Several dear friends sent me e-mails a few weeks into the lockdown that said variations of, “Are you okay? I’m worried about my extroverted friends. I know this whole thing is harder for people like you.” Then they’d say something like, “Well, at least you have Zoom, and now so many people are livestreaming their events. That might help you stay connected.”
While I deeply and sincerely appreciated their concern for my well-being, there was something about the “people like you” comment that just didn’t sit right. It took me quite a while to figure out why.
In the beginning, I did jump eagerly on every Zoom call to which I was invited, and I did try supporting my industry friends by watching their livestream meetings and events and posting my “thumbs up” or “heart” emojis. I even attended several networking groups where there would be twenty or more people on the call. At first, it was exciting to see so many dear faces, but very soon, I started to feel drained of energy after those sessions. And a bit sad.
“Well that’s because you’re so social,” one friend said. “You miss being out and about. You miss seeing people in person. You miss being busy.” And that was partly true. But it wasn’t entirely correct, either. I’m not “social,” I’m intimate. There’s a very big difference.
For me, it’s not just about seeing people or being part of a crowd or trying to achieve a new introduction that will advance my career. It’s about those intimate moments that happen even within a large gathering. It’s about noticing that one person who seems distracted or hurt and asking if she’s okay. It’s about meeting a stranger and discovering a shared passion. It’s about running into someone you haven’t seen in months and giving them a hug. It’s about helping someone pick up their dropped plate of nachos and reassuring them it happens to everyone. It’s about pulling someone aside to whisper a secret. It’s about smiling at the baby in their arms or complimenting the shoes they’re wearing. It’s about feeling the whole room rock with laughter.
Many of my introvert friends have been telling me they are “not too affected” by the lockdown or even that they are thriving in all their quiet time, but science reveals something different. Science has shown us that even before the global shutdowns, populations were reporting higher levels of loneliness. Even for people who like being alone, there is still a need for intimacy. That’s what makes us human.
In the past few weeks, I’ve participated in some heartfelt and important Zoom calls about racism, the pandemic, and the upcoming recession, and I’m glad I did. I’ve discovered that people can be intimate on Zoom if they give their fellow speakers the same attention and respect they’d give them in real life, which means focusing more on the voice and facial cues of the speaker than on checking your phone or switching your virtual backgrounds.
But it’s still not the same. In person, I wouldn’t worry so much about whether it was my turn to speak next, or whether I had unmuted my microphone, or how I should phrase my response in the chat box. In real life, I would look you in the eye, grab your hand, and speak from the heart. In real life, I would lean in and feel you breathe.
That’s what I miss.
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