It’s okay to never meet IRL

“You still haven’t Met?”

My cheeks flush at the question, and I feel a combination of frustration and embarrassment similar to when someone questions why I still use masks, avoid indoor gatherings, and take other precautions to avoid re-infestation.

However, the question is flawed, because of course Angela M. Vázquez and I met. We first met three years ago when she was at a online long Covid support group I had started on Slack. We met again when she signed up for Google Meet to discuss becoming one of the group’s first moderators, and again when I interviewed her and her partner on Zoom for an article about caregiving. We met on video calls and in Google Docs where we wrote guidelines for our online support group. As our friendship blossomed, we met in text threads and during phone calls – we often offered each other some kind of care that was gone from my “IRL” life. But no, Angela and I still haven’t met ‘in person’.

Mid ninetieswhen the internet first went mainstream, some noted that it offered safer sex options in a time of high HIV transmission. More recently, cyberintimacy during the pandemic has proven to be a critical lifeline, especially for the immunocompromised and other high-risk communities. increasingly marginalized from mainstream society due to the press to return to normal.” Providing more opportunities for cyber intimacy can improve access to intimacy for these communities while allowing us all to recognize the unique benefits of virtual relationships. Still, relationship apps often push users to meet in person, which adds to the idea that virtual connection is always inferior to the connections we forge in the physical presence of each other.

When the pandemic first started, there were a lot of events and offers newly accessibleAnd relationship apps And social media websites exploded with activity. “Suddenly people were behaving the way I had to behave pre-pandemic,” says Liz Weaver, a neuroscientist interested in cross-disciplinary policy, health equity, and science communication. myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) and describes herself as ‘housebound’. For Weaver, 2020 brought her “easiest dating days.” She spent most of the first two years of the pandemic in an all-virtual romantic relationship with someone she met at a chronic illness support group. The two women used FaceTime and texting to exchange intimacies, but Weaver says social media also played an important role. “When you share… memes and TikToks and stuff, it’s playful intimacy,” she says.

However, the widespread attention for virtual spaces was short-lived. Since then, there have been high-risk communities few options And little support. Our community experiences a mental health crisis if we struggle to stay socially connected. “Of all the things I’ve been able to overcome with ME/CFS, losing connection is the most tragic,” says Weaver.

I can’t stress enough how much joy and meaning I’ve found in virtual spaces over the past three years. Sometimes I describe the experience of entering my long Covid support group as leaving a dark, empty room for a raucous party. Lying in bed and clicking the little Slack icon at the bottom of my screen, I felt the thrill of waiting outside a best friend’s door. The friends, mentors, and collaborators I met in this space came from all over the world, and as Rasha Abdulhadi, a writer and community technologist long-time Covid-disabled, points out, this ability to connect across time zones makes “ possible to keep company through chronic illness insomnia and support other organizers through night vigils.”

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