The coronavirus pandemic has changed the lives of people all over the world. It’s changed the way we do business, spend leisure time, and relate to our families. One of the biggest changes has been in the way people communicate with each other. The old avenues of communication are being utilised in new and different ways. When the virus caused the implementation of shutdowns and social distancing rules, people began to reach out to each other not via text, but through voice and video. This reflects our basic need for a more personal connection. Texting (yes, even with emojis) doesn’t provide the verbal and visual cues we need to feel close.
In times of crisis, it’s normal to seek the reassurance close relationships can provide. People tend to want to help each other or to be helped when faced with a stressful situation. Now that many feel the future is uncertain, that they’re on their own, and that their lives are threatened, they naturally reach out for solace. The problem is, we can’t reach out like we used to. We can’t hug, shake hands, or share a meal. Traditional modes of conversation are off the table. We need to think of new ways to form and renew emotional bonds.
Studies show that men, in general, relate to each other through shared physical activity. So what happens when sharing physical space is forbidden? A common topic discussed among men is sports. Now that most professional sports have shut down, there’s less to comment on. Some men bond by sharing their experiences with dating. But, the coronavirus has hit the dating world hard too. Financial and business topics also represent a large portion of the traditional male conversation. While there’s plenty to chat about along those lines, the economic impact of the virus in most countries is a stressful topic as well. These subjects certainly don’t represent the entirety of male conversation and aren’t exclusive to the male experience, but are common enough in our society to serve as good examples.
Men need to build relationships and have friends, just as much as women, but society has instructed us in different ways. Men are taught to keep their emotions in check, to remain stoic, and to play a strong supportive role. This construct sells men short on the emotional experience. It’s why many men are reluctant to talk to a doctor when they feel ill and why males represent more than half of the country’s suicide deaths. It isn’t that men don’t require deep personal relationships, they just aren’t taught how to get them. Often, romantic partners end up bearing the burden of being the only confidant in a man’s life.
COVID-19 and communication
Current circumstances have forced a change in the way men communicate. While the pandemic is no laughing matter, it does provide opportunities for growth. Reaching out for one-on-one interaction is much more common, dissolving some of the awkwardness of intimate conversation. Video conferencing is the new norm and allows for groups of men to connect. Gathering in video space centred around specific topics is a good way to form new relationships.
Concern for the health and safety of family members naturally draws conversation about them to the surface, which can lead to meaningful sharing of insights. The increase in home repair and DIY projects gives men a space to share their craftier side.
The decrease in traditional modes of conversation leaves open opportunities for new idea-sharing. It’s also brought old friends and estranged family back together. Because so many aspects of our lives have shifted, renewing old connections is becoming more of a priority. People are reaching out more, being reminded of the relationships they care about, and seeing restructured leisure time as an opportunity.
As the situation continues to evolve, we are all experiencing an altered sense of priorities. Nobody knows right now where the new normal will take us and if we’ll ever go back to the way life was before. But, if the new normal means better communication and stronger relationships, it will be a bright spot amid this crisis.
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Lee Chambers is an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant. He is the founder of Essentialise.