Unexpected Consequences of Social Distancing

Have you been walking down the street lately, keeping at least six feet away from other people, and feeling like you’re a leper, a social undesirable, or the town’s local outcast? Have you been suffering these unexpected consequences of social distancing? Well, it’s been happening to me so, I thought I’d write about it.

Maybe by calling attention to it, we can all make the transformation of our future social re-engagement a lot faster, and our current walks and unavoidable shopping a lot more comfortable. So let’s rewire.social-distancing-girls-lisa-ryan

Social Distancing is Only Physical

For some unexplained reason, at least to me, when our brains accept the premise of social distancing, we are processing that term, that idea, as complete self-containment. Have you noticed how many of us are looking down when we’re walking?

Social distancing should not take away your morning cheer with a stranger or that friendly wave to an acquaintance. Nor should it make you feel like your presence is an imposition; it’s not. Despite knowing all this, we continue walking around like aliens. There is an eeriness going on outside when you take a simple stroll. One man has used the word surreal to me. Another avid walker told me she’s not enjoying her walks as much because she feels like others think she’s dangerous and contaminated.

Just yesterday, a woman felt the need to explain to me that she had to walk her dog. Seriously? This woman, who has been alienating herself in order to protect others, now thinks an explanation is required as to why she is practicing social distancing. Unfortunately, social separation has her feeling stigmatized. Acknowledging each other with a big grin will feel good to both of you. Even if you or they are wearing a mask, I think you can almost always feel a smile. Even from six-plus feet away.

Eye Contact is Not Contagious

You will not contract the virus from a COVID-19 carrier, let alone an uninfected person, simply because you look them in the eyes, as you always have. When you think about it, this is the MOST important time to make eye contact. People feel isolated enough as it is. Because some of us are wearing masks, hiding our smiles from view, we must rewire our thinking. Let’s relearn how to feel comfortable talking with our eyes and with our words.

Reconnect with your fellow walkers. It will feel good to you and it will warm others. A 6-foot berth is no need to make you feel stigmatized or to inadvertently marginalize another person when you’re just giving them adequate room to stay safe.

Waving Thank You is Not Catchy

I was letting someone enter into my lane on the Post Road today, and they looked almost too afraid to acknowledge their simple thanks. I could see him looking at me through the corner of his eye. The poor guy! Like many, his brain interpreted social distancing as an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s okay to still wave thanks from your car! I know you’re not sending the virus through my windshield!

People Don’t Think You’re Bad

I get that it feels pretty strange when someone goes to the other side of the street because they see you coming, but you can’t take it personally. Force yourself to say good morning or thank them for being the first to allow physical space for each of you. They’re showing you respect by following these guidelines for you, as much as for themselves.

Talking is Allowed

Each time I take a walk, I always try to holler out to a fellow walker, “Good morning!” Invariably, my greeting is responded to with warmth and almost relief that someone doesn’t think they’re nuclear waste matter.

I hope you all reload your brain to understand that social distancing has NOTHING to do with eye contact, a reassuring greeting, and/or a warm wave of thanks. Now, and maybe more than ever, we need to know we are not at all completely alone.



Lisa Ryan

Lisa Ryan

Lisa Ryan is a relationship expert based in Westport, CT.

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