Socializing in the Time of COVID19: Risks and Rewards

In Sunday’s Links I Love, I shared a really funny YouTube video that a coworker sent me: “training for real life.” Now, I’ll be honest; there’s a lot of this video I can’t relate to. I’ve been working out daily, showering daily, wearing pants and a bra daily, and I haven’t watched Netflix once! But last weekend, Colorado’s governor also moved us from “stay-at-home” to “safer-at-home” – meaning we are slowly reopening non-essential businesses and allowing people to go out into the world. “Real life” (or at least the “real life” I am guessing we will have for the next year or two) is fast approaching, and I’ve been struggling nearly as much as the woman in the video to figure out exactly how to deal with it.

Over the last week or two, I’ve seen a lot of my friends gradually stop following the rules about staying home – and even more are doing so now that we are “safer-at-home” (but can go out). They’re meeting up in driveways or on front lawns and keeping their distance. But while my friends may be following the new rules, I’ve been reluctant to follow suit. Yes, we are “allowed” to do these things… but it’s also obviously not as safe as staying at home and continuing to isolate.

When I go out running with Sugar every morning, and I see people on the sidewalks, I usually cross to the other side of the street to pass from twenty feet away rather than six feet away. Either one is following the rules of social distancing. However, just because the six foot rule is the conventional wisdom, that does not mean there’s a magic bubble six feet from each person and no COVID19 germs can go further than that. When running, it’s almost no inconvenience to keep a wider berth, so it’s a no-brainer to do it. But when it comes to socializing… I still don’t know quite where I want to draw the line.

The safest behavior of all for the last two months would have been me staying at home and never going out. But I’ve decided that running in the early morning (with a mask on and where I’m unlikely to interact with other people) is a reasonably small risk for a very large reward – I love being outside, I love running with Sugar, and the Colorado views make me incredibly happy. I think I’d be a lot more stir crazy if I couldn’t go out at all.

I’ve also decided that going for groceries once a week is a risk I’m willing to take. I’m an excellent and creative cook, and I keep my pantry well-stocked enough that I could probably go a month or two cooking only from my pantry / freezer staples, without needing to resort to any gross food combinations. But cooking is one of the activities I’m most enjoying while isolated, and I would enjoy it a lot less if I didn’t have the ingredients I need. So I’ve decided that it not only fits the rules but it also fits my personal risk / benefit calculation for me to go out for groceries once a week (again, wearing a mask and at the least popular times). When I’m at the store, I flat-out won’t go into an aisle if I see someone else is in there (it’s worth it to me to wait a few minutes to have the aisle to myself), and if I have to wait to check out, I stand two squares back (so, twelve feet) from anyone in front of me. To me, this is another small risk with a very big reward.

Honestly, I have built a pretty good life / routine in spite of COVID19. I go for a run with Sugar every morning (3-6 miles), come home and do my own workout in my home gym, cook a yummy breakfast, work until dinner, then cook something else delicious and read and go to bed. On weekends, I replace working with chores and more leisure reading, and I mix in some social calls (on the phone or on Zoom). I would say my happiness level is generally around a 7 or an 8 most days, though of course I have my sad days too… usually one every week or two.

A very happy moment running with Sugar, with both of us grinning from ear to ear 🙂

When I’m evaluating the risks and rewards of potentially meeting up with friends, the calculation isn’t quite as straightforward as running outside or grocery shopping. It’s crazy to me to admit this, especially since I’ve always thought of myself as a very social person, but… I actually don’t think that meeting up with my friends in person would significantly impact my happiness. I thoroughly enjoy the weekly game nights with my girlfriends on Saturdays, and the numerous texts / calls / video chats I do throughout the week with my friends and family. But the things I can’t get from those virtual hangouts are things that I won’t be able to get from socially distanced hangouts, either.

I desperately want to sit on my couch at home with my friends and watch a movie, with their physical presence beside me (that’s a no-no). I very badly want to go out for a night on the town and hole up at a delicious restaurant or bar to share the experience (also can’t do that). And most of all, I want to feel some form of physical contact for the first time in two months, and hug my friends… if only to remind myself that we aren’t all just shadows on a screen and we are all real people who are physically in this together (yeah, that’s a definite don’t). I learned long ago that my love language is touch, and one of the toughest parts of COVID19 for me is going months without touching a single other human, even in the form of a business handshake. (Although really, I am one of those annoyingly effusive people for whom a hug is a standard greeting rather than a handshake as long as I’ve met you even once before.)

Without that physical touch being prudent… I don’t know if it’s worth the risk to meet up with friends in person, rather than just continuing to connect virtually. I said before that my happiness level these days is usually about a 7 or an 8. Getting to meet up with friends in a socially distant way might raise that to an 8 or a 9… but is that one little point increase worth the risk of meeting up? I’m not sure. This would be a much easier decision if I were miserable and lonely, rating my happiness at a 2 or 3, where meeting up with friends would have a massive benefit.

But on the flip side, I’m getting a little afraid that I’m becoming agoraphobic. (How’s that for irony? Fear of a phobia?) My friends have all been very respectful of not inviting me to do things they know I’m not comfortable with, but FOMO is definitely flaring up when I hear that they are meeting up with each other or starting to explore these non-essential outside-the-home activities. Although I didn’t watch the whole series, I have a vision of myself someday being like Kimmy Schmidt – emerging from my house only to find that everyone else has been going on with life without me.

So this weekend, I’m inviting my neighbor Karlin over to have a drink with me. (Alcohol! Another thing I haven’t had in two months, and am a little worried I’ll have forgotten how to deal with.) I’ve asked her to please wear a mask, and I’m arranging my deck so we can sit ten feet apart. I’m hoping this one-on-one, distanced meeting can be the start of a new normal for me? At the very least, it will be a relatively low-risk experiment to see where my comfort level lies.

One thing my therapist has pointed out to me is that different circles of friends are reacting to COVID19 in very different ways – so I don’t need to feel othered just because my risk tolerance level is lower than my friends’. So, I’d love to hear from you, internet readers, as to where your comfort levels are? There is clearly no one right answer on how we deal with this, but since COVID19 is going to be affecting our lives for many more months, I’d like to find a balanced approach between risk and reward.


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