Reality Check: Connecting with others

Have you noticed changes in your relationships over these past few weeks? With the requirements and warnings to stay away from people—to literally isolate ourselves—we’re no longer getting together for in-person gatherings.
Perhaps you’re accustomed to dropping in for a quick visit with friends or family. Maybe you like to attend community events. That’s all off the table for now, and it could be for some time to come.
We also traditionally gather to mark significant changes in people’s lives: births, deaths, birthdays, graduations, weddings and more. All those gatherings signify turning points in people’s lives.
What do we do when we gather at those events?
We greet; we hug; we commiserate. We cry and we laugh. We bring comfort to the suffering and we share joy in the celebrations.
People like to get together—for the celebrations and for the tragedies. Does it make a difference whether we see each other in person?
I love many aspects of technology. I love that I can stay in touch by email, by phone, through video, all of that. I’m grateful that I can catch up without visiting. You could even say there are advantages to this—now freed from the inconvenience of having to change out of pajamas before you can drive to see someone.
However, through various conversations (at safe distances, of course) over these weeks, I have the impression that there are plenty of folks who are feeling lonely. Even though they may have connections through phone calls, writing, etc., they still feel alone. They can’t hug their grandkids. They can’t visit their friends. And they can’t celebrate, or mourn, in the way that they would like to.
The discomfort isn’t just around those life-changing events. Some remark on how the shopping experience has changed. The fun is gone; people perceive that they are viewed suspiciously, as if they might be contagious. Folks are terrified to cough, not because of the coughing, but because of what those around them might think. Suspicions abound. Some people feel vulnerable to being snitched on should they be perceived as making an unnecessary trip or breaking a rule.
What’s the result? Feelings of loneliness, alienation, suspicion, disconnection?
Dr. Glasser says a basic human need is that of love and belonging. If we are to have a satisfying life, we need to find ways to satisfy that need.
In a recent opinion piece about college education, Lauren MacLean concluded that despite the many benefits of online learning, there is still a real need for the campus experience. It helps students and faculty to be there, to discuss in person and in groups, to make social connections. Physically being with others matters.
In the same way, I think that physically being present with people matters, through good times or bad. Think about family members who are far, far away; or friends we may not see for months or years on end. When we have one of those rare and precious occasions where we are able to get together in the same room, does that make a lasting difference? To be able to eat together, and hug, cry, laugh? I think it does. We may not need constant contact, but contact matters.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any great solutions to offer. If you are feeling troubled and lonely, I’m sure you’ve already heard suggestions about talking to people, whether friends or professionals. That advice may be helpful for some.
Here is my one small insight for you: You are not alone if you find the lack of physical connection upsetting. You’re not the only person feeling that way.
Finally, in the words of that great Canadian icon, Red Green, “We’re all in this together, I’m pullin’ for ya.” Does that help any? I hope so.

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