When Social Distancing Becomes Mainstream: An Introvert Weighs In
Let me put it out there, loud and clear, I hate socialising. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Now that I’ve had my pre-menopausal woman equivalent of the toddler stomping and rolling on the ground tantrum, let me explain why. For one, I need to take off resting bitch face and put on polite smile face. Resting bitch face is my carapace against unwanted, unsolicited social interaction. It has served me well in public situations. Not many come up to make random small talk. Removing it makes me vulnerable to forced conversation. If you’ve ever been locked into a corner at a formal dinner with two mammoth bores on either side of you, and contemplated stabbing each in the jugular with the butter knife, you know where I’m coming from. Small talk is the nightmare that has me waking up choking and gasping in the dead of the night, screaming for help. Picture the Manral bedroom, drapes drawn, dark, punctuated by sounds of occasional snoring. Then a scream.
The husband jack knifes up to sitting position, readying to use the bedside lamp on a burglar.
“I dreamt I was at a sit down dinner and the chappies on either side of me were going on interminably about the state of the economy….”
“Go to sleep.”
You get my drift. Social interaction drains me. I need to go home and lock myself into a darkened room for a week to recover from an evening out. Weddings, and other huge shindigs, as you can imagine, are right up there on Gestapo level torture techniques, and I have been known to do anything to wriggle out of the mandatory attendance ones, including faking illness and death (not mine). The few I do attend, at gunpoint or the mater applying generous portions of maternal guilt with the “How long will I be alive…” dialogue, have me figuring out how to skip out early before we even reach the venue. Which is why this Ministry of Health dictat that we must all, as a nation, go in for social isolation, comes as sweet music to my ears. I confess, the ping of emails and WhatsApp messages telling me that things I had committed to attend are now cancelled are giving me more joy that I can be seemly about. It saves me from coming up with more outlandish excuses when I decide to skip them.
You get my drift. Social interaction drains me. I need to go home and lock myself into a darkened room for a week to recover from an evening out.
Social isolation is an idea that has its time come for me, and it is terrible that it took something as drastic as a pandemic to make it happen. But, of course, I speak for myself. When the world is socially isolating itself, it makes my need to socially isolate myself petty in the face of the mammoth humanitarian crisis that the pandemic has wrought upon us.
People are social beings. What distinguishes us is the fact that we are socially evolved primates. We need community. We need interaction with other human beings. That is the basic building block of civilisation as we know it, and by extension, humanity. Social interaction, caring, and being part of a larger community is how we define ourselves.
But how much social interaction is too much and how much too little is a tight rope we walk depending upon our own individual psycho-social makeup. I know that I have been socially isolating myself for long enough to have invitations to social functions firmly taper off. Friends have given up on me. Some might occasionally suggest a lunch or drinks, and then give up in the face of my permanent unavailability. I’ve so run out of excuses to give to avoid going out that I’ve stopped giving excuses too. I do realise my ability to socially isolate myself is a privilege and a luxury I have given I work from home and do not need to step out of the house unless I choose to. It is not a luxury most have. Folks have to get out and about for work, for studying, for chores. Social isolation in this context, given the economic ramifications on their day to day, is just not feasible. For them, there is no option, no choice. They cannot socially isolate themselves. They must deal with the real and ever present risk of bores and small talk. I joke. The real and ever present risk of potential exposure to pandemic viruses which are absolutely mannerless in the hedonistic way they’re threatening to populate the world.
Social isolation is a double-edged sword. To start with you revel in your Garbo-esque reluctance to interact with other human beings face to face, in person. You also greedily count off the hours you save in commute time to immediately waste them on binge-watching mind-numbing web series. On the flip you gain a certain comfort being with yourself, being compelled to have only yourself for company. You cannot blame another for your boredom. You have only yourself to blame if you’re boring company to be with.
The one advantage we do have in these days of mandated social isolation is that of technology and its ability to keep us constantly connected and paradoxically, selectively disconnected. You can stay as available or unavailable as you please. While work might require you to stay connected, you can, if you choose, drop off the grid. Social media isolation that might be, and highly recommended too, as an occasional detox. Go off your social media for a while. Perhaps this time of social isolation would be a good time to try a social media detox as well. Try it. Few will even notice. As long as folks see you putting up new Facebook posts, tweeting, and putting a few selfies up on Instagram they will be content to let you alone on the presumption that you are alive and well, and can be occasionally prodded to check if you are up to emerging into the bright sunlight and not vaporising. It might be a chance to reconnect with yourself, recharge your internal batteries, relook at your life and goals without the constant noise of social media and people intruding on your thoughts.
The one advantage we do have in these days of mandated social isolation is that of technology and its ability to keep us constantly connected and paradoxically, selectively disconnected.
But then, perhaps going off social media too, in the days of social isolation, in times of coronavirus might be too extreme a cut off for some. For one, social isolation is not everyone’s cup of tea. While I might feel like a wet rag that has been wrung dry by a WWE wrestler after an evening of being ‘social,’ other folks do draw great energy from being amongst people. They, I can imagine, would wither up from the lack of social interaction. Hell for them, would be no other people. These are the good folks for whom the solitary confinement cell was invented as punishment. For someone like me, it would be a treat. Damn, I would pay to be kept alone, undisturbed in a room, with a kind soul keeping me fed and watered twice a day.
But this dictat of social isolation, one understands, is for the best. The less the interaction with others, the less the chance of the virus spreading. Given the density of our population, even attempting social isolation seems an impossibility, to put it mildly. And then, there is that very important fact that we are social creatures as humans. Most of us are. Self-isolation goes against the grain of what makes us human, we tend to come together at moments of crisis and rally around in solidarity. Confining ourselves into our pockets of isolation might be good to slow the curve of the virus spread but it can be depression inducing to those who aren’t naturally anti-social creatures like I am. Technology and social media can come to the rescue of these, of course. But it will be good, I’m imagining, from the comfort of my cave, when we can finally emerge blinking into the light of normalcy, and go about our days as we used to. Perhaps this enforced isolation will make us appreciate what we do have to count on, people around. More people around. And in our connectedness, and in our being social, as that is what is our strength. And then, you’ll find me in my cave, cussing the next invite that lands in my inbox while simultaneously being glad that we have invites going out again and not a slew of cancellations.
Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.