In Praise Of Waiting

“I’m impatient. I hate queueing. I demand service. I want it now. Everything now. It’s my right as an empowered consumer. Don’t you know who I am?”

This is my inner-tosser voice. The one that immediately starts yelling if the wheel of death appears on iPlayer. When the shop assistant takes too long serving the previous customer. If there’s a line at the petrol pumps. If a supplier doesn’t reply to my email within 10 minutes. If I can’t get a supermarket delivery slot today. The inner-tosser immediately get on his high horse and demands service. It’s a challenge not to listen to him.

Of course this is exacerbated by every new app which claims to fix a problem we never knew we had. Render some day-to-day service frictionless and seamless. Deliver something we just ordered in under 30 minutes. The dopamine buzz of constant online activity only serves to make us increasingly impatient. No wonder consumer media is rife with stories about deteriorating mental health and a millennial generation struggling to engage with humanity unaided by tech. I frequently chuckle about new apps to promote disconnection. Oh the irony. When I want to disconnect, I leave the phone at home and go for a walk by the sea. I did this on the weekend. Works a treat. No doubt I’d be derided as a Luddite.

Anyway, I digress. It’s been a year since I moved to the south coast following a divorce. This new life chapter has been both unexpected and exciting. I’ve been lucky to meet a new partner who’s wonderful and inspiring. We seem surprisingly well-matched with many similar interests and values. The only downside is that she lives far away. This means that, at best, we can only meet each weekend, although it’s more likely to be once a fortnight. No spontaneous mid-week popping round for a cup of tea or dinner after work. It all requires careful planning. I want to see her but I can’t. I have to wait; and that’s a struggle. My inner-tosser voice starts complaining but I’m learning to silence him.

What I’ve found is that waiting is positive. As children we were taught that delayed gratification is desirable. Do your homework now, then watch TV. Sacrifice socialising, work hard, get good grades, have a better career. The pay-off is later rather than now. My sense is that as adults we’ve lost this along the way, driven by tech. Instead I’ve discovered that waiting heightens the experience of being together following time spent apart. We value every precious minute. We are truly present without the distraction of screens. We have learned to just “be” rather than “do”. It’s quite a revelation for me. Learning to stop. I don’t think it would be the same if we were together every day.

Of course this could be the ramblings of someone in the first flush of a new romance, but I think there’s something in this. Waiting can be positive. Next time you get hot under the collar about the barista taking an extra 20 seconds to prepare your favourite brew; stop, breathe and ask yourself if it really matters. It might actually be better.