Silver linings exist even when it can start to feel like we’re living in the dystopian Gilead, the fictional state in The Handmaid’s Tale, where handmaids were only permitted to be in public in pairs.
Now that’s the case here: public gatherings are now strictly limited to two people.
Even though we know it’s absolutely for the best, we can still acknowledge: this can feel socially oppressive.
Post the catastrophic bushfire crisis and in the midst of a global anxiety-inducing emergency, the very thing that psychologically helps us – social connection – is being stripped away from us, bit by bit. That’s why some are replacing the term “social distancing” with the better phrase: physical distancing with social connection.
We knew it was coming; we’re following new rules that countries such as Britain have already introduced. But that doesn’t make the pain of the sudden transition any easier.
There’s a sweet spot, though; one that it helps to be grateful for at a time like this: the one on one catch up has, in my eyes, often been superior to the group friendship catch up.
You can tailor your catch up to the other person’s style, humour and interests. I’ll store up anecdotes specifically for them, and tell them varyingly, depending on what I perceive that person values.
Dynamics shift dramatically depending on if you’re catching up as a pair or as a group of three or more.
It’s the whole two’s company, three’s a crowd thing. But it goes deeper than that.
I feel so much safer being vulnerable one on one. I’ve learnt that being able to be vulnerable is the true meaning of intimacy. If you’d have asked me a decade ago, I’d have said being intimate just meant having sex and maybe cuddling afterwards. I now know it means being your true self with another human being, without fear of lampoonery or judgement. Often, that’s platonic. In a corruption of Tina’s famous song: what’s sex got to do with it?
One on one, I’m far more likely to let people in. I might cry. I won’t feel anywhere near the pressure to consistently make everyone laugh; the exhausting expectation of maintaining levity is released.
I ask different questions from the group catch up, too. We move beyond the inane small talk that I loathe (how are you; what have you been up to?) and go straight for the big talk: how are you coping? What are you grateful for? What are you particularly worried about? What are the top three things you’re looking forward to doing when this whole repressive shit storm is over? We go deeper, quicker.
I’m completely different in a group scenario. I still enjoy them, but I often play a persona. I’m less likely to show fragility. I avoid earnestness to minimise the chance of mockery. I’m guilty of mocking others too; I’d probably keep things light by lampooning any earnestness.
I’ve sometimes noticed that, in friendship group situations I’ve been in, each person plays their part; one that has perhaps become expected of them. People sometimes play heightened versions of themselves: overdramatic; nonchalant; boozy. It’s to perform to the rest of the group. It can sometimes feel like every other line must be a punchline. Or a rant. Anything to maintain the varying concentration levels of the group. I’ve even noticed some friends being contrary in a group environment, perhaps to provoke or tease – albeit affectionately. Those same friends, one on one, are nowhere near as pugnacious; they’re considerate, understanding, and listen more. There are fewer people around for them to worry about how they’re going to be perceived.
Of course, levity is important. I love a punchline. Laughter fosters resilience; essential at times like this. Depending on where you sit on the complex introvert/extrovert scale, one on one catch ups for some people can feel exhausting. Some of the best public speakers I know are terrified of the intensity of the one on one. But for me, nothing beats it.
The nuance bamboozled by the group thrives one on one. The complex array of contradictions and hypocrisies that lay within us all can be shared without fear of them being called out for the general amusement of the group.
Excuse me if I decline your seven-person House Party or Zoom catch up. The video element adds an additional layer to the catch up that, for one on one lovers like me, just adds more distance and, somehow, paradoxically, increases frustration and loneliness.
So don’t be too downbeat about the maximum of two catch up. In many ways, it could help you connect faster. You may even find the courage to be vulnerable; a revelation that could transform every social catch up you have post Covid-19.
I resisted the urge to finish this piece on a punchline. You’re welcome.