Your phone rings, and at the other end is a friend you’re not heard from for a while
“Hi, how are you”? They ask. You reply “okay thanks” or some other fairly non-descriptive response “and, how about you”?
Then you realise why they’ve called you…. The cursory enquiry into your well-being was only ever meant as an opening into a full-blown, 20 minute account of how they are, what latest ailment they’re suffering from, how terrible their lives are, and how badly they’re being treated at home/at work/ by friends. You don’t need to say anything… Well, you can only get the odd “oh no/ poor you/really/surely not” in anyway , so engrossed are they in their tale of woe.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I do I genuinely care about my friends and their welfare. And I have some who have horrendous things going on in their lives. But ask them how they are and the normal reply is “I’m hunky dory hun” when I know full well that’s not true, but I also know that when they’re ready to say something they will… And they know I’ll be there for them, in whatever way I can.
This is particularly true of one dear friend who, 9 times out of 10 manages to completely ignore/change the subject/use distraction whenever I ask how things are.. Or dare to suggest they should perhaps slow down/take some time out/see a doctor. So when they do, on the very rare occasions, actually reply by admitting they’re tired/sad/fed up/ unwell. Then I know things are bad. And I wish I was nearer so I could do something more practical to help.
No, I’m talking about the ones who seem unable to get through a week without some drama occurring, that they need to off load….on me. They need advice/help/to tell me a secret. Jeez, I’ve so many secrets tucked away I could be a millionaire if I ever resorted to blackmail!! And, NO, I’m not telling you any!!
Then, after 20 minutes they suddenly remember you’re still there, and finish the call with “ thanks for listening, gotta dash. But if you ever need to talk……”
Once, when there was something particularly grim going on in my life, I did actually dare to try “talking”. Oh my! That was a mistake! I’m not sure if they were shocked at what I was trying to say, and unable to cope… After all, as they said “but you’re the strong one, you deal with everything”. Quickly followed by “look, I have to go now. But I’ll ring you back later. Now, I’m not sure how much later they meant, but it was just as well I didn’t wait in for them as it was over a month before they rang again. And guess what? Yep, they had a problem they wanted advice on! Obviously any memory of anything I’d started to tell them was long forgotten.
On another occasion someone rang, asked how I was.. I replied with my stock answer, but didn’t ask how they were…..oh my again!
They launched into me…. “Aren’t you going to ask (whatever it was going on at the time) is?” “ I can’t believe you can be so thoughtless” I bit my tongue, apologised and then before I could say anything else they proceeded to tell me anyway, in great detail.
I don’t want to sound as if I’m hard and unfeeling. I really am not. And have lots of lovely friends that I know would be here for me, at the drop of a hat, as I would be for them. And some of those are relatively new people that I’ve met on Twitter, and then in RL. We’ve shared stories and confidences, and it’s been good, and therapeutic to have been able to share some stuff, that I possibly may not have shared with friends closer to home.
I am a fairly private person, and choose carefully what I share and whom with. But , sometimes, it would be nice to think that the “how are you” from some people was actually meant. Or that if they did stop to listen, they’d, maybe, give some indication next time we spoke that they’d remembered any of it.
I really don’t mean to sound like a whingeing old bat… And I certainly don’t want my dear friends to think they can’t tell me anything again, I hope they know me well enough to know I’m there for them when they need me.
And remember ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ have the same letters in them. And it’s a real skill to “really listen”’ So many people find silences awkward and have a need to fill them, for their own comfort.
In my role I facilitate sessions on communication and often engage groups in exercises on ‘active listening’ I really think everyone should try it. Sit with a friend. Ask them to talk to you for 2 minutes about something about them. You have to listen. No speaking. No asking questions. Just listen. Then at the end feedback what they’ve told you. It’s not easy. The brain is constantly thinking how the conversation relates to stuff in you life, and the temptation to ‘jump in’ is hard to resist. But try it, and you’ll be amazed how much more you’ll ‘hear’
And, please, remember sometimes that ‘strong’ person at the other end of the phone may be desperate for someone to listen to them.