With states easing coronavirus restrictions and summer weather already underway, people are figuring out how to connect with others while trying to stay safe. The search term “social distancing get together ideas” spiked 600% in popularity this week, according to a tweet from Google Trends.
However, with the ongoing pandemic and no approved treatment or vaccine for Covid-19, why are people interested in hanging out with each other despite the risk of infection?
“As humans we are driven to connect. We have a fundamental motivation to belong,” said Theresa DiDonato, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University.
Being with people can help boost self-esteem and provide a sense of meaning and purpose, according to DiDonato.
“The fact that we’re in this strange situation, that we’re not supposed to be in close proximity to other people, feels very unnatural to us,” she said.
Even quarantining with family or roommates can still leave people craving for interactions with close friends, as they fulfill different relational needs, according to DiDonato. Wearing masks and socializing at a distance add further complication as humans often rely on facial expressions and nonverbal cues to communicate.
“Trying to follow the guidelines closely, even though it’s tempting not to, becomes a real challenge,” she said.
To confront these obstacles, people have had to get creative and find activities appropriate for their age and interests.
Christine Carter, a sociologist and life coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area, said her household is relying heavily on the outdoors for get-togethers. The family’s four teenagers are allowed to meet outside with a small number of friends while social distancing.
“One of my daughters had a picnic birthday party where every person brought a blanket that was big enough,” she said. “They spaced them all out and were able to do it in a way where everybody was around the birthday girl. She said it was actually really fun and something that they would always remember.”
In addition to picnics, the family’s teens have also organized social-distancing hikes with their friends. This kind of peer interaction is particularly important for young people’s mental health during the pandemic, according to Carter.
“Teenagers really need a source of emotional support outside of the household, especially going through everything that they’re going through,” she said.
For younger children, social interaction with friends may have to be more supervised, according to Maria Zimmitti, clinical director of Georgetown Psychology, which has therapy practices in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. She recommends outdoor activities where it’s easy for children to social distance from each other.
“Parents have to put on their ‘camp counselor’ hat,” she said. “Activities can be as simple as a nature walk, picnic, riding scooters and bikes, hopscotch, sprinkler play and backyard water slides.”
Families can also organize a backyard painting class where children can work on easels while staying appropriately distanced or an outdoor movie night, according to Zimmitti.
She said that these fun, simple outlets can help children build valuable social skills during the pandemic.
“Socialization is important and personal connection fosters resilience,” Zimmitti said.
Social interaction is also vital for adults, according to Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist based in Westlake Village, California
“We’re just not meant to be all alone and without other people,” he said. “People are wanting to reach out and they’re going to find ways to do it–the problem is doing it safely.”
Goldsmith said people should still stay 6 feet apart when getting together and wear masks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. He gave a host of safe social-distancing ideas for adults, including some that he has implemented in his own life.
For trips to the beach, he recommends bringing a large towel or blanket to help establish boundaries and make staying apart easier.
“If you get something like a king-sized bedspread, something really big, and you lay that out and you lay in the middle of it, then you’ve got your social distance,” he said.
He added that neighborhoods can hold communal cookouts where families bring their grills to the front yard to BBQ and eat together while still social-distancing. Recently, his neighborhood has also taken to holding backyard concerts where different people take turns playing music outside.
For single adults looking for summer romance, Goldsmith recommends holding dates over video chat. Participants can order each other food and watch the same show or movie on Netflix, giving them something to talk about. They can even each make the same meal while watching a cooking tutorial video together.
“Doing this can actually allow couples to get to know each other better than they would if they were going out or hooking up,” Goldsmith said.
What all of these social-distancing get-together ideas have in common is that they rely on innovation in order to help people socialize safely amid the ongoing pandemic.
“I really believe in American creativity,” Goldsmith said. “We’re a very creative group and we’re going to figure stuff out.”