I was on the phone with my mum last Saturday while she was taking a walk with my dad. Simultaneously, I was combing my hair and doing my makeup to get ready for an afternoon party. This multitasking was possible because of the wireless headphones, which are indeed very practical. Another time, I talked to her while I was cooking, and she was on the sofa. On another occasion, she was driving, but she stopped the car to answer my phone call and stayed there for 20 minutes to talk instead of doing it from the comfort of her home. When I suggested that she interrupt the conversation because I thought it was not appropriate for her to talk from a car, she said, "No! This is a good time, Ale! Otherwise, we won't have time. We are very busy!"
The last example was the other day when she was buying food at the supermarket and got really frustrated because she had to call me back and couldn't give me her full attention. Yet, she answered briefly to let me know that and said something like, "It was better in the old times! You had to talk from a fixed- line phone, so you couldn't move and couldn't multitask!"
It really hit me. She is so right. If I close my eyes, I can see the '90s all over again: the home telephone ringing, the excitement because you weren't sure who it was (perhaps you had been waiting for a phone call the whole week, for an admission test, or for some good news or some very bad news, or simply for the joy of talking to someone you like); then 30, 40, 60 minutes on the phone with your best friend without doing anything else. The ear sweating because of the time invested in the call, even the arm hurting from holding the phone, and time seemed to just slow down. All you had to do was be on the phone. The worst distraction was something boiling in the kitchen that you needed to turn off, and then you could leave the receiver on the table, turn the boiling thing off, and then get back into the conversation.
In a way, we were more present. Yes, we physically had to be, but we didn't know any other way. The multitasking that comes from wireless inventions and digital distractions wasn't fully there yet.
Now it's different. I can prepare a meal while on the phone. I can certainly fold my clothes and at the same time talk through a problem with a friend. And we have become super good at that, and it works. But sometimes, I just feel, "Okay, now I am going to do a video call." A call where I sit down, look at the camera and the eyes of the person on the other side of the call, and simply focus all my attention on this task. And it works. I do this with my mom. Together with my husband, we call friends and families living abroad, and we dedicate time to that. That is quality time for me. It's not just time dedicated to a task; it's time where you feel the quality and strength of the relationship with the other person, time where you can really focus, where time feels like it's not passing because the quality is more important than quantity. In a way, it makes me think about work and the usual quantity versus quality conversation. Sometimes people stay in the office longer hours, thinking that the time spent in presence matters more. But what about the quality? What if we could apply it to personal relationships as well and actually give both presence and quality?
I was looking into the definition of quality time, and funnily enough, most articles talk about romantic relationships like this one. And again, funnily enough, it talks about setting boundaries with the digital and also about active listening skills. There are a few things we can all do to have more quality time with our loved ones, and you know how practical I am, so I'm going to list some ideas:
Make sure we video call instead of just calling someone we care about and who lives far away, especially for us expats.
Set a specific time for the video call, so you know you are dedicating your whole self to that moment. This allows people to relax too, and meaningful and trustworthy conversations can happen more easily.
Make sure we are present when we have get-togethers with our friends: less mobile phone usage and WhatsApp answering, which project us into the future, and more being together and playing old games that remind us that we can just be. That fun can be created with simplicity. It is also an act of self-care.
Define a time where you are not in a hurry to simply write, journal, or listen to music. We don't have to do 500 things at once. Of course, cooking with a podcast on is great too, but perhaps also simply cooking and being present while doing it or following a new cool recipe that we have wanted to read or watch for a long time.
Quality time is also about choosing to spend it with people who bring us joy, fulfillment, and with whom we share an important story. What is your quality time?