Social distancing: less or more socially awkward?

This blog entry explores the thought bubble I’ve had this weekend- is socially distant socialising more or less socially awkward? It’s been quite intriguing noting how we socialise differently, and distantly, since the global pandemic of Coronavirus started to be that member of your friendship circle who always has to change plans and butt in with something negative to say. Admittedly, Coronavirus is mainly the friend who stops you from meeting and has a good reason to bail on any plans. But when you do decide to be social, Coronavirus remains the gatecrashing elephant in the room during any social ‘event’ and is sometimes quite welcome and at other times not.

Social scenario A: It’s Friday afternoon and like streets up and down the UK, my street is having a socially distant street party to celebrate/acknowledge VE day. It’s all very British and lovely and out of nowhere, every house has bunting up outside and a blue and white checkered tablecloth on a rickety outdoor table. Camping chairs mark each house’s own little camp with 5 meters to spare between each one. Part of me wonders what it would be like to have a long table down the middle of the street and all of us celebrating in a more communal way. Then my neighbour, a retired lady dressed as a wartime land girl, comes over and stands awkwardly 2 meters away from me and my brother and asks how we’re getting on. The classic small talk that ordinarily continues into long talk out of obligation as you don’t have an escape route. She asks what I’m planning to do in September and I provide the dull and mundane answer that most people about to graduate into a pandemic infested, soon to be recession hit country which is gliding into a EU-less abyss- will give; hopefully I’ll find a job or be able to travel. “Yes, I do feel sorry for younger people now” she replies and with that the end of the small talk concludes and she potters off. If it wasn’t for the fact that the gatecrashing elephant on the street meant she had to stand and talk rather loudly, perhaps struggling to catch all our replies, that conversation might have dragged out for much longer than either of us would like. Mingling was kept to a minimum in general with only the keen beans floating around and standing meters apart for a short chit chat. I was rather glad social distancing existed at that moment in time- the small talk I participated in was kept small and I was relieved of the ‘should I shake their hand or give them a hug’ dilemma. I simply sat on my camping chair, happily staying 5 meters away from people I didn’t really know and quite frankly had no interest in getting to know. I’m usually quite a social person but in that sort of setting the awkward mingling and small to long talk you can’t avoid takes some enjoyment from it. Social distancing added some enjoyment as these socially awkward encounters were kept to a minimum.

Social scenario B: It’s Saturday evening and like most people up and down the country, it’s another quiet night in which proceeds a quiet week in. I don’t have anything specific on except the zoom call with friends which has now become a lockdown tradition. We talk now more than we did before and for the first few weeks I really looked forward to it. But now, 7 zoom calls and multiple activities to entertain us later, it’s starting to feel a little forced. We’re running out of ideas of online appropriate games to play and we have no new news to share with another. I can already predict next week’s reply to ‘how was your week?’ and we’ve already given up on trying to ask about each others love lives as lockdown isn’t exactly conducive to the concoction of juicy gossip. Despite this, there is an assumption we will call again next week and the likelihood is that we will, what excuse do we have not to? The gatecrashing elephant in the room, coronavirus, has provoked a situation in which your friends know full well you have nothing on over the weekends and if you do, a weekday is fine. They know that if you try and dodge one time, another can be arranged to suit. Social distancing has made online socialising more prevalent but also more persistent. Unlike situation A where you are freed from socialising, situation B pushes you into socialising.

I may add to these scenarios as and when I notice social distancing increasing or decreasing social awkwardness.

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