After two years, I like to think I know my boyfriend pretty well. I know when he needs to eat before he does, his opinions on bike activists, why he finds a joy that I never will in watching sports on TV, what kind of linens he prefers and how he feels about topics from animal rights to Lennon, Nixon and Hoover. The two of us are talkers, descending from long lines of people who just can't shut up, even when it's probably a good idea to do so. I won't go into our ethnicities here, but suffice to say, both our backgrounds are known for garrulousness.
Our conversations aren't exactly short, quiet, or even polite. (I take full responsibility for that; I can't help but curse when making a point that I'm passionate about.) Probably my very favorite thing about him is that he doesn't take my differing opinion personally and that he knows how to argue. We are that couple that stands in the corner at a party with our drinks having a heated discussion about an obscure topic because we just can't stop, even though our friends might like to talk to us too.
But still, we are constantly cut off from our conversations by the complications of modern life. And I didn't even realize it until we were recently on vacation (for just five nights) and I felt like I got to know him so much better. We've already traveled together quite a bit, so it wasn't seeing that aspect of him in transit, but rather the fact that we took a vacation where we planned to do nothing, and indeed did very little on our trip. But we did talk, with pretty much no interruption. About everything, about nothing. And now I comprehended how our normal chats are cut off, truncated, interrupted or engaged in while doing other things. The same goes for many of my friends (though I will say that when my writer friends and I do get together, which doesn't happen as often as we would like, we have unusually lengthy, thoughtful discussions).
While I was noticing that my boyfriend and I were finally able to continue a conversation unabated for several hours while we were away, I also noticed that it seemed to be a normal part of life in rural Barbados, where we were vacationing. Men gathered at the rum bar or at the beach, women on street corners and porches, and had long enough casual conversations that I ate a whole meal and read a chapter in my book one day and they were still at it.
There wasn't that much else to do in the area, to be honest, and in the other places I have noticed that long conversations are the norm, like Costa Rica, where families gather on the front porch (three or four generations' worth) and while away the evenings in conversation. Perhaps there's a connection between the happiest places on the planet (Costa Rica always ranks high in that category) and the people who have time to listen, to understand, to go into something in depth, and most importantly, to feel listened to with friends and family.
Which is why Laurie David's campaign to bring back the family dinner
, the suggestion to shut off disrupting electronics at mealtimes and meetings is actually important. I get it now. Because it's hard to get to know someone, and keep knowing them — even your partner or your own child — if you don't have time to really talk to them.