Quarantine could be an introvert’s paradise, a Shangri-la of solitary bread-baking and Netflix bingeing. No need to feel guilty canceling plans when the whole world’s been canceled for you.
Just one problem: platforms like Zoom and FaceTime. They are the enemy of the white lie, the offhand excuse, the convenient out. Once upon a time, you could fake a headache to avoid coffee with the ex-roommate you haven’t seen since 2003. But now people show up online to socialize in tattered pajamas surrounded by Cheetos crumbs. The bar is so low that there’s really no good reason not to appear and no easy way to turn down an invite. In a surreal period when togetherness and support are paramount, only a social misfit could refuse.
So what’s a self-respecting flake to do? Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“I bagged on a chat that I set up with high school friends because I couldn’t stand the thought of talking about the virus again with a new set of people. I set up the call, then turned off my audio and video,” confessed one woman who asked that her name not be used lest she encounter those people once we’re all allowed out of the house.
Pity the introverts for whom home was once a sanctuary, not a Zoom backdrop. With social distancing in effect around the country and the number of people using video-conference apps skyrocketing, home may not be the quiet retreat it once was.
“It was nice at first: The weekend plans I had made weeks prior were stressing me out but were ultimately canceled, which was great because I wasn’t the one bailing on my friends and looking like a jerk because of my social anxiety. But then there were the Zoom parties and the social media posts of people having fun alone together that pounces on your middle-school-induced ‘I’ll Never Fit In!’ trigger,” says Beverly’s Rebecca Tanger, chatting from a bathroom while hiding from a Zoom gathering.
For some, it adds insult to injury when friends, many of whom have crawled out of the woodwork after years of disappearing under the guise of marriage, work, and children, use the pandemic as reason to reconnect.
“I’m being invited to more things than I ever have. I live in the woods, and my friends never came to visit and always found better things to do. Now, all of a sudden, after years of not checking in — despite my trying — they’re all like, ‘Hey, let’s Zoom! Let’s FaceTime,” says Westminster’s Elizabeth Carr, who is already busy enough trying to co-parent with her ex-husband while fundraising for a nonprofit. “No. Big fat nope.”
Yes, quarantine may have initially provided an excuse to rekindle a platonic flame with that long-lost Zumba instructor, but really, at this point, what else is there to say? Changing Zoom backgrounds to stills from “Tiger King” loses its luster after a while. And just how many times can one rehash the fruitless search for toilet paper, the longing for Lysol wipes, and the desire to run away from home? It’s too much Zoom and gloom.
But there’s guilt involved. Right now, we’re supposed to feel connected and united, to maintain social connections and to be emotionally available. And women are more apt to tend to those tasks to begin with — and also to feel badly when they fall short. How subversive, then, to bribe your child to scream from another room just so you can abandon your square. (Not that I’ve done this.)
“It feels like women are more prone to feeling guilty about this than men,” says Sarah Frenette, a Brookline psychotherapist who sees many women in her practice who are now grappling with balancing social relationships. “Many people are struggling with the pressure to connect virtually.”
The truth, though, is that we’re more stressed than ever. Many of us have kids to manage who are attempting online school for the first time. Some are caring for sick relatives, sick themselves, or just plain sick of the news. Others are staring at screens all day for work. Who wants to crack open a laptop yet again, only to be greeted with the disembodied faces of 10 people you met during a short-lived gym membership?
“I love the work Zooming and Google Hangouts for face-to-face interaction, but I had to cut my social zooming back because my eyes are so dry from all the screen time,” says Newton’s Perrin McCormick.
Your emotions may be running dry, too. Jessica Connelly, a therapist in Cambridge, says that people initially flocked to tech connections to recreate a sense of normalcy, but the novelty is wearing off as reality sets in.
“Zoom exhaustion is real,” she says. “People have begun reporting feeling extra fatigued by them, and feeling both connected and disconnected at the same time to dear friends and family during these meet-ups. This is because we have to use more internal resources to hyper-focus on visual cues when on a video call, as opposed to being in person, when we can read the room, communicate, and process from a full range of available body language. Videoconferencing is like having to stand at attention, all the time.”
That’s a tall order when you’d rather curl up in a ball and watch “Ozark.”
As such, it’s OK to bow out. Just as we’re all in this together, well, we’re all exhausted.
“Understand that videoconferencing is truly more fatiguing than socializing in real time, so give yourself compassion and permission to hop on a chat for a few minutes to say hello and then sign off, or to not schedule too many ‘events’ in one day or one week that require this level of hyper-focus,” Connelly says.
She likes apps such as Marco Polo, which allows users to swap video messages on their own time. Knitting, baking, or folding laundry while Zooming are also perfectly acceptable, she says.
Or just use virtual dependence to your advantage, like the burnt-out Charlestown woman who was invited to one too many Zoom birthday parties.
“Last night, my husband disconnected me from one and pretended it was our WiFi,” she admits.