…in a very important sense, the term “social distancing” is inaccurate. Think of it as physical, not social distancing. What we need to do is separate ourselves physically. Specifically, we need to interact from two metres away or via the Internet or phone lines.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be social. If anything, we need to socialise more than ever; to quell each other’s anxiety, to commiserate over disappointments and disruptions, to brainstorm about at-home activities, and even to make each other laugh.
Friendship in the time of coronavirus
Now is the time to think of how to protect each other in this stressful time. The science of friendship can offer some guidance.
What it takes to be a good friend echoes the defining characteristics of friendship as long-lasting, positive and cooperative. That means friends are reliable. They make each other feel good. They show up for each other. They notice what’s going on in each other’s lives and respond. They reciprocate. They help in a crisis. Even now, it is possible to do those things, even if we can’t do them in close proximity.
First, we must cooperate. The human ability to work together has led to tremendous achievements. Cooperation is fundamental to the urge to befriend and build positive bonds.
That means we must work together now for the greater good, for the protection of the more vulnerable among us, in order to slow the spread of this very contagious coronavirus and help reduce the strain on the health care systems.
Embrace digital friendship. In spite of the fear that social media and smartphones are taking us away from each other, the virtues of virtual connection are undeniable at this moment.
Fortunately, the most up-to-date research shows that if we use social media as one more channel with which to connect to people we normally see in other ways, those bonds will be stronger.
Skype and FaceTime are not equal substitutes for face-to-face time, but they are infinitely better than nothing.
Social media also allows for building bonds with people who know just what you’re going through. Early on in this crisis, a psychotherapist in China created online support groups to help people there deal with their anxiety and loneliness during quarantine. Passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who had befriended each other during the trip, kept in touch via text while quarantined in Japanese hospitals.