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We need to better learn relationships

“I need some space.”

This is a line that many boyfriends use to break up with their girlfriends or vice versa.

“It’s not you. It’s me.”

This is the line I usually heard when I was on the dating scene. All the while, I recognized, in fact, it was me. These are not the most flattering things you might want to hear from a supposed loved one. But should we really be surprised by them? In our quest for happiness and fulfillment we are often prone to look at our own needs first. We strive to answer the question, “what is best for me?” This question is nothing new to our culture. However, our technology and our modes of communication make the answers to this question so much more noticeable.

Let’s think about this for a second. Facebook is often used to keep in touch with people really close to you, but maybe that live far away. It’s also used heavily to keep in touch with people you kind of remember from fifth-grade art class. More often than not, however, Facebook is used as a platform for us to say what we think everybody else should want and need to hear. We use it in a way that demonstrates our need for a voice, but also our lack of desire to communicate face-to-face. I know I feel really confident in my “rightness” when I have the safety of a computer screen and an “unfriend” button.  I am as guilty of this as the next. YouTube should be renamed MeTube in that it allows us another avenue to pursue ourselves. And this is coming from a guy who has a video on YouTube. “Please look at me. Please listen to me. Just don’t get too close.”

This got me thinking. Currently my family and I are living in a cabin that is about 1,000 square feet. I need to state that I know there are a great many families who have lived multiple generations in homes this size and smaller. For many reasons, most of which I have been blessed to avoid, many families have no choice but to live in much smaller homes and with far fewer amenities — let alone Facebook or YouTube.

Now we’re living in this cabin because we are currently building a new home, and we’ll be living in a rental home of one form or another until the construction is complete sometime in the “near” future. Our cabin is really nice. We have our computer, a TV, a nice kitchen, a clean bathroom, and absolutely nowhere to hide from one another. Shirley Cate and Gracie are essentially sharing the same bed. Little Max (who is roughly 6 months old now) sleeps in a little room mere feet from where we sleep.

There is far less privacy than we enjoyed in our previous home, which wasn’t much larger. But, there is a sweetness in the lack of privacy.

There is a sweetness and an honesty in the communication and fellowship that is created by reducing the space, real or virtual, that exists between us. My great-grandfather immigrated from Glengarriff, Ireland, many years ago. His home, located in the highlands above the Atlantic, was named Bocarnaugh. My understanding is that this is the name and the address for their home. You can actually see it on Google Earth. The original home was a single slate roofed house. It had one large room and a loft above it, which housed thirteen children. Let me state that again. It housed 13 children. There was no privacy whatsoever. I’m certainly not suggesting that this is a healthy situation or should be emulated in our homes, but it does show how far I’ve/we’ve drifted from a close familial connection. When I told Shirley Cate that she would have her own room in our new house, she immediately expressed disappointment.

I am sure she will love her new room, but her initial reaction was so great. She said, “But I’ll miss Gracie.” They need one another.

Between our little cabin in the woods and stories of Bocarnaugh, I am left with a sense of what we need is not more space, but less space. What we need is more opportunities to discuss things face to face and to actually live out life together. We need to learn how to better struggle with and celebrate the realities of personal relationships based upon real contact.

And finally, we need this contact to be based upon the person in front of us instead of the person we see in our selfies.   

Ryan T. Miller can be reached at rtmiller@olemiss.edu.