When Connection Fails
By Michael Remole
For some, the holidays bring joy and a rich connection with family, friends, God, and memories of holidays past. For others, holidays shine a bright light on grief, loneliness, and disconnection. With the holidays approaching, I have been thinking more about connection and. . . technology. It isn’t news that technology has made real human connection much more difficult, in many ways. The older generations shake their heads and say, “back in the day. . .,” BUT I think technology has something to teach us about human connection. I hope you enjoy my musings.
I have grown to really love my Bluetooth noise canceling headphones. I wear them when I head to the gym to work out, go for runs or walks, and even when I mow. It is so simple. Press the power button and a lovely voice comes on and says. . . “connected”. I did not realize the power of that phrase until just recently when I had forgotten I turned off the Bluetooth option on my phone.
I have a morning routine of driving to the gym, staring at the entrance of the gym (thinking that maybe I can watch someone else workout and get the benefits), and then deciding to put on my headphones, get into gear and hit the gym. However, this particular morning, as I sat in my car following my usual routine, I hit the power button for my headphones and waited. . . then I waited some more. . . I shut the headphones off thinking something was wrong with them. Then, I turned them back on and sat and. . . waited again. I sat waiting for that lovely voice to tell me I was connected. That’s when it dawned on me that I must have done something to my phone. So, I went into the settings, hit the Bluetooth button and. . . waited some more. When it began telling me it was “searching for device” I realized that something must be wrong. Why is my connection taking so long? What is wrong with the phone? What’s wrong with the headphones? That’s when I realized that this amazing Bluetooth device was helping me understand a bit more about connection. For countless weeks, I had gone through the same procedure to ensure the phone and the headphones were connected, yet today something was different. The connection had failed and it took some work to fix it. That’s when I began to see just how much the struggle with the connection applied not only to my headphones, but also to my life.
I had taken for granted the connection between my phone and headphones. It was usually easy. With the click of a button I had connection. However, on this occasion, it was not easy. In the midst of my frustration, I began to ponder just how difficult healthy, genuine relational connections really are. They take work—hard work. I have been spoiled in life by how quickly we can connect to things—WiFi, TV, cell phones and various Bluetooth devices. I began to wonder what these things are incorrectly teaching us about connection?
I was finally able to connect my phone and headphones and complete my morning workout. However, in relationships, connection is not always guaranteed. What do we do when the connection with self or someone else appears to be “offline”? How do we troubleshoot when connection with self and others doesn’t seem to be happening like we thought it should? As I wrestled with these thoughts, I began to realize that we have several options. For example, I could have blamed the headphones and thrown them away. I could have gotten mad at the phone and thrown it out the window. I could have reset both the phone and headphones so they would be able to effectively communicate with one another. What is your go-to reaction when connection does not work the way you had planned?
Healthy connections are hard. It takes two willing participants to do the troubleshooting when the connection seems off. What does that look like for us? How do we troubleshoot in these situations? As we head into the holidays, here are a few of my thoughts.
Connection with self comes first. In order to have a healthy connection with someone else, I must first have a healthy connection with myself. This means taking the time to get to know yourself and to genuinely love yourself. It also means that we have to take time to stay regulated. I think we’ve all experienced a Wifi connection that is super weak and inconsistent. This is a prime example of someone who needs to regulate in order to connect. I can give someone a superficial connection from a place of dysregulation, but if I want true, authentic connection, it must be done from a place of regulation. This is a critical part of my trouble shooting when connection seems off. What steps can I take to regulate myself so connection is more authentic and genuine?
During another trip to the gym while I was working out and enjoying my podcast, my headphone battery began to die. As the podcast continued, the headphones would say “please charge device.” It said this for several minutes before the headphones powered down. Sadly, my workout quickly ended so I could hurry to the car and recharge the headphones. Another valuable lesson about genuine connection. . . In order to have a connection you must keep your “battery of life” charged. I can try as hard as I want to connect the phone and the headphones, but if either device is low on power, the connection just won’t work. How is your “battery of life”? What are you doing to recharge your battery so you are more capable of genuine, healthy connections?
Years ago, an incredible movie called “What About Bob?” came out. In the movie Bill Murray likens relationships to phones. Sometimes the phone is out of order and you need to try again later. Sometimes the phone is cut off and there is no chance of getting through. This approach is applicable here in regards to connection. At times, the connection may be offline due to the other person needing to do his or her own work. When this occurs, we simply note that we should take care of ourselves and try that connection again later. Then at times we come across relationships that are cut-off and it’s time to recognize that trying to connect in that relationship is not healthy.
In a society of instant gratification, we are accustomed to quick “connections”. Recently, I was talking on my cell phone and I happened to walk by my car that I had just started. As I approached the car, my phone connected to the car while I was standing outside the car trying to continue the conversation. I had not asked for that connection, it just happened. On other days it feels as if I cannot make the phone and car connect no matter what I try. I am sure that you can relate and get frustrated as well when one device won’t connect with another. In those moments of frustration, let’s pause, take a deep breath, and reflect on what we are doing to better connect with ourselves and with others. Let’s take those moments of reflection so that we are more capable of having healthy, genuine connections with self and others. I believe that failing to do this will result in hearing “searching for device.”