Life is just weird these days. Most of us are staying at home and not leaving except for essential trips like grocery shopping, going for a walk or run (with or without a dog), or heading to work. And when we’re out, we have to keep six feet or more away from people we see in real life (which we prefer to call physical distancing). All of this can feel isolating and confusing. We are doing something we’ve been told will help keep people healthy and reduce the impact on our healthcare system to more manageable levels. Yet it’s also something that isn’t healthy for the long-term—denying ourselves physical contact with loved ones; studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness (not the same as being alone) can increase health problems.
Whether you live alone or with family or roommates, work from home, are home because you lost your job, or are an essential employee keeping our economy, infrastructure, or healthcare system afloat, we all have to keep our distance from people not living in our households. But humans are social creatures (like most other animals). We need to be part of groups, in the shape of family, friends, co-workers, community groups, sports teams, or any other number of ways we connect. And a fundamental part of being in groups has almost always included, to at least some degree, physical proximity.
So, how is it possible to maintain friendships in this kind of environment? Can people be physically distant and socially close? The short answer is: Yes. The slightly longer answer is: Yes, and it will probably take a little more work or thought to change how you connect with people.
- Schedule time
Depending on the friend and your relationship, consider a regular check-in. It doesn’t have to be every day. Or at the same time. Or even the same communication method. For example, promise each other you’ll check in every day, in some form or another; then whether it’s a video call or a series of text messages, you’ve made the connection. The key is the routine—knowing you will touch base with particular people at particular intervals.
- Make dates to connect, like you used to in person–with individual friends or groups of friends
Plan a game night, dinner date, movie night, stretching session, coffee meetup, or even take an online class together. Whatever activity works for you and your friend. As in the old days, where we’d meet in-person for these things, plan them at times and intervals that work for you—morning coffee breaks, Saturday night games, etc.
The key is to plan an activity, rather than just catching up and relying on both of you to have a topic to discuss. Looking for some ideas of what to do together? This article from Vice has some fabulous suggestions—like dance contests, trivia leagues, and art challenges.
Also there’s no need to have an activity scheduled every day, unless that’s your favorite thing to do. Just because we’re all spending most of our time at home doesn’t mean we all have free time to fill up or that don’t also need downtime.
- Be spontaneous
Once you’ve got a few regular social activities in your schedule, making ample use of video, voice calls, and chat function, then just wing it. If you’re feeling particularly lonely one day, reach out to someone. These days there is much less need, if there ever really was before, for pretense about why you’re reaching out. “I miss you.” “I’m lonely.” “Just saw this great idea for (fill in the blank), and thought you’d enjoy it.”
- Virtual times can be good times
Over the past few weeks, we have logged into several virtual one-on-one and group get-togethers and were amazed at how much fun they’ve been. And, at how much more energized we were just thinking about seeing and talking to friends! Time flew by and, before the online visit ended, we had already set a date for the next one.