There’s a select number of people with whom I can sit quietly and feel perfectly comfortable and happy. As a somewhat solitary person I value these individuals highly and am comforted by their presence on days when I have nothing to say. With them, I do not feel guilty for falling into quiet or solitary moods as I know they’ll understand.
I first learned about the joys of silent company from my Dad. I remember when I was younger we’d go for neighbourhood walks together. He might not say anything for minutes at a time and as a kid I would walk next to him desperately searching for new discussion topics. Silence, I thought, was awkward. It seemed to mean something was wrong. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to love this about my Dad. I know that our occasional silence is not a sign of boredom or awkwardness, but rather attests to the comfort we feel in each other’s presence.
I am intrigued by silent company as it can be either incredibly comforting or painfully awkward. Most of us have been on horrible first dates (first and last) wherein a series of stiff questions eventually leads to silence, subtle chair shuffling and a quick wave to the waiter for the bill. Elevator silence can also be strange. I know I’ve blurted a number of stupid comments in an attempt to “break the silence” and my comments have generally led to an even stiffer, more awkward silence as those in the elevator count down the levels until they can get away from the poor girl who embarrassed herself on the sixth floor.
But then… there is that silence as two people sit curled on a couch, reading their separate books for hours on end. No need to look up, no need to explain the lack of conversation. Or those walks, where the world is so beautiful that both of you know you’re taking it in and no words can even describe what’s ahead. Or the silence when something painful’s happened and the silence between two people isn’t indicative of a lack of caring but rather signals the contrary. These are the silences I value and love.
I remember travelling in Iceland with my friend Sasha. Some days we’d walk for hours without talking, existing in our own separate worlds. One day she told me that the sound of my rain pants rubbing together was comforting. I laughed at this thought but we’ve since looked back on those days and acknowledged the closeness we felt in moments of “silence” as we walked side by side, kilometre after kilometre, feeling no need for conversation.
I also made a wonderful friend in the fall who, after realizing that we both enjoyed silent company, accompanied me to the mountains for several nights after no more than two coffee dates. We bonded over knowing our friendship could survive occasional spells of silence and to a reader who enjoys the presence of other beings, her friendship has brought a lot of bliss into my life.
Nevertheless, silence intrigues me. To some, even the silence of a loved one is uncomfortable so I sometimes wonder if our interpretation of silence is related to how noisy our minds are. Depending on my state of mind, I attempt to shape my environment. Some days my mind is so loud that I cannot deal with additional noise so I find myself alone, kneading my thoughts into submission. Other days I find myself feeling blank and look to external stimulation, a way to end dreaded silence. If I’m being honest, I probably seek out more silence than I do noise. I can barely stand living in apartments, the sounds of neighbours, however subtle, ring like bells in my ears. I usually leave bars early, tired of the incessant chatter. Yet my desire for silence has never been intwined with my love for solitude. They aren’t synonymous. At least not in my mind. Company and silence, I’d argue, can make an incredibly good pair.