For as long as humans have explored the earth, they have had to be separated from loved ones. Things have changed A LOT though. Initially communication could often be maintained through mail. A conversation could take days, weeks or even months before a response came to one’s questions and comments. Then the telegraph, followed by the telephone, email, pagers and instant messages, text messages, and now we video chat or have even a group gathering any time we want with people all over the world..and sometimes even outer space. Modern technology has been a game changer.
Yet even with these incredible advances that help us connect, countless people struggle with the constraints of social distancing. Not to say I’m great at it, but living states away from most of my family and friends and even an ocean away from one sibling, I have a fair amount of practice staying close to people I can’t gather with (in person) frequently. So if you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few ways to connect.
Over a decade ago, two of my siblings started a Halloween book club. Each year they read a creepy story, like Pet Cemetery or Dracula. The selections always felt a bit too dark for me to get onboard until my brother became a parent and a middle grade novel (Neil Gaimon’s Coraline) was picked. That was the first year I joined. On Halloween we got together to enjoy one another (costumes optional) and talk about the book: what we liked, didn’t, what resonated, which characters felt relatable, fantastic or horrific. After a few years of all four siblings, occasionally spouses and even our mom joining in, we realized we had so much fun talking about books together that we just kept carrying on year round. This year we’re taking turns reading each person’s favorite book from the past decade. It’s a smorgasbord of tastes, fiction and non-fiction, some very academic in nature and some incredibly humorous and mostly aimed at entertainment. Each person brings very different insight and perspective, and we chat every 2-4 weeks on a video call to discuss a section of each book. It’s a fun way to connect with people you enjoy, consider new ideas, learn and have a purpose to congregate (digitally or in a safe way in person).
My husband’s family is predominantly based on the east coast, with a couple of stragglers (like us) out of state. Fairly frequent phone calls were part of our pre-pandemic regiment, but as those who live closer were isolated, our family matriarch called a whole-family zoom call. Since then we’ve had a standing Sunday morning family gathering. It lasts just 30-40 minutes, but everybody shows up and connects for a little while. To add a little fun and structure, one person brings a question for everyone to answer at each call.
They have varied from “What is your dream vacation?” to “Would you rather be twice your width or half your height?”. The most unexpected question came this last week: “What has been the best thing for you that has come from this pandemic?” Taking turns and discussing thought provoking ideas can be a great way to bring people together and encourage connection.
Was your family so busy pre-pandemic that you rarely sat down all together for family dinners? Studies show a lot of benefits to making time for this, including less depression for teens, larger vocabularies for young children and higher academic performance for kids (even more helpful than homework or sports). We are pretty big fans of the family dinner, but to add a new layer, we have started having family dinners with one other family online. We are starting with our siblings’ families. Once each week or two, both families sit down at the table together with a meal…and a computer at the other end. We eat and chat simultaneously. One family at a time rather than the whole group or just one person offers a nice flow of communication and intimacy that the whole family can distract from (though we really enjoy both). We take the same approach on family vacations too and tend to enjoy a little breakfast here, lunch or outing there with just one sibling’s family or even a parent so we get large and small gatherings. I’ve found something about sharing a meal can provide comfort and open doors of communication as well.
Weekly Friend Date
I feel very fortunate to have a treasure trove of friends. There are more than I can catch up with every week or even every month. With lockdown keeping me away from lots of outings and in-person get togethers, I find some time opens up and I really enjoy reaching out to friends who I rarely get to see. Nearly once a week I reach out to a friend who is either far away or someone I don’t bump into often. We either text (especially moms with young kids) or find an hour or so to catch up. I know it is all too easy to let once close friends become holiday card friends or only Facebook friends. Maybe now is a good time to go through your contact list and see who you want to set up a time to catch up with…or if not, what purpose do they still serve being in your phone?
With modern technology, we may not physically touch many people as much, but can stay in touch better. Carve out space, take a little break from Netflix, news or whatever you use for “filler” and make time and effort to connect with those who you care about.