Coping

What Do You Need from Today?

A neighbor asked me recently, “How are you doing with all of this?”

I hung my head a bit and replied rather sheepishly, “I’m good! Truthfully, I’m happy with all this quiet.” Sheltering-at-home feels like my natural habitat. I have time to think, write, pray, listen to music, drink coffee . . .

But not everyone feels the same way. I know.

I asked that neighbor, “How are you doing with all of this?”

She responded, “This is HARD! I miss my friends! I miss seeing people face-to-face.”

Ah . . . the honest response of an extrovert, someone energized by time with people.

Some of you have full houses these days, brimming with constant Zoom calls and online everything. Others of you have households of one and find yourself immersed in an ocean of quiet. Introverts and extroverts find this a challenging time, but usually for very different reasons.

How do we introverts and extroverts live well with each other in this time?

I don’t know. (Sorry to disappoint if you wanted a clever, five-point answer.) I truly don’t know. I wake up every morning and pray and think and listen to worship music and then try to do the best I can in the day. Every day seems different. Often at the end of the day I fall into bed utterly exhausted, mostly from the sheer effort of navigating all the ups and downs and changes from the norm.

As I struggle to live well with those I love during this time, I have landed on one question I try to ask them and also ask myself: “What do you need from today?” I’ve discovered that the answer can vary day to day.

  • “I need to get dirt under my fingernails and do outside chores.”
  • “I need to get groceries. Wish me luck!”
  • “I need a long nap!”
  • “I need a good cup of flavored decaf coffee with cream.”
  • “I need a Diet Coke.”
  • “I need a few hours of quiet. Alone!”
  • “I need to take a long walk with someone.”
  • “I need to take a long walk alone.”
  • “I need a change of scenery, even if that means I drive to a parking lot and sit in my car and make a phone call.”
  • “I need to talk to a friend.”
  • “I need to have a day with NO Zoom calls.”
  • “I need to have a computer-free day.”
  • “I need to watch a little Hallmark and go to bed early.”
  • “I need to change my morning routine.’\”
  • “I need a view from my work space.”

Whimsy? Maybe. But sometimes in these trying times, little, silly things bring a big load of joy and seem to shorten long days.  

For many years I felt reticent to admit out loud that I needed something that might seem silly to other people—something like a few hours of quiet. I often simply swallowed that need and just went along with what other people needed. And I often ended up feeling frustrated and resentful.

And then I began to work on finding and owning my own voice, quiet though it is.

It all started when our nest emptied. John and I would get to the weekend, and he would say, “We can spend the whole weekend together!” I love my extroverted husband, and I love spending time with him, but I also know that I function better when I have at least a small part of every day to spend on my own in quiet.

Eventually I learned to say, “I love you, and I love spending time with you, but I also need a few hours on my own. Let’s agree to meet at 2 p.m. and then do something together.”

When we did then get together, I arrived happier because I came fueled by quiet.

So . . . in this pandemic, what do you need from today?

If you live in a busy household, how can you start this conversation with your family members? If you live alone, how can you talk with your friends and loved ones who don’t live with you about what you need?

Cheering you on as you seek to live connected, even in this crazy pandemic season.

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  • Stuart Marlatt
    April 30, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    Really well said, Afton. Betsy and I are discovering new things about ourselves during this unusual time. We actually became empty-nesters right as the lockdown orders began, so our home has seemed suddenly and doubly quiet. My reaction to this has been an affirmation of my introversion – I love it, and if it weren’t for the tragic deaths and economic meltdown, I’d just as soon this would continue ad infinitum. My darling wife, on the other hand, is discovering that she isn’t quite as introverted as she thought. Not that she’s an extrovert, per se, but she’s very much missing face-to-face times and is putting Zoom and MarcoPolo to very good use.

    I like your question of ‘what do you need today?’ I may not be able to meet those needs, but I can be sensitive to them – and naming those needs is a step to understanding the frustrations that arise when they linger unmet.

    • afton
      April 30, 2020 at 9:19 pm

      Yes! So interesting that even though you’ve been married a long time you are both still learning about each other and adjusting together to new seasons. 🙂 Lots of change all at once with a pandemic and an empty nest. Whew! Cheering you on!