How to Have a Social Life While Practicing Social Distancing

Get the party started safely with a little creativity (and some tech magic).

iphones communicating: keep in touch when social-distancing
Photo: Yagi Studio/Getty Images

Now that literally everything is cancelled—your book club, your concert tickets, your spring break—you might be experiencing a little bit of cabin fever. But even if you're stuck indoors social distancing, there are still plenty of ways to get creative and stay in touch with the people you love—without putting anyone at risk of spreading (or developing) coronavirus. And Real Simple's resident manners expert, Catherine Newman, says that putting the effort in is absolutely essential. "I think that if we're healthy we should (if we can) try to communicate as much good cheer and generosity and optimism as we can," she advises.

Look for safe ways to connect “in person.”

Playdates and parties are definitely out, but there might be some ways to still connect with friends safely. With the weather getting warmer, you might be able to be out in your backyard and chat with your neighbor in their backyard—as long as you maintain a safe distance. (If you do that while you're both enjoying appetizers, it's practically a party.) Or follow the lead of the people of Italy, and plan a neighborhood-wide serenade from the windows and post it on apps like NextDoor or the group chat to get everyone in on the fun. Newman recommends waving (from afar) to anyone you pass on the street when you're out walking. "We are making a big effort to walk up and down the street waving and yelling hello to the people we see in their driveways or on their front steps," Newman says. "We are delivering meals, which folks can microwave to be safe, and we have been in active touch with our neighbors who live alone, figuring out what they need and how we can help. It is very reassuring, just the most basic human connections of greetings and checking in."

Find a good video chat platform.

The beauty of all the great tech at our disposal is that we can still "visit" with each other during quarantine—and you have plenty of options to choose from. (Just make sure you're following all the unwritten rules of social media when you do it!)

For Apple fans, FaceTime works great (and holds up to 32 people, if you really want to get a crowd going). But if you have an Android/Apple divide in the group, look for cross-platform options. Zoom holds 100 people, if you want to really throw a rager, and it's free for meetings up to 40 minutes long. (If someone wants to spring for a plan, you can have a 24-hour-long party for $14.99/month.) Google has Duo, its version for groups of eight, or Hangouts, which allows 25 on a video call, or 150 participants via text chat. Facebook Messenger video chats allow you to see up to six people—but include more than 50 altogether. Houseparty lets you have up to eight people in a party. And Skype calls can handle 50 people.

Of course, a good conversation can be nearly impossible to have with a group of 50, so stick with smallish groups (no more than eight) to allow the conversation to flow.

Size up your screen.

Phones are nice and portable, if you're planning to be active during a video call and need your tech to follow you. Some video chat devices, such as the Facebook Portal and the Google Nest Hub Max, have cameras that shift to follow you as you move around.

Larger screens (laptops, desktops, TVs, or tablets) enable you to see what's going on better—especially important if you have five or six different people you're connecting with online.

Bring a little joy.

Look for ways to connect that spread happiness. Newman's mother has been sending pictures of blooming trees (a sign of hope)—and a friend has been posting 20-second snippets of fun songs to encourage better hand-washing. And who doesn't love a daily dose of dog, cat, or baby adorableness—so go ahead and video or snap a shot of their exploits, if you're lucky enough to have one at home.

Mix it up.

Obviously, it's important to check in on your neighbors (and you might need to crowdsource a cup of sugar or help getting your kids set up for online learning), but this quarantine break could be the perfect time to reconnect with far-flung people you rarely see outside of social media. So gather a group of your college roommates, your cousins, your former bridesmaids, and reconnect. Maybe they can offer you a tour of the new(ish) house you haven't been able to visit, or you can simply spend the time reminiscing and planning an in-person get-together for once the coronavirus crisis has past.

Make it fun.

Set a theme for your virtual get-together. On Flashback Friday, have everyone break out the oldest ensemble in their closet, or set up a Talent Show Tuesday, where everyone shares their passions with the group—whether your yoga-loving colleague runs you through her favorite flow, your BFF shares her secrets for making macarons, or your niece walks you through the latest in TikTok choreography or plays the violin solo she's been working on. Some apps, like Houseparty, enable you to play games online together—or you can break out a trivia game and host your own Trivia Night.

Give your senior loved ones a little extra love.

Coronavirus is especially dangerous to people over 60, which makes your elderly folks less likely to get out and about and probably more in need of some socializing. Amazon's Echo Show is particularly easy to set up, and lets them simply ask Alexa to place a video call. If you are able and not sick, offering to run errands to pick up medications and food while they're isolating is a good idea. You can just leave everything on the porch for them, and consider using gloves and wiping off the packages with disinfectant wipes to minimize the odds of passing on the virus.

Don’t forget your friends who are in quarantine solo.

You may have a full house, but you likely have friends and family members who may be riding this out on their own. Check in with them daily via text or video messaging to make sure they're feeling well, and see if they want a little virtual company.

Enhance your quality time.

Just because you're stuck at home doesn't mean your book club can't still chat about the latest read (maybe one of our favorites from 2020 fits the bill)—or pick a great movie or TV show (you can find older flicks on IMDB TV for free if someone from your group doesn't have Netflix, Disney+, Prime, or Hulu access) and discuss its merits. Tip: If you connect via the Netflix Party Google Chrome Extension, you can synchronize the start of a Netflix movie or show of choice, so you can all rewatch your favorite movie together (just break out the popcorn!). If your friends love to cook, choose a recipe you're all going to try (like some of these recipes that use pantry staples), and you can chat while you eat. You may not be able to hug your pal—and your risotto may not quite measure up to what your friend produced—but it'll be the best way to still stay close in these challenging times.

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