A wonderful romance author friend of mine, Debbie Cromack, recently asked what my word of 2022 would be. I chose “connected.” I want to work on my connections with family members, old friends and new, the writing and reading communities, and my inner voice.
After making the rounds of social media, I realized many people are feeling this way. From the tweets of lonely people asking if anyone is listening, to the skyrocketing growth of TikTok, (where showing yourself in your natural state is supported and even encouraged,) a common theme is emerging. People are craving connections with one another more than ever. But, why?
Sure, the pandemic has curtailed social gatherings, but it’s also had a large impact on everyday social interactions that aren’t as obvious. Households are split between the high-risk individuals and those who experience high rates of exposure. Dating norms have veered ever more sharply toward online interactions, and an entire generation of family members have yet to meet their grandparents and extended family. We talk to each other through masks, plastic partitions, and behind electronic screens. Hugs and kisses have been relegated to ‘maybe when this is all over.’ Even stopping to talk to someone in a grocery store will earn incredulous side-eyes and impatient fly-bys from the shoppers who want to limit their potential exposure to the virus.
Of course, there are people who have flourished with the changes. Less emphasis on social interactions means it feels less pressing to look ‘social ready,’ which makes many people happier. More time spent at home suits an introvert’s lifestyle very nicely. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience. Ahem.
Yet, even the individuals who loudly proclaim themselves happiest when they're home reveal their loneliness if you know what to listen for. Maybe they’re the person who says they’re 'fine' the loudest. Or perhaps they let slip that they’ve had less energy or spend more time sleeping in recent days.
This individual could be you.
If you can’t remember the last time you had a hug or welcome home kiss from someone, know that it can have a profound effect on how you feel. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the history of mankind, but humans appear to be creatures of community. When you remove that sense of connection, of course it will lead to emotional changes. So, what can you do?
First, think of what makes you happiest when interacting with others. Is it finding people who share your interests? Or do you prefer opposing views that stimulate new ideas? Do you live entirely alone and miss the warmth of having something—anything—to snuggle with?
Then, research the best place to find these individuals (or pets, if you prefer.) If you’re an author reading this, then put as much thought into this as you did when considering who your typical readers are. Where would they most likely hang out? What hashtags, sub-groups, big-name accounts would they interact with?
Next, think outside the box in terms of your willingness to find and connect with these individuals. You may dislike social gathering in person but find the pace of a social media place like Twitter easier to navigate. You can simply sign off when you’ve had enough! Or, if you consider yourself a highly visual person and love taking pictures, open or dust off that IG account. Share what your passionate about.
Consider taking online classes. There are so many more options than colleges! Fiverr.com offers gigs on just about anything you can think of, for affordable prices. Podcasts, YouTube videos, and even audiobooks are great ways to expand on your skillsets and interests.
Bring a pet into your life. This one must be considered very carefully, since your post-pandemic lifestyle may differ widely from your current one. Pets should be taken on only if you can commit yourself to caring for them for the long haul.
Also, celebrate your normal big events, even if it’s on a much smaller scale, or done virtually. Even if you can’t invite your family to a birthday party, you can receive gifts at the door and wait until they get back home to open then on a Zoom call. Believe me, it makes a difference in our mental health and helps keep our familial ties strong.
Finally, take advantage of the individuals and community that you do have open to you. Chat with your neighbors, even if it’s across the lawn or over a fence. If you feel comfortable, visit a store you love at an earlier hour when you know it will have less traffic.
Of course, please be safe in whatever you choose to do. And know that although these times are challenging and often frustrating now, they will not always be so.
We can get through this. Together.