Digital Friendships Can Be Overwhelming. It's Okay To Turn Down A Group Video Call

"I feel the need to whisper this – I’d quite like a few days where I don’t talk to anyone."

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“Shall we do this again, same time next week?” one friend asks. “It’s not like we’re doing anything else,” another jokes. Everyone on the Zoom call laughs – except me.

I love my friends and I’m fully aware it’s a privilege to have multiple friendship groups readily available. But as we begin week three of the UK lockdown – and I feel the need to whisper this – I’d quite like a few days where I don’t talk to anyone, where I can read a book or get into a really great boxset.

Coronavirus has taken over so much of our lives already and as I look at my calendar filled with digital dates – or hear the buzz of yet another Whatsapp notification – I long for a slice of normality. For me, that doesn’t involve constant connection to others. Does that make me a bad person?

Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford says our tolerance to both chatter and solitude may be influenced by where we sit on the introvert/extrovert scale. “Introverts and extroverts need different energy, or stimuli, to feel nourished and supported,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“An extrovert will be super happy that loads of Zoom invitations are popping up, and love the interaction. It makes them feel alive. Whereas an introvert will start to feel overwhelmed by the over-stimulation, and will be perfectly happy skipping invites to recharge their batteries in private.”

Because of this, it’s “absolutely okay” to turn down a video call with your friends, says Kate Leaver author of The Friendship Cure, “particularly if you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious at the moment.”

“Friends are pretty much obliged to understand, especially right now,” she says. “The best thing to do is explain how you feel, rather than lying – let’s face it, ‘I’m doing something else’ doesn’t work at the moment. Try to reschedule because it’s lovely to keep in regular contact when you can.”

At the centre of my desire to skip some Zoom calls is also the urge to get away from my phone or laptop – something I’m sure many of you will able to relate to if you’re working full time from home.

If, like me, you’re finding the digital nature of interactions a burden, etiquette coach William Hanson, executive director of The English Manner, says “the best and most graceful” way to turn down a digital date is to let them know you’re having a technology detox.

When you say this, you can “enthuse about speaking to them sometime soon at a later date, in order to soften the rejection”, he says, adding: “A word of caution: if you do say you are having a technology detox, be careful about being caught on social media.”

We can also find ways to stay in touch with friends that don’t involve sitting for prolonged periods in front of a screen, adds Leaver.

“You could go old fashioned and write to them,” she suggests. “You could pick up the phone and – God forbid! – have a phone conversation. Or exchange voice notes via WhatsApp, which is like a phone call without the confrontation of one. Text can also feel like a reprieve from all these video chats.”

Failing those suggestions, simply make a mental commitment to make your next conversation with friends a good one. “Be vulnerable, be candid, be open with them – especially if you’re not coping,” says Leaver.

“It’s a truly strange time at the moment; good friends will completely understand and give you space where you need it.”

And, as for me and my video call invitations, I’m aiming to be a bit more spontaneous. Instead of agreeing to invites a week in advance, I’m planning to take each day as it comes and reach out to a pal in the moment if I fancy a chat. The situation is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to know where we’ll be or how we’ll feel in six days time, let alone if we’ll have the emotional capacity to Zoom.

Life is limited so much already – and I’ve realised for me, a flexible diary is a must.