Pinsker: There’s definitely something lost when you can’t have those smaller, up-close moments. But I guess the way I would think about it is that if you can’t connect with somebody over a pretty good, engaging conversation for a while, that person might not be the best partner for you in the long term.
Wells: Relationships are important to health. So this is a totally legitimate and important question: How are we going to get the social connection that we need to be healthy and sane in a time where social connection is dangerous?
Pinsker: For a while people expected that videochatting could plug that gap.
Wells: Did it for you?
Pinsker: I’m actually kind of an interesting case here, because I am in a long-distance relationship. And so, well before all of this, I’ve been doing nightly videochats with my girlfriend.
Wells: Then you have great tips on dating while not seeing someone.
Pinsker: I’ve actually interviewed people in the past about how to best connect with somebody over a long distance. One tip is that something that tends to build trust is communicating through a variety of different media. So if we’re all using videochat right now, maybe it would be more satisfying if we were also sending little links to each other, but at the same time writing letters and trying to diversify our range of ways of communicating.
Doing things together while not in the same place can feel like you’re trying to replicate something in a hollow way, but everybody uses Netflix Party now. It’s a browser extension that lets you sync up your Netflix videos with other people so you can watch “together” at the same time. When you describe it like that, it sounds a little bit sad, but I do have to say, it feels better than just watching something alone. Just hearing even the little chuckle under your friend or partner’s breath as something happens—it’s really nice.
Another thing that sounds a little bit weird, but hear me out, is quite satisfying, I find, is called background Skyping. You set up a videochat, but instead of having the express purpose of it being that you are having a direct, ongoing, active conversation, you just play it and let it run and go about your day. It’s not going to simulate somebody actually being there. But there’s this weird kind of good, fuzzy feeling that’s associated with just knowing in the back of your head that someone else is, in a way, around.
Wells: Those tips seem great for people who are seriously dating, people who are maintaining close friendships, families. Say someone was starting a new relationship. When is it okay to actually see each other? And how?
Pinsker: That is a great question. It’s a bit hard to answer, but I’ll talk it through how I’ve been thinking about it lately, based on my reporting. As I’ve talked to public-health experts about what’s safe to do on a daily basis, the things that they’ve stressed are: Outdoors is almost always better than indoors, and staying apart from somebody is way safer than being close to somebody. Those are the general principles. And if we’re going to go on a first date with somebody, the people I’ve been interviewing strongly advised against getting closer than six feet. I believe the word that one used about the possibility of kissing someone at the end of a date was inadvisable. So you probably want to steer clear of that for now. It’s an interesting gray area beyond that, because you’re getting out of the realm of strictly what’s best for public health. And some people will put their love lives on hold for however long—