A 20-something extrovert’s guide to social distancing

By Christian Goodwin

It began as a thought experiment over dinner two weeks ago. Wouldn’t it be a chilling sci-fi story, if there was a pandemic that was deadly to older people, but ignored by young people because they thought they were immune?

I shrugged it off as an apocalyptic-dread scenario. The next day I woke up to an email informing me that my grandparents’ nursing home was ground-zero for a coronavirus outbreak in New Orleans. It was an outbreak that authorities suspect began in late February during Mardi Gras and may have been exacerbated by community spread of the virus.

My stomach dropped. I had been at Mardi Gras, partying on the streets, celebrating with relatives and old friends, having a damn good time practicing what could only be described as “anti-social distancing.” Had I unintentionally spread the disease? Had I contributed to an outbreak that has now crippled the city’s hospitals? I sheepishly thought of the countless Snapchats and stories I saw of people continuing to party through the weekend, despite officials begging people to stay home.

Since then, I’ve seen numerous articles and posts from people shaming their neighbors for continuing to go out and socialize, lamenting that some seem unwilling to stay home even as stricter measures come into effect. But even as I anxiously watched the number of confirmed cases climb in my grandparents’ facility, I couldn’t help but think: I totally get it.

For many young extroverts, especially those like me in urban, white-collar jobs, our lives don’t revolve around homes — or didn’t just two weeks ago. We thrive on experiences. Many of us don’t own cars or houses. We travel more. We move into shoebox apartments with multiple roommates because we want to be a part of specific communities (or because it’s the only way to afford rent). We trade private space for communal ones, living rooms for coffee shops and bars, the same bars that in many places are now shuttered. Our social lives happen in these shared spaces. For anyone with this lifestyle, social distancing feels a lot like giving up our living rooms.

For many young extroverts, especially those like me in urban, white-collar jobs, our lives don’t revolve around homes — or didn’t just two weeks ago.

My home is no different. My small Boston apartment has more people than chairs and tables, and I saw my future life repurposing the microwave as a standing desk. I’ve heard similar stories from my friends, struggling to take calls from their pantries or retreating to bathrooms to find some private space. And we’re the lucky ones, who still have jobs and can work from home.

If you spent the day taking conference calls from your bathtub, you’d want to commiserate and kvetch with friends.

So in short, I get it. Social distancing sucks. It presents unique challenges for those of us whose lifestyles are built on social spaces. But, at least for now, it’s exactly what we need to do.

Social distancing sucks…But, at least for now, it’s exactly what we need to do.

Unfortunately, virtual pats-on-the-back from government officials and academics are unsatisfying, and we might need to keep making those sacrifices for a while. So if you’re one of those city dwellers living with three roommates in a cramped apartment, what can you do? How can you stay sane and keep yourself from killing your roommates (hypothetically, of course)?

We don’t have to cut ourselves off from the world. There are endless articles on how to socialize while social distancing (like this piece from WireCutter and this piece from the Atlantic), but here are a few additional suggestions:

  • Take your weekly events online. We’re the digital generation, so we should be leading the charge for digital connection. Take your meals with friends online. If you play trivia or have a board game night, try making it virtual. Every trivia group has someone who always says they could “totally be a trivia master,” so this is an excellent opportunity to call your friend’s bluff.
  • Get outside — just keep your distance from other people. Social distancing doesn’t mean you need to stay on your couch for the foreseeable future. Explore that new park down the road. Go for a jog. Get your bike out. Or if that’s too much activity, just sit and watch the greenery slowly return to the world.
  • Check out all the streaming events. Whether you’re looking for theater, comedy, or live music, there are tons of famous performers taking their talents online. While sports and festivals might be cancelled, it has never been easier to access some amazing performances.
  • Finally, (and perhaps counterintuitively) get online. Human beings are awesome. From Reddit to Twitter, people are sharing creative and inspiring ways to stay connected and weather this storm. Challenge your friends and families to find new ways to stay connected.

So no, I’m not excited about continuing to give up face-to-face happy hours and dinners, or my favorite bars and restaurants being closed. I’m not thrilled about the number of awkward conference calls and video meetings ahead. But, I’m relieved that there’s at least something I can do to change the trajectory of what’s happening around the world and be a part of the solution. And that is, to stay home.

Do it to protect yourself, do it to protect the people like our health care workers who can’t stay home, and do it to protect people like my grandparents who may be the most at risk.

Do your part. Do it to protect yourself, do it to protect the people like our health care workers who can’t stay home, and do it to protect people like my grandparents who may be the most at risk. By coming together on staying apart, we can have a direct influence on saving lives.

Since joining Ariadne Labs in 2017, Christian Goodwin has worked on a variety of projects and in a variety of roles. He currently serves as a research assistant on the Science & Technology Platform, where he supports the Spreading Teamwork Training Project, the Primary Health Care team, and the Systems Expansion project.

Header illustration by Alexandra Romanova / iStock

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