Social Engagement, Virtual and Otherwise12
July 3, 2020 by Jean
Almost four months into our new pandemic reality, I feel as though I’m finding a rhythm as I try to stay socially engaged while safeguarding my health. I thrive on solitude, so spending a lot of time alone has not been a big change for me. What has changed is how I manage to connect with others to ensure that solitude does not turn into social isolation.
Four months ago, I had barely heard of Zoom; now it has become an important part of my life. My most satisfying Zoom experiences have been courses that I’ve taken at the local Senior College. These classes work because they are kept small (at most a dozen students, and often smaller), because they last for two hours with a 5-minute break in the middle, and because they provide opportunities for students to interact with one another and with the instructor. Most of these courses also last for several weeks, which creates an opportunity for people to get to know one another. In my “Genealogy for Beginners” class, which lasted for six weeks, students all became familiar with one another’s interests and projects. I connected so well with one member of the class that, although I have never met her in person, we had quite a number of friendly email exchanges outside of class. If I were to find myself in a class with her again, I would greet her as a friend.
Because I’ve had good experiences with Zoom in the Senior College classes, I’ve also used it for some informal social visits with friends and family. I’ve had one-on-one conversations with several friends via Zoom, and one Saturday afternoon, two old friends and I had a nice long, chatty visit. One weekend I hosted an online “open house” where friends were invited to drop in (and about half a dozen did); another weekend, I hosted a similar gathering for family members. These social visits have been fun, and I’ve left them feeling as though I really did have a chance to get together and interact with others. I like the fact that you can have a multi-way conversation and that you can see people’s facial expressions and body language as well as hear their voices.
I don’t think virtual social engagement is enough, though, especially for those of us who live alone and don’t have opportunities for in-person interaction with others in the course of our daily lives at home. The year I retired, knowing that my love of solitude put me at risk for social isolation, I made a rule for myself that I had to arrange at least one extended in-person form of social engagement per week. Over the years, as my various activities (Senior College, Master Gardener Volunteering, classes at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, my choral singing group, my retirees book group, my solo seniors support group) provided lots of in-person social engagement, that rule became superfluous. As all those in-person forms of social engagement disappeared with the pandemic, however, I realized I needed to reinstate the rule.
In early spring, my in-person interactions mostly took the form of outdoor walks with friends on wide trails where we could have a conversation while keeping six feet from one another and from others using the trail. As the weather got nicer, I started to have more visits with friends in driveways and on decks and porches – always with six feet or more between us and with both of us wearing masks. In May, my four-person book group began to meet again for social visits, usually on a deck where we could arrange our chairs at least six feet apart and with everyone wearing masks. In June, we met to discuss a book for the first time since February. All of these in-person interactions have been very satisfying and good for my mental health.
This week, I’ve added one more form of social interaction. Summer is usually the time of year when I entertain by having others over for lunch or brunch or afternoon tea on my screened porch, and I’ve decided that it’s safe to do that, one person at a time. If I have a friend sit at the table, and I set myself up with a tray table at the diagonally opposite corner of the porch, we can be 7’ apart, which is at least as far apart as strangers are at outdoor dining venues. It’s strawberry season in Maine, so I’m reinstituting outdoor entertaining with strawberry shortcake. I bought a quart of ripe strawberries from a local farmer, bought some heavy cream for whipping, and made some shortcake biscuits. Yesterday, I shared half of this delectable seasonal treat with a friend; this afternoon, I shared the other half with a different friend. It’s wonderful to share food with another person for the first time since my book group had lunch together in March. I may buy another quart of strawberries at the farmers’ market this weekend and do it again with two more friends next week.
Category: health, Living, Social relationships, Time/Activities | Tags: COVID-19 pandemic, health, living alone, Maine Senior Colleges, social engagement, social isolation, social relationships, well-being
12 thoughts on “Social Engagement, Virtual and Otherwise”
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I’m glad to hear you’re being so proactive—but it’s YOU, so I’m hardly surprised! Wish I could sit on your porch, talk and eat strawberries—sounds lovely! I just got back to Pennsylvania after six months’ sabbatical in Alabama, researching Civil Rights museums. It was a wonderful trip—.if strange! But I do as almost 24/7 with my 13 year old son. Now that he’s at his dad’s, and I’m having some much needed alone time, I find I’m missing him a lot!! Best wishes! You’re a wonderful inspiration! Xxoo
Susan, I’m glad to know that your sabbatical project wasn’t completely disrupted by COVID restrictions and closures. Did you have to do a two-week quarantine after you traveled back to PA?
No quarantine. It’s all so loosey goosey! But I’m not really around anyone except my son who was with me anyway. It’s his birthday today—Fourth of July baby!!😁
I am so glad you have a variety of friends. Unfortunately, I have only one friend who is extremely hard of hearing and not well. I have found that it is very difficult cultivating friends as an older person living alone, but you have become a master. I do appreciate your sharing some interesting ideas especially related to Zoom.
Andrea, It is particularly difficult not to be able to visit friends who are not well. Here in Maine, all the retirement communities and long-term care facilities are locked down and not allowing any visitors.
I am lucky that I have found it surprisingly easy to make new friends during this stage of my life — I think because retirement freed up time for me to be involved with many activities, and each activity brings a whole new set of people with it.
I love your spirit and the way you adapt. I’m not at all surprised by how pro-active you are to staying social while staying safe.
Jean, I’ve always been a person who copes with stress by coming up with an action plan, so the proactive approach is just about second nature for me.
Try doing any of these activities when you have gearing loss. Masks block all communication and if off being 6 feet apart also adds to the lack of communication. You are lucky you can hear
Salander, I actually do have some hearing loss. Fortunately, it was diagnosed early enough that hearing aids have really helped and so far have arrested further deterioration of my hearing. I have the most trouble in noisy settings (trying to talk to people in restaurants with loud background music is just about impossible) and on the telephone. Three of the four members of my book group wear hearing aids, but we have somehow managed to communicate even with masks and from 6′ distances (although I suspect the person in our group with the most severe hearing loss misses chunks of the conversation). I find Zoom to have particular advantages in compensating for my hearing loss. Since the Zoom room is virtual, we don’t need masks; and, unlike the telephone, I can see people’s mouths as they speak, which helps my comprehension a lot.
Not needing a mask and being able to see facial expression would give my deaf ear some support (I loath telephone conversations!)
Diana, Have people in South Africa been using Zoom? It has become ubiquitous in the United States.
Yes – also being used for business meetings. (But I much prefer to read, and write)