Good conversation maintains good mental health

Published 3:46 am Wednesday, April 16, 2003

By By Lloyd Albritton
After my second wife and I divorced, I missed her a lot, even though we rarely had a conversation during our four years of marriage that did not end in an argument. We finally decided that we did not like one another and we parted ways in a very civilized fashion. For a year or so after she left me in New York and returned to Colorado, we talked on the phone almost daily. I enjoyed those conversations because they were easy and familiar. I came to understand why I had liked her to start with.
It was during this time that it came to me what our problem was. Proximity! We liked talking to one another. We just didn't like living together without an escape hatch when the conversations went bad. You see, we shared an interest in many of the same topics, we just disagreed on most of them. Marriage counselors often pinpoint a lack of communication as a common problem in failed marriages. Ours was just the opposite. We communicated too much!
I have observed many marriages which reminded me of mine, marriages in which husbands and wives argue and bicker endlessly. Yet, many of these do not split up as we did. They stay together. Sometimes I hear news of old married friends and I exclaim, "Good Lord, are those two still together?"
Truly, the bond that is formed through daily, familiar conversation is quite strong. It often holds friends and companions together, when by all other accounts, they would sever a relationship that is pure misery. When couples in this predicament do decide to end their relationship, the dependency they share for intimate conversation with one another always fades with time. When I talk to my ex-wife these days, the warm and fuzzy aura of familiarity we once shared is not there. We no longer have any interest in debating our opposing politics or in sharing the day's interesting news stories. Our conversations are neither provocative nor ardent. They are simply bland.
This is not unlike the years of my youth when I shared the family home with four brothers and a sister. We squabbled and fought a lot in those days, but in spite of the constant daily contention that is typical among siblings in large families, it was a familiar environment and I felt comfortable in it. Now that we are all in our adult years, we do not squabble and fight anymore. In fact, I always thoroughly enjoy my occasional visits with my brothers and my sister. Our conversations are embedded with the familiarity of a lifetime of shared memories and experiences. Yet, they are not as familiar and intimate as they were when we were children living in the same household and sharing the commonalities of daily life in a nuclear family.
Most of us have a wide range of friends and family with whom we share past experiences and memories. It is a delight to occasionally visit with these people and rehash the stories of our shared past. Old stories, however, no matter how fine, can be told only so many times before we find ourselves with absolutely nothing left to talk about. It is then that we turn to our active friends who are actually involved in our current daily lives. In most cases, that group is very small, sometimes even nonexistent. In fact, for many there is only one person in that intimate circle, and that person is one's own domestic companion. This is easy enough to understand because married couples are riding in the same boxcar and are traveling on the same ticket. Their interests and concerns in life are the same and their daily intimate conversations are necessarily of mutual interest.
The human soul occasionally craves the familiar rituals of the past and we take brief pilgrimages to old haunts long since abandoned in search of good conversaton and familiar feelings, i.e., the hometown where we grew up, the church we used to attend, the old hang-outs where we used to drink beer with our friends. It is rare that we find the intimate conversation we seek in these places, for things and people change and all that is left of the good conversations of the past is a polite and disinterested, "How you been doing? Hey, I gotta run!"
Sometimes we find ourselves on the road of life alone, with no one at all to discuss our goals, dreams, hopes, aspirations and complaints with. Humans are social beings and those who attempt to be "loners" often develop dysfunctional personalities and atrophied social skills. It has been correctly observed that being alone and being lonely are two different things. Elvis Presley was a good example of this phenomenon. Though seldom alone, he was apparently a lonely man. Maybe he just needed somebody to talk to, for there is no balm for the soul like good conversation with good friends.
As time goes by and our lives progress from beginning to end, lots of friends come and go. If we are lucky and work hard at it we are able to accumulate a small cadre of intimate friends who are always there for us to talk to. These are the ones we have good conversations with. Without them, life is indeed lonely and barren. This does not just happen though. Maintaining friendships, like maintaining a good marriage, requires effort and continuity, taking time to "stay in touch" with a letter, a phone call or a visit from time to time. Without that effort, it dies. With it, the rewards are priceless!
Lloyd Albritton is a columnist for The Atmore Advance. His columns appear on Wednesday's and Sunday's.

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