But isn’t it quality time that is most important, not quantity?
In Frank Bruni’s article for The New York Times, the answer is an emphatic no.
We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour…people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them. There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.
If we say that the relationships we have with others are the most important things in our lives, what would our calendars say? What would happen if we set a goal for quantity-time—the number of nights out with spouses or number of outings with kids or visits to extended family members and then tracked our progress? If this looks like a sterile way to nurture a relationship consider the more likely danger of letting time pass by while we intend to spend time with others but do nothing. This is why, Bruni says, “As soon as our beach week this summer was done, we huddled over our calendars and traded scores of emails to figure out which week next summer we could all set aside. It wasn’t easy. But it was essential. ” If you don’t consciously plan for it, it doesn’t happen.
Whatever threat to sincerity measuring time spent with others creates, I believe it’s easily made up for in the increased chance of catching a moment that is priceless. As Bruni says, after spending sufficient quantity-time connecting with his niece, “it’s not because of some orchestrated, contrived effort to plumb her emotions. It’s because I was present. It’s because I was there.”