The Sidewalk Dance Doesn’t Have to Be So Depressing

Nothing bonds people together like shared awkwardness

Rebecca Tucker


Two women holding a pink scarf practice social distancing and keep 1.5 meters at the park on March 27, 2020 in Amsterdam.
Photo: Paulo Amorim/NurPhoto/Getty Images

AA few weeks into Toronto’s coronavirus quarantine, while standing on my ground-level patio, I spotted — about five floors up and one building over — a man leaning over the railing of his own balcony. I held my gaze on him a little longer than I might have had I not just spent 14 days mostly sequestered in my apartment with precious little human contact. I held it long enough that he caught me staring, a scenario that in any other world, during pre-Covid-19 times, would have led me to immediately turn away and will myself into invisibility. But instead, I waved. And he waved back.

On March 20, the World Health Organization began using the phrase “physical distancing” in place of “social distancing” to impart the idea — through a slight but significant adjustment in language — that maintaining contact with one another, in the nonphysical sense, is of incredible importance right now. Unfortunately, it’s often the first idea that sticks, and “social distancing” now feels baked into the mainstream lexicon. When we look back at the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, I expect that “social distancing” will be the phrase that comes to mind.

The public dance of sorts required to do this is… well, it’s wrenching. I’ve spent a decade and…