Here’s Why Video Chat Dates With Friends Are a Good Idea

I say this without a hint of self-deprecation: I am not an effortless beauty. When I look great, it’s because I’ve worked hard to appear that way. My skin doesn’t glow first thing in the morning, and my hair doesn’t do cute messy buns. As I type this, I am wearing faded leggings, smudged eyeglasses, and my favorite hoodie. My love of being a happy little house-gremlin is why no one could get me on a video call—up until a few weeks ago, that is. I’d text you all day, and I’d chat on the phone, but Skype sessions, FaceTime calls, and Google Hangouts were out of the question.

So, I’m clearly an unlikely evangelist for the following message: In the midst of this new coronavirus madness, you should absolutely go on video chat dates with your friends.

As the new coronavirus continues to spread and the need for social distancing becomes even clearer, video chat dates can help you maintain connections with your loved ones while you keep a safe physical distance. Whether it’s happy hours, binge-watch sessions, or even Skype sex (if you’re so inclined), the advice to take your social life online is pretty sound. Why? Because social distancing (which is a good thing) can become social isolation (a bad thing) if you’re not careful. There is strong evidence that social isolation and loneliness can have a real impact on your mental and physical well-being, according to a 2017 overview of 40 systemic reviews published in Public Health. So as we work to “flatten the curve,” we should find ways to maintain and deepen our sense of connection in these truly strange times.

Last week, as Italy reeled from record-setting new coronavirus deaths and New York (my home state) saw a surge of new cases, I sat down for a scheduled video chat with two of my closest friends, one who lives in Washington, D.C., and the other who lives less than a mile away from me. I, alone in my apartment with only the company of my own fears, asked for this video check-in (much to my friends’ surprise). I was ready to talk through our individual anxieties, but on a whim, one friend decided to stress-bake banana bread, the other told obscene stories with hand gestures and funny faces, and I ran to find an ice pop I’d hidden in my freezer. We laughed until we were too tired to keep talking. It didn’t feel like we were video chatting during a global pandemic or change my outlook or the magnitude of our shared reality. It felt like another day in our years-long friendship. For the first time in weeks, I felt like myself.

My descent into video hangouts with my friends isn’t without challenges. I’ve found that having too many video calls in one day can leave me feeling lonelier (instead of more connected). I’m not sure why—maybe because seeing my loved ones highlights the fact that I’m self-isolating alone. In any case, I’ve learned to limit my video conversations to one or two a day, and I’ve doubled up on phone calls instead. I’ve also learned that some parts of my tiny apartment have weak Wifi and terrible lighting and realized that, if you open a bottle of wine for video happy hour, you can’t actually split said bottle with everyone attending—you’re still alone. Finally, I’ve discovered, if I don’t pull my appearance together at least a little, I get distracted by my face, like a toddler or a cat would. But it’s all worth it.

Even though I am aware that millions of people have been video conferencing for years, I am giving this advice like I’ve discovered something new. Because for the stressed-out, self-isolating, non-videochatting holdouts among us, having a beverage or a laugh (or both) via video chat might bring a hint of normalcy to this extraordinarily abnormal situation. That’s more than enough reason to give it a try.

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