Humans need a balanced social diet of a few meaningful conversations and many casual interactions

Balance is a celebrated, yet elusive, concept. In work, relationships, hobbies, and even what we choose to put into our bodies, we strive to strike the right proportion of give and take that leaves us feeling fulfilled and not overextended. The idea of balance also applies to social interactions.

In 2019, Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas likened human social networks to nutrition. A healthy social diet, he found in a study, consists of both a variety of interactions — from close friends and family to acquaintances — and time spent alone. People tend…

As restrictions ease and stimulation returns, your capacity will bounce back

Early last summer, after stringent shutdown orders were lifted and, cautiously, friends began gathering in outdoor environs, the act of stringing a coherent sentence together was a personal struggle. The verbal equivalent of sea legs, my words felt wobbly and clumsy, and in group settings, I found it easier to observe in silence than contribute in any meaningful way.

Beyond conversation skills, social isolation also dulled many of my other cognitive capacities. My memory wasn’t so hot and conjuring creative or critical thoughts was nearly impossible — which isn’t great when your job requires you to have critical and/or creative…

Take this time to figure out who you are and what you want — then prioritize

For the first time in over a year, I have resumed what some would call a social life. Over the course of a week, I attended Easter meals with vaccinated loved ones, an outdoor coworking session, impromptu happy hours, a hair appointment. By Friday, I was tapped out. I’d had more face-to-face conversations in the span of a few days than I’d had for months. Seeing new and familiar faces — and engaging in novel conversation — was a welcome development, but there came a point, after a couple of margaritas and “What vaccine did you get?” …

We confide in strangers more often than we realize

Over the past 13 months, “How are you?” has felt more and more like a ridiculous question — and yet I’ve asked it more times than I can count, to virtually everyone I’ve seen. It’s a socially conditioned reflex; even when we know the answer is “Not well, bitch,” we can’t help but ask.

And just as deeply ingrained is the meaningless reply: “Fine” or “Okay, given the circumstances” or “Hanging in there!” I have said some form of this answer while decidedly not hanging in there. I’ve heard it from people I knew for a fact were not fine.

Ease yourself back into social life with low-stakes conversations

The prevailing fear, I’ve noticed, among people about to re-enter a post-pandemic society is their diminished capacity to socialize. After a year spent interacting with only a limited pool of connections, it can feel nerve-wracking and intimidating to suddenly have options when it comes to people to talk to. Out of practice, we’re bumbling through what was once a normal aspect of life, hoping the words we’ve managed to string together are somewhat coherent.

Conversation is, at its core, a series of confessions: One person shares an experience, a story, a predicament, and the other reacts with their opinion, insight…

Our circles have shrunk but not permanently

There hasn’t been a single friend who I didn’t think was mad at me at some point over the last year.

I’m not usually like this. Typically, an unreturned text or an ignored Instagram DM would spark mild annoyance. Maybe a little bit of hurt. But not this level of profound paranoia — reply or no reply, I knew I’d still see the person again. In the time of our great social distancing experiment, though, I’ve interpreted any silence to mean the end of our friendship once and for all.

Of course, this wasn’t the case. But given the option…

“Sorry to cancel at the last minute!” is a comforting relic of old times

As someone who revels both in asking strangers deeply uncomfortable personal questions and also laying in the fetal position staring at a screen alone in the dark for hours on a weekend, I felt very seen the first time I heard the phrase “extroverted introvert.” While I’m often energized and fulfilled when interacting with other people, I need regular moments of solitude to recharge. …

The people who filled the background of your life are worth missing

I wish I was in a coffee shop, attempting conversation with a barista who is only halfheartedly feigning interest in what I have to say. I’d probably share some banal detail about my day — “This is my third cup and it will definitely make me feel terrible!” — and they might politely smile while sliding the precariously full mug across the counter. We’d both go about our days without realizing what a spectacular thing it is to just engage with another human we didn’t intimately know.

It’s been a year since I’ve been in a cafe, boring some unsuspecting…

It’s easier than you think, and it’s never been more important

A few weeks ago, after listening to days of weather forecasts predicting a dramatic snowstorm in my city — and procrastinating on any sort of winter-weather prep — I made my way to Target for an ice scraper just as the snow started to fall. The aisles were bare of all the usual pre-storm suspects: milk, eggs, bread, disinfecting wipes, and, most importantly, anything related to snow removal.

In a stroke of luck, I managed to snag the last scraper in the store, a fact the register attendant commented on as I brought my prize over to checkout. I don’t…

Some science-backed insights on when to host your weddings and other milestone events

When bride-to-be Jane W. (last name withheld for privacy reasons) postponed her wedding a second time, from March to June 2021, she felt silly for pushing back the affair just a few more months. (She’d initially postponed her October 2020 wedding for eight months.) The second postponement was to avoid stay-at-home orders; Jane had read news coverage of a potential nationwide lockdown once President Joe Biden took office, which would have extended into March, interrupting her nuptials. …

Allie Volpe

Writes about lifestyle, trends, and pop psychology for The Atlantic, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Washington Post, and more.

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