I think we have all felt this a bit. As the COVID-19 virus keeps us working remote or in isolated offices I have noticed that I do not feel as connected as I once did. The friendships I had on multiple levels have struggled to be maintained and even good friendships feel more distant. But the funny part is I am not sure how I can pinpoint in what ways these disconnects happened. All I know is that I really have a hard time connecting when the vision on the other side is a screen or a voice. And I am not a touchy, feely person either. I am not a hugger. So, I know it is not that. But here I am, longing for a big hug from a friend I have not seen since last NASPA.
I have been discussing this with my close friends and many of them are feeling the same way. Of course, we all admit that this is a pandemic, and things are different, and we feel lost and yadda, yadda, yadda. But we all feel somewhat lost or less connected that we had been. Like there is an emotional void. SO while this is a post about staying connected in Higher Ed, I think it is important to acknowledge that I don’t know how to do that and I am a bit lost myself.
Okay, of course there is a science to all of this. Professor Robin Dunbar, evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford has been quoted many times that the lack of physical contact may be one of the great issues with the pandemic beyond the immediate health care concerns. Afterall, as we all develop in the womb the first sensation, we develop is the sense of touch. It is how we bond with our mothers. We respond to swaddling and cuddling as children, it calms us and brings safety. And we can all remember the first kiss in a relationship. One of the first things we do when there is loss is embracing. It is that tactile sensation that helps us connect.
And when we go to NASPA, or when we see each other at meetings, there is often handshakes, hugging, and here in Florida, especially in Miami, a kiss on the cheek. And that has all gone away and has been replaced with a wave on Zoom. Here in Florida, we do have some advantages. With restaurants open and the weather being decent we can plan some get togethers on restaurant patios and with proper socially distanced spacing. But in many ways, it can often be crueller. You friend is right there but alas you are discouraged from even fist bumping.
So how do we do this? What I have been doing is trying to add time during zoom calls to give people space to at least reconnect and acknowledge the odd. We share silly stories of how crazy this time is, we share stories of people we know or ourselves catching the virus and the good and bad outcomes, we give ourselves permission to hate all of this. I believe when we do this, we do not do what I feel does not work and try to act like this is all okay.
Early in the COVID crisis I think there was a desire to be cool about this and even celebrate it. We would brag about how long we can stay isolated; we would say we liked Tiger King (and lets ne honest, that was garbage) and we suddenly liked sourdough bread. But it was all a mirage in a way. I think it is important to admit and acknowledge we all stink at this, we are all still scared and uncertain, and we do not have to be superstars or saviors. We have to more human than we may feel comfortable. Just today, I woke up and my thermometer read 98.8 and I lost my mind for a minute. Anxiety is real and it plays with your head.
Here is how I have also managed. I am finding new ways to engage. I have embarked several writing projects (this being one) both personal and professional where I can reach out and just talk to my friends as if they were there. Myself and my bestie Dr. Adam Peck have published a couple of items in the past year and we share lots of information over a shared Google Drive. I have a messenger chat with a few select friends where we literally send each other virtual hugs and can be brutally honest about our feelings, even if they are dark or manic. Overall, it has not replaced real contact, but it helps. We acknowledge is a crappy time and was always going to be a crappy time and we lean into it. And that helps but its still not a hug.