On every corner of the internet, I see people rocking the virtual hang: virtual happy hours, virtual cocktail hours, virtual dinner parties. The NYC- based celebrity DJ D-Nice even threw a virtual dance party on Instagram for over 100,000 of his closest friends, including Michelle Obama. I was invited too, but I didn’t go. I also took a pass on Choir!Choir!Choir!’s international virtual sing-along the week before. I just wasn’t in the mood to see people. Later, scrolling through the rapturous comments on their Facebook page—“Singing with others sparks joy!” “My kids love this sing-a-long!”—I felt like the Grinch watching as the Whos of Whoville come out to sing on Christmas morning, joyful despite no presents.
The thing is, I’m very social. I adore my friends. Connecting over a glass of wine is one of my favourite activities. But as a self-employed artist, I’m used to being alone. I relish the sounds of silence. I think of myself as an extroverted introvert: I like to venture out into the world and then retreat back into my cocoon to recharge. Except for the new omnipresence of my mildly grumpy teenage daughters, I don’t experience imposed isolation as a shock to the system. So I find people’s sudden need to virtually hang out a bit unnecessary—even gimmicky. An excuse to drink alone, “together.”
Also, I don’t have the time. You’d think life would slow down when you no longer have to leave your house, but between washing my hands, running an antibacterial wipe over my dog every time a stranger pets him, getting ready for my 5 p.m. livestream FitBox class and making sure my kids aren’t buying edibles off of Snapchat, I’m somehow busier than ever. Texting works better for me. It’s faster—and I don’t have to apologize for my roots.
Still, when I reach out to a friend and he tells me he can’t talk because he’s about to host a virtual six-way dinner party, hastily adding—“You should come!”— I feel surprisingly left out. This guy is hip and cool, and his dinner guests will be hip and cool, too. They’ll have a virtual playlist and a signature cocktail, I just know it. And their conversation won’t just be limited to COVID-19. No, they’ll talk about art and film and books. But it’s a terrible night for a dinner party. For one thing, one of my quaranteens has drunk all my wine. Secondly, I don’t see how I’m supposed to put together a Pinterest-worthy meal with exactly two carrots and a shrivelled beet in my fridge. I politely decline.
But now my interest is piqued. My hipster friend doesn’t have kids; his time is his own. So I check in with another friend who is also a writer and a mom and ask if she’s had any virtual hang-outs yet. “Oh god yes,” she tells me, “All the time. Our mental health depends on it.”
I look at my husband in his threadbare long underwear and consider my ratty sweatpants, inching towards their fourth day of use… Okay, so maybe we are a little isolated. Maybe social distancing is taking a toll. Maybe we aren’t okay at all. There’s definitely been a “walls closing in” vibe around here this week. I’m not sure if it’s the slow dawning that school might actually be done for the year or that I don’t know if I’m eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but it suddenly hits me that if I don’t see a new face soon, I might end up putting on leather pants and dancing alone to DJ D-Nice.
So when a virtual invite pops into my inbox the next morning, I feel a small thrill run through me—a bit like a tween getting her first “follow” request: “Please join Zoom meeting at 7 p.m.” The three other guests are among my closest friends, and though we’ve been texting regularly, there’s an urgency now that can no longer be conveyed in 160 characters. I hit RSVP and smile. It feels good to have something to look forward to other than Trudeau’s daily COVID-19 update.
On Thursday, I do a short location scout before settling on my bedroom, or more precisely, my bed. Unfortunately, I don’t have any visual interest in the frame behind me as the experts suggest—but there’s a lock on the door, which is key given all the yelling lately. One thing I can’t afford to mess up is the lighting: I did a Zoom test-run this morning—pre coffee and concealer—and have yet to recover. I put on some lipstick and, embarrassing but true, curl my hair. I search for a sweater to replace the pyjama top I forgot to take off today, and experience something I haven’t felt in a while—the giddiness of heading out for the night. My family and their myriad needs start to morph into background noise as my imminent connection, and its accompanying glass of wine, comes to the fore.
I grab a bottle of wine, some crackers and my laptop and race back up to my room. “DON’T bug me!” I hiss at the door before setting up on my bed and shoving a dusty pile of books out of view. I’m fully aware that downstairs, dinner is nowhere close to being started, the dog is barking, the kids are fighting for the bazillionth time and my husband is suddenly wondering why my virtual girls’ night won out over a virtual boys’ night. Happily, I no longer care. As I count down the seconds to 7 p.m., I’m so giddy, you’d think I was about to have virtual quaran-tinis with Beyoncé.
And then, one by one, my friends appear. It’s so good to see their faces! We’re all struggling with this pandemic in different ways and I realize how much I’ve been holding in. For the next hour and a half, we give each other the time and space to talk about our individual concerns and by the end of our time together, I feel less alone. I thought my life hadn’t really changed that much in the last few weeks, but it has and I need my friends now more than ever. We’ve already booked our next hang—maybe we’ll even add a signature drink— though I doubt I’ll ever pull off a virtual dinner party. I’ll leave that to the extroverts.