People Are Finding Ways to Maintain Friendships Without Violating Social Distancing

Amidst the larger issues facing our country and world because of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as food fears, the possibility of contracting the disease ourselves, and the ominous thought of losing a loved one, a more insidious effect of social distancing and quarantining is loneliness. While many are blessed to have immediate family to keep us company, some live alone. And even those of us who have others in our households have suddenly gone from lifestyles that involved visiting family, going out to dinner or seeing a movie or show with friends, and concerts and picnics in the park, to one of staying home and binge-watching the entirety of Netflix while eating the entirety of our snack stash. Even if you’re with the people you love most in the world, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to see anyone else ever.

Some people are just being reckless and ignoring government guidelines. Though to be fair, that’s been true since the beginning of this, and as time goes on the discontent is definitely growing. So much so that even the folks who sensibly maintain their distance are finding creative ways to socialize without literally rubbing elbows. They may not be able to exchange hugs, handshakes, or even fist bumps, but people are finding ways to be together without being together.

One method a small but growing number of people are employing is the parking lot lunch date, also known as the cop date. It’s simple. If it’s a mealtime meeting, everyone involved goes through a drive-through, gets carry-out, or even brown bags it, and meets at an appointed time in an empty parking lot—those are remarkably easy to find lately—and parks in a configuration where everyone is far enough apart to be safe but everyone can see and talk to everyone else. If the party is a real date with only two meeting, side-by-side works. With three, it gets a little trickier, but a basic equilateral triangle fits the bill. Four would obviously be a square. It’s not clear if a group of five staying in their cars could park close enough to hear each other, but it might be fun to try.

But even that much contact might feel a little too risky for some, so another activity growing in popularity is the online get-together. Using platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Facetime, Skype, or House Party, people are going beyond their online staff meetings and carrying on with happy hour and other fun engagement activities, albeit remotely.

Hilary Fankhauser, originally from the MOV but working with a law firm in Houston, not only participates in international meetings for business but also enjoys online mixers that don’t involve business. “We also have had one or two happy hours at the end of each workday with no agenda other than to catch up.” She doesn’t feel like it’s quite the same as hanging out with friends in real life. “Conversation definitely does not flow as naturally as in a conference room.” She lamented that the ability to sit and chat with someone is hindered when all are talking online at once. But it’s definitely better than the alternative. “It’s been nice to see each other’s faces and be able to catch up, rather than just sending work-related emails all day.”

It’s not the same, we don’t feel as closely connected… but it’s better than nothing.

Informal groups, such as church support groups and care groups are moving online as well. Amy Medley and her husband David get together with three other couples from First Baptist Church of Williamstown every other week for fellowship. “We have a time of sharing our highs and lows of the two weeks and also have been doing studies via RightNow Media and we discuss our takeaways from those.” She also feels it’s not quite like being together in the same room with everyone, but she is glad they aren’t losing the chance to meet altogether. “It’s not the same, we don’t feel as closely connected and we have a bit of a time constraint with only meeting for an hour (we normally do two) but it’s better than nothing.”

Some get together just to spend time with friends, both far and near. Chandra DeBarr of Parkersburg gets together with friends, sometimes via Zoom, but others using an app called House Party, which has built-in games. She doesn’t find the lack of personal proximity off-putting at all. “I think it’s because I am comfortable with everyone and because the people I have zoomed with will call you out on anything, so you aren’t worried that you’re sitting there with a booger out your nose or something. They will tell you.” Alexis Ploeger Barton of Parkersburg has used Zoom for informal visits with friends as well, and she has found them to be quite comfortable. “It’s was great,” she said. “We had beverages. We are fairly close pals so it was very natural.”

I was just really impressed at how well thought out and put together it was considering the circumstances.

Even celebrations, such as birthday parties and wedding showers have moved online. Mary Blaker of Parkersburg attended a shower for her future sister-in-law in such a way. It had everything most showers have except cake and punch, and it seemed to come off without a hitch despite not everyone being in the same room—or even the same state. “I was just really impressed at how well thought out and put together it was considering the circumstances.” As others have also said, Blaker would have really preferred to have been together, but it was certainly better than losing the festivities outright. And she doesn’t see this format replacing face-to-face parties anytime soon. “I’m a people person to a certain extent and I like talking with people. I enjoy the socializing before and after maybe more so than the shower part, so I like in-person showers best.”

As the quarantine lingers, people will likely feel even more keenly the need to reach out and fellowship with their friends and loved ones. If the desire is too strong and we give in to the temptation to break social distancing guidelines, we run the risk of being right back at the beginning of this battle again, so let’s hope folks continue to find creative ways to be with friends while still maintaining safety.