“I can’t do Thursday, I’m doing a virtual pub quiz.
If I thought life under lockdown would be the perfect antidote to hectic London living to soothe my inner introvert, I’d obviously temporarily lost my mind. Or, at least, temporarily forgotten that I’m an urban millennial – and that means no diary page, no matter how beautifully blank and blemish-free, can go unfilled for long.
Less than one week into the new regime, I realised that I was cursed to shoehorn in just as many plans as I did BC (Before Coronavirus). No, it was worse than that – I realised I was cursed to shoehorn in even more, reason being that there was no longer a single plausible excuse for turning down an invitation.
Overnight, people I’d usually see once every six months wanted to schedule weekly FaceTime chats; my mother, who I normally talk to once a fortnight, started calling every other day.
At first, I relished all this contact. We were living in a brave new world: every day I’d wake up and, for one blissful, shining moment, forget the gargantuan shift that had taken place in Life As We Know It. And then, all at once, the truth of our collective new reality would pop into my consciousness like a sucker punch to the gut.
Talking helped. Seeing people’s faces on the computer screen as they laughed and drank wine on their sofas and voiced the same anxieties – both trivial and mammoth – that I was feeling became a bright spot amid all the murky uncertainty
Apps I’d never heard of before – Zoom, Houseparty, Teams – became a key part of the nation’s lexicon overnight. It’s a true testament to the adaptability of humans; what an amazing bunch we are, eh? It took all of two days to go from feeling like the rug had been pulled out from underneath us to juggling virtual appointments and sharing viral videos of people accidentally going to the toilet on a video conference call. We’re social animals, and so we found all manner of ways to keep on being social, despite the complete collapse of normality.But the balance quickly tipped the other way.
Look, I know I’m incredibly lucky to have a wealth of friends and family who are willing to look at my ugly mug on a regular basis; I know I’m incredibly lucky to have the technological access, capability and know-how to enable face-to-face interactions whenever I like. I know, OK?
It just turns out that “whenever I like” is a lot less frequently than some other people might like. It just turns out that, for the introverts among us, a little interaction goes a long way.
There was a moment last week when it hit me that I didn’t have a single night free. I felt a stab of panic – how could it be that I was busier than ever without setting foot outside my own home? How?
But it was all there in black and white in my Filofax (yes, I’m old school when it comes to scheduling):
Monday: Video chat with school mates.
Tuesday: A lunchtime Whatsapp video call with a journalist friend and a Zoom exercise class after work.
Wednesday: A synced-up viewing of a musical with accompanying chat using Netflix Party, followed by a Google Hangout bible study.
Thursday: Book club over Skype.
Friday: A virtual board game night with my sister and brother-in-law.
Saturday: A livestreamed Harry Potter quiz with university pals.
Sunday: A video call with my mum; virtual cook along with friends where we all made a Sicilian stew; a Facebook Live church service in the evening; and then drinks at the “pub” (aka Zoom while necking a G&T in bed).
If you think this looks utterly mad, you’re not wrong, my friend.
I kept wondering why I was finishing each day feeling knackered – how could I possibly be tired when I hadn’t left my flat all week? – before it finally dawned on me.
Lockdown socialising is exhausting.
First off, everyone knows you don’t have anywhere to be, so there’s a tacit obligation to RSVP “yes” to every engagement whether you fancy it or not. Sure, you could say no without giving a reason – but not if, like me, you’re a compulsive people pleaser.
Secondly, the age of just catching up by text or Whatsapp has passed. And shifting to video calls means all interactions seem to have to last a minimum of 40 minutes (thank goodness for the free Zoom cut-off point) – everyone is far, far too British to break things off early, particularly when faced with a dearth of excuses.
“Well, I better go. I’ve got to…”
…go and scroll on my phone for a bit, would be the only honest end to that sentence.
And thirdly, that too is off limits during quarantine socialising. You cannot be distracted, staring off into space, looking at Twitter, doing your ironing or compiling a mental shopping list during a video call – there’s a new pressure to be actively engaged at all times. It’s a good thing, of course. We should all be more intentional and wholly present in the time we spend with others. But apply this to multiple conversations a night, every night, and it quickly becomes mentally draining, another joyless chore to be ticked off on the endless to-do list.
I’m grateful I have access to such a rich social life, even under house arrest. I know, too, that it’s all my own doing – I could always say no and brave people’s scorn. But really, I look forward to the day when we’re settled into lockdown life enough to eschew this insane virtual social etiquette. I look forward to the day it becomes acceptable to say, “Sorry I can’t – I need to spend some time staring at the wall and gently rocking back and forth while contemplating our bleak and unknowable future.” I look forward to ending a video call after five minutes with the parting words, “Right, I’ve had enough, thank you and goodbye.”
Most of all, I look forward to the day I am allowed out of the house again, and yet see a gloriously blank, unblemished diary page before me – one still just itching to be filled.
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