Community//

Maintaining Relationships (in Quarantine and Beyond)

What quarantine can teach us about how to remain connected to friends and family, even when we can see them in person again.

Photo by Gabriel Benois on Unsplash
Photo by Gabriel Benois on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, one of my readers emailed and said “I would love to see a post on having a lot of friendships or relationships, and how to follow up and manage them all. Sometimes I feel like I have too many friends or contacts, and not enough days to connect with them all and stay up to date. “

So, I was already planning to write a post covering this, but I thought, what better time than now?

I think this is an issue a lot of us experience. We have lots of people in our lives, but with social media, it’s easy to feel like you’re up to date on someone’s life, even when you haven’t actually spoken to them in 3 years.

So, I want to share some tips about how to offload the mental load of remembering who to keep up with and when:

Curate, and Sort, Your Contact List

Spend a little time thinking through who you actually want to keep in contact with. It can be tempting to want to maintain a relationship with every interesting person we’ve ever met at a conference. But that’s not realistic. So, here’s a game plan:

  • Sit down and take a good look at your contact list. Then decide where you want to put your relationship-maintaining efforts. Most people end of with 3 categories: family, friends and professional.
  • Then, within each of these categories, decide who makes the cut for purposeful, active relationship maintenance. If you’ve got a small family, maybe everyone. If you’ve got a large family, maybe there are some people you want to keep in touch with regularly and others that you’re ok with seeing only at family gatherings. Don’t judge yourself, just make decisions. No one knows this list exists but you. (Well, ok, now EVERYONE knows that I’ve done this, but that’s my problem, not yours!)
  • Then, decide the frequency with which you want to make sure to keep in contact with these folks. It’ll likely be more often for family and friends than for professional contacts.

It can feel a little strange to start categorizing people like this, but I bet you are already doing it subconsciously, if not in this structured way.

Add People to Your Task list (yes, people)

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I do this, but I do: I put people in my task list, on a schedule. When I realized that I wasn’t speaking to one of my best friends as often as I would have liked, I put her on my task list to recur on a monthly basis. Sometimes, I’ve just spoken to her already when that task pops up and I can just close it out, no action required. But other times, I realize I haven’t spoke to her in a month and give her a call.

Old colleagues? Super-interesting people I met at conferences? For me these are usually 3-6 month type of check ins.

Remember in college when you had a standing call with your parents on Sunday evenings? This is like that, on steroids, and only you know about it!

Routinize Your Social Life

Sounds boring, I know, but having routine in your social life will ensure that you get to be, well, social. I like to think of routine as a freeing function. Instead of spending all that time planning, seeing who is available when, checking to see if the babysitter is available, etc., you can, instead, be socializing. Here’s what I mean:

DATE NIGHT

A few years ago, my husband and I decided that we were going to do a date night every Friday. And we secured a babysitter for every Friday. (This is an EXTREME luxury, I’m aware. But, you could decrease the frequency, swap babysitting nights with a family friend, etc.) We don’t do expensive things on these date nights. Usually it’s a movie, or a cheap dinner. But we do have the time regularly set aside to focus on each other.

Now that we are “sheltering in place”, we’re still doing date night, but it now consists of a long walk after dinner, wearing face masks. If your kids are too young to be home alone for a little while, then you could just do a date after they go to bed and that date could be in your living room. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s just dedicated time to be together, that you don’t have to think about or plan for in advance.

FRIENDS NIGHT

Do you want to see your friends on a regular basis but find that it’s so much work to get everyone in the same place at the same time? Schedule a monthly get together. Same time, same place. Those who can make it, join.

Right now, these will be done over Zoom or Google Hangouts, but in the future, having a standing date with your friends is an awesome way to keep in touch without effort.

If you’re a parent, and you’re thinking this isn’t feasible, think about swapping kid-care nights with your partner or a friend.

ANNUAL TRIPS

When we can travel again, consider an annual trip with friends that are far flung (or family). If you know that you’re always going somewhere the last week of May, it’s much easier to plan around. Take it a step further by locking down the place.

Group People Together

Is your issue that you just have too many people you want to stay in touch with? Group them together.

  • Instead of going to lunch with 1 friend, invite 5.
  • Instead of a 1:1 virtual hang, invite the whole family.
  • Too many text threads to count? Start some group chats: one for family, one for college friends, one for current work friends, etc.

How can this period of physical distancing actually help us increase connection going forward? Here’s what I plan to take away, even when I can see people in person again:

VIRTUAL HAPPY HOURS/HANGS

You know what? I can grab a drink with my friends on the other side of the country. It won’t be in a bar, it’ll be in front of Zoom. That’s my number 1 take away from social distancing. Why did it take a pandemic to realize this was a thing we could do??

FAMILY VIDEOCHATS

Our parents have figured out Zoom and Google Hangouts. Let’s take advantage of this and take these family video calls into the future. When my kids were babies, we used to do this much more frequently, as the grandparents wanted to see the kids. As the kids got older, and became less interested in participating on these calls, we let them go and switched to phone. But I think now is the time to bring it back!

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