Once upon a time in March, a novel cousin of SARS became the terrifying forefront of my thoughts at the exclusion of all else. Coronavirus took hold of the world and now more than ever has us tightly in its grasp. Most of what we talk about involves coronavirus. We can no longer pass the Coronavirus Bechdel Test. We are a species galvanized by a common crisis in a way that is both refreshing to see and agonizingly discouraging in its rarity.
I feel that undercurrent of fear that unsettles animals moments before an earthquake and have been unable to shake it for weeks. And the rumbling is getting louder. But now other people are starting to hear it and heed its warning, though with it comes its own often terrible price.
Thanks to social distancing, we’re all feeling the ache of loneliness. But we live in the future and it’s never been easier to connect in the digital world while the real one is ravaged by the novel coronavirus.
You probably haven’t heard, but a few weeks ago, an obscure little simulator game franchise called Animal Crossing released a new title, Animal Crossing: New Horizons. And the timing really couldn’t have been better. The game is all about building up your own personal desert island getaway while also connecting with your friends and their islands. Much like the Pokemon Go mania of 2016, for a week or two it seemed like the whole world existed only in Animal Crossing. Companies are having work meetings in the game. People are getting married in the game. You can even download art from the Getty museum website to build an art gallery for your cartoon island paradise.
Animal Crossing is one beautiful example of how games bring us together, even when we can’t be together physically, but it’s not the only game you can play remotely with people. We have a library of games at our fingertips, you and I, ranging from the free and familiar Uno and Words With Friends to the Jackbox party games you can play with all sorts of people. There’s even a virtual Cards Against Humanity website where you can host games for friends and strangers.
Of all the ways to spend quality time with someone, playing games is one of the most enriching. Your bodies and brains sync up when you play a game with someone, no matter how close you are to them, physically or emotionally. If you wanna know more about the science, check out Jane McGonigal’s book SuperBetter, which I’m a little obsessed with.
Do Things Together While Apart
Okay, so you can’t surprise your significant other with a cake on their birthday. But could you surprise them with a care package of the (non-perishable) ingredients and a cute recipe card with the directions to bake their own? If you can’t go to the cinema together to see the new Fast and Furious movie, could you maybe watch YouTube videos together? How about sharing some music together? If you’ve got downloaded videos, Syncplay can help you and your partner watch them together remotely.
Take a Google Maps street view walk together through the streets of Dublin, or virtually tour any number of museums. Read books together using the Libby app and your respective local libraries. Hell, host a party over Zoom. That one The Office dude just hosted a 2020 prom over Zoom for teens all across America with live music and that other The Office dude. Surely you can handle a casual mixer with you and the lads.
Take a Class Online Together
One cute date idea in the Before Times was to take a class together, be it baking or ballroom dancing, because it was something you could bond over together while also gaining a new skill. There’s nothing stopping you from doing a virtual version of that; in fact, it may even be easier!
MOOC compendiums like Coursera are offering loads of free certifications for courses in things like programming and psychology, but there’s no reason you can’t just audit things for fun, either.
If boring nerd shit classes aren’t really your thing, how about fitness classes? Planet Fitness has been hosting daily “work-ins,” which you can view on Facebook and YouTube. You can join them live or watch them later. Pair it with a phone or video call with your workout buddy and you’re off to the races. Or whatever we’re going to do instead of races now that we can’t go out in groups anymore.
Enjoy Some Alone Time
Like it or not, one of consequences of social distancing is isolation. You’re going to be alone more than usual. This isn’t a problem for me, a self-described hermit who very much lives up to the name. Were it not for my mom and sister (both of whom I live with), I’d have zero meaningful social connections, and that’s not hyperbole.
But being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. Being alone can actually be a beautiful and lovely thing. When you’re alone, you don’t have to compromise on what to eat for dinner or what TV show you want to watch. You don’t have to socially check yourself or wait for other people to stop talking or hold in your farts or do anything you don’t want to do. With solitude comes a unique and exhilarating freedom.
We’re going to be in the coronavirus trenches for a very long time. I’d wager at least for the rest of the year. If you’re uncomfortable with being alone, now might be the time to start working on that. Go for walks. Start a diary. Meditate. Find things that fill your cup that don’t require multiple people.
Use this time as a chance to see what you look like when you strip all those social expectations layers off your body. You might be amazed by how much lighter you feel.
As a final note, I know things are hard right now, and that life is terrible. I don’t want misery and woe to be the only things we think about, either. We need some smile times. We need to remember there’s a world out there worth fighting for, even when the fighting involves crushing and horrible isolation and unprecedented economic turmoil. Things suck. They really suck. And it’s okay if you’re despairing a little. I am too, man.
But that’s why we’ve sift especially hard for nuggets of happiness right now. Rejoice in little victories. Cherish moments spent with people you love. Get as much fresh air and sunlight as you can.
And for fuck’s sake, wash your hands.
Stay safe, everyone.