One of the strangest aspects of the Covid crisis for me, personally, has been the way that it has encouraged in me to a greater extent even than normal the pattern of avoidance with other people that I practice. And judging from the behavior of others, this does not appear to be a very uncommon problem. I was struck by this thought recently as I pondered the timing of the things I do and how I manage to avoid contact with as many people as possible when doing them. To some extent, this has long been a part of my modus operendi. For example, I have always disliked going to Costco because the crowded store and parking lot were not enjoyable and that has also been the case with my taste in restaurants as well as grocery shopping to pick times where there is a greater lull in business so as to avoid being around others more than necessary. But such tendencies have gotten noticeably worse in recent months and it is worth pondering this as it is likely not merely a personal tendency of my own.
I suppose the most obvious place where this has been the case has been work. A great many days go by at work where I have no personal interaction with anyone else whatsoever. Frequently it will happen that I will pull up to work after having done some work at home in the late morning, see no one, go up to my desk, pass a couple of busy coworkers, and proceed to work throughout the afternoon and evening without having said hello or anything else to any of them, take a break for dinner, then come back and do more work until who knows what hour of the morning, drive home, and not have had more than perfunctory interactions with anyone the entire time. One’s drive is on lonely streets where there are few other cars and where it appears that everyone else is trying to avoid getting into contact with very many other people as well. Even when one manages to eat at a sit-down restaurant social distancing is in place so there is little interaction between the widely spaced tables and the frequently understaffed restaurants can do barely more than tardily refill one’s drinks and bring one’s food and check.
Of course, what is probably the most notable pattern of avoidance has been coming home from work rolling in at crazy hours of the morning to go straight to bed and repeat the cycle the next day. It is rather hard to interact with people in the wee small hours of the morning, and even more than usual it has been the case that I have tried to avoid interaction more than is necessary with others. It is hard to blame all of this on the disease. I do not know to what extent others have shared in this tendency to avoid others more than is necessary but I have definitely seen over the course of the last few months a desire on the part of some to avoid fellowship and getting together even when it has been possible to do so relatively safely. And when the chance comes to escape crowded places is available, even more people than usual seem to relish escaping from such situations. It seems that our sociability as human beings rests on rather slender premises and that it is all too easy to get us to be less sociable with each other without very much effort.
Like many people, I find such a thing to be concerning. Isolation is undesirable for a host of reasons. Much of what we most value with other people in terms of intimacy can only be done in situations where we can recognize body language and especially where it is possible for us to touch others. The stress over the response to the contemporary public health crisis has only been added to our existing political crisis to make other people want to avoid each other. Even among those with whom I greatly agree, it is hard to find pleasant subjects to talk about. When there is such a temptation as exists to talk about things that are frustrating or maddening, including the behavior of companies and authorities in government or other institutions it is hard to find the sort of conversations that one enjoys having. Even if one finds people with whom one agrees with concerning one’s perspective on what is going on, it is not as if one wants to dwell on the sort of unpleasant matters that are continually before us. And so it is that we isolate ourselves even when we do not have to because there is little we think to dwell on that has not been addressed many times before but which can rarely be acted upon.