Thanks to the Pandemic, Socialising Again may be Our Toughest Challenge Yet

Coronavirus

Thanks to the Pandemic, Socialising Again may be Our Toughest Challenge Yet

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I have never been much of a social butterfly. Like Bilbo Baggins, I am quite content to be at home, surrounded by books and loved ones, with the occasional party or two to mix things up a bit. Even though I feel awful saying this, the pandemic lifestyle fits me like a glove. Or so it did, until I realised that I could no longer think of myself as a homely hobbit. I had been marooned on ‘Netflix and Chill’ island for far too long and it was time, I felt, to build a raft to re-join the wider world!

Staying in touch with friends in these times has become a mission in itself.

Little did I know what this journey would entail that a world before the pandemic simply hadn’t prepared me for. Staying in touch with friends in these times has become a mission in itself. It would probably be easier to build that raft than stay connected in a world where we can no longer meet, break bread, guzzle beer, or even hug. Even worse, months of social lethargy have made, not just introverts, but even extroverts adapt and adopt a lifestyle that makes casual socialising a task.

Given the scale and newfound complexity of this previously simple task I have come to treat the exercise as a project, because what better way to get us millennials to do things than start and call it one, right? So Project Re-connect has been about texting one friend, colleague or acquaintance a week and having a conversation. Phone calls I have not even bothered with, I can be honest, because they are frankly outside the budget of time and energy. We are officially too lazy for that. It’s also a bit ironic because calling is free and I belong to a generation that, at one point, did not have the option of unlimited texts.

Unfortunately, while most of us post stories about the small moments of our lives, I’m not sure whether sending heart emojis on a story serves the same purpose as a heart-to-heart!

My text conversations now start with a “Hey hope you are safe”, and for replies, I get a rundown of how nobody in their house follows covid protocols/ how difficult it is to get vaccines/ or how hard it is when someone actually gets covid. Remove this little contextual black hole, and you are left with pretty much nothing else. Literally no one I know, at least the ones who appreciate the gravity of the pandemic, are doing anything. They expect better of me but I end up disappointing them as well. It’s a vicious, though comic, circle of lethargy. “What’s new with you?” some of these friends ask in return. Other than our collective breakup with banana bread and all the recipes we’d assumed we’d master while at home, everyone has returned to the monotonous and oppressive nature of life itself – that despite everything it just rolls onto something else that is equally unremarkable.

A lot of my friends have messaging fatigue too. Considering that our generation already suffers from phone-call fatigue, this latest gift of the pandemic may hit our social fibre the hardest. I asked my Instagram friends and most admitted to being too lazy to keep in touch, but that they did manage to check on close friends to make sure they were safe! One friend said that social media posts have been a good way to stay in touch without the effort of a one-on-one. Unfortunately, while most of us post stories about the small moments of our lives, I’m not sure whether sending heart emojis on a story serves the same purpose as a heart-to-heart! We have gladly accepted social media as the actual window into someone else’s life. To be honest, we may not be able to tell it from reality anymore either.

Finally, I realised, keeping in touch is not just about checking whether someone’s safe. It’s also about connecting over the silly, the mundane and the otherwise unremarkable.

Project Re-connect, for me, despite its glitches has turned out to be a success. Once we all got over the inertia, true to Newton’s second law of motion, many conversations flowed effortlessly. I had a long chat with a friend who was stressed about his work-life balance. My cousin, who I haven’t met in ages, regularly swaps recipes with me these days. Another distant cousin has become an excellent sounding board for the trials and joys of motherhood. A colleague has become a friend after discovering that we both love reading. Finally, I realised, keeping in touch is not just about checking whether someone’s safe. It’s also about connecting over the silly, the mundane and the otherwise unremarkable. Because that is what life for all of us may be for a while.

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