(SOCIAL) DISTANCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER
Did someone say Zoom?
Put it this way - if I was a Sim, my social moodlet would be in dire straits.
As much as I wanted to convince myself I'd utilise this lockdown to learn a new language, master an instrument and begin that marathon training I've been promising myself I'd get into for the past five years - the reality is, I'm not. A lot of my spare time is occupied by spending hours and hours paralysed in my own thoughts (or on TikTok) and feeling completely lost without physical human interaction. Admittedly, in the grand scheme of things writing off a few months of socialising is incomparable to the wealth of our health during this time and as I've said before, I'll happily do this for as long as it takes if it means I can protect my loved ones. However, as the old saying goes, 'you don't appreciate something until it's gone', and amid the current rules on social distancing, I'd give my left arm to be able to squeeze my friends right now.
I think the very act of just 'being' with people I feel connected to was such a sacred part of my daily practice, that the omission of it from my life leaves a gaping hole in my routine that no amount of bread baking or online yoga sessions can fill. I'm such an affectionate person, that having to hold myself back from hugging someone I love physically hurts. It feels callous and cold for me to drop my grandmother's food shop at her front door and not be able to sit with her. Popping round has become 'dropping round and leaving on the doorstep', emojis have replaced actual kisses, and the drunken act of five friends piling into a pub photobooth is a distant memory. Just IMAGINE the thought of dunking your fingers into your friend's Vaseline pot now, eh?
Why social distance is more painful than a long-distance relationship.
I think what makes the logistics of social distancing so difficult, is the notion that even if you wanted to physically be with someone, you can't be. I endured two years of long-distance lovin' with my boyfriend whilst we were at different universities. The prospect of being far away was difficult, but not unchangeable. Even if I was scraping the barrels of my overdraft and I had looming deadlines, I knew that no matter what the circumstances, I could buy a train ticket and make the 3-hour journey down to his stuffy student halls if I really wanted to. Equally, if I needed a friend or they needed me, we'd just turn up for each other. (Or share a bed, like the time my housemate decided to inhale a peanut butter brownie and I had to sleep next to her in case her raging allergy caused her to asphyxiate in the night.)
The reality is that even if you're well seasoned in long-distance relationships, nothing could have prepared you for the sudden social barrier that has formed as this pandemic has spread. In the current climate, the consequences of meeting up with a friend could quite literally, cost someone their life, and that is what is so distressing.
When I'm feeling particularly empty about being without friends, I often look to my closest long-distance friendships that are well versed in physical space for consolation. The other evening, I felt so overwhelmed by everything going on in the world that I felt numb. I had achieved nothing all day - it was one of those Sundays where I productively decided to reorganise my wardrobe and yet somehow ended up laying in a pile of clothes and hangers four hours later. My best friend texted me that evening asking how I was doing. "Honestly, I've never felt worse" I replied, and yet, instantly felt a release of anxiety as the two blue ticks appeared beneath my message. It was almost as if her acknowledging my emotions had somehow shifted that negativity away. We have always shared a bizarre intuition to know when something is wrong, even when we're miles apart from each other. It's like twin telepathy. Just like a lot of the friends I left behind in London when I graduated, or the friends who live abroad, or the family that moved away, we find ways to share things with each other without needing to be together.
There's something so comforting in knowing someone you're close to can offer you support, even if they have to do it from a distance. Mind you, a thoughtful text isn't quite the same as gushing about your emotions over a two-for-one pornstar martini at a sticky bar table, but given the circumstances, it's the next best alternative. The past weeks of distancing have made me recognise how much I took for granted what a privilege it is to be surrounded by people who make you feel your best. It goes without saying that social distancing really doesn't have to mean emotional distancing; a simple 'how are you' can be the difference between a good day and bad day for someone you love.
I think the beauty of online communication with a best friend/loved one during this time is that you can take guiltless pleasure in the fact that you are both going through exactly the same thing. If I want to spend my Sunday in my dressing gown and eat Easter egg for breakfast for the third day in a row - I can guarantee you that a simple text to my friend will confirm that she's doing the same. Just knowing that we are enjoying a similar comfort at the same time is enough to feel close to someone, even if you can't physically be diving into the same bag of chocolate buttons or sipping from the same bottle of red.
The older I get the more I value these friendships. I have such a profound unspoken connection with the people that have been with me through the most painful times in my life, regardless of how long I've known them for. Keeping that communication alive when you can't physically be together is so valuable to both your relationship and your wellbeing, and a little goes a long way when we're all suffering from cabin fever whilst confined to the four walls of our bedrooms.
I suppose on reflection, living life through a screen isn't quite how I imagined spending my final year as a student. But that isn't to say it's all bad. Despite the lagging internet connection problems over FaceTime, and the painful reality that for now, kisses really do have to stay as emojis - I've never felt so connected and in touch with the people that I care about.
If someone had told me at the start of this year that in a few months time I'd be having FaceTime cuppas with my 80-year-old grandmother and tuning into Friday's virtual pub quiz was the highlight of my week, I would never have believed them - but here we are. Also, if it isn't enough that group Zoom calls allow you to gracefully excuse the fact that you're not only drinking alone but you're also on your fourth glass on wine, - you can do it all whilst wearing pyjamas? Win.
In short, I've found that if you make time for people, they'll make time for you. It's as simple as picking up the phone, sending a text, promising to buy them a drink when this is all over, scheduling an online quiz - doing anything that lets them know you've got them in your mind.
Sometimes, all you need is to say hello. Friendship is never more important than when you find yourself alone.