The art of socializing during a quarantine

People probably won’t have much trouble remembering to stay in touch with their best friends while stuck at home, but less-regular catchups—such as occasional lunches with co-workers or bumping into an acquaintance at a coffee shop—are more at risk of falling by the wayside, because they’re often impromptu. Melissa Mazmanian, an informatics professor at UC Irvine, told me that it might help to proactively schedule a videochat date that functions as a “low-level exchange of ‘What’s going on with you today?’” to compensate for these lost interactions.

Scheduling something that usually originates spontaneously can feel contrived, Mazmanian noted, but “you have to formalize it a little more, because we’re not going to run into each other.” It may be easy to default to eating lunch in front of the TV or computer, but shared meals can be an opportunity for connection. Recently, she and a colleague agreed that while they were working remotely, they’d set up a standing videochat lunch date, chatting and eating “together” in front of their laptops.

Similarly, Jeff Hancock, a communication professor at Stanford University, told me that even before the outbreak, he and a friend in another city often set up Skype calls to drink whiskey and catch up. “One of the reasons that we want to hang out with people often is to eat and drink together,” he told me, and people can simulate that at a distance with videochat. Moreover, Hancock said, “committing to a dinner or a lunch with somebody is a signal that ‘I care about this relationship’” and that they want more than just, say, an intermittent text-message thread that each party contributes to when he or she has the time. Plus, everyone has to eat, even our busiest friends.

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