Social Interaction Fatigue

When I was in college I lived for two years in a fraternity house.  That means that I shared a house with 22 other guys.  There was never a dull moment.  Between the basement parties, bonfires, living room movies, all-nighters in the kitchen and random road-trips something was always happening.  I am not kidding when I say that if you wanted to do something any time day or night, you could find something to do and someone with which to do it.  There was always someone up.  There was always something happening or, at least, the availability and the company for something to happen.  I loved it!  I couldn’t have imagined living anywhere else, to the dismay of my parents.

Yet, as my second year of living in this environment was drawing down I started to experience SIF or Social Interaction Fatigue.  This means that I longed for isolation, for time away, for peace and quiet for more than a fleeting moment.  In this time, I didn’t have any more room in my life for any new relationships.  I had actually reached the point of fullness when it came to social interactions.  I believed there was nothing better than a good conversation, but my conversation card was full and then some.  I couldn’t learn anything new about anyone new.  I was full.

When I was young, so much younger than today, I had dreams of being one of two things: A long-haul truck driver or a lighthouse attendant.  Both of these professions shared one thing in common – isolation.  With the exception of a few misguided years of my life, when I pretended to be someone that I wasn’t because that was who I thought I needed to be in order to achieve success, I have been a dyed-in-the-wool introvert.  Being alone was never a problem for me.  In fact, I preferred it.  That is why I was attracted to truck driving and lighthouse attending at an early age.

Now enter in the current context of social distancing and staying at home in order to avoid COVID-19.  I have to admit, and I know that as fellow followers of Jesus you are contractually obligated to forgive me, that the introvert in me is loving this whole stay at home thing!  I feel bad even writing those words, because I am aware that I am forced to stay at home because there is a virus running a-muck out there that will kill me if I catch it.  I am aware of the many, many lives that are being affected by this scary situation and the toll that this pandemic is not only having on our health and well-being, but also on our economy.  Yet, having said all of those things, I don’t mind being stuck at home, with my family.  I am in introvert heaven!

I am haunted by several questions.  What am I going to be like when I can come out of my house?  What will it be like to worship publicly, to go to the grocery store, to go to Disney World, to see concerts, lay on a crowded beach and all of the countless other activities that my “normal” life holds minus COVID-19?  This “new normal” is becoming just that, normal.  I see adds on TV and I comment to myself that they aren’t practicing social distancing.  I take my dog for a walk and cross the street in order to stay six feet away from others.  I don’t have entries in my calendar because I don’t go anywhere or set any appointments to meet with anyone.  The one day a week that I do go out to video virtual worship, I feel weird driving and I stay away from everyone.

Why do these questions haunt me?  Because there is a part of me that fears that I will cross some line and I will never be able to come back.  I will end up being that guy who never leaves his house and when I do I will simply walk the streets wearing a long overcoat and carrying paper bags containing all of my worldly possessions.  I am afraid that I will become “that guy” that everyone talks about.  I am afraid that I won’t be able to re-acclimate myself to social interaction, glad-handing, networking, in-person teaching and the like.  What will become of me if I can’t flip the switch and come back into the social realm of life?  What will my life be like if I am unable to reconnect?

Oh, that’s right, there was a time in my life when I loved living in a fraternity house with 22 other guys.  There was a time when I pushed myself to be extroverted because I wanted to be successful.  Even a long haul truck driver has to come home every now and then and every light house attendant has to eventually leave their island.  So, when the time comes, I know that I will be ready.  Until then, I am loving social distancing and staying at home!  I am leaning into Matthew 19:26 – “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”