“It’s so good to finally see you!” *drools*
I wish someone had prepared me for my first social interaction — away from my computer screen.
It was comforting seeing my own face in the Brady Bunch grid, having the option of not wearing pants, and being able to shut my laptop or clock an exit button if I needed a breather from a conversation.
But now, with new guidelines in place, we have more options to safely socialize outside the confines of a zoom call or text thread. So, we pick a spot outside — a dog park, an outdoor restaurants, or maybe the beach — to gather with a few people and have a conversation in person.
As my husband and I drove to a socially distanced meetup I felt an odd flutter in my stomach, like first day of school jitters.
I was wiggling in the passenger’s seat, adjusting my hair and fixing my makeup — clumsily, since I hadn’t worn makeup in 6 months. I carefully applied a rose colored lipstick, then asked my husband if it looked okay. He replied, “Babe, you’ll have your mask on the whole time, they won’t even see your lips.”
“Oh, duh.” I said and vigorously rubbed my mouth with my coat sleeve, sighing as the pink color crusted and sloughed off of my lips.
Then, I recalled a few minutes before we left home, when my husband kept asking me which hat he should wear to our outing. Picking a hat, I decided, was my guy’s version of choosing a lip color.
There we were, two people heading to a park… to stand in a circle with a few friends in masks and our dogs, to socialize.
Even though I’d shared countless video calls, DMs, phone calls, and text threads with these people this year, I couldn’t stop the nerves rising up in my chest. I suddenly found myself running through a Rolodex of topics in my head of what we’d talk about and I noticed my husband wiggling and adjusting a bit more in his seat as well.
I couldn’t help but wonder….Had the physical distance from our friends made us socially awkward?
There is no denying the many perks, communicating via video/phone call this past year.
You can talk to your boss with pajama pants on, be comforted by your own face in the Brady Bunch grid, and easily exit a conversation by clicking a button or swiftly closing your laptop — provided you blame it on a lost connection of pesky router later.
In short, social distancing has given us the ability to control the comforts of the environment we socialize in …the comfort of our homes.
We can master a curated backdrop, be liberal with a mute button, secretly take a work call on a walk instead of at a desk, and control a perfect lighting scheme to compliment your hair and makeup.
When it comes to in-person socializing — socially distanced, of course — we leave all of those comforts we’ve adjusted to and are suddenly exposed again. We have to pick a place to go, choose a time to leave, decide what to wear, and move through conversations without any screen lags or technical blips.
Venturing back out into the world and socializing 6 feet apart has not only itched that scratch of exiting isolation, but it comes with a slew of new anxieties and gradations of adjustment that even the most outgoing people are experiencing.
I’ve had countless phone conversations with friends who have reflected on their in-person socially distanced encounters … one particular subject remains the same with all of them —
They describe their own behavior during the encounter as surprisingly, “socially awkward.”
One friend drooled by accident while she was excitedly talking to a friend she hadn’t seen in person since last summer.
My other friend described his conversation with a stranger at a dog park as a ‘cluster f*^k of interruptions,’ both people so out of practice of in-person conversations, that a normal back and forth felt more like two people having word vomit at the same time.
Another, usually outgoing friend, said she’s now terrified to attend weddings or parties with large groups once it’s safe again, with fear that her “social awkwardness” will be too palpable.
As the country continues to move in the right direction with vaccine rollouts and soon, warmer weather — it begs the question of humans adapting too quickly and too comfortably to on-screen social lives.
As my husband and I chatted in a circle with our friends at the park and watched our dogs chase each other in circles, I too became attuned to my own awkwardness. My heart was beating slightly faster and I stuffed my jittery hands into my jacket pockets to calm them.
In my head, I was planning what questions to ask them and calculating what they would say next. I rocked back and forth on my toes, a kind of fidget I used to do as a child waiting for my turn at foursquare.
My husband cracked a mediocre ‘dad joke’ and as our friends laughed a little too loud, I watched a pink flush rise in his cheeks above the borders of his mask.
Were we all being super awkward?
Soon our dogs slowed and panted at our knees which, along with a sharp winter breeze, signaled that it was time to say our goodbyes. So, we replaced a farewell hug with a (super silly and awkward) elbow bump and recoiled back into our cars to return to the comfort of our homes.
On a strangely quiet car ride home, my husband suddenly turned to me and said “Was I being awkward? I feel like I was being so awkward!”
I giggled, “I think we’re just out of practice.”
And with that, I pulled down my mask and reapplied my new rose colored lipstick — after all, I had a Zoom call later.