Let’s Put the Social in Social Distancing

There are plenty of ways to have fun and maintain friendships without sharing space.

man and woman standing on either side of cones

Image via Getty/Martin Barraud

The age of social distancing is officially here. While just a few weeks ago, life in Boston was humming along more or less as normal, recently we’ve seen the city tack sharply and start doing, well, more or less what we’ve known for a while we should be doing: Staying home, washing our hands, and avoiding any unnecessary contact with people in the outside world. As the city and the state have taken increasingly tough stances to address the spread of the coronavirus, it’s become clear that most of us are going to be spending a lot more time at home (and that’s good!), and as a result, our social lives are going to change—a lot.

Changing doesn’t have to be ending, though. Sure, you really shouldn’t be going to a party (or the gym, what the hell is wrong with you people), but you can still connect with friends. In fact, given that you’re staring down an unknown period of social restriction, you might be more interested in connecting than ever. And the good news is that, with a little creative thinking you can. Here’s how.

Run with a Buddy—It doesn’t take long to start feeling cooped up in your apartment. Luckily, based on what we know now, it’s still safe to meet up with a buddy and go for a run—so long as you stay the appropriate six feet apart. (Harvard Medical School says this is still okay.) It’s an excellent way to shake off your cabin fever and check in with a friend face to face without having to touch anything. A jog gives you more than just a social boost, too: Experts say that 30-60 minutes of moderate to brisk exercise can help bolster your immune system. Between the Greenway and the Esplanade, there’s plenty of path to keep you busy. (If you get bored, check out our other favorite runs here.) If you want to get further from the crowds—and have a car—you can always drive out to the Blue Hills for a trail run and a great view of the city skyline.

Still, it’s worth taking precautions. Maybe just meet one healthy friend. And even though direct sunlight is thought to be effective at killing the virus on surfaces in relatively short order, don’t touch anything, including buttons at crosswalks, and definitely don’t touch your face, just to be safe. Finally, while exercise can help you stay healthy, overdoing it can leave you compromised, so don’t push too hard.

Not a runner? Well, now’s as good a time as any to start.

Get in a Twitter Fight—There are times when a crisis comes along and it makes us all reflect, seek out our better angels, and come together. Luckily, those times almost never happen on Twitter. Do you want to go back to feeling like everything is normal? Nostalgic for the days when people would level wild, unfounded ad hominem attacks at a stranger because, say, one person likes a different politician or has a bad opinion about Lana Del Ray? My friend, just fire up the old TweetDeck. Sure, you’ll probably end up reading some coronavirus news, but once you get past that, the dumb old times are still there. In many ways, they never ended.

Hang Out on FaceTime—Before the age of social distancing, I basically communicated by text with all but a very select few. Now, though, I’ve quickly cottoned to the wonder of video chatting. Sure, we can’t meet up at the bar and grab a drink, but there’s nothing to say we can’t still have a cup of tea (or something stronger) over our phones or laptops. It’s not quite the same, but it’s pretty nice! And you’re not limited to folks who live in your city, which means it’s a great time to catch up with friends who live far away. While during other moments in our busy lives, the connectivity of our tech can feel overwhelming, during the isolation of social distancing, being able to see the people who mean the most to you is a real comfort. Also, you don’t have to stop at just one friend. Get a whole party going. This might be the only kind of party we have for a bit, so might as well be an early adopter!

Make Playlists for Your Friends—Remember mix CDs? How you’d spend all that time futzing with the order of songs before you finally burned it and gave it to whoever it was that was worth spending all that effort on? Well, with time on your hands, you can tell your friends you’re thinking of them even if you can’t be in the same room by dusting off the ancient art of playlist making. You can surprise them with it or make it a group project and swap with a bunch of folks. Not only will it give you something to do, but you might end up listening to something other than whatever Spotify decides to put on your Daily Mix. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Fitness Pacts—Nothing makes you feel close like a shared project. It’s a way to experience the same thing, even when you’re not in the same place. And given how everyone is going to start feeling a little cooped up, get some endorphins pumping with a shared fitness challenge.

Now, this doesn’t have to be elaborate. For instance, my friend and I are doing 35 push-ups every day, just to have something other than the news to text about and keep on each other about. But you can get as intense about this as you want: This same friend and I created a whole diet and fitness tracking spreadsheet on google docs while we were training for a triathlon. Yes, that was crazy, but it did make us feel like we had a pretty good handle on just what the other’s life looked like on any given day. After all, nothing says intimacy like knowing how many cheat cookies someone ate in the middle of the night.

Start a Book Club—Let’s be honest: We’re all going to need something other than coronavirus to talk about very soon. So, instead of reading and then re-reading the same updates, get some friends together and crack into a book you’ve been meaning to read, and set up a time for a group Slack call to chat about it. It’s a worthy distraction from all of your news binging, and now that the internet has made us all public health specialists in the last week, you might as well move on to expanding your horizons in other ways. There are some great dystopian reading lists that have been curated of late, but if you really want to freak yourself out, this is a great (but actually terrible) time to read Stephen King’s The Stand, about, well, a pandemic. It’ll give you plenty to talk about!