How to meet new people, even from a distance
A retired teacher, a Midwestern minister, and a mother of two teenage boys all log in in a Zoom room. For the next 90 minutes, they do something that their typical adult life doesn’t usually allow them to do: listen to other people’s perspectives and get others to listen to them. And after three rounds of answering not-so-standard questions, like “What sense of purpose guides you in your life?” The group leaves the room, feeling deeply connected.
This is how the logic goes for “Living Room Conversations” – an online platform through which volunteer hosts help small groups of people discuss hot topics such as voting, gun rights, and others. fire and their vision of America. Founded in 2010 by two women from different sides of the political spectrum, with input from dialogue experts, Living Room Conversations sought to show how people can have civic encounters across the lines of difference. At one point, these discussions, which have always been free to join, took place in real living rooms. But when the coronavirus imposed a strict lockdown, conversations took place only online and also became a way to relieve loneliness.
With many offices, gyms, churches, and other places people log in normally closed, Living Room Conversations is one of the many social platforms that are seeing new interest right now. Since mid-March, more than 1,000 people have signed up for the discussions, and the website has seen 62% more page views than at the same time last year. Joan Blades, one of the platform’s co-founders, attributes the spike in traffic to social isolation.
“It’s a way of taking care of people,” Blades said. “Maybe you are signing up for these conversations because you’re alone, or maybe you are hosting a conversation because you worry about someone in your network who is isolated. “
Research links loneliness to serious health consequences, including chronic stress, poor sleep, heart problems, and even premature death, while studies link significant social links to physiological well-being and longevity, life expectancy. Even in a pre-pandemic time, finding meaningful social connections could be difficult. In a 2019 survey of 2,000 American adults, almost half said they had trouble making new friends.
According to Dr. Arthur Aron, professor of psychology at Stony Brook University and co-creator of the popular “36 Questions That Lead to Love,” one way to connect with strangers is to “do exciting things together” and to share a “feeling you have things in common.” Mobile apps, like BarkHappy for Dog Walkers, Peanut for Moms, and BumbleBFF for Everyone, can help, making it easy for people to meet in person those with whom they share common interests. And platforms like VolunteerMatch can help strangers connect to shared community service activities, like tutoring, gardening, or cooking for a soup kitchen. Some research shows that volunteering itself can reduce feelings of isolation.
But in the age of social distancing, meeting in person can seem too close to be comfortable, especially for people in high-risk groups.
“It was very trying for me,” said Paula Johnson, a retired chemistry professor who lives alone in Houston. As a committed grandmother, avid practitioner, and active volunteer in her community, Johnson generally has many connections. But she says the lockdown makes her feel isolated and as if her “usefulness has been curtailed.”
To cope, Johnson turned to the virtual world of Living Room Conversations and began talking about experiences she couldn’t have otherwise talked about, like the racism she experienced as a black woman living in suburb. “People were surprised that I was so vulnerable with sharing, and it felt good to hear them say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know about it’ or ‘You know, I’ve never seen that. way, “” said Johnson, who now regularly hosts conversations.
There is a science to this kind of open communication, Aron said. “When you have questions that encourage responsiveness, it creates an opportunity to show that you care, and plenty of research shows that feeling heard is the key to creating closeness. “
Of course, there are also ways to connect without revealing your soul. Some outgoing types don’t hesitate to post flyers around their neighborhood to organize creative, socially distant ways to meet their old-fashioned neighbors – in person – like a dog parade, curbside cocktails, a tour of the city. garden. But not everyone is inclined to be an organizer.
This could explain the popularity of a New York-based MeetUp group called “I wanted to do this … but not alone!” Through the group’s online portal, the organizers plan bike rides, trips to the park and other events for anyone looking for both adventure and company.
Shawn Jobe, a resident of Queens and the group’s main organizer, says his involvement began 10 years ago with a revelation. “I was in school and working, and one of my bosses recommended MeetUp because he saw I didn’t have a life,” Jobe said with a chuckle. “So by going beyond the planning of this group, it held me accountable to devote some of my time to socializing. “
Jobe, who has helped the group grow from around 400 members to nearly 24,000, says most of the members are not from the area or have otherwise lost their network. “Everyone is there to meet new friends, so it puts everyone on an equal footing,” said Jobe, who has met many of his own close friends, including a current roommate, across the group. .
Since the start of the pandemic, Jobe and his fellow organizers have taken extra precautions – all events take place outdoors and social distancing is encouraged. He said it has been stressful as the organizers feel responsible for everyone’s safety. But he added that the group has grown significantly during the lockdown and, in some ways, is more important than ever.
“Human beings are social creatures, and people have told me that they rely on this group to socialize,” he said.
Jobe added that he felt especially grateful for the way the group served people with social anxiety, who he said may not have many other social outlets.
Yet while these platforms can accommodate vulnerability, they are not intended to replace professional mental health counseling.
“We go to very deep places, we have to pull out the tissue a lot,” said Shaunelle Curry, an Los Angeles-based media entrepreneur and a regular host of Living Room Conversations. “Some of these people have not slept or are disconnected from family members with whom they could manage their emotions. can share them in the chat.
But, said Curry, while the conversations don’t directly constitute professional advice, they can help build self-awareness and lead some to realize they need more professional support. “Many people on the calls said, ‘I don’t have any other space like this’ or,’ I thought I was the only one who had this experience. “
The New York Times, ANC, COVID-19 lockdown, COVID-19, coronavirus, online chat, online group chat, online chats, virtual chat, virtual chats