When separated from society, by choice or circumstance, an individual is likely to feel more socially anxious and awkward when they return to a normal life. In a collage of personal stories of young people from around the world, Voice of London tries to navigate social interactions and everyday exchanges in today’s new normal.
In late October, Iman had invitations for two social gatherings, a reunion of her basketball club and a Halloween dinner.
She arrived at the reunion armed with a bottle of sanitiser and wrapped in a mask to find that no one else was. The rest of the evening was spent eating Nasi lemak from shared spoons and sipping Coke from shared glasses.
“No one was scared and no one cared,” she tells Voice of London. Within the next two days was a planned Halloween dinner with her cousin sisters. Worried that she came in close contact with people in the previous get together, she cancelled her Halloween dinner.
“How do I deal with the guilt I am getting from my sisters who are upset that I bailed on them the last minute?” Iman asks.
The pandemic and weekly changing restrictions throughout 2020 have made many of us take our steps back at the prospect of daily social interactions. Practices of day-to-day social exchanges in this coronavirus recovery period have changed our basic social structures, whether it be education, work, travel, health care or arts – and even in the ways we celebrate a birth and mourn a death.
Absence of non-verbal gestures and physical touch is making many, if not all, accustomed to a feeling of social awkwardness.
How do we express heightened feelings of happiness or affection without a handshake, a hug or a kiss? How do we tell someone to keep a safe distance from us without making them feel criminal?
How do we trust a stranger sitting with a mask on in a bus or standing behind us in a supermarket queue? How do we cope with the feeling of posing a threat to our own family after a crazy basketball reunion?
Answers to these questions don’t come easy, they come with a touch of social awkwardness.
Social awkwardness could be a feeling of not being equipped with skills to interact with new people and make friends or it could mean a feeling of not being able to navigate in public spaces feeling safe. After having a bare minimum of social exchanges in the past months, communication skills might seem to faint a bit.
When separated from society, by choice or by circumstance, an individual is likely to feel more socially anxious and awkward when they return to a normal life. It is a biological reaction due to a change of lifestyle.
Social interactions are not limited to exchanges between you and your friends or acquaintances, it involves everything from small eye contacts with strangers you will never see again to the person you hold a door for or even the waiter who serves you your coffee. However as a disappointment, in the new normal, interactions may feel filled with unspoken tensions, hesitance and a lack of trust.
An introvert on being socially awkward due to Covid-19
“To be very precise, I had not stepped a foot outside my house for almost 5 months and 24 days. It was a vacation I always wanted and I got so much time to do things that I otherwise would never have. I learnt how to bake, play the guitar, read and re-read some amazing books and had a full sleep every night,” Jenny Zing tells Voice of London describing the lockdown as a blissful time when she got her most awaited break.
However, a comeback into the new normal life was difficult for Jenny. “When I did step out after a very long time, the first person I interacted with was a shopkeeper. He asked me what I wanted and I took solid 30 seconds to process that. I could not say a word. I could not make eye contact or blink. I just froze trying to communicate,” she says.
An extrovert on being socially awkward due to Covid-19
“I am that person who can hold a very good conversation with a stranger and make them feel comfortable in minutes. I have always been surrounded by people. When university started, I didn’t rent an apartment but instead went for a student hostel so that I could be surrounded by people. I love people. When they announced lockdown, all my friends went back home and suddenly I was the only person living on my floor in my student hostel,” Abdullah Khan shares with Voice of London.
He found himself as the only occupant on the floor that had 18 rooms. “I tried to talk to my friends and family via Zoom and played online multiplayer games to keep my interactions going on but as soon as it got over, I was all alone feeling empty but I also felt safe. Now when I go out its hard for me to trust people because I am afraid that I may catch the virus,” he says.
Whether an introvert or an extrovert, our social setting is like our diet and when huge portions of our diet are taken out, we are likely to feel hungry. Just like the feeling of being starved, a feeling of being socially distant too has a mental and psychological impact on us. We are wired to crave company and a lack of one takes us down a steep, unpleasant slope of isolation.
How to fix the awkwardness?
Interaction is something we learn as we grow up. A teenager tends to interact better than a toddler and an adult tends to interact better than a teenager. We learn social skills as we grow our social circles. Though uncertain, there sure is an end to the times we are living in right now. Sooner or later, we will have our social systems return to pre-covid times and you will be able to start having interactions and regain your lost social skills.
However, for the meantime, Voice of London has put together a list of pandemic etiquettes that will make your social interactions possible in a healthy and safe way. Negotiating the new normal to make yourself and people around you comfortable is a way to find a common ground for everyone’s varying levels of coronavirus safety.
Read more about coronavirus and its social impact:
- Coronavirus and its impact on our furry friends
- To stay or not to stay? Will masks remain a part of British culture after the Pandemic?
- How to self-isolate as a university student – going home for Christmas
Words: Shravani Chavan | Subbing: Monika Groening