College is known for the opportunities it brings for constant, vibrant interaction with others. However, living in a pandemic has largely limited our ability to connect with others with an onslaught of ever-changing rules and regulations. Recently, this meant a 10-day “lockdown” that forced students to stay in their dorms aside from walks and meals. While these restrictions were undoubtedly a challenge for many students, one positive aspect of life in lockdown for me was finding a new, refreshing approach to socialization. By adapting to one-on-one meetings with friends, I was able to develop deeper, more meaningful connections with others than I would have experienced in a larger group setting.
When lockdown was first announced, the extrovert in me panicked. While time alone can be just as valuable for maintaining mental health, interacting with others is what rejuvenates me after a long day on Zoom. I was distraught at the idea of spending my days alone in my dorm and staring at a screen for hours on end. While there are still programs like FaceTime and Skype that help us connect with friends, the general consensus during quarantine seems to be that online meetings pale in comparison with face-to-face conversations.
However, one clause in University President Jim Ryan’s announcement brought me hope — we would be allowed to eat with someone else! Immediately, I found myself texting each of my friends to set up lunch and dinner appointments — guaranteeing that I would get to see at least one other person each day. While there was no way that these two-person gatherings could live up to the experience of a table full of friends, laughter and great conversation, at least I was giving myself a reason to get out of the dorm.
That was where I was wrong — each trip to Newcomb, Observatory Hill or even the Corner for the occasional dumpling run brought me closer to my friends and helped us to understand each other on a deeper level. In this new social context, not only did I get a chance to connect with friends I already knew, I also found an excuse to get to know people I never thought I would, and our larger community is all the better for it.
For example, during the first few days of lockdown I met with a girl I had only seen a few times briefly while eating lunch with others under the tents at O’Hill. While I had known of her through our mutual friends and interests, I had never gotten to know her on a personal level. Without lockdown, I never would have known that a quick lunch together at a dining hall would turn into almost two hours of full, rich conversation. Though we hadn’t ever truly connected before, our shared interests and experiences, such as our religious beliefs and difficulties adjusting to college life, allowed us to further open up to one another. The vulnerability invited by the intimate setting of a one-on-one meal brought us closer in a way that probably would not have been possible without lockdown.
Let’s be honest though — lockdown was difficult. It certainly emphasized the old notion that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Closing gyms and study spaces made it difficult for students to relieve stress through workouts or even a simple change in scenery as we tried to finish the day’s work. Mealtimes were a much-needed consolation during an otherwise isolating and stressful season of life.
Even though lockdown restrictions have since been lifted, I will continue to seek out connections through individual meetings over Starbucks, O’Hill pizza or a salad from Runk — and I would encourage you to do the same. The pandemic has challenged us all, making us more vulnerable and changing the way that we see the world. It has forced us to reassess our priorities, and many of us have come to value our relationships with others over academic success. Though it may seem awkward at first, a meal with an acquaintance has the potential to turn into a real friendship. If not, it can at least be an encouragement to carry you through the rest of the day.
These experiences have strengthened my belief that, together, we can and will get through this. As cliche as the sentiment may be, we need each other. Be it in our hallmates or classmates, the surrounding community is available to provide connection and comfort — all it takes is a text.
Caitlyn Kelley is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.