you will. Margaret, who doesn’t love talking on the phone because she does so all day long for work, also knows who likes to schmooze and when. Don’t bombard people with texts or emails if you know they’re busy. Certain friends and family are best reached at certain times of day, unless, once again, it’s an emergency.
- Mix it up.Sometimes, it’s worth checking if the other person might want to vary the routine. We can get stuck on doing the same-old, same-old, which leads us to not wanting to do it at all. Example, you get tired of the emails; they seem to lack the depth of conversation you crave. Go ahead and ask just one more time, “Want to Zoom or Facetime? We haven’t seen each other in ages and it would be nice to see your face and really catch up!” That could be just the icebreaker needed to get contact going stronger. That happened with Barbara and one childhood friend at the start of the pandemic.
- Don’t get upset or chastise.It’s easy to rush to assumptions and write those scripts in your head (see blog, “Assumptions: Our Theory of Everything. Sometimes it’s Best to Go Straight to the Source” (March 3, 2021) but try not to. We never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life unless we ask. People don’t want to be shamed or reprimanded. If you haven’t heard from “S” in months, cut her some slack and reach out and ask how she is and what’s going on. If the person does have a bone to pick with you and didn’t contact you for that reason, listen and try to resolve differences. Try not to get defensive.
- Face the truth.It’s only after you try multiple times with certain people, that it’s time to go to plan B, follow our rule No. 3 above and maybe stop. Accept that phone calls, an email thread or texts represent a two-way street. If you find you’re always the one to initiate contact or the opposite and one who never does, maybe it’s time to reassess the relationship and accept that it may not be a priority. At least for now. That doesn’t mean you can’t try again if something happens that makes you think of that friend.
As we’ve learned through the years, dial down the expectations. Not all friendships remain the same. The good ones are a golden ticket and may become what some refer to as a “big” friendship—in other words, very tight. Don’t take any friendships for granted. It’s often worth preserving them in whatever way you both agree is best. Talk soon—and maybe on the phone.