How many times were you there for someone, but weren’t actually present? Had a conversation while looking at the phone, had a family dinner while thinking about work, or went on a date while not giving your significant one your full attention?
I was like that all the time. I’m still like that so often now. It’s hard to find the balance for work, personal interests, and the important people in my life. We won’t be happy if we’re financially insecure or don’t know how to take care of ourselves. But being affluent doesn’t guarantee true happiness, either. It’s a curse living in hunger and in the fear of not being able to survive. It’s a misery living in a big house yet no one bothers to talk or laugh like a decent family.
I believe it’s a matter of finding balance between being financially secure, personally happy, and actually present for our loved ones. But what should we do if all we have is a scale with no metrics and indicators to tell us “Hey, one side is much heavier than the other. Do something about this now”? Sometimes, we do the worst thing: we are completely aware of the imbalance, yet we choose to ignore it for whatever excuses and neglect the things that can’t be retrieved.
The moments we think we can put off till later aren’t gonna be the same. Experiences, feelings, and sensations are not items at the lost and found office or the data on your hard drive. The joy of holding someone’s hands when we’re 18 isn’t gonna be the same as when we’re 24. At 18, we’re too innocent and childish to keep things together. At 24, we start to ponder over lots of things before actually deciding to hold someone’s hands. At 18, we’re too naive to know better about how to work things out. At 24, we lose part of the innocent passion that makes us strive so hard to work things out. The dinners with your mom and dad when they’re still healthy are gonna be different from when they don’t even remember who you are. The promise of taking someone to a special place remains a promise if you fail to make it come true and that person leaves forever. The bond that you fail to strengthen with your closest people in the early days will fall apart, no matter how you make up for it years later.
Intimacy and relationships build gradually, like how the river keeps the pebbles nearby smooth and how someone keeps the campfire last all night. If you’ve been distant and indifferent for years (when you don’t have the time to be warm), you can’t expect acting closer for a day or two will reverse cold, dead relationships. That means, ironically, when you have the time to spend with your loved ones (eventually), the moments aren’t gonna be the same anymore. The biological/family connection (or whatever ties us together) is still there; your loved ones may still be there for you (if you’re lucky), but the atmosphere, the love, the genuine affection might have already lost.
You can’t expect damaged relationships to quickly heal with some money, some unwilling acts of kindness, or some forced hang-outs together. It’s like putting a temporary band-aid on a deep wound that needs surgery, special treatment, and specific care. The wounds in relationships are invisible—somewhere inside has broken in a way that we sometimes don’t know where to heal (or at least where to put a band-aid on).
I’m rambling a bit too much about damaged relationships. Even though I know we can’t afford being present every time and there are many more reasons for relationships to break, I kinda have the fear that being not present all the time will ruin even the best bonds. The loss of 2 important individuals in my life in the past years made me realize that I don’t want to regret not treating someone better and not spending enough quality time for them.
Forget about wishes like being “more mature like the adults” or being “innocent like the old days”. Forget about promises like “when I have more time” or “when I’m in the right circumstances”. I feel that most of the time, those are bullshit excuses we make to justify our actions. We easily squeeze out time for social media and cat videos and memes. Why on earth can’t we spend some quality time for someone? We don’t have to be the kindest, nicest person to be considered present. We don’t have to spend all day for someone to be considered present. Be focused and attentive to what others say. Stop looking at the screen for 30 minutes. Share, talk, converse. Seize, enjoy, cherish what’s going on. Allow good moments to happen for a few hours without letting work, responsibilities, or concerns get in the way.
It’s easier said than done, though. How can we enjoy the present and not think about the consequences, the regrets, the past, the future, and the beyond? Being an overly-sensitive overthinker, I have no idea. But…let’s practice!
We ain’t saint. We’re cold and distant sometimes. We’re hot and intimate sometimes. But we should be present as long as we’re there for the important people in our lives. It’s surely difficult for avoidant people, but what will we lose if we try a bit harder?
Be there however you want, for whomever you want. But as long as you’re not present, you’re not there at all.