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Every Saturday evening, my friends and I pour ourselves a drink and hop on Zoom for our weekly “girls’ night” — the closest thing to “hanging out” we’ve done since we all started sheltering-in-place over four months ago. Two of us are moms, two of us aren’t, and all four of us are desperate for the chance to interact with people we don’t live with and find ways to stay close to friends.

But since we’re all lucky enough to have kept our jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also burnt out on screens. Every day, Monday through Friday, we’re using Zoom and Google Hangouts and Skype and Slack to communicate with our coworkers, bosses, and employees. We’re scheduling teleconferences and sharing our screens to deliver quarterly presentations and actively ignoring that damn “weekly screen report” from our iPhones. At the end of the week, the last thing we want to do is log on to our computers. But since it’s the only way we can see each other’s faces, that’s exactly what we do. Week, after week, after week. 

So it’s time to start thinking out of the box. At the end of our most recent girls’ night, after nearly three hours in front of our computers, we brainstormed alternative ways to stay close to friends during quarantine. We’re not giving up our Zoom dates entirely, but we’re leaning all the way into the following ideas and looking forward to keeping our computers closed during the weekend. 

1. Send one another letters 

Not only is snail mail a great way to stay close to friends sans screens, but by sending and receiving letters, you’re supporting the United States Postal Service (which desperately needs our support after coming under fire from President Trump, who does not want to extend COVID-19 aid to USPS and its workers). 

2. Start a journal everyone contributes to 

I can’t take credit for this idea: my best friend did this for me on my 30th birthday. She sent me a beautiful leather-bound journal with our friends’ addresses pre-written in the first page and instructions for all of us to write whatever we wanted in it, then send it to the friend listed below our name. We’ve been contributing to the journal for three years, and every once in a while (when I have it with me) I will look back and re-read what we’ve written to each other and about our lives over the years. It’s more than just a way to stay in touch, it’s a living document of our friendship and how we’ve managed to support one another through life’s inevitable ups and downs.

3. Take a virtual workout class together 

Alright, so it’ll involve looking at a screen. But you’ll be moving your body while you do it, so it’s at least a tad better than just sitting in front of your computer a la every single meeting (that could have been an email, Janet) you’ve sat through in the past four months. My girlfriends and I have all purchased stationary bikes to set up in our homes, since we can’t take a spin class together in person, and every once in a while we’ll pick a date, time, and class, then all ride at the same time. Lately, we’ve really been missing the camaraderie of going to spin, getting our sweat on, then grabbing lunch and a drink afterwards (plus we’ve been going stir-crazy), so a virtual spin class we can all enjoy together has been a godsend. Consider this both a mentally and physically healthy way to stay close to friends. 

4. Start an online book club 

Again, you’ll need a phone or computer for this one, but much like the online workout classes you take as a work, the time in front of the computer is off-set by the time you’ll spend reading a book. So far, my friends and I have read and then discussed  — via Zoom  — Jenny Mollen’s “Live Fast, Die Hot,” Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women,” and Jia Tolentino’s “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.” Samatha Irby’s “Wow, No Thank You” is up next! 

5. Visiting each other’s Animal Crossing island…

Animal Crossing: New Horizon, the latest installment of the popular game for Nintendo Switch, has been hailed the “perfect game for quarantine.” For those who have yet to play, the game is simulation style, and allows players to create their own versions of paradise on a deserted island. Complete with friendly (and cute!) animal neighbors, you can go fishing, collect bugs, build and decorate your dream house, and visit friends’ customizable islands, too. 

My friends and I have been visiting each other’s virtual islands and playing in tandem, taking each other along with us as we escape the reality of *gestures wildly at the trash fire that is the world right now* and enjoy the simple, virtual island life.

6. … and playing other video games together

In addition to Animal Crossing, we’ve also played Mario Kart Tour, Oregon Trail, and the aptly named Stay the F*ck Inside, a virtual drinking game. We get to bask in the nostalgia of these games (Oregon Trail?! Who among us didn’t die from dysentery a time or two?!) while satisfying the competitive streak in all of us. (And for those of us with kids, these games double as the perfect distraction when we need them to just shut the hell up for 30 minutes.) 

7. Talking on the phone 

An oldie, but a goodie. Under normal circumstances, I despise talking on the phone. Every time my phone rings I get anxiety. And calling someone else? Forget about it. But we aren’t living under “normal circumstances,” and now that we’ve all been forced to adapt and work from home and converse with our employees, bosses, and coworkers virtually, there’s something about just calling my friends and talking to them without staring at a television screen that feels… soothing. Simple. A way to harken back to the days when we would call each other and hear a busy signal or have to ask our parents to get off the internet and stop using up the phone line. Back when we didn’t have to worry about our kids going back to school in the fall and how we’re going to manage work and some e-learning/in-person school hybrid and maintain our sanity. Back when our friends were just a phone call and a quick bike ride away.

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