How to Talk to Someone You Haven't Seen Since March 2020
By Cathleen Freedman
*Warning: This is not to be confused with How to Small Talk after the Pandemic. I have no idea how to engage in Small Talk right now. Standard Small Talk topics seem off-limits. Given the state of our climate crisis, talking about the weather feels dystopian. Forget talking sports—too polarizing. Olivia Rodrigo so correctly contextualizes this global landscape when she says, “It’s brutal out here.”
Instead, this guide is intended for having a somewhat meaningful conversation with someone you know but haven’t seen since March 2020.
In 2021, we’re all a little rusty with the institution of conversing.
Just yesterday, I was with a group of people I hadn’t seen in over 17 months, and we reached a sudden pause in conversation. It wasn’t that we had nothing to say. We just didn’t know what to say. Where to even begin?
It’s also difficult to catch up when you’re probably still processing some of the events that have happened over this pandemic period. There’s been a lot of repression, and I don’t think anybody is going to be able to unpack for quite some time. Until then, we still need to be able to communicate in a meaningful manner with our acquaintances.
Here, I have outlined a few guidelines for post-pandemic conversations, along with some questions to aid the inevitable lulls.
Do's and Dont's
Skip over your knee-jerk “How are you?” opener. No one will be able to answer how they really are. It’s not even a loaded question— it isn’t loaded with anything. It is vague. If you want the conversation to go anywhere of worth, you’ve got to prompt better than this.
Sometimes, starting off with “I haven’t seen you since __ 2020” is a good way to begin the conversation. It might allow you to recall where you and your acquaintance were emotionally, physically, and spatially in the Time Before. Warning, though, ennui may follow when you realize just how much time has passed. I personally recommend starting with something more upbeat. Refrain from focusing on the time lost and instead frame the conversation toward a silver lining. Say something like, “I am so glad to finally see you after all this time.”
If you’re speaking with masks on, let me warn you now. This will be a little hard. Brace yourself. I now realize how much I depend on lip reading to understand what someone is saying to me. No matter, though. Project your voice, and try to use other forms of non verbal communication to get your point across. Use nodding, smiling with your eyes, and speaking with your hands to express yourself and let the other person know how you feel. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the other person to repeat themselves if you can’t hear them. Chances are, they likely couldn’t hear you either. Masks suck. Pandemics suck. We just have to do what we can to make them suck a little less.
At this point of the conversation, you’re probably hyper-aware of how much eye contact goes into a dialogue. Now you might be wondering if the amount of eye contact you’re engaging in is too much. How much is too much? Beats me. Just thought I’d bring it up because I was wondering too. Let’s stop focusing on body language and move into some discussion questions.
THE FIRST TIER:
EASY SURFACE LEVEL QUESTIONS
These questions are short, sweet, and only slightly hint at the abysmal circumstances of 2020/2021. You and your acquaintance can expand on the answers to make this conversation meaningful, or you can keep it surface-level. Depends on how you’re/they’re doing.
-Did you get TikTok?
-What celebrity livestreams, if any, did you watch?
-Did you bake? (If so, what?)
-What musician did you start listening to during the pandemic and have been playing ever since?
-What show(s) did you binge?
-How many quarantine babies do you know of?
-Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson, or… other? (And if you’d didn’t get vaccinated, then I suggest steering clear of in person conversations entirely! We can catch up… later!)
-What emoji best encapsulates the last year-and-a-half for you?
THE SECOND TIER:
MORE THOUGHTFUL, DEEPER QUESTIONS
-What habits did you begin over quarantine that you will continue doing?
-What have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know before?
-What experience post-pandemic are you going to appreciate more?
-What’s been the most surprising thing about this pandemic to you? The weirdest? The best?
-Are you working remotely?
-For you personally, what’s been a silver lining from the pandemic period?
Plus, don’t forget the staple evergreen questions that never go out of fashion when seeing someone for the first time in awhile.
-How is your family?
-How is work?
-Are you still living at __?
THE THIRD TIER:
Feel out how your acquaintance is doing before you hit them with one of these questions.
-Is your outlook or personal philosophy of life different than it was at the beginning of March 2020?
-Is there anything you learned about yourself and/or human nature?
-In what ways have you changed over this past year-and-a-half?
-What photos do you think will be used in the history textbooks covering the Coronavirus pandemic?
Some of you might not want to bring up the negative. I don’t blame you. Accentuate the positive, as Louis Prima sings. But in certain situations, especially with the right people, it’s worthwhile to hash out the bad stuff.
These questions will hopefully keep your conversation going and uncover more about you and your acquaintance’s 2020/2021 experiences without stabbing away at any emotional scar tissue.