The Legacy of Lockdown: Psychotherapist Olga Movchan on How Our Relationships Have Changed in the New Reality

During the pandemic, there was an inversion of the usual interaction between people. The space of contacts significantly shifted online: the computer in our room began to encompass a vast external world: friends, colleagues, clients, webinars, broadcasts, online parties with participants from different countries. At the same time, personal space became tight and enclosed within homes and families.

Despite the looming end of the pandemic before us (whether it's the end or just a respite...), it seems there's no need to worry about the fate of the online format. There is a high probability that a substantial part of our interaction will remain in the virtual space.

On the one hand, it takes time to stop seeing each other as a source of infection (this fear has formed in many during the pandemic and may be actualized when there is a legal opportunity to be together with a large number of people in one room). On the other hand, we have appreciated the new, quite appealing, although slightly surrogate, taste of online communication. After all, it's not just the hated online, where you strain your eyes, can't take someone's hand, or sense the same smells together. It's also the wonderful online where you don't worry about how you smell or feel awkward from physical touch. Plus, there's no need to gather, spend time commuting, and you can even skip wearing trousers.

In the online space, each participant has much more control. We are used to seeing ourselves in a small square on the screen and accurately understanding what our interlocutor sees. You can always notice and remove crumbs from your beard or adjust your strap. As a last resort, there is an option to exit the contact in a relationship-safe way—turn off the computer: "Oops, sorry, there were some network glitches." It's significantly more challenging in real communication. You can, of course, blame unexpected work issues or sudden illness, but it's more difficult, especially for conscientious people, because your counterpart also prepared, spent time commuting... It's different in the online world.

For people with introverted tendencies, there's finally a chance to live as they dreamed. Instead of painful personal meetings, it's quite conventional to meet and sort everything out online. The reluctance to meet in person is no longer perceived as odd or rude. Fortunately for introverts who received such an unexpected inheritance from the pandemic, these tendencies are likely to be supported by young people who generally feel much more comfortable online than the older generation.

Perhaps the online and offline question will even become a way to demonstrate hierarchy or a special attitude towards the interlocutor. For example, agreeing to an offline conversation in a professional format will be a way to show interest or special regard. So, routine contacts may take place online, while personal meetings, being more complex and less convenient, will become a manifestation of special respect or love.

The everyday nature of online life can significantly complicate the work of those who used indirect methods of influencing clients, such as hidden sales. Online, people are much more protected from the seductive comfort and care than during a real meeting. You can't tempt them with the amazing aroma of coffee, the taste of brandy, or a soft armchair. So marketers and salespeople will have to look for new forms of work.

Serious changes may also occur in areas where meetings or trips solved many tasks at once. For example, a scientific or business conference. People went there with different goals, sometimes, of course, combining them: to give a presentation, listen to others, meet new people, socialize. Now there's no point in flying three hours on a plane to read a forty-minute report, let alone listen to it. So before buying a plane ticket, you now have to honestly admit that the purpose of your trip is not the presentation, but a glass of good wine with pleasant colleagues (for example). However, there's nothing unexpected or reprehensible about this.

Most of us have missed live communication with people. Many mostly communicated only with members of their family and unloaded all their dissatisfaction and tensions on each other. "Wills against mine / These eyes opposite." During the pandemic, the usual compensatory mechanisms that supported the existence of families were destroyed. Before the lockdown, a huge number of couples were involved in much more complex permanent and temporary constructs: family systems, including parents, grown children, brothers and sisters, close friends, colleagues, guides on vacation, gym trainers, who smoothed out the difficulties and roughness of relationships within the couple. During the pandemic, the usual ways of relieving tension became unavailable: neither having a drink with friends nor going to an exhibition, and sometimes even being alone properly. It became significantly harder to maintain relationships if certain important needs were not previously met within the couple and were compensated for from the outside.

At the same time, experiencing isolation and acute lack of personal space occurred against the background of desensitization (loss of sensitivity to one's own sensations, experiences, and needs) associated with the trauma of the pandemic situation itself, making it difficult for an essential aspect of relationships in a couple to feel oneself and the other. It was necessary either to face a crisis and try to find ways to live peacefully in a closed system or to separate.

Poor couples. The initial period after the lifting of restrictions also carries some danger. We've missed something fresh, not yet familiar, so new people may seem much more attractive to us than those with whom we spent the lockdown, simply because they're new. The charm of novelty can easily be mistaken for infatuation, for a new meaning. The resort romance effect is possible. This doesn't mean that people will necessarily rush to destroy their relationships, but new reasons for tension may arise. Fortunately, those couples who successfully went through joint isolation and perhaps related crisis situations may turn out to be more resilient because experiencing crises together develops healthier forms of attachment and improves relationships. Many couples will be able to embark on something new together and retain the value of what they have experienced together.

For those who spent the lockdown alone, there is also a danger of getting involved too quickly in relationships or professional endeavors that are not really necessary, simply because of fatigue from isolation and inactivity. As a result, people may overestimate new relationships and projects, leading to serious disappointments. And not because we are now incapable of communication or new relationships. It's just that emotional deprivation needs to be treated with caution, like coming out of starvation. Start with something light and in small portions (small gatherings and not for too long) to be able to feel the taste.

Finally, although many of us have adapted well to the pandemic situation, as we approach the end of the lockdown, we are tired and with a learned sense of the unpredictability of existence. Coming out of lockdown is not just a return to the old life where we can finally breathe. It's largely a new reality again, to which we will also have to adapt. Moreover, it's a reality that will drain our energy because offline communication requires more energy, especially when it's new. We all have to be tolerant and patient with each other to not destroy the still fragile offline relationships that are recovering. However, looking at how we adapted to life during the pandemic, we can confidently say that if we don't rush, acknowledge that we have gone through a difficult time, and pay attention to our own and others' experiences, we will successfully settle in the post-COVID world, enjoy touches and hugs again, and find new ways to meet.