Lost social skills in lockdown? It’s not just you

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I need to start this with an apology. Every time this year I’ve booked a haircut or made plans to visit my dad in regional Victoria, the state has been plunged into lockdown.

So, sorry Victoria, this may have been my fault.

Every time this year I’ve booked a haircut, the state has been plunged into lockdown.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

The side effect of this is that, as well as leaving me looking like an unshorn sheep that got lost in the mountains, Saturday marked both my dad’s birthday and the first time my entire immediate family had been together in the one place since March.

Over this delightful lunch and beautiful reunion we discovered another inconvenient side effect of 260-plus days of lockdown: we’ve all forgotten how to socialise in person.

To be honest, we didn’t start off with a huge base of social skills. I’m a nerd who’s worked from home for 15 years, my mum is a psychologist and researcher who observes behaviour and quietly (unnervingly) analyses everything, and my dad is an inventor who lives alone in a semi-underground apocalypse prepper bunker. None of us have any idea how my relatively normal wife came to be involved in this mess.

The preparation for the big day involved several family Zoom calls on the level of a presidential visit, trying to remember how it all worked before.

The preparation for the big day involved several family Zoom calls on the level of a presidential visit.Credit:Louise Kennerley

In the lead-up, mum or I would go to tell the other something, or ask a question, and then follow it up with another text saying “Wait, no. Save it for lunch conversation.”

When we finally got to the restaurant, it took us a while to remember what volume one speaks at in a public place and how conversation is supposed to flow. Is it an interview? An opportunity to share long-form stories? No one knew. We were extremely impressed by the waiter’s ability to carry many things, and even more grateful that someone else was cooking and would do the dishes.

My mother, who doesn’t usually use social media, picked up her phone to scroll through Facebook several times mid-conversation, but the rest of us were simply proud she didn’t resort to playing solitaire. It wasn’t a mark of rudeness, but merely a hangover from spending nearly three months alone in a one-bedroom apartment.

When everyone came back to our place for cake, we couldn’t remember the traditional order of cake, presents and singing Happy Birthday. And while it was absolutely wonderful to have the apartment full of family again, it was deeply weird to see people in our space once more.

The event ended earlier than usual, with all of us exhausted from seeing real-life humans, rather than the digital ones to which we had grown accustomed.

This weekend has been full of reunions and adventures, and if our experience and the people walking five-abreast on city footpaths were anything to go by, most of us have forgotten a lot of the old social rules. That’s totally fine, we can bring back the rules we like and perhaps even make new ones.

But trust me, it’s not just you.

Alice Clarke is an award-winning freelance journalist, producer and presenter.

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