Doorman Dilon Moore, center, helps with shopping carts and controls the number of customers allowed to shop at one time at a Trader Joe's supermarket in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, May 7, 2020.
( AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Tanzina Vega: Back with you on The Takeaway I'm Tanzina Vega. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered so much of our lives, including how we socialize and interact with others and despite being social creatures, many of us have been forced to spend much of the past 10 months physically distancing in order to protect ourselves and the people around us. When we do connect with people, whether it be virtually on Zoom or in person at a distance, things can feel different, maybe even a bit awkward. Here's what you had to say.
Zach: Hey, this is Zach from Providence, Rhode Island and yes, I feel tremendously awkward and feel like I need to regenerate a lot of my social skills during this time. I think isolation, quarantining, and general separation from your social groups has made it so that you're blacking a lot of those skills that you thought you just took for granted.
Participant: As an introvert on the spectrum, I have noticed that I'm not as comfortable being around people as I was prior to the pandemic. I feel more awkward in both in-person and virtual meetings. I feel that things that I learned in the past are slowly slipping away from me.
Tanzina: Ty Tashiro is with us. Ty is a psychologist and the author of Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome. Ty, thanks for joining us.
Ty Tashiro: Hey, thanks for having me.
Tanzina: Are we all a little bit awkward right now?
Ty: Yes, we sure are, [chuckles] it's definitely a different time and even those of us who aren't used to feeling socially awkward, I think can feel pretty awkward these days.
Tanzina: What's changed. Obviously, what's changed we're all Zooming and we're all staying six feet away or most of us are at least, what's changed about our social skills?
Ty: Well, I think part of the reason folks are feeling like their social skills are a little rusty or they're feeling more socially awkward is largely attributable to the social expectations, changing or being altered. Take a physical distance, for example, in the United States, it's usually about 18 inches of personal space we give each other and now it's about 72, if we're following the guidelines.
That just feels awkward or it feels like we're not doing the right thing, partly because it's going against an expectation we followed for our entire lives, even handshakes or hugs or the ways we usually greet one another, those have changed as well and then there's the Zoom calls and the whole set of social skills that go along with doing well in those kinds of environments.
Tanzina: Ty, aren't there people though who are sitting here saying, my gosh, I can't wait until this thing is over so I can just run through the streets and hug everyone and kiss everyone and connect with people. Are there those who are feeling this more so than others?
Ty: Yes, I can tell you I'm an introvert and I feel that way. I can't wait till all of us can do that. Yes, there is a stronger social drive in some people, extroverts notoriously like a greater variety of social interaction and more social interaction. Even for the people who are squarely introverts, there is that urge right now to connect with people and it's been a long time and by the time we get to the other end of this, it'll have been over a year, which is an extraordinarily long time for human beings to endure that social distance.
Tanzina: We are wired to want to be around other people, even if some of us take that wanting in doses. Then some people may just want to be around people for shorter amounts of time, but there still is a biological imperative here to want to be social?
Ty: That's right. One of the hot areas in psychology over the past two decades or so has been what they call the fundamental need to belong and then its realization that this needs to be social and feel like we belong to a social group is just as necessary and fundamental as things like hunger or thirst or more biological things we typically thought of being a different category, but yes, the need to belong and to be accepted it's one of the most core human motivations that we have.
Tanzina: Are ways that we should be working to keep our social skills sharp. I'm thinking about an experience where I'm a mom and my child and I have not had a lot of chances to interact with other parents and going to the pediatrician's office in the waiting room is sometimes just the ability to see other babies and see other parents can help. Are there ways that we can stay sharp and as we wait eagerly for this pandemic to pass?
Ty: I think there's two sides to that and that is a good point. You can get a little bit worried, like, am I going to lose my social skills or will my social skills be worse when we come out of this? The short answer to that is we're all going to be okay which is really good news, I think so-
Tanzina: Thank goodness.
Ty: I know, I get nervous too. I even know the data and I think am I getting worse at things? We're a little out of practice maybe, but social skills actually look like language development. We really intuitively pick up on how to interact with other people and this big brain of ours, a lot of its devoted actually to decoding other people's social cues figuring out how to interact in the best place possible, how to empathize with someone's situation. These things are really burnt into our brain really well and we'll be [unintelligible 00:06:03] on the other side.
Tanzina: I'm also wondering, Ty, there was an interesting piece recently that showed that there are people who are dating, who are meeting on Zoom and everything's fine and then they meet in-person and they go, ooh, there's no chemistry there, is that part of what we're seeing too?
Ty: Yes, that's been a curious thing. Some of the research I did previously was about romantic relationships and partner choice. One of the things I privately thought when this pandemic started is maybe this will be good for dating because it'll make people cycle less frequently through different dates. It'll slow people down, which is exactly what we needed. One of the things I've been wondering about when people say why now I met the person and it wasn't as good as maybe people's criteria or threshold for what they think is acceptable has actually gotten higher because there's only so many people that you can go out on dates with and still be safe about the pandemic.
Tanzina: Interesting. You're optimistic, though, about us being able to come through this and still be able to get together and socialize and have parties. I would imagine we are still seeing lots of people doing that anyway so there's still feels like there's a drive to do that despite health warnings, people are still gathering.
Ty: Yes, there's certainly a line you can cross there. If you have your social bubble, I think it seems to be the better way to do it but one the silver linings, I think is that a lot of people are saying their relationships are becoming more meaningful, they're becoming deeper and they're more grateful for the time that they do have with the people that they want to get close to.
Tanzina: We can ask for more than that, especially around this time of year. Ty Tashiro is a psychologist and the author of Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome. Ty, thanks for joining us.
Ty: Thanks for having me.
Greg: I am Greg Keenan restaurant operator Conshohocken, PA, and I've come to realize how much I communicate and that's all we've got with the mask on. Here's to seeing lots of smiling eyes until the masks come off.
Edwin: Hey, this is Edwin in Dallas. I feel so awkward going to stores. I'm like, "What do I do with my feet? Am I walking too fast? What am I doing with my knees?" I don't want to touch anything. It's been rough.
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