Here’s something that’s been blowing my mind lately.
I know — seems like no big deal, but think back just twenty years ago — before cell phones were a thing and we had to share phone lines with our bratty siblings. If someone gave you a device that fit in the palm of your hand, and could video call anyone in the world for free whenever you wanted, how would you have reacted? It would have been pretty amazing, right? Now let me ask you a question.
How many people have you called using video chat in the last week?
Chances are whatever your answer is we can all agree that it’s probably “not enough” (me included), that is — assuming you value human connection and relationships. Video chat is just one example of a golden opportunity for connection that we collectively squander. We’re lazy. We get micro-doses of connection all day thanks to social media but we’re missing out on this magical device that can let us see and talk to people in real time anywhere in the world.
That’s what this article is about — the ways we miss easy chances to improve our relationships. I’m going to suggest five ways anyone can increase the intimacy in their relationships and I’m going to address the common complaints I hear when I suggest these things to people. Let’s get started.
1. Upgrade your communication
Here is my hierarchy of preference when it comes to communication.
1st — In person
2nd —Video call
3rd — Phone call
4th — Audio/video messages
5th — Text/email
Since texting is so common, we often forget the benefits of calling someone and hearing their voice. Of course there are plenty of times when what we’re communicating warrants a simple text exchange, but even then — what if we called that person and used it as an excuse to catch up?
This of course wouldn’t make any sense if it’s someone you’re not looking forward to talking to, but often these upgrades to intimacy in communication are welcome and needed.
Common objection: People don’t want to be bothered.
I think this too sometimes, and then I remember that regardless of how we prioritize our lives, we all need quality relationships. And maybe If someone doesn’t want to be bothered for whatever reason, they don’t have to pick up the phone.
2. When you appreciate someone, don’t hide it
For 99.9% of human history when you had nice thoughts about someone that you weren’t in physical proximity to your options were:
a) write them a letter and send it in the mail (might take hours) or
b) enjoy the thought and do nothing about it.
Today we have so many more options.
My favorite way to let someone know I’m thinking about them, is to leave an audio or video message. I pull out my phone, ramble off the appreciation in the moment and put it away. Total time? About one minute.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all did this more often?
What would be the ripple effect of all those little appreciations?
Common objection: I forget to do it!
This is about building a new habit. What I’ve found for myself is this has become second nature to pull out my phone and send people a quick message. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
3. Go old school and stop by their house
This one is surprisingly edgy.
Remember when we were kids and we would just go to our friend’s houses and knock to see if they were home and wanted to hang out?
Now, doing that seems totally weird, but is it? Is it really that crazy to show up unannounced at someone’s house, especially if you’re already in the area?
I understand that some people don’t like this, but what I do with my friends is I ask them beforehand if they would mind if I stopped by without notice if I was in the area. Most of them don’t mind, so for those who agree, I’ll stop by and knock on their door when I’m in the neighborhood.
Common objection: This is invading people’s privacy!
If we want to have closer relationships, it’s not going to happen inside our comfort zone. The reason we avoid our friends isn’t because they want us to, it’s because we’re scared of intimacy and we’re scared of being rejected.
I’ve found that the people who are willing to put themselves out there are usually the people who have the most nourishing relationships.
4. Ask your friends for a ride to the airport
I don’t know if you’ve seen this ad for Lyft, but it made me stop and consider what it says about our culture.
What ever happened to friends driving each other to the airport?
What’s wrong with owing someone a favor?
We’re so afraid to need each other.
We’ve convinced ourselves that the way to happiness is through being as independent as possible, and while there is some truth in that, we should remember that while it’s a good plan for survival, it’s not enough if we want to be happy and thrive.
As I look around my community, I unfortunately notice that the wealthiest people are often the loneliest. That’s because needing each other is the glue that keeps our relationships strong. When we structure our lives around getting rid of that need, we lose out on the strength of our relationships as well.
Common objection: Isn’t it just easier to take Lyft or Uber? Why bother?
It is easier to take Lyft or Uber, because you don’t have to ask someone for a favor. You don’t have to “owe” someone something, and yet — our unwillingness to do that is the very thing that keeps us from having fulfilling relationships.
All those little decisions add up, and whether it’s borrowing some sugar from our neighbor or getting a ride to the airport, we don’t realize how much human connection we’re missing out on until we start making it a habit to involve other people in our lives more.
5. Acknowledge people’s individuality
So often we relate to people through their romantic partner, and don’t spend time with them as individuals. This can also be said for knowing someone through the context of family or work.
One of the best things I’ve done for the relationship with my parents was arrange to spend significant time with them 1-on-1 instead of as a family. For example, this year will be my 3rd annual ski trip with just my Mom and I.
My parents are still married, so the default is spending time with them together, but this way of relating to them as individuals actually makes the bond stronger, because we get to know who they are in a different context.
The same can be said for people you work with. Many of my friends in San Diego are fellow musicians, and most of the time we spend together is at music gigs. Since that’s the primary way we relate to each other, creating time for us to hang out when we’re not playing music provides a nice way for us to feel closer, but it’s something that takes effort.
Common objection: What if someone gets jealous?
Let’s use the example of a romantic couple. You’re friends with both of them and you almost always see them together. Sure, if you spend time with one of them the other may be envious, and that’s okay. If you’d like to also spend time with that person you can, and if you don’t, you don’t have to.
I think part of why we suffer in relationships is that we identify with our role, whether it’s husband, girlfriend, mother, whatever. We forget that while we are a husband, or a father, we are also a complex human, not limited to the roles we choose to play.
So often in romantic couples we lose ourselves because we just become “so and so’s boyfriend”, especially in the eyes of our community. It’s powerful when we step outside those bounds and stretch our self-expression muscles.
The thing that stops all of us from having more fulfilling relationships is fear. Fear of being rejected, fear of seeming needy, fear of being seen, fear of people not liking us, fear of all sorts of things. Yes, it is scary — but that’s how you know you’re doing it right.
I’m reminded of that beautiful Anaïs Nin quote.
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
The same goes for relationships. Your relationships will only be intimate and fulfilling to the degree you are willing to show courage and let other people into your life.
Need them. Ask them for help. Let them see you cry. Risk being rejected. None of it is comfortable, and that’s why it’s rewarding after you actually let yourself do it.
We need each other, and even if we could build a life where we didn’t — what would be the fun in that?