Social Distancing? ‘I do not think it means what you think it means.’

by | Jun 10, 2020 | social distancing, 2020, mental health

Social Distancing. ‘I do not think it means what you think it means…’

With this pandemic (hi from 2020 if you’re reading this in the future) we’ve all had to come to terms with some strange things (toilet roll hoarding springs to mind) and learn some interesting new terms. Things like washing our hands correctly (it’s frightening how many people didn’t know how to do that), covering our mouths when we cough (again, frightening that people had to be reminded) and being respectful of personal space (again….do I need to say it?) have all been introduced as not only important, but essential to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. I mean, we should have been doing these things already but apparently not so, I suppose a reminder does no harm.

The most interesting term I’ve found is ‘social distancing’. Not because of the concept, the idea itself is sound and makes sense, but because I don’t think it’s quite the right word. Social distancing implies to me, that you cut yourself off from others, like an introvert might on occasion. That you don’t engage socially with others for whatever reason you choose. Is that what we’re really doing? I don’t think it is.

When talking with friends over Zoom, it took us ages to agree on a night to have a weekly quiz as many of their nights were already filled. One even said, ‘I’ve got a better social life now than I did before!’. So if this is true and we’re talking to friends and making an effort to stay in touch more, then how can we be socially distancing? The fact that we even have a weekly quiz is evidence to the contrary because we didn’t do that before. We all live in different cities and countries and stay connected over Whatsapp and Facebook, but the pandemic and ensuing lockdown have given us this desire to connect more. We’ve even started a book club. 

Social distancing is I think, a misnomer. The Government and the medical professionals want us not to touch each other and stay at least 2 metres apart, which makes sense as the virus appears to be quite contagious (don’t I know it!). We don’t go into each other’s houses, schools have been closed to contain the risk and the tourism industry has almost ground to a halt. I haven’t hugged another human being in weeks. Yet I feel more connected to others than I did. Now that we can’t show our affection by casual hugs and stray kisses, we’re making a concerted effort to find other ways. 

I live alone and I mentioned to an acquaintance on a zoom call that I was struggling at the beginning of the lockdown with the lack of human contact. A week or so later I received a card through the post from her, sympathising and wishing she could give me a hug but hoping that the card would make me smile. It did. I unexpectedly received a bouquet of flowers from another friend which I found so incredibly thoughtful. When I asked friends if they could send me pictures of their babies as I was missing them growing up, they obliged almost immediately. We’re making more of an effort to be social and be connected than ever.

So is social distancing the right term? No, I don’t think it is. If I had to pick one, I’d say we’re physically distancing but that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well. I do think that the term physical distancing would have had a better effect on our mental health however. When it was first introduced back in March the idea for me, being by myself (cue Celine), was horrendous. Being cut off from all social interaction, really, truly being alone. I wanted to cry. If they had said physical distancing however, that may not have been my first thought. It’s a simple change but words have such power that we don’t realise. 

So for now, I’m going to continue calling it physical distancing because my social life is great! Plus I’m saving money on petrol, I rarely put makeup on (my skin likes me again) and I live in leggings and comfy t-shirts. What more could a girl ask for!

If you’re really, really interested then check out these links and get ready to be blasted with some very scientific (or not) terminology all about the so-called ‘social distancing’.