Welcome to Polite Company with J.V. Wadlington, a column dedicated to updating etiquette for modern concerns. J.V. Wadlington grew up in the South with multiple forks on the dinner table and grandmother-directed clean-fingernail checks. He learned every way to properly write a thank-you note—but none of that training came with tips on Tinder, breakups, text etiquette, or how to wear a crop top to work. So he—now a writer and critic in San Francisco, surrounded by cultures radical, queer, and tech-enabled—aims to update and add to the etiquette we barely remember, and keep us in Polite Company.
Want Mr. Wadlington’s advice on a matter of manners? Email your question to: email@example.com.
Dear Mr. Wadlington,
I have a confession. I really love that we’ve fallen out of the constant Zoom happy hours/game nights/parties that filled up my calendar at the top of quarantine. I’m worried that as the weather gets colder and we face a second wave of COVID-19 that the Zoom social circuit will rear its ugly head again. I want to talk to my friends and I know some people are struggling, but I’m glad to have my life back. How do I take my time back for myself without sounding like a jerk?
Dear Zooming Out,
You aren’t a jerk—you’ve just found a groove. And that’s a good thing.
In March, the U.S. fell into full turmoil. In five weeks, 26 million people lost their jobs and 48 states issued stay-at-home orders. We all needed to check in with one another, and all of our schedules were disrupted, so we weren’t interrupting anything by calling.
Now, the turmoil hasn’t ceased, but it has fallen into its own odd rhythm. It’s been who knows how many months since our orbits were originally disrupted (rituals, events, commutes, hobbies, et cetera). Since then, so many of us have hit a stasis within the chaos. And now that a routine has been established, it actually can be interrupted. Which is one reason these “constant” check-ins, or even the thought of them, can feel more invasive than before.
You were also likely inundated with calls and screen time. I’ve been on video chat more in the past six months than I was for all of 2019, 2018, and probably 2017 combined. And, aside from those you mentioned who have important updates or concerns, there isn’t much happening in each of our respective snow globes. How many more times do people need to hear me explain that Trader Joe’s cuts the squash into zigzags? Zigzags! I think my friends have gotten the point. Do I need to see another loaf of beginner banana bread or, I guess, pumpkin spice whatever? Not really.
So, a few strategies that may make the communication style of the moment more pleasing for you:
Say no. What you’re feeling is completely understandable. Tell your friends exactly what you wrote to me and cancel a few calls or schedule them to be less frequent.
Turn off the video. This makes the conversation less possessing, you can multitask, and no one’s home haircut needs more airtime. Not having to look at a screen is an added bonus.
Have a No Calls Day. Using the same systems to talk to friends as you do to meet with coworkers means you could be on it seven days a week. That doesn’t encourage healthy separation and it makes it even harder to remember what day it is. Move your check-ins around so you have a day or two that doesn’t require you to call anyone.
I encourage you to lean into the rhythm you’ve found, not away from it. Routine calms down our critter brains and could lead to amazing quarantine feats of strength—like focusing for more than two minutes, or eating lettuce. Remind your loved ones that no news can be great news. Happy fall!
J. V. Wadlington
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest