Opinions in Dialogue: Reaching out and Checking in

A look at how distance has changed the ways we relate, and how our language has grown in tandem

A woman is looking wistfully at her phone screen. The room is dimly-lit, and curtains behind her filter out some of the bright lights of the city. The mood of the photograph is very isolating.
The pandemic has distanced us, so we’ve had to adapt our relations to the tools we have. PHOTO: mikoto.raw / Pexels

By: Maya Beninteso, Peak Associate; Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

Over the pandemic, many of the methods we use to interact with one another have become formalized. With quarantine, distanced education, and work, we’ve had to adapt the language we use to build and sustain our relationships. Central to the changing ways in which we interact are the phrases “reaching out,” and “checking in.” How do these phrases make us feel, and how have they affected our lives?

Peak Associate Maya Beninteso and Staff Writer Kelly Chia discuss.

Kelly: I did not take well to social distancing in March 2020. I’d find myself staring at Zoom calls after my lectures had ended, wondering if I should have DM’d my classmates to get their social media. It’s hard to assess your relationships when online because it feels impersonal. So I think having developed the language that we have to describe all of these compounding and unique anxieties is nice, but for me it still feels inadequate.

Maya: I enjoyed lockdown at first. But by the end of March 2020, I found myself missing the world outside of my home and the small interactions that I’d taken for granted. Carrying out friendships online simply wasn’t cutting it for me either. I completely agree that DM’ing my friends felt impersonal and superficial. My friends and I organized Zoom calls — but it just wasn’t the same. I left the calls feeling even more isolated than before. 

Kelly: I do admit the break initially gave me time to reflect on how I approached my work and my friendships. There’s also a particular . . . exhaustion with online hangouts through Zoom and Discord. Having only one outlet through which to talk to my friends felt like a burden, making it difficult for me to assess my needs, let alone theirs. 

I’ve learned an important part of reaching out is knowing what you need. Do you want advice? Or do you just want someone to listen? Likewise, when a friend reaches out to you, it’s good to ask what they need from you, because you can assess whether you can provide that for them. Maybe they’d even just like to be tagged in a cute video or a meme.

Maya: During the beginning of the pandemic, I was the mental health council president at my high school, which prompted me to feel a great deal of pressure to be the one to “check in” with my loved ones and peers. Don’t get me wrong — I care a great deal about the people in my life, but “check-ins” were often accompanied by a great deal of responsibility and anxiety. I don’t believe anyone should feel wholly responsible for making sure their peers are mentally/physically well — this responsibility is undue. Although I have concerns regarding the term “checking in,” there are also conceptual issues surrounding the idea of “reaching out.” Namely, some find it difficult to ask for help, making “reaching out” difficult for those select individuals. Whatever the reason may be — reaching out can seem daunting.

Kelly: I agree; I don’t think their mental and personal welfare is entirely your responsibility. I remember early in the pandemic, there seemed to be more conversations happening around personal boundaries regarding difficult topics. In my experience, this meant I was having more difficult conversations. I respect that articulating these problems is an exhausting process. But listening without assessing your mental wellbeing can be burdensome, too.

Boundaries are the compromise. I learned that when I was “reaching out,” sometimes this meant asking if it was an appropriate time to talk. Learning how to do this was a bit awkward, as it can be difficult to ask whether a person is ready to listen to some difficult news when you feel like you have no other personal outlets. But it is vital to learn what your peers’ boundaries are to be fair to yourself, and to your loved ones. Sometimes you kind of have to intuit these lines to start — these are personal conversations, and relying too heavily on a template can eclipse the sincerity needed.

Maya: These preferences are entirely personal and contextual but, if you are going to “reach out” or “check in,” I believe clear boundaries should exist. For example, if I were to reach out to someone, I should ask my friend if they are currently in a good, and safe, mental state to help me through a rough patch. Asserting this boundary is vital and can contribute to healthy and non-toxic relationships.

Kelly: Offering a definitive guide of how to reach out is hard. During the pandemic, I was trying to repress so much of my emotions. It was so hard to know when was the right time to share these feelings since I worried about the same things almost daily.

Sometimes, I’ve had to tell friends I need a break in the middle of a hard conversation and when I think I could come back to the conversation. It feels shitty to do. But you and your friends deserve to have good support from each other, and you won’t be able to provide it if you don’t know your limitations.

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