Growing up as a kid in the 80’s, our home was constantly filled with people popping by . Friends knocking to ask if we wanted to play, relatives stopping for a brew, people who were ‘passing’ just calling in to say hello.
Just lately, I’ve been thinking about how much the etiquette of social visits seems to have changed. Whilst one or two friends and family members have that relationship where we call in on each other unannounced, the remaining 99% of the friends and family in our lives wouldn’t dream of popping in without, at very least, a courtesy text.
You know yourself if you have ever found yourself at a loose end and travelling via a friends neighbourhood, that perhaps you have wondered if they’re home, and thought about knocking. Yet, without having planned in advance an arranged meet up, it feels an assumption that they’d welcome your visit. Without that safety blanket of a text message responding with open arms, the fear of encroaching on someone’s day overpowers the idea of ringing the doorbell, and so, you drive on past.
Even the instantaneous phone call to find out ‘are you home’ is enough to make some of us shudder – it’s too on the spot, too direct, forcing perhaps a polite but superficial ‘sure come in we’d love to see you’. The comfort of hiding behind a text message is the method of choice to find out if the person inside is ‘free to take guests’, yet the very nature of the communication method means that by the time you get a reply, you are already in another postcode and the moment has past.
With digital messaging systems being the way so many of us keep in touch, it’s not uncommon to also schedule in a time for a phone call – to put it in your diaries at a time you know you are mutually available to talk. Perhaps practical, sensible in a time we are all juggling work, family, bedtimes and love island, or is it the end to spontaneity as we once knew it?
After all, aren’t we are all big and ugly enough to handle the truth – ‘Can I call you back another time’, ‘I’m just about to go out’, or ‘We’re eating our tea but you’re welcome to come in for a quick cuppa?’. We are all so guilty of exchanging so many messages saying how we must ‘catch up soon’, and yet never making use of that good old phone call to actually find out what’s been occurring.
I can’t help but wonder if a generation is missing out on the joy that comes from a passer by calling on your home. A friend you haven’t seen in far too long randomly turning up on your doorstep. Someone you genuinely had the best intentions to ‘schedule in’ a meet up with, but just have lost the will to live with the timetable of life.
Perhaps this constant need to plan, organise and line up our lives has lead to an increase in that feeling of overwhelm in so many of us…when a ‘let’s book in a date’ message brings you out in a clammy sweat as you realise you aren’t free for two months, and you’re just frankly, all planned out. Does every play date really have to be arranged three weeks in advance over a complex series of digital messages…who, what, where, when?
Admittedly, we have all experienced the moments the doorbell has rung when we’ve just sat down for the first time in hours, or started dishing up tea. But equally, we have probably all experienced disappointment on a long uneventful day when we’ve skipped to the sound of the doorbell singing ‘there’s somebody at the door’ only to find the postman with another parcel…and it’s for next door. When we’ve been looking at the clock and wondering how to pass the next couple of hours, yet felt we don’t want to get in anyone’s way (when probably the people we put off calling in on are doing the exact same thing).
Ultimately an unexpected guest, for me is an opportunity to sod the washing up, put down my phone, pause from the mundane and feel the moment. To switch out of auto-pilot and engage back with reality. A moment to make someone’s day by making them feel welcome, and for them to make ours by knowing they cared enough to want to stop by and spend time with us.
It would be a crying shame if the ability to knock on a friends door died out altogether, wouldn’t it? As so many elements of spontaneity fade away when you become a parent, long live the spontaneous friend that brings a surprise to my day and a smile to my door.