It was a physical reflex; an immediate reaction to greet my 11:00am meeting. I stood upon her arrival, outstretched my arms and went to kiss her cheek (as we have done so many times in the past). Her recoil was immediate, and she uncomfortably asked, “Are we still doing this?”
‘This’ being physical contact, and, in her defence, she’s playing by the rules.
I don’t need to go into the minutia of the recently declared pandemic COVID-19 (coronavirus) for you to know that it’s the current primary source of global panic. We’ve been advised to stop touching our faces (a personal tic I didn’t realise I had until I was asked to stop), and to wash our hands regularly for a minimum of 20 seconds at a time (to the tune of your favourite song, if you wish).
Most importantly, we’ve been urged to keep our collective distance. At present we’re a pack of germ-ridden vessels for disease and infection, and our governments and the World Health Organisation have suggested we cease all courtesy contact with our fellow humans, including kissing, shaking hands, hugging and hi-fiving. 'Social distancing' takes this a step further - removing ourselves from public spaces if we start to experience cold and flu-like symptoms, and avoiding any large congregations. Separation = care.
But (shock horror) we’re not wired for this kind of forced estrangement. Forging connections is human nature, as innate as our need for water, food and warmth. Scientific studies on various mammals suggest that we are profoundly influenced by our social environment, and that we suffer greatly when these social bonds are threatened. So how do we preserve our most intimate relationships – with lovers, with friends, with families – while operating in self-actioned physical internment?
Our first suggestion: rekindle the art of letter writing. PG-rated for your kin, erotic for your paramour. Email works just as well as handwritten, and self-expression via language is a muscle we could all do with flexing every now and then.
Read books together, apart: start a virtual book club with your nearest and dearest. You can’t hold hands but you can be gripped by a thrilling narrative, in tandem.
Talk dirty to me: at the time of writing The Cut has made a compelling case for getting back into (or continuing to enjoy) phone sex. It goes without saying any pursuit of a steamy aural interaction must be enthusiastically consented to and respectful of both parties.
Skype, or Facetime, as much as possible: humans have what’s known as ‘mirror neurons’ located throughout their brain, which help us read other people's feelings and actions. Not only does this lead to mirrored facial expressions, but also allows us each to feel what the other is feeling. When we don’t have these connective moments, we might experience what’s known as social pain – a distress which is biologically identical to physical pain. Distance might make the heart grow fonder but it also makes it hurt. Check in on your friends, check in on your family, check in on one another.
Are we terrified? Of course. Change is one thing we can learn to accept, but uncertainty lingers like a migraine; anxiety inducing and unseen. Our only saving grace is that, though we might be alone, we are not alone. Our mutual panic binds us, and through the sharing of stories, art, memes (I said it) and sound, factual news, we will ride it out. Together.