Conversation As a Leisure Activity

Written by Jeanne Martinet on . Posted in Uncategorized.

Taking communicating with friends off your “to-do list

By Jeanne Martinet

At a restaurant recently, I overheard the following one-sided conversation, which occurred when a woman arrived to join the woman seated at the table next to mine. 

“Hi Jen! So great to see you! Let”s order, shall we? Oh hold on, I have to take this call… Hello? Georgie? God, it”s so great to hear your voice. Did you get my text? I can”t really talk right now; I”m at dinner with someone. Sunday? Great, I can meet you on the West Side tomorrow morning’s I have a window of 45 minutes. OK, bye… Sorry about that, Jen. So, where”s that waiter? We have to order, I have to be somewhere by 8:20…

We all know people who, upon a first look, seem to have an enviably full social life. They have a coffee date scheduled from 11:45 to 12:20; lunch with someone else from 1 to 2:30; and dinner with friends at 8. In between, while doing errands, they are on their cells communicating with even more friends and relatives. They seem to be constantly in touch with a multitude of people. The problem? It is often a case of quantity, not quality. The truth is that busy-ness does not necessarily mean happiness.

I think sometimes we tend to lose sight of the fact that having a three-hour dinner with someone can be more fulfilling than seeing three different people for an hour each. And that while it may seem efficient to try to catch up with people by texting or calling during the 10 minutes you are walking from one destination to the other, you are not going to be able to really focus that well on these interactions. (Remember: Multi-tasking is sometimes just a way of getting a lot of things done poorly.) All of these staccato, sound-bite social practices are slowly but surely eroding our inclination to have meaningful conversations. We spend so much of our lives surfing the web and our TVs, that I think we are unwittingly starting to surf through our social lives.

A satisfying conversation takes time’s and also requires a certain psychological receptiveness. This is not so much a matter of intention as it is a matter of habit. For instance, a friend of mine’s who is a great friend in many ways’s has gradually succumbed to what I find is a more and more prevalent “business meeting style of conversing, a format which tends to thwart any deep exchange. When I meet him for a drink, he usually says something like, “Shall I go first? And then he will proceed to tell me the latest news about his work, his family and his new apartment. After he has briefed me about his week for about 15 minutes, he will lean back and say, “OK, so tell me about you. And I do, but it always feels a little as if we are in a conference and we are taking turns presenting reports.

A conversation should be like a good game of tennis’s a true back and forth. It may seem obvious to point this out, but what you say should be completely influenced by what the other person says; and in this manner, the conversation should travel naturally to where it wants to go. You may have a mental agenda’s a list of things in your head that you want to be sure to tell your friend, or a problem that is weighing heavily on your mind; perhaps you have been waiting all week to talk to this friend. But the challenge is to really listen to the other person; don”t just wait for your turn to talk. If you don”t completely catch up with every single detail of your job, your kids, etc., that”s OK. Adults need to relax their minds the way children do, and play a little more in their conversations. Be in the moment. Trust me, if you are sitting in the greatest restaurant in the world, with a wonderful friend, and you spend all your time uploading pictures of the experience instead of just having the experience, you are missing out on something essential.

One long heart-to-heart with a friend (emphasis on the heart) is worth more than all the Facebook “likes and “lols you could ever receive.

Jeanne Martinet, aka Miss Mingle, is the author of seven books on social interaction. Her latest book is a novel, Etiquette for the End of the World. You can contact her at

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