Winter is coming. COVID-winter, to be specific. Some experts are suggesting the next few months might be the worst of the pandemic. That means more social distancing. More masks. More stay at home orders. It also means we’ll have fewer opportunities to connect (at least in person) with the people and places we love. But loneliness doesn’t have to define this winter. In fact, you’ve got the answer in your pants.
That’s what mes amis français call a double entendre. But this article isn’t about sex (that article’s over here, actually). Why? Because the answer to your loneliness isn’t in the hope for a vaccine, going to your office holiday party, or even being able to eat grandma’s biscuits and gravy on Christmas morning (that is NOT a double entendre. Gross.)
Believe it or not, loneliness is more rampant than coronavirus.
A survey from early 2020 (before the pandemic hit our shores) found that 60% of Americans reported feelings of loneliness— being left out, poorly understood, or lacking companionship. And that was before we were forced to learn terms like “quarantine” and “Zoom Christmas.”
If you don’t feel lonely, this is not your cue to check out. Loneliness is everyone’s problem—because even if you don’t feel it yourself, I guarantee you know someone who does. And it may not always be the person who lives alone. That’s where your pants come into play. The answer to this winter—the thing that’s going to keep our relationships vibrant, our attitudes uplifted, and our outlook positive—spends most of its time in your pants pocket. It’s your phone.
I know, I know. You saw The Social Dilemma. Phone = Evil, right? Not necessarily.
For all the amazing things your phone can do, from taking photos to ordering sushi, it was primarily designed as a vocal communication device. Yes, texting is more convenient. Yes, your social media apps give the illusion of connection. But that’s all it is—an illusion. Facebook is a mirage that can’t satisfy your real thirst for human connection. But a good, old-fashioned phone call? That’s another story. It’s precisely why A.G. Bell invented the dang thing way back in 1876. Somehow, in the nearly 150 years since its inception, we’ve lost sight of the simple power of the phone to help us stop feeling so alone.
Full transparency—I don’t like talking on the phone. But the longer this new normal drags out, the more I’m finding it necessary. Sometimes, when a text will suffice, I call anyway. Just to hear another person’s voice. Just to make a connection. Just so they know that I’m actually on the other end of the line.
But I’m by no means an expert. My friend, DaManuel, though, is another story. This dude knows how to work a phone. When quarantine started back in the spring, he set his sights on an audacious goal—to call everyone in his contact list. And he did it. 1,161 individual conversations. 1,161 people who learned that someone else cared enough about them to give them time and attention. 1,161 people who went to bed that night having connected with a real, living, human being. That’s how you change the world.
DaManuel has inspired me to make personal connections with others a weekly goal, even in the midst of COVID. I bet he’ll do the same for you. So let’s ring him up. It’s time we put that expensive little computer in your pocket to good use.
Caleb: So you called everyone in your contact list—all 1,161 people. Where did that idea even come from? Because I’ll be honest, as an introvert, that sounds like my worst nightmare.
DaManuel: Haha! The idea started in quarantine, near the beginning of the coronavirus stuff this year. I was sitting outside, reading a book, and the thought popped into my mind: “I shouldn’t be spending all this time on me, I should be connecting with others.” I knew it had the potential to be uncomfortable, but I also believed a simple phone call or FaceTime could make someone else’s day. So instead of doubting, I just went for it. I started in the A’s and just kept making calls.
Caleb: What did you talk about? I’m assuming some of these people you hadn’t spoken with for quite some time.
DaManuel: Yeah, that’s true. I have three semesters of college left, and some of my contacts I hadn’t actually spoken with since high school or even earlier. To make the conversations a bit easier, I worked up a set of three standard questions I’d ask everyone. It gave me guardrails to follow, and helped ease any potentially awkward silences.
I’d ask each person:
- How are you doing?
- What are you looking forward to?
- How can I be praying for you?
For that last question, I’d jot their answers down on a Post-It note and hang it on the wall in my room. And then, yeah, I’d actually pray for them. This also gave me a reason to follow back up with them in a week or so, to see how things were going since our last talk.
Caleb: Be honest. How were the conversations? Were they as awkward as I assume they must have been?
DaManuel: The vast majority of the conversations, like 90% or more, were great. Only about 10% felt weird or awkward, and most of those were just because it had been so long since we’d actually spoken to each other. But, honestly, there was something special about the “weird ones” because you’re putting yourself in a humbling place to make the call. You’re tangibly valuing somebody else above your own comfort. So even the awkward ones ended up feeling very rewarding in the end.
Once I made the first few calls and could tangibly hear (or see, when I was on FaceTime) the joy coming into people’s eyes and lives, it kept me going. I think so many of us, in our mostly digital world, forget that there are other people out there who care about us. These calls were just a simple way for me to show that to others, and the people really responded to it.
Caleb: Out of your 1,000+ conversations, what were some of your favorites?
- I called a friend who lives in Boston, who I hadn’t spoken to for about a year or so. We had such a great talk; he decided to make the drive down to Cincinnati (where I live), so we could hang out in person. That’s like 9 hours. It just shows how important friendships really are.
- I called a mentor of mine, a man I’d met through YoungLife, who really taught me some important lessons as I was growing up. I’d never really thanked him for his influence, and being able to do that was really meaningful for both of us.
- Author Bob Goff famously puts his phone number in his books, so I called him. He answered, and I asked him my three questions. It was a really fun conversation, and probably not something I would have done otherwise.
Caleb: Any last words or thoughts? Obviously, not everyone is going to go your route of calling everyone in their contact list, but should people try to connect more this way, especially during the COVID winter months?
DaManuel: For sure. Friendships and relational connection don’t happen without intentionality. You don’t just accidentally become friends with someone. You spend time together, you find hobbies you enjoy doing together, and most of all, you talk. COVID may be isolating us spatially, but we have tools at our disposal to not let it separate us relationally. And the phone might be the most underutilized tool we have. Everyone uses it for social media, but it’s those personal connections, those voice conversations, that leave us feeling better (unlike social media, which usually leaves us feeling worse). I’ve found these conversations are always a two-way street—we both leave them feeling better, more joyful, and more connected than before.
So there you go. I dare you to open your phone and scroll through the contact list. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you come back. Those names you saw, they’re real people. They’re going through real hardships, or celebrating real victories, or sitting at home bored or lonely. I’m sure Paul, a writer of the Bible, didn’t have a global pandemic in mind when he wrote these words, but they sure do seem to apply:
…In humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4
So, who you gonna call first? Your mom? Your high school buddy? Your friend from work you haven’t seen since February? Ghostbusters? 2020 has been a long and complicated year—but the answer to thriving during COVID-winter doesn’t have to be. Pick up your phone. Make a call. You’ll be glad you did.