I’m a guy who needs a tactile experience when with friends.

If I stopped and really thought about it for a moment, ‘it’ meaning how I feel about this pandemic being the new normal for 4 months, I would probably come to the conclusion that the biggest adjustment has been not getting my fix of close human contact. And yes, typing that last sentence in the present day instinctively makes me want to sanitize my hands.

But the greater point stands; I can’t wait to hug people again, punch their arms, give those fake, two cheek kisses like a Santa Barbara housewife, tickle a buddy on the love handles, or laugh hysterically without worrying about my toxic droplets of saliva killing several senior citizens.

My mother, who is 70 years old, hasn’t had physical contact with anyone for months, including my sisters, niece and nephew who have all been visiting via the other side of my mother’s sliding glass door. Of course this was the correct way to handle the virus, mostly because we knew next to nothing about how it would impact everyone, but people are programmed to touch other people, and I think a lot of us have gotten a bit twitchy, maybe even a little mental.

For example, introverts are probably really confused right now. Maybe they feel like their personality type has finally been vindicated, that their reluctance to engage in close human contact was merely an ideal primer for this era of isolationism. Still, I wonder how many introverts quietly long for the choice to remain reclusive or get out in the world, and that lack of control feels like a worse predicament than being forced into the familiar corner they normally occupy with ease. And why shouldn’t they feel this way? We’ve never had to deal with an enforced protocol of isolation and avoidance, without being allowed to exercise our personal will.

If anything, our collective frustration during this pandemic is proof of populace yearning for one another, a stark contrast to the images broadcast on our screens, where human VS human conflict threatens our very humanity. The contrasting forces of isolationism and protest have collided, mingling paradoxically as we attempt to balance our virtues against our trepidations. If we can calculate where those two opposing forces intersect, maybe we can climb out of this unpredictable era relatively unscathed. But if we can’t find the common ground, or the cooler heads, I think the long term prospects are dire.

That thought has me pacing the living room. I have to find something, or someone, to hold on to. If I can’t come into contact with other people then metaphorical contact will have to do, such as figuratively embracing the weird, sad, and indifferent among us who are quietly looking to feel normal again too, and tell them why everything is going to be ok.

I hope so, anyway.

To the people who are cautious but balanced, hopeful yet careful, the ones who we rely on to make us feel better when all we think about is the worst case scenario, I really do admire your chutzpah. Sure, some of you are like born again introverts, motivated by your new, immovable, default setting of not wanting even the slightest human contact, a concept as foreign to me as a cuddle puddle is to you right now, but your natural predisposition has a practical use, a silver lining of sorts. But maybe, just maybe, you can soon shed your new philosophy for the good cause of unity!  Hello?

Seriously though, I think maybe we should all try to get to know each other better, instead of just trying to decipher the personality constructs of our online avatars. Take off the masks. Didn’t it feel a little too easy way back in March when we all hunkered down with our Netflix and Thai food like it was no big thing? Why did it feel natural? It can’t be captured in a meme, or a clickbait article, or some other thing that didn’t exist when I grew up, because it is a brand new feeling based on our new, digital selves.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe I just miss the pre-internet age, and this pandemic has been the driving force beckoning me to live in the distant past once again. It’s one thing to have a life that still offered all the analog goodness from the past while we digitized ourselves and our futures, but it is quite another thing to be force to live exclusively in that new digital space, pandemics notwithstanding.

I know, I know. Yes, I did just think of my older relatives, and the people close to me with asthma or some other pre-existing condition. I get it. It’s selfish to want to risk lives for some snuggles. But we all have a tipping point.

Some friends posted a reminder of what it was like to have an 80s summer; drinking from the hose and only stepping inside the house to eat or use the bathroom, or answer the landline or to get the ghetto blaster, or find the right batteries, or greet your grandparents at the back gate, or help yourself to a beer from Mom’s friend’s cooler in the corner of the garage, or celebrating my uncle’s 40th birthday with an Over the Hill themed party, or that ironic sigh I just did because as I type this I am 43.

That same uncle gets annoyed with me because I sometimes don’t look at my Messenger and end up not seeing a message he sent me until days later. I haven’t seen my sisters or nephews or nieces or my aunt and uncle or any of my close friends at all in 2020. The more we stay in this abnormal era, the less communicative I become. I don’t want that particular piece of this saga to linger on when the dust settles. Also, I just imagined that dust had COVID-19 floating around the granules, because I guess I’m neurotic now. Jesus, get it together.

I’m alright, I’m fine. It’s gonna be fine don’t worry. It has to be, right? Has anyone else gone down that rabbit hole where it isn’t fine? Have you seen that thought experiment through like I have, where we keep catching COVID waves and a few billion of us die and governments merge and people are rioting and food is scarce and gas is a luxury and the aliens come but we don’t unite because movies are better than real life?

No, it’s cool. I got this. We got this. We better have this. I miss Mom. I’m going to call her now.

And hey, just break the rules a little bit. Take care of each other, but also give someone you love a nice smack on the butt. They’ll feel better. So will you.