I just came across this article on Fark.com, siting a study that claimed "only a fifth of families sit down for a meal together at least once or twice a week." Granted, the article is from a UK paper, but it made me think of my own experiences.
When I was young, my mom's family got together at my grandparents' house every Sunday to eat a late lunch/early dinner together. I was very close to most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mom remarried when I was 11 and we moved into the next county. Our combined family now totaled six kids, and only one had moved out of the house by then. My mom made dinner quite often, and I want to say we ate together most nights of the week. TV and phone calls were not permitted.
We were a big bunch, but we were fairly well behaved. Manners were important, but we had fun with it. If you asked someone to pass the butter but didn't specify where you wanted it passed to, it usually wound up on the opposite end of the table. Conversation topics were often not dinner appropriate, but no one ever seemed to mind. We told stories about our day and joked and laughed. We often had friends over for dinner, and our close friends seemed to be inducted into the family. After dinner, if you didn't pay for or prepare the dinner, you were to help with the dishes. We're all pretty good at dishes now.
My ex-boyfriend had a very different view of dinner - it was about eating. I would be hungry and start mentioning that we should go get something or start cooking. "Go ahead, I'll eat when I get hungry later."
"But, I want to eat with you."
"Because I like eating together?"
He didn't understand... never did. His family didn't eat together. The TV was always on, they just ate with the TV.
My family is fairly spread out now, and not just over multiple counties - we've branched out to another state and country too - but when we get together it always involves food. I'm actually not sure we know how to spend time together without eating (and drinking) - It's what we do.
Eating is an incredibly social activity for me - quite possibly my favorite social activity. I would rather have dinner with my family or friends than go hang out at a bar or club any day of the week. A perfect evening - great meal with people I love, wine, and a game of some sort, like poker or rummy or scrabble.
Bobby almost always eats with me. In fact our cat sits at the table with us, as if he is also part of the conversation. Sometimes we'll talk about things that are going on in our lives, sometimes we'll have a movie on, sometimes we'll read magazine articles.
His family eats dinner together too. Every Thursday he picks up his daughter and goes to his parents' house for dinner. If his dad is there, the TV will be on the sport of the season, otherwise it'll most likely be off. Regardless, it is similar to my family - chatting and storytelling and gentle teasing and laughing - and probably one of the reasons I felt so comfortable with his family so quickly.