You’d think that a global pandemic forcing people to stay in their homes and away from social gatherings would be an introvert’s dream come true. But as society adapts to this new, strange normal and increasingly embraces video chats for meetings and get togethers, that’s not necessarily the case.
[A]s people began to adjust to isolation, they started to find ways to bring their outside social lives into their homes. Living rooms that were once a sanctuary from people-filled offices, gyms, bars, and coffee shops became all those things at once. Calendars that had been cleared by social distancing suddenly refilled as friends, family, and acquaintances made plans to sip “quarantinis” at Zoom happy hours, hold Netflix viewing parties, or just catch up over Google hangouts.
People are coping with the coronavirus pandemic by upending their lives and attempting to virtually re-create what they lost. The new version, however, only vaguely resembles what we left behind. Everything is flattened and pressed to fit into the confines of chats and video-conference apps like Zoom, which was never designed to host our work and social lives all at once. The result, for introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between, is the bizarre feeling of being socially overwhelmed despite the fact that we’re staying as far away from each other as we can.
Turning down invitations to talk to people during a global pandemic can simultaneously be needed self-care and something that makes you feel like a bad friend. After all, how do you tell your group chat of college friends that you just need a night alone at home when you’re alone at home all the time?
I’ve been working from home for three weeks now — has it really been three weeks already? — and our kids have been homeschooled for almost that long. And it’s definitely been an adjustment. It’s hard to find a place to retreat from everyone in our house when everyone is around all the time.
I hit something close to rock bottom during week two of working from home. I felt overwhelmed and claustrophobic by the near-constant social interaction, not to mention the non-stop stream of bad pandemic-related news. Which naturally left me feeling guilty because this is my family we’re talking about. Why should my wife and kids, who I love more than anyone on this planet, be so taxing? What kind of husband and father does that make me?
I’ve come to realize that one of the most difficult things for me in this pandemic — acquiring toilet paper aside — is that I’m no longer able to easily compartmentalize the different aspects of my life. I miss being able to leave my house and drive to work, and leave home stuff behind. Likewise, I miss being able to leave the office and work stuff behind, and re-enter home life. I didn’t realize how much I relied on having different “life modes” that I could switch between until all of those modes were smashed together, and the boundaries between them erased.
(Of course, I’m not alone in this. Even as I work from home full-time now, my wife has transitioned into a full-time educator role. She was already homeschooling our oldest, which has helped smooth her transition somewhat. Still, having all of our kids home now has erased the various boundaries and modes that she’d established and enjoyed.)
Along with the lack of compartmentalization comes a harder time juggling my obligations to my family and my job and determining where one ends and the other begins. If I’m working from home, and a schooling or discipline issue arises with one of our kids, do I drop what I’m doing and intercede? How often can I do that before my ability to fulfill my obligations as an employee are impaired? Conversely, how fair is it to my family if I sequester myself in my office and let my wife deal with everything that comes up — despite being just a closed door and several stairs away?
I suspect that many of us are asking such questions right now. We’re all doing the best we can, trying to find the answers that work best for our respective situations. Answers that may still be awhile in coming.
Back to the issue of introversion, it’s helpful to remember that introverts don’t simply hate all social interactions. Indeed, there are some social interactions that I’m really missing these days.
I miss going to church and worshipping together in the same room with my friends. We’re worshipping and praying together via YouTube and Zoom these days, and while such interactions have value — God is still glorified whether we worship in a sanctuary surrounded by stained glass windows or in a living room surrounded by unfolded laundry — it’s not the same. We’re physical, embodied creatures designed for physical, embodied community. We’re designed to worship, pray, laugh, celebrate, weep, and mourn together. Virtually is the safest way to do those things right now, but it’s not the ideal.
I also really miss my bi-weekly Dungeons & Dragons sessions. We’re still meeting virtually, using Zoom and Roll20, and I still look forward to our sessions as one of the week’s highlights. As is the case with church, though, virtual sessions may be necessary right now, but they just aren’t the same as gathering around the same table, enjoying food and drink, and slinging some dice.
Needless to say, when this coronavirus pandemic has passed, this introvert will have a newfound appreciation for Sunday morning worship and Thursday night dungeon-delving.