My friend Jen came over for dinner on Tuesday night and actually ate inside at our kitchen table.
A few words about this in the era of social distancing: In June we decided to adopt the “double bubble” method expanding our social circle by seeing one single family while they do the same, minimizing the risk of exposure to Covid-19 and hopefully maximizing the chances that you won’t go bonkers from loneliness. We chose Jen’s family because she’s one of my best friends, our husbands are friends, they work from home like we do, wear masks everywhere they go, and our sons and daughters like each other. One of her sons and one of my daughters like each other a little extra and that’s all I can say about that on the Internet.
So. Dinner. Over salmon cakes, I poured out my soul, relieved to have a friend in my physical presence. I told Jen about how I was feeling about my calling and career in the age of Covid. (It’s not the best time to be an event speaker?) I told her about how I felt I’d been neglecting one of my daughters and how the Holy Spirit convicted me to “mom up” and do better. I told her about how after two years of living sober and then just one month of giving myself permission to have a drink now and then, I’d already determined that “now and then” didn’t work for me. It has already become “now and also now and also now and also tomorrow,” and my kids don’t like it when I drink. So back to sobriety for me.
But I didn’t really feel vulnerable until she opened my kitchen cabinet.
“Wow,” she said. “You have a lot of dishes.”
It’s true. I have, empirically speaking, too many dishes. So many, in fact, that the stack of small plates that no one uses anyway, on the third shelf, has to be wedged out in it’s entirety if you want to use just one. My husband is almost completely to blame for this, because whenever he finds a cool color of Fiestaware that we don’t have at a garage sale, he brings it home.
“I didn’t know this about you,” Jen said. Which is funny, because after 25 years, there’s not a lot she doesn’t know. But now, in addition to keeping me from being rude to cashiers and recognizing when I am people pleasing, Jen can also hold me accountable by not letting me buy any more pottery in her presence.
This reaffirmed for me one of my deepest beliefs about friendship: that you have to actually spend time with people in person to really know them, and to have a deep understanding of what their lives are really like. It's too easy to have secrets when no one can get near our closets.
It's true that Jen could know me intimately without knowing my dish hording issue. But still it made me recognize the danger we are all in right now, as most of us feel it is still not safe to gather inside with friends like we used to. Even though the slogan floating around is "we're all in this together," the truth is we're in danger of not being known.
The era of social distancing is lasting long enough that we need to move out of the crisis mode we were in for the first four months and start treating this new abnormal like it's going to be around awhile. Habits we form now will be hard to kick later. Including isolating emotionally from our loved ones and hiding our real lives behind an Instagram filter. More needs to be exposed to our closest people than the corner of the kitchen you clean up before Zoom meetings.
Here are some ideas on how to stay close in an era of physical separation.
Be radically honest with those you trust. Tell them how you are feeling regularly. You don’t have to vent for hours, but a check in a couple times a week is a good idea.
If you need a good cry, get a witness. Call someone and let them know. It’s healing and it works to have someone witness sorrow. The combination of pain relief that occurs naturally in your tears, and the psychological benefit of having an empathetic listener is money in the bank, mental health-wise.
Open up the pantry of your daily life and schedule. Someone needs to know how you’re spending your days so they can help you recognize the warning signs of depression that are indicated by too much sleep, not enough sleep, too much screen time, bad eating, no exercise, lack of attention to personal hygiene, lack of productivity. (Some days, I can check several of those boxes.)
Don't make major decisions without talking to someone first. This includes things like cleaning out your closet. My neighbor and I were discussing how the typical rules of wardrobe clean-out don't apply. Questions like, "When will I wear this?" and "Does this spark joy for me?" are not super effective right now. This conversation helped me hold on to all the dresses I felt about to heave into my trunk and drive to Good Will. Processing a decision is even more important if you're considering homeschooling, breaking up with a boyfriend, or quitting your job. Don't trust your stressed-out brain to go it alone.
Accept that your favorite social activities will look different, and show up for them anyway. We extroverts have to restrain ourselves from hugging; not having everyone into your living room might feel rude. Introverts who were excited when things got cancelled before can get too comfortable now that it's considered normal to stay inside everyday. But make the effort to connect imperfectly anyway. Have a socially-distanced happy hour one day a week -- alcohol definitely optional. Do a dinner picnic with friends. Join an online Bible study even if you're sick of the screen.
One of my neighbors got a puppy in May and yesterday someone said, “When we come out of Covid era, he’s going to be three times bigger and a totally different color.” And I said, “I think we’re all going to be three times bigger and a different color.” We got a good chuckle. It was a moment of transparency for each of us, and if we chose to take it to the next level, we could start calling each other out when we bring super fattening foods to Friday night happy hour, or even choose to start a neighborhood exercise regimine. We may not choose to do that, but it's an option. Because we're known. And we are, as the saying goes, in this together.