Socializing is about to get more complicated. Have you started to see friends yet? We just started seeing a few friends (albeit at a distance, with a mask, and other precautions) and it made me realize just how isolated we’ve been.
The last few months have been a blur; a long, slow-motion blur, but a blur nonetheless. Days run into each other and everyone has lost their sense of normalcy. I knew that, but what I hadn’t thought about was how different it would feel when we did start seeing people again.
This sums it up: our friends came over recently for a backyard playdate. The minute we opened the door, their 9 month old son started crying – he had only seen his parents for two months and was completely overwhelmed. I get that.
As we turned inward, sheltering in place and only leaving home on a few occasions, how much of our social routines and normal sense of communication were lost? In the beginning, there was a flood of Zoom calls and catch-ups, but as we’ve all adjusted to staying home, the high frequency of communication has fallen off. We’ve become homebodies out of necessity and as a result our patterns are different and we’re connecting less.
Personally, I’ve been particularly bad at staying in touch with local friends. In large part because I’m so used to seeing them in person that I just kept waiting (and waiting) for that to happen. Communication has also had to become incredibly intentional. There are no chance encounters, no running into someone. I really miss that. Now it’s scheduled video chats or phone calls if and when you can squeeze them in between kids, work, cooking, cleaning and trying to stay sane – I’ve entirely given up on having a quiet or private conversation. We have no privacy and no space, and that also makes it hard to connect with friends.
So if we have to be intentional about it, what’s the best way to approach connecting with friends? So far, the answer has been simple: we call, video, text, or use telepathy. But now, many of us are starting to dip our toes into the pool so to speak and are socializing in person. It feels great, but it’s complicated. Whether or not to see people and who to see is a personal and complex question to answer. If you are in a situation where it’s possible, I’ll say the sheer level of mental relief I felt after we saw people for the first time was immense. I felt relaxed and normal. But it’s also weird. How awkward is it to greet a friend you usually hug by standing and waving. Turns out, quite. People are getting creative too – I’ve heard about social distance fire pit marshmallow roasts, BYO cocktail and wine walks, coordinated take out picnics with separate blankets spaced out, tailgate cookouts in empty parking lots – you name it, people are trying it. We’re a social animal. It’s in our nature to connect.
For adults, it’s odd but relatively easy to see your friends and stay 6 feet apart. For kids, it’s impossible. Kids playing together is always going to mean physical contact. That adds extra considerations. Do you further limit who you see? If grandparents are in the mix, can it only be grandparents and no one else?
It’s not going to be a ‘jump right back to normal’ situation. Everyone must make their own risk calculation and figure out what works for them and their family, and a huge amount depends on where you live and other personal factors. We’ve seen some friends and not others for that very reason – that’s hard. I miss those friends just as much. It can be incredibly confusing for your kids too. Why can you see some kids but not others? If you’re seeing friends, why can’t you go to the playground? There are so many questions and most of them we can’t answer. For parents, we have friendships built up over years; maybe we’re slightly out of touch with some friends right now, but we’ll get back into the swing of it. For kids, it’s different. Their relationships are more immediate and they can’t stay in touch well when they’re not physically together. I don’t know how many times you’ve talked with a 4 year old on facetime (or the phone) but it’s not exactly a robust and deep conversation.
It’s also human to crave closeness and interaction. My husband is an introvert, he loves being at home and he’s never the one to make plans, but even he is asking when we can see more friends. At an even more basic level, the challenges ahead for working parents aren’t easing up any time soon – in some cases they’re going to get worse. The last thing any of us needs is to be dealing with that alone in isolation, not talking to friends about it.
This stay-at-home period has led us to be more inward facing, and it’s time to face outward again. Even if you’re not seeing people physically, if your Zoom calls and facetime calls slowed down, pick them back up again. Reach out to people you haven’t talked with in weeks (or months). If you can do it safely, go for a walk outside – even seeing other strangers going about more normal routines can feel liberating. We recently asked our Kunik members if they’re seeing friends again and those who have resoundingly said they felt energized, relieved, and refreshed.
As we head into a long weekend that’s usually spent with friends and family celebrating the start of summer, it’s natural to try and connect with people in whatever way works for you right now. Talking and laughing with friends is healing, there is nothing in the world that can replace that. And we could all use some healing.