There’s a stage in a bear’s annual cycle known as “walking hibernation.” At winters’ end, they emerge from their dens… a little off. They’re lethargic. They’re not eating much. They take a while to re-learn how to bear.
We’re all bears now. When I think of the looming pandemic winter, I imagine us all entering our own social hibernation, hunkered in our dens, the cold rendering most socially distant outdoor hangs newly impossible. And when we emerge into warmer weather, Elemental’s Dana Smith points out, we’re all going to be, well, a little off.
“Social skills are like any other kind of ability in that they require practice.” Smith writes in the latest edition of her newsletter, Inside Your Head. “And by this point in the pandemic, starved of normal, everyday social interactions — running into an acquaintance on the street, sharing an elevator with a co-worker, or making small talk with a barista — most of us are pretty rusty.”
Our Brains Are Struggling with Basic Social Skills
Understanding the science of awkwardness
We’ve already gotten kind of awkward. But over the next few months, with even fewer chances to practice being social in person, we’re all about to get super awkward.
It may be unavoidable, but as Allie Volpe notes on Forge, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one who’s facing a lot of dead silences, or making weird jokes that no one gets, or trying to say How are you? but losing track of the syllables between your brain and your mouth and having it come out more like Schhmrf? (to name an example that has definitely not happened to me in the past week).
”Just acknowledge the weirdness of it all. Put it out in the open,” Volpe writes. “Remember, too, that especially right now, no one really cares how awkward you’re being — empathy and grace are far more important than sparkling conversational skills.” Stumbling your way through a greeting doesn’t mean you’re any less close to the person you’re saying hi to. It just means you’ve been hibernating. We’ll all relearn how to bear, eventually.