What is the right amount of eye contact and other skills I’ll need to relearn post-Covid
Most of us were never particularly silver-tongued but the pandemic has made awkward, rusty conversationalists of us all.
I realised yesterday that I have crossed the road three times in the past week to avoid talking to people I know. Not out of any great fear of giving our getting infected (I live in a very small bubble and infection rates are low here) or because I wasn’t particularly fond of the people I was going out of my way to avoid. You’d think I’d be thrilled to speak to someone who I don’t wake up next to every morning and isn’t accustomed to my every bowel movement. And in my head, I would be, but the reality, as it turns out, is very different.
It’s not that I secretly don’t want to get out of lockdown, I definitely, definitely do. I avoided them for mundane reasons – I was hungry and wanted to get home from dinner, I didn’t feel like a chat, I was already exhausted from the thirty-second social interaction I had with the girl on the till. But I can’t deny it, it’s definitely a trend.
We might crave people and fun and crowds and liveliness, but we are also now completely unaccustomed to it. We want it so desperately and yet it requires an exhausting amount of effort and, let’s face it, awkwardness. We’re so rusty, we’re tempted to just continue rusting instead of cracking out the oil can.
In light of my own waning social skills, here’s what else I’ll have to start relearning once we get out of this pandemic.
Is this enough? Or too much? Where should I look? They’re wearing a mask so I can’t really watch their mouth but sustained eye contact from two metres apart is… intense. I can see their whole body shift uncomfortably. I can see them seeing my whole body shift uncomfortably. So. Much. Discomfort.
I always lean towards too little eye contact than too much, but I keep finding my whole body has turned sideways as if I’m reciting the ordinariness of my week to the entire street rather than just the people standing next to me. Thank God for babies, they don’t feel weirded out by all the staring and it takes the pressure off choosing the least inoffensive place to look.
I sometimes get a physical pang to go dancing with my friends to shit music in an even shittier bar. But also dancing, in a bar… it’s tainted now, isn’t it? I hope it won’t be tainted for long, I both want to be amongst the sweaty people and can’t guarantee I won’t have a panic attack amongst the sweaty people. A rock and a hard place.
This isn’t to say I was a regular bowler pre-Covid, I’d say my 11th birthday was the last time I stepped foot in a bowling alley. But now just the thought of it turns my stomach. Stepping into shoes that some stranger recently sweated in, sticking my fingers in a ball that’s risen up from God know’s where and last touched by God knows who, probably by the nosepicker on alley 7. And then eating finger food?! Kill me now.
Side note: In my long-time languishing, I rewatched New Girl (along with many others) and have a newfound appreciation for Schmidt and his completely valid abhorrence for bathtubs, they are “medieval filth cauldrons”.
Not just to work, but I really hope that doesn’t get reinstated. Just the experience of travelling anywhere, of moving from point A to point B across an extended period of time. What do I do during that time? How do I know how long the bus journey will take me, if I need to be somewhere at 10am, what time should I leave? And I think Covid might have converted me from a “45 minutes is plenty of time in the airport” to a two-hour terminal shopper.
Staying up late
I have moved my sleeping pattern in line with the daylight hours. I now get up at 6am just “to get the best of the day” – who even am I? Have I had more than a few drinks during lockdown? Absolutely. But after 11pm? I think the last time I made it to midnight was New Year’s Eve and even then I was already in my pyjamas, teeth brushed, only awake to shake my fist goodbye to 2020. Once it hits 9pm nowadays, in my head it’s officially too late to watch a movie – ”let’s just watch an episode of New Girl in bed instead.”
I do not accept this being purely down to age, Covid has stolen my youth as well as my social skills.