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I Came Out Of The Pandemic With An Unusual Thirst For Human Connection.

I had a terrible crush on a boy who used to be in the same church youth group as I. The first time I noticed him, he was giving a talk on the benefits of joining a group in church. He was articulate and gave a good pitch. Not that I needed it; I was already an active member of different groups. But his story was intriguing and he was cute and nicely dressed. He looked like he smelled nice too. I did not have a boyfriend and had my eyes open for who might be a good fit. And he looked like a good fit.

Later, that evening, I walked into the venue of our meeting and found him seated at the table, giving a reading of the church’s devotional. I sat at another end of the table, and got into the business of the gathering, until I felt a feet slowly running up and down my legs. It was startling at first. Then, I thought it was a mistake. Then, I wondered what it meant, because, surely we were at a church meeting!

I shifted my legs a few times, but somehow those feet kept finding them. It continued that way, with little breaks within, till the meeting ended and I left immediately, half-fleeing the property because I didn’t know how to respond to that.

Barely did I get home, when I received a call from the boy. He said he wanted to “get feedback” about my experience at the meeting. I gave a general and sincere response, but he wouldn’t hang up. He sustained the conversation way past when it should have ended and it finally dawned on me, while I spoke with him; it was him. The feet were his!

Still, I didn’t know how to react. The dominant way I was feeling about his action was discomfort. Slightly below that, I felt disrespected. Yet, I doubted the possibility that his intention was to make me feel that way. So, his string of follow up actions got me thinking, “well you don’t have a boyfriend. And you like him. So why not get to know him more? This can be your true love story.”

It wasn’t my true love story. He went limp on me after I accepted his friend request on Facebook. And he was the reason I joined the platform. He’d sent a text asking to connect there.

So, after he went dead on me, I decided to come to terms with the fact that whatever it was that had started brewing between us had been aborted, and began to spread out and have fun with the handle.

Several people had sent me requests to connect and I went on a spree, connecting with them and others I stumbled on. That is how I came across Angelica’s profile.

She was a classic magnet with blond hair, blue eyes, thin thighs and long legs. She accepted my friend request within minutes of my sending it and followed it up with a message that was in the line of, “You’re my first friend from Africa and I’m excited about that! Woo-hoo!”.

Within days, we were messaging back and forth throughout the day, until her responses started taking long to deliver, and her words started to lack the excitement they once had.

Suddenly, it began to feel like I was in a race to catch up with a phantom. And when I asked Angelica about her new attitude, all she blurted was,

“Look, its nice to have a friend in Africa, but I wish you were a people-er person!”

I thought about it for a few days, then responded, “Yeah, I’d be, if I was born that way.”

That interaction made me to consciously assess my social life, and concluded, I didn’t have any. I had been solely focused on the primary reasons I was a member of the different communities I belonged to, that I totally ignored the possible relationships that should result from being a member of those communities.

At church, I was there to worship God, so that’s me dashing out immediately a meeting was over.

At the part-time job I held, I was there to work, and I was out of the door as soon as the clock says “go”.

I was also a student about to graduate, but a look at my social life showed I had spent four years, keeping people at bay, resisting friendships and ignoring bonds.

Angelica was right, I wasn’t a people person. She was looking for someone she could fly across continents to meet and have fun with, and I was looking for someone who was close enough to mail and call, but far enough to maintain my quietude, conveniently.

She was smart enough to pick that from our conversations. I was always either at home, at work, or at church. In the four months we texted and called, I didn’t talk about other people I was interacting with, who weren’t family. My Facebook feed lacked exuberance and other people. And I was always in bed by 9.

I moved on from that with a liberating acceptance of who I am and what I want, such that when the boy got tired of dealing with the awkwardness of the air between us, and reached out to properly seal what he’d started, I wasn’t affected when he said he’d been looking for adventure, spontaneity and excitement, and could not see them in me when he got closer.

Then the pandemic happened, and the faint brushes of human connection I derived from everyday passive interactions; in the bus, at church, at work, at the supermarket, that satisfied my low social need, was no more, and I became alone, really alone, lacking people who were invested in me or who I was invested in, with whom I could hold hands and go through the terrifying experience with.

My life grew quieter and quieter everyday, and soon I realized that a smile and a nod at strangers, during commute, and little exchanges of greetings with cashiers were no longer enough. I had become thirsty for more.

I had become hungry for small talks and long talks and intruding questions and stories. I wanted to laugh with someone. Or cry with someone. Or fight with someone. I craved being a part of a small group, in a large group, that I picked up my phone, one day, and sent out a “hello, how are you holding out in the middle of this?”, to everyone on my contact list, and within minutes got responses that were in the scope of, “(I’m shocked) but nice to hear from you. I’m trying not to die. How are you holding up?”

Within days, that move produced escapes, through windows, into social situations that fed my hunger and eroded my social awkwardness. Gradually, I was letting people into once restricted parts of me, while also letting myself to learn more about them.

I found myself unfurling and showing my shine.

Now, as things normalize, I am looking forward to experiencing the world around me, in the company of others, who will share in my excitement, as I share in theirs. Will I grow satisfied and recede to my shell again, someday? I don’t know. What I know is, I really wanna go out and have fun with those I call friends.

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