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  • Emma Chan '24

Comfortable Silence

I’m sitting in my friend’s car, where we’re talking about the day’s activities, blasting the same music we always listen to, and sharing laughter and tears. Silence inevitably arrives but there’s no overbearing pressure to fill the air with words. Peering out the window, I take a sip of my watered-down coffee and check my unread messages. The silence is unmistakable, but there’s not a hint of discomfort. I'm looking over at her as the wind gently blows at her blonde hair. Her eyes are on the road, and I see a sly smile creep onto her face - credited to making it through yet another catastrophic precalculus test. We are silent the rest of the car ride.

It didn’t occur to me in that moment that what my friend and I had just experienced was incredibly special.

People have been wordlessly communicating with one another since the dawn of humanity. A person’s posture, eye contact, smiles, handshakes, gestures, and head nods are all aspects of how individuals communicate nonverbally on a daily basis. Body language is a global language; it encourages actions to show engagement, find new ways to interact with loved ones, approach someone who’s upset, and discover the key to rebuilding connections with fragmented relationships of the past. If non-verbal communication comes with such ease, then why does silence command so much anxiety and excruciation for most people? Frank Alioto ’24 said, “Expectations make silence awkward. When a moment of unusual and unwanted silence is reached in a conversation, both people are struggling to keep the original flow going.”

In the Netherlands, a study from the University of Groningen found that it takes only four seconds of silence in a conversation for people to feel insecure, rattled and awkward. Group dynamics and human psychology seemingly dictate the inability to live life without silence. The background noise of musical artists, podcasters, and talk show hosts balm the anxiety of feeling less alone and more in tune with the world. The irony lies in that these connections only increase the sense of isolation and despondency.

With body language being a vital part of person-to-person communication, the motivation to enable and embrace comfortable silence arises. Another Junior, Christopher Weltzien, shared, “Comfortable silence comes from being totally relaxed in your friendship.

When creating new friendships, oftentimes these moments are filled with stress. This is because we are unsure of how much of our personality we should share with this new person.

This relaxed nature comes from years of built-up trust — the trust in knowing that your friend accepts you entirely. When you are sitting in silence, you aren’t wondering what they think of you because you know that they unconditionally accept you and enjoy your presence.” There’s a certain tranquility in the act of not speaking and just living in the moment. Comfortable silence contributes to a higher sense of selfawareness, relaxation, patience, and empathy, offering the opportunity to reconcile and reflect upon relationships.

Emma Chan ’24 is a Vol. 71 Contributing Editor


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