Nothing to do, nothing to say – advice for maintaining relationships online
If you’re anything like me, you’re still in shock that you’re living amidst a pandemic. This is the sort of thing you might watch a movie about, probably not a great movie but one you could throw on when you have friends over. But to live it each day, it’s a lot more…meh…than I would have imagined.
Don’t get me wrong multiple parts of the pandemic are truly awful, and it’s been a rough ride for many of us, particularly for those who have lost loved ones or faced eviction from their homes. To all of which I offer my sincere sympathies. Yet, a certain aspect of the pandemic that is perhaps more trivial has really caught my eye.
The beginning of the pandemic saw a huge uptake in video calls. Of course, we all were aware of Facetime and Skype and for those of us in my school year I’m sure you remember such classics as MSN video chat. Yet suddenly, about a week into lockdown everyone and their dog were on group zoom calls making efforts to get in contact with everyone they knew amidst the panic of the first lockdown and the solitude it would impose on so many of us. But that was then, now it seems we’ve moved into another phase of the pandemic. No more zoom quizzes and family get togethers posted all over people’s stories, no, in this phase we have entered a form of social etiquette seen between an infant and caregiver.
Mutual reciprocity – late-stage pandemic etiquette
Has anyone else noticed they’ve gone from contacting their friends and family frequently to now barely speaking. Maybe you have some empty chit chat throughout the day with a close friend but generally, its an empty void. Nothing to do, nothing to say. Conversations are repetitive and dry. One rule has emerged, conversations about the pandemic are off limits. I’m terming this ‘pandemic fatigue’. After a year since the first UK lockdown, it seems nobody wants to talk about it anymore. But how do you know when is safe to discuss it and when are your nearest and dearest not in the mood?
This new relationship between one and their social circle has become oddly similar to that of ‘mutual reciprocity’. Renowned researcher in developmental Psychology John Bowlby put forward the case for this reciprocity as a core mutual interaction that occurs between infants and mothers. What this concept suggests is that a mother – or more appropriately – a caregiver enter into states of reciprocity with their child. This can be initiated by either infant or caregiver and during these stages learning and bonding occurs via facial expressions and mimicry of one another. Surely, we’ve all seen it, a baby smiles at you and you smile back and suddenly you’ve been fawning over this baby for 15 minutes. The key link to socializing in month 12 of the pandemic is the momentary and fleeting nature of these interactions and there almost spontaneous occurrence. For those of us experiencing a complete lack of social skills, spotting when is the right and wrong moment to try and discuss the P-word can prove tricky.
Dealing with ‘pandemic reciprocity’ – tips for going it alone
During moments of ‘pandemic reciprocity’ your stars align, and you and your co-conversationalist find yourselves in the mood to talk about the dreaded pandemic. These times occur when one or more of you give the indication that you’d like to discuss it. After an undecided amount of time the conversation is signalled to be over by the presentation of the statement, ‘it’s fine, it’ll be alright eventually…’. At which point the reciprocal state is ended and conversation reverts back to the safe small talk and slow replies.
Now, these moments can be rewarding and fun but fundamentally they’re the exception and not the rule. The rest of the time, we can find ourselves either wanting more from our friends or our friends want more from us than we have the energy for. Below are some tips for coping, managing your expectations and enjoying these fleeting moments.
- Stay mindful – remember that you and your friends and family are likely on different schedules, with different needs weighing on them. You can’t always get the level of attention you crave at any time like you could pre-pandemic. It might suck but it’s an unfortunate fact of life. Try and remember this next time you don’t get the response you hoped for.
- The same is true for yourself, don’t be hard on yourself when your friends want more than you can give. You’re allowed to be busy, you’re allowed to not be in the mood. You’re entitled to your own privacy and your own space.
- Bring something to the table – It may feel somewhat false or rehearsed to plan ahead for a conversation with a friend but having something in mind can be helpful when living the same day over and over. Particularly, reminiscing on the ‘good times’ can have psychological benefits for the both of you. Try and focus on the good times you’ve had without being drawn toward the negative fact that you cannot meet up any longer.
- Only good may enter – Try not to want too much from others. That may be hard, harder now than ever, but doing so can worsen your mood and day-to-day experiences. Reaching out to a friend can provide a warm nostalgic feeling, a comfort blanket of sorts. Yet, if they’re feeling particularly pandemic-fatigued or not in the mood, this feeling of dashed hopes for discussion or catch up can leave you feeling down. Do your best to reach out to your loved ones with a pinch of salt. If they’re not in the mood, don’t let it phase you. Treat it like water off a duck’s back. Prepare yourself for enjoyment with negative feelings of dejection or being let down wash away.
- Be your own boss – This tip involves taking the place of the social bonds you’re missing. Many of us are missing the social contact we once took for granted, with many realising this contact tied into our very self-image and is integral to how we view ourselves. With this gone many are feeling at a loss, struggling to define themselves now they’re in almost complete isolation. If this sounds familiar, try to tackle this by taking the place that this social interaction once took. Ask yourself, what you think about certain things, and in time you’ll realise you still have all the opinions and feelings you always had. You do not need others to teach you who you are, you need only consult with yourself.
- Manage expectations – A tricky one but this tip offers great benefits. Consider what it is you hope to gain from interactions with others. Is it realistic? Is it helpful? The pandemic has shaken things up, so perhaps take it as an opportunity to rethink your relationships with others. If you’re seeking approval from others, ask yourself why? You have the ability to be as independent and self-fulfilling as anyone else. Once you see you may be hoping for too much from others it may be time to look inside and consider what it is, you’re missing and what you can do to achieve this.
- Journal or diary – Yes, I know you’re tired of being asked to start a diary. Wherever you look on the internet there’s always some tired blogger running on coffee alone telling the world they *need* to start a diary. Sadly, I am one of them – though I’m more of a green tea fan myself. A journal or diary can really help you keep track of what’s going on around you, it’s easy to feel cut off or almost floating in a void of nothing. A journal allows you to look back and look ahead, grounding you in reality. Think of it as an exercise in testing out these tips, record how they work out for you and see if you think they’d benefit you in the long term. Just give it a try!
Give these tips a try and see if they help you get more out of the limited interaction available this far into the pandemic.
Good luck out there!