An essay by Rosette Jäminki
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to make drastic changes to the ways in which we move around and interact in our social world. There has been a rapid recalibration of what is expected in terms of following the guidelines and what kind of behavior is considered unacceptable in each stage of the pandemic. Physical touch and physical proximity have certainly been in the centre of this conversation. At the highest peaks of transmission of the virus, hugging and touching others could not only increase the spread of the virus and but also evoke fear and guilt for others and for ourselves. This lack of physical connection can be particularly hard as for many it is a crucial component to feel connected to others.
We’ve had to begin to negotiate consent around touch and socialising in a new level in order to respect boundaries of others and boundaries of our own. Are you/we hugging? Would you like to come indoors? Is it OK if we don’t go indoors? Do you mind if somebody else joins? How do you feel about going inside a restaurant? Would you prefer to meet over ZOOM? It has been like finding a new language, and patience around accepting that we all might in very different places at different times when discussing what feels safe, what feels right and what feels comfortable.
Of course, etiquette, habit, and expectations on how to behave in the social world are notions that are always in flux, always evolving, and they change in relation to the spirit of the time. The particular challenge here while living through a pandemic is how these fast changes in social interactions have emerged in such speed that adjusting to them has unsurprisingly taken on a toll in our emotional wellbeing.
But is the pandemic offering us an opportunity to better discuss our boundaries?
Within my social circles, I have noticed a shift in how we approach social gatherings and discussion such as how we feel about going back to the workplace if used to working from home. Nobody seems to be upset if somebody decides not to join an evening with friends, but rather embracing the setting of boundaries (you do you, my friend!). There seems to be more opportunities and encouragement to check-in with ourselves and with others what we all need in order to feel comfortable and good, rather than what we are socially expected to do.
It will be interesting to see if this language of boundaries is going to translate with us to the post-pandemic world and allowing more space to work with the boundaries not only because of the fear of transmission of a virus, but because that will support us as individuals better. I certainly have found a magical solace of being able to verbalise more what I need, and what I do not feel comfortable to do; when I am completely ready for a hug or when I prefer to smile and wave.
– A piece by Rosette Jäminki, Goldsmiths BA Sociology Student, Spring 2021