We’re well into our second month of staying home in order to flatten the curve of the pandemic. By now, we’re all pretty adept at virtual everything—virtual school, virtual work, virtual happy hour. We’re calling each other more than ever and connecting with each other however we can. These virtual sources of connection are crucial at a time when our need to feel connected is high, but our ability to find that connection is limited.
Even for an introvert. I’m craving social contact as much as the next person—A Houseparty with my college friends felt like a breath of fresh air after a long rainy day in the house with my two kids who spent about 45 minutes arguing over who found the penny, and whether it was actually a lucky penny so no other penny could possibly be as special. (The penny was abandoned and forgotten about ten minutes after the argument ended. It’s fine, everything’s fine.)
But I’m still an introvert. I still need time alone to recharge after social interactions. My energy begins to wane after too much time in a group—especially if I’ve already spent too many hours in the day attempting to work, crisis school, and keep up with all the things that need to be kept up with.
In pre-pandemic life, I could make an excuse to walk away from a conversation or hang up on a phone call that went on too long because there were always a million believable things that needed to be done. “I’m walking into a store so I have to go.” “I have to pick up the kids, I gotta go.” “I have to get home to walk the dog.”
In pandemic life, there aren’t many excuses. I’m not walking into a store or picking up the kids or getting home for any reason. I am home all the time. Mostly, I’m just available, and the person I’m virtually talking to knows that because they’re home all the time, too. Which means, when my energy feels used up, I have no idea how to end a virtual hang out.
I put the question out to my Facebook page: what are some fun, creative, or interesting white lies you’ve told or heard to get out of a too long Zoom or FaceTime—and surprisingly, most people were more than happy to publicly share. It seems that introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between are sometimes feeling trapped on too-long virtual hangouts and have found creative ways to excuse themselves.
The answers I received ranged from the believable to the hysterical. Some of the most common reasons for a sudden need to disappear from a virtual hangout unsurprisingly surrounded failed technology—either a bad WiFi connection or a dead computer battery. The best way to pull this one off, based on my informal poll, is to simply close the computer and then text the other party an apology. And it doesn’t hurt to add a sad, disappointed, or annoyed emoji to the text, just to drive home how inconvenient the timing is—or isn’t, as the case may be.
Kids were another brilliant excuse parents relied on to end endless calls—either day or not. During the day, the excuses ranged from “I have to go, my kid needs help with school,” to the night time, “sorry, I gotta go, my kids are asking for me to put them to bed.” And for those who didn’t have kids…well, they had to leave that call because they promised their special niece or nephew a special goodnight FaceTime. And if all else fails—that dog still needs its walk.
The most creative answers to my informal crowdsource came from the kids, who are apparently also balancing a need for social connection with the energy suck that comes with too much time spent virtually connecting. Kids had no problem simply shutting the laptop and walking away, blaming their parents, or in one adorable case, pretending to need to go chase the family pet mouse. My son has managed to even concoct a stomachache to get out of a Zoom class session—and maybe there’s some comfort in knowing that at least some things haven’t changed during this pandemic.
The truth is, living virtually is exhausting. It seems almost counterintuitive because what could be exhausting about sitting home in sweatpants and chatting? But it’s nevertheless true—working, schooling, and socializing virtually is draining for a handful of reasons. We’re working harder to process non-verbal cues that, in real life, are observed naturally, without the same extensive expenditure of energy. Also, on a virtual platform, you’re able to see your own face—your own expressions and strange blinking habits—and that adds a performative feeling to every interaction—which is tiring, introvert or not.
Joe Pinsker said it best when he wrote, “Thankfully, we are seasoned liars and up to the test. Pandemic or no pandemic, innocuous white lies function as a social lubricant, allowing one to keep up an air of politeness while terminating conversations humanely.”
It’s highly comforting to my introverted self to know that I’m not alone in craving social interaction and also needing to put an end time to each virtual hangout to restore my energy level. To be sure, I value each and every virtual hang out. I’m sure those virtual hangouts, even the ones that by the end feel draining, have probably saved me from going completely bonkers during these long pandemic days. But also, sorry, I gotta go take the dog out.