May 16, 2020

An introvert's challenges in quarantine

I think of myself as an introvert. While I love interacting with people, my energy deteriorates quickly. 2 hours into a social gathering, I am ready to lock myself in a room that has no other human being in it. 

When the quarantine period, know as the circuit breaker in Singapore, started, I found myself quite calm and relaxed with fewer outings and much lesser social interaction. 

For an introvert, it is quite a pleasant surprise to find that there is no pressure to socialise anymore, from oneself or from other people. I would happily spend the weekend reading, writing, napping, exercising, eating good food, etc. 

However, I slowly started to socialise more over Zoom and phone calls. Given the time at hand, it didn't seem unreasonable to agree to online gaming sessions, phone catch ups, etc. 

I recently noticed that my social interactions in quarantine are the same in terms of hours as they were before quarantine. In some cases, my social interaction is now even higher than before because we are no longer limited to friends in our immediate geographic vicinity. In fact, socialising with friends nearby isn't so different logistically from socialising with friends living on the other side of the planet. 

As a result, I find myself with more socialising options every weekend, where people who live far away are as happy to hang out with me as the ones nearby. This wasn't always the case with my friends who live far away. Before Covid, they would have plenty going on with friends who lived nearby, therefore spending lesser time on relationships that require video calling from home on a Friday or Saturday night.

Another facet I've noticed is that social interactions tend to be more condensed and stressful online than they are in person. 2 hours of in person interaction feels like 1 hour of online interaction to me. When one meets a friend in person, there is no compulsion to fill every second with conversation. If you go out for a hike with a friend, for instance, silences are acceptable and there isn't a need for conversation the whole time. However, in an online conversation, it is awkward at best to be on the phone or a video call with each other without saying anything. 

Perhaps it would help if introverts like me were to change the medium of our social interactions such that they are less stressful. Personally, I am happy to have a text conversation spread across days or weeks, because that takes less energy from me than a phone or Zoom conversation. Some may also argue that we have the choice to say "no" to social interactions, but I think that can very quickly lead to dissatisfaction and loneliness, one that is not out of choice but out of compulsion as a consequence of repeated rejections to social interactions with friends. 

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