The Siri Relationship

Monaghan_14I enjoy my one-sided relationship with Siri. I press a button when I need something and she is always there with the correct answer or a promise of a reminder. In return, she asks nothing of me. I don’t have to respond to any of her needs. Actually, I’ve never even bothered to ask what they are. Our relationship is 100% about me. And I don’t feel that bad about it, because, at some point, we’re all Siri to somebody.

The Siri dynamic happens during a time when a relationship is off balance. One person takes on the roll of the Asker and the other becomes the Responder. The Asker reaches out when she needs something, and the Responder’s job is to always be there. Assuming an adequate level of self-esteem, you decide to be Siri for someone because you really love them. And because you know it’s going to be temporary.

For example, you often have a Siri relationship with a friend who is in crisis.  That friend calls you with her problems, and there’s no other pretext for the conversation.  If she’s going through a divorce or a serious illness, that topic trumps whatever you’ve got going on. Your friend in crisis doesn’t want to hear that you’re annoyed because you just drove all the way to the market to get ground beef for meatballs and all they had was ground turkey. If she frequently forgets to ask how you are, it’s just to protect herself from this ground turkey conversation. It’s basic crisis survival.

Increasingly, I have the Siri relationship with my older children. Teenagers, by definition, are people in crisis. For my particular teenagers, the crises generally revolve around food. They press a button to text me from their rooms: “When’s dinner?” or “I’m starving!” or the ever-important “Did you buy bananas?” And I respond. This dynamic seems as natural to me as their learning to walk and talk. It’s just part of the process, and it’s temporary.

I know this imbalance is temporary because my mother was Siri to me during my teenage years and beyond. I would call her from college only when I was knee deep in a crisis, back when a phone call was a major event that cost money and happened in a public hallway. I would regale her with my crises and my resulting needs. She would respond. And then the following week, after she’d wrung out her hands in worry and I’d forgotten about the whole thing, we’d talk again. “Oh, that?” I’d tell her, “It’s fine… I passed the test / we got back together / the doctor said it was nothing…”

See, here’s the thing: You don’t follow up with Siri. If you ask her for the closest Chinese restaurant, you don’t text later to tell her how the Moo Shu was. You just wait till you’re hungry again and send out a new request.

When I had children of my own, I elevated my mom from Siri to Saint. I saw with newly human eyes her humanness, felt with a tired heart how tired she must have been all the time. How did she pull off Christmas every year? How did she work full time and put together such elaborate dinners? How was she always wearing make-up? And so I started calling just to ask how she was. I wanted to know how work was going and what she was reading. Did she have plans Saturday night and, if so, what was she going to wear? I started downplaying my own drama in favor of a cute story about one of my kids. We were back in balance.

Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do for a person is to be Siri for a while, to stand still while they are spinning. Teenagers in particular seem to need to know that we are planted firmly in place, texting distance away (and preferably looking frumpy). They don’t need to know about our friendships, our ups and downs, and our worries while they sort through their own.

I’m grateful for all the times people have been Siri to me. And as a show of my gratitude, I’ve stopped asking the actual Siri to call me “Foxy.” She’s never complained about it, of course, but I don’t want to push my luck.

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