I’m not sure how it’s going for you reintegrating into society – but last week was my first time in close proximity to strangers. I was so discombobulate, I left my credit card at the same cafe – twice. In the span of two days.
While that’s somewhat funny, it also made me acutely aware that as a species, we need to relearn and rekindle intimacy and social connection. It seems the pandemic made me completely forget how to be a human in front of other humans.
The Loss of Human Connection
It’s really a pretty devastating realization. Particularly being the founder of an institute that teaches people about how to have better relationships. It’s quite literally my job to help people with intimacy. Lucky for me, it’s also my job to teach people how to not be too hard on themselves, so I gave myself a break for being rusty. I also gave myself the benefit of the doubt that I could get back out there again.
As a woman who is single and dating in a metropolitan city, that’s exactly what I will have to do. It’s also quite different from what many of my clients are dealing with post-pandemic. In a recent session with a heterosexual couple, the wife confided, “You know that NYT article about languishing? Yeah, that’s exactly where we are with our intimacy.”
He chimed in, “We’ve spent so much time together, but we have almost no intimate time. The kids are here all the time. It’s like we forgot how to have sex with each other.”
“C’mon,” she laughed, “It’s like riding a bike.”
But I could see what she didn’t – her husband rolling his eyes skeptically.
The Pandemic Made Us Form New Habits
I was a bit skeptical too, because rekindling intimacy, your sex life, your dating life, or your social life is wholly different than riding a bike. We are creatures of habit.
And in this pandemic, a whole new set of habits were formed by necessity. We needed to avoid getting sick and getting others sick. To take care of the needs of the larger human family, we put our intimate and social lives on hold. It was the right thing to do.
Now, we are all faced with the fallout from a year of being more internal, more video-dependent, more bored, and perhaps more oriented around work. We have self-soothed with food, media, alcohol and whatever else we needed to do to deal with this unexpected and colossal shift in our everyday lives.
Even as an extravert, there were some things that were nice about it. I had absolutely no FOMO, there was nothing to miss out on. I felt no pressure to do anything in particular – except keep my business running. If I wanted to lay in bed all day, I could – with very little guilt involved.
Today, I’m feeling the inertia of the shut-down, of the social distancing, of the real fear of connection that came from fearing illness. If you are feeling it too, be gentle on yourself. We are all facing the barriers and habits inside of ourselves that formed in this last year. And, I think we will need to make a conscious effort to get back out there.
How to Rekindle Intimacy after COVID
Yet this pandemic year imposed boundaries on us that were not our own. Now, we must get back in touch with ourselves. We must begin to sort our own boundaries and desires from those that we needed to take on in order to be responsible citizens. We need to get back in touch with our longing for rekindling intimacy, connection, and playfulness out in the world.
This is not about “shoulds” and pressure – shifting back into connecting will take time and patience with ourselves. At the same time, you may find that there is a bit of a mountain to climb. You might feel the drive and the desire to reconnect – while at the same time feeling the safety and comfort of the habits.
You probably won’t be able to climb this mountain without help. If you are single, find yourself a partner in crime. Someone who will help you be accountable to getting back out in the world. Or who will take turns with you, dragging each other out of the safety of your cozy caves. Even as a couple you may need an outside nudge. On the video call with the couple I worked with I said, “Ok, guys – get your calendars out. You’re going on a one-night couple’s trip.”
I’m rarely this directive with my clients, but we scheduled their overnight without the kids right then and there. For the first time in a while, I saw some lightness come into their eyes. She sighed, “It feels really good to have something to look forward to.”