During the pandemic, video and phone calls have become a crucial source of social connection, but like in-person interactions, they can become tiring if they go on too long. The world used to be rich with excuses for cutting a conversation short: I should probably get home to feed my dog; this was fun, but I have to go to another party; and so on. But this new, locked-down era calls for more creativity in coming up with a good reason to say bye.
Thankfully, we are seasoned liars and up to the test. Pandemic or no pandemic, innocuous white lies function as a social lubricant, allowing one to keep up an air of politeness while terminating conversations humanely. “People lie because it works,” says Robert Feldman, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the author of The Liar in Your Life: The Way to Truthful Relationships. “We’re all very susceptible to the lies of others, and in fact sometimes welcome those lies because it gives us a graceful way of interacting with other people.” He says that this sort of casual lying is, at least in the United States, “almost a universal kind of behavior.”
Even at a time when people have been deprived of their usual socializing, the accumulation of phone calls, FaceTime catch-ups, and Zoom happy hours can be exhausting. Between work, child care, and household chores, many of those currently cooped up at home have ample excuses for not socializing. But many others don’t, and just want to seem like they do. Like poets working within a particularly constrictive rhyme scheme, they are innovating deceptions within the present limitations—or, occasionally, just being more honest about not wanting to talk.