The Secret Glee of Shy People and Plan-Cancelers in Coronatimes

Social distancing is a way of life for some of us

Photo: Justin Paget/Getty Images

CCOVID-19 has had some interesting side effects: In my case, chapped knuckle skin from all that hand-washing, a strange stockpile of boxed soups my children will never actually eat, and a lot — a whole lot! — of canceled plans.

There’s the conference I’d been looking forward to but also slightly dreading. The girls-night drinks put off to an unspecified future date. The many, many work meetings either canceled or done remotely from my kitchen table. It’s the best!

Just to be clear: I don’t want to minimize the suffering of people who have been personally affected by the virus or the very real fears of the devastation still ahead. But in these busy times, many of us introverts have found the stern admonishments to practice “social distancing” to be kind of a relief.

People who already prefer working from home are celebrating — quietly, separately, invisibly. Joke’s on you, coronavirus, because we already know all the Work From Home Things! Put on pants? They’re on! Take a walk every day? We’ve got our route planned out, and yes, it goes by the café with the good doughnuts. We’re not trying to be insensitive, but look, we’ve never been the alphas before.

Also celebrating: the plan-cancelers. Who among us does not know the joy of the canceled plan? The meetings that could have been emails are now… emails. Conferences, festivals, sporting events, all those big noisy reasons to leave your couch: canceled! Parties and social events and all meetups that require small talk and shoes, canceled!

Or — even better than canceled — postponed, the most beautifully indecisive flavor of cancellation there is. Postponing is the Neapolitan ice cream of social interactions: There’s something for everyone. It’s not now. It’s not never. It’s postponed.

Now, I know that canceling plans can be a divisive topic. I’m old enough to remember this past January, when a canceled date created a deep cultural rift. But the polite or rude way to cancel a plan is an etiquette question for more normal times. In Coronatimes, no excuse or explanation or apology is necessary!

Canceling plans, like flossing and having filed one’s taxes, offers a deep satisfaction known only in adulthood. Personally, I have long savored the joy of a mutually canceled plan, and I’m not alone. (I mean, I am alone — because of all those canceled plans — but not alone in my love of canceling.) As John Mulaney puts it: “In terms of, like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin.”

Why do we enjoy canceling so much, anyway? Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and the author of Reclaiming Conversation, chalks it up to social anxiety: “Meeting up can be stressful, but online or via text, our relationships are tidy: We can hide what we want to hide and evade people when things get uncomfortable.”

It’s true, people are hard. But surely all of our social interactions aren’t stressors — if that were the case, why would we have made the plans to begin with? “You might be feeling so overwhelmed and wanting to flake because you say yes to everything,” suggests Lifehacker’s Patrick Allan. After all, many of us struggle with saying no and protecting our time. We don’t want to miss anything, and so we make too many plans in the first place.

In our overscheduled adult lives, we have obligations to work and family and community that can’t be shuffled off to the side. The only things we can opt out of, usually, are the fun things. And when we do that, we’re “reasserting control,” according to Andrea Bonior, author of The Friendship Fix. So, even if we actually do love our friends, even if we know the event will be fine and we’ll be glad we went, sometimes we’re happy to see an extracurricular event evaporate off our Google calendar. As a colleague of mine noted, “It’s the same energy we bring to never wanting to restart our computers. Not now, computer!” We know our computers need to be restarted, and we know we actually do want to see our friends or go to things. Just… not now.

When things are unilaterally, universally canceled — as in this very unique and terrifying moment — the platonic perfection of a cancellation feels like an incongruous treat. Perhaps it’s just the unexpected gift of free time. Who ever schedules time to do nothing, despite bestsellers exhorting us to do just that? I know my children need lots of lying-on-stomachs-staring-at-dust-motes downtime, but I never manage to put “do nothing” on my own calendar.

Also: Decision-making is the worst. It forces us to accept that we can’t actually, do everything; that despite what we’ve been told, possibilities are not limitless; that being alive is one road not taken after another, and we have to just Robert Frost our way through it all. Losing control can be scary and threatening, but weirdly, it can be kind of relaxing, too.

So, as more and more officials and workplaces urge everyone to stay home, we homebodies are no longer weird blinking cave-dwellers who really should get out more. We are heroes! We’re not just choosing Love Is Blind over our friend’s band’s gig. We’re upholding public health and protecting the immunocompromised!

You’re welcome, everybody, we shout from our couches. You’re welcome, we love you, and we’ll see you soon! Just not today.

Senior Editor, Forge @ Medium // Bylines: New York Times, Oprah, Slate // Latest novel: Unseen City https://bookshop.org/books/unseen-city-9781662028106/9781597

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