Ready to respond

When it comes to friends, people fall into two categories, those who reach out and those who respond. Some responders find it difficult to reach out because they have been emotionally hobbled in some fashion that they have yet to overcome. I know, because I am a responder.

As all fellow soul-searchers know, it is impossible to look deeply at one’s self without running smack into a parent’s influence. Since my mother is alive and well—and reading my blog—I write what follows with some degree of guilt. However, I trust that she knows that I love her and that I am not casting blame, just seeking clarity. That said, let’s start with my father’s part in my inability to reach out. (He’s alive, thank you for asking, but unlikely to read this.)

As children, my sisters and I were allowed very little time on the phone. My father, the doctor, was often on call and in the days before call-waiting he was loathe to risk the phone being busy because the answering service might need to reach him. When your father barks, “Get off the phone, I’m on call,” you learn quickly not to get on the phone in the first place. That early training accounts for my phone-phobic nature, but is not the entire story.

The fear of reaching out can also be a learned behavior.

My mother is a responder who often exhibited an unwillingness to do even that. We would give her a message, “Mom, so-and-so called and wants you to call her back,” and she’d say, “Oh yes, I really must do that,” and then wouldn’t.

After my grandmother died, I suggested my mother get in touch with her aunts. Her response was something like, “Oh, they don’t want to hear from me. I’m just their sister’s daughter.” I was, as the British say, gobsmacked. We rarely saw our extended family, but I experienced my great-aunts as warm, loving women. I am certain they would have welcomed a call from my mother.

When I was no longer living at home, I rarely spoke to my mother on the phone. I asked once why she never called me and she said, “I assumed if I wasn’t hearing from you that everything was fine and I didn’t want to intrude.”

You see the problem.

What I’m trying to say is that even if I don’t reach out, I’m here for you, as my mother is for me. I scan Facebook to see what you’re up to, read your blogs, occasionally even Google you. I cherish our shared memories. But I don’t want to impose, to bother you.

Perhaps the people I consider friends will tire of reaching out one day. Maybe you already have. Maybe you’ve always been a responder, like me. Whatever the case, I don’t judge. If I don’t hear from you for years at a time I will assume you are well and happy. If not, and you need me, reach out. I promise to respond.

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10 responses to “Ready to respond

  1. Joan M. Geoghegan

    This is really a generational approach to the telephone and by extension, all media. In my house growing up — at the same time as Judy, just in Framingham, not Lexington — we were strongly discouraged from using the phone. My mother did not have long chats on the phone with her friends and we did not either. The biggest bugaboo was the long distance call. We simply did not have the money for that. Consequently, when the older sisters moved to New York City, California and Pennsylvania, the family simply dropped out of site. It was too expensive to stay in touch.

    These days with social media, people do not have the “reaching out” constraint any more. Hopefully, their families and friends benefit from their learned behavior of constantly reaching out.

    • It’s true that I’m much more comfortable reaching out via email. And I like the casual, I’m-trying-not-to-bother-you-just-touching-base-quickly nature of texting. And my daughter seems to have no phone inhibitions, not with us, anyway, so maybe that particular dysfunction stops here.

  2. Thanks for exploring this topic! Like the one about talking to someone when the water is running and the match in the bathroom, it is very helpful to me! I have sometimes made the mistake of having friendships with those who reach out a lot even if they aren’t right for me because it’s so much easier than reaching out myself. And I fear those people reach out not because they appreciate me so much as what I can do for them. With one of my favorite local friends, I have to constantly remind myself that, yes, we do get on like a house on fire and her not planning or reaching out means nothing. (Come to think of it, she always responds, even if she can’t get together, so I should see that as a sign that our friendship is still strong.) I think you’ve touched on a very complicated issue… I do reach out a lot and I hope people aren’t trying to avoid me. It’s hard to tell. On the other hand, I never call. I hate the phone. I think it’s because of cell phones–it’s so hard to hear people, it could happen at any time instead of “I’m home, maybe I’ll get a call!” And I wish I talked to friends more on the phone in between seeing them. Email doesn’t quite cut it. Although it’s easier for me. Okay, continuing to muse on this…

    Also… This year I decided to send a nice Thank You card to people I stayed with over the winter holidays in Massachusetts. So I didn’t send a thank you email. So now I have sent nothing. I have the cards. I have “write cards” on my Google calendar. I love that you send me a birthday card every year. But I can’t promise that you will get this darn card before next Christmas. Working on it…

    Also… Want to visit my Tante Triene in Sweden this July. Not sure she wants to see me. Taking your letter as a sign that she does.

    • Ah, Annette. I think you and I must be related somehow. And I’m sure you know that I was just too cowardly to come right out and say, “I’m often afraid they just don’t want to hear from me.” But there it is. Sweden will be lovely in July.

  3. I love to hear from people, but then I’m afraid I won’t be up to the task of providing good conversation and will let them down. (Might be the curse of a writer… Wanting every conversation to be scripted somehow…)

  4. Growing up in Uganda,I knew there was something called “The telephone”. and I would see it in pictures on the alphabetical charts (T FOR TELEPHONE). But I had never touched phone. Omg!! Until I bought mine “Mobile Nokia” when I was 24years in 1996. I respond when called upon,on the other hand I am reluctant to reach out for some reason. I have not seen my mother for 10 years, but call her once in a while.

    • Thanks for reading my post, and sharing your own experience. There is so much we take for granted in this country. I must remember to spend more time appreciating what we have. Now go call your mother!

  5. Somewhat belatedly . . . This was a really gutsy post. As a fellow telephobe, I tend to avoid making calls but am always happy to hear from those who call. I think it does have a lot of do with the role that the phone played when one was growing up, e.g., the expense of long distance calls. Phone calls were not for idle chat–they were for emergencies and the unavoidable. Regrettably, not calling is sometimes seen as not caring, which it is of course not.

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