This week, I read an article in the New York Times, entitled the Myth of Quality Time, the crux of which can be surmised in this short but telling paragraph from its author:
There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.
We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.
The premise of this article, which is made clear in its title, seems to suggest that the only way to truly have deep and meaningful moments with someone is to be there, as much as possible. It’s the idea that the amount of time you spend with someone means more than the quality of the time you spend with that person. So let’s break this concept down.
In the article, the author explains that he spends a week with his extended family during the summer in which they all stay in a large beach house. This, he seems to surmise, is an instance of ‘quantity’ time versus quality time, even though by his own admission, save for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, this would be the only time he spends with said extended family. Throughout the article it is said that it was only when he stayed the full week (rather than leave early as he previously had) that he was able to have meaningful conversations with members of his family at random intervals. His supposition being that had he not spent the same length of time, these conversations would simply not have been possible, and on the one hand that is true. By the mere reality of him being there the conversations with him were made possible. Yet these conversations could possibly have taken place at any time. As he goes on to say later in the article:
We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones…
The problem is, simply being in someone’s presence is not a clear indicator that you will have any meaningful conversation with them at any point in time. There are many people you may see many times a day whom you have absolutely no desire to speak to, and while family is slightly different, there are many members of my family who I see fairly often, whom I still don’t have many conversations with. Insightful or otherwise. Conversely, there have been several occasions in which I’ve spent a mere weekend with a family member, and had more deeper conversations with them, than I would have, when we lived mere miles away instead of a state away. It is a dubious at best premise to suggest that simply being in the presence of a person or group of people more often will make them more inclined to open up and be vulnerable with you.
It’s worth noting that a week a year, not including a few holidays, would not be what many consider to be quantity time spent either. Perhaps it’s possible that what the author is noting in his family is his increased engagement, rather than simply his mere presence. It’s very possible that his young niece/nephew that are mentioned in the article simply have reached an age where they feel more comfortable talking about things that bother them, because you are finally willing to treat them like an adult.
The biggest problem I have with this idea that the amount of time you spend with people is more important than how you spend that time, is that it seems unfair to suggest that the only way in which people can grow in friendship and love and family is by osmosis of being in one another’s company. I don’t see my friends everyday, sometimes I don’t even see them every week or every month, but I live in an age where I am able to communicate with them through Facebook, text, what have you. I talk to my boyfriend every day, even though I only see him twice a week. Same goes with Adrianne, I generally talk to her several times a week and usually see her at least once a week, and yet we can have more deep conversations in a few hours recording a podcast (and afterwards) than we might even if we spent a month in the same house (which we once did).
What are your thoughts on the subject of quality time versus quality time? Is there something to be said for the sheer amount of time you spend with someone, or is the quality of time the most important?