Coronavirus

Now We Just Virtually Drop in on Our Friends All the Time

Maybe we can't all be together physically, but we can sure as hell show up on one another's screens.


Ilustration by Nadia_bormotova for Getty Images

The other day, I sat down to answer an email I’d been meaning to respond to for a week. Just as I opened my laptop, my friend Julie appeared on my phone — on FaceTime — unscheduled. A few short weeks ago, I would never have answered a spontaneous FaceTime call.

But now? All bets are off. I answered right away.

All of my hangouts used to be scheduled — or at the very least, a FaceTime call hinged on texting first. Last year, I wrote an essay about how my friends and I were all so busy that usually the only way we could get together was to plan a dinner six weeks ahead.

At the time, I knew why we were so over-scheduled — we were getting older, and our responsibilities (work, kids, time with spouses, after-work hustles) ate up our free time. But, I realized, that modern life pace left little time when I wasn’t being productive: a barre class to make me stronger, an informative podcast to make me smarter, a lunch where I talked about my next story, a brief happy hour with friends where I would probably check my e-mail.

I was working all the time. Even when I wasn’t working.

These days, six weeks ahead feels like a lifetime away in a world with a suddenly unknowable future. I’m planning virtual happy hours for next Wednesday that feel recklessly far ahead. And the way I approach life feels different too.

When the world feels like it’s ending, everything is suddenly immediate. The previous rules of etiquette — where a random FaceTime call is something I would absolutely ignore, much less inflict upon someone else — simply do not apply.

We’ve all been stopped in our tracks. As my friend in South Philly texted me, “It’s like God pressed pause.” And, as silly as it sounds, it’s exactly like that.

All of the career and life things I had been so busy about doing — and doing on a tight schedule, thank you very much — suddenly feel kind of pointless and inconsequential. Now, my calendar is completely blank. And I don’t care. All I want to do is talk to my friends.

Sitting at home making FaceTime calls like there’s no tomorrow is a luxury I don’t take lightly. I’m luckier than most. I have enough food, and shelter, and for now at least, a job that allows me to work from home. Many people, including my friends and family, have already lost employment, don’t have their basic needs met, or are on the front lines risking their lives.

But now, more than ever, human contact and connection — virtual as it may be — can be a lifeline helping keep us all afloat. When my friend who’s a nurse in New Jersey calls me to tell me how she can’t stop crying, I can’t be there for her in a physical sense, but I can emotionally.

“As a nurse you want to take care of your patients, be present with them, comfort them, and we literally cannot,” she tells me. “So not only are they sick, they’re alone. It’s heartbreaking.”

I can’t understand what going through that is like. But for now, thanks to technology, I can try to support her to the best of my ability. I’m able to FaceTime or text her, first to listen and empathize, and later to make jokes with her about sourdough starters, which have suddenly become much funnier to us than they would be in other times.

And it’s not just her I’m talking to more. Now, even though everyone I know, myself included, is varying degrees of scared, depressed, and apprehensive, I virtually drop in on my friends and family with surprising regularity. No one needs to schedule a video call (though we do for group hangs and “virtual happy hours”); we’re mostly all home, all the time. And, we should talk. We don’t know anymore that tomorrow is promised.

So, now, I FaceTime my friends without notice. I call in off-moments: when I’m done with the writing that it gets harder and harder to focus on, when I’m feeling down and scared, when I’m feeling fleeting instances of joy because I downloaded MarioKart on my phone or I made chocolate chip cookies and found a bottle of wine. I see their faces on the screen and I’m reminded of everything I love, why it matters, and, perhaps most importantly, why I don’t want to lose it.

The situation at hand is dark, invoking some degree of dread and grief for almost everyone — grief for the sick and dying, and for the world we had before all of this. But grief and pain also put things into perspective. I’m suddenly talking to everyone I care about more than I ever normally did. I’m reminded in this desperate time of what life is actually about. Life is about people. Happiness is about people.

We talk about our pets’ weird habits and our boredom and our fear, and I’m reminded of ordering hot wings and too much pizza in a big group on a Friday; of lying in the backyard tipsy and lazy and talking about our futures; of how much my mom makes me laugh; of how my brother is truly a fantastic singer.

And whether it’s a five-minute check-in with a new pal or an hour chat with an old friend, listening to how shitty they’re doing right now and how scared they are for their Grandpa Joe, and maybe making them laugh for a second reminding them about that time in high school when they fell off that chair — that’s it. That’s the life stuff. That’s the stuff that makes anything we do worth doing.

And I hope one day — when I can see the people I love in front of me again and not just on a screen — that’s exactly the stuff I’ll continue holding on to.