Creatures of comfort: Why we gravitate towards the familiar during quarantine
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as we approach what it feels like month 1,000 of quarantine.
I’ve been re-watching one of my favorite old shows, Greek, even though there is a laundry list of new shows I should be checking out. My boyfriend and I recently re-watched The Haunting of Hill House and are currently re-watching Dexter even though we know how both of these end. We find ourselves speeding through season 3 of Dexter just to get to the next one because we know how good season 4 is with John Lithgow. We don’t seem to be drawn to anything surprising or new, or that might take us down an unexpected path. We want to watch things that are easy for us to digest because we are familiar with the characters and the story arc.
We have countless different options for take-out food and yet when we order, we order from the same three restaurants we would have gone to in person because we know we like it.
I have all the time in the world to read the stack of new books I have been saving for a rainy day and yet, when I have downtime, I put on reruns of Greek and watch this, knowing that it will make me feel light and happy and unperturbed by the state of the world. I would rather watch a show whose premise is sorority and fraternity life, and where the greatest question one might face within this fictional world is what to wear to a fraternity party, rather than now, when one might get to see their friends or family next, or even if one might get to see their friends or family again.
Why do we gravitate towards the familiar during times of uncertainty? What is it about these things that make us come back time and time again, that make us feel an overwhelming wave of reassurance and hopefulness? Perhaps it is because a favorite book or TV show or movie made you feel a certain way that you would like to hold onto. Perhaps these things are a reminder of times that were easier — when you could pop over to the grocery store or your favorite restaurant without donning a mask and gloves, when you could hug your relatives or loved ones without worrying about being asymptomatic and passing along a strange and potentially deadly virus, and when your sense of normalcy wasn’t scheduling a happy hour Zoom call with your friends just to have some semblance of social interaction for the day.
I’ve seen a lot of memes about how quarantine is a time to seize the moment, to be your best, most productive self, and if you don’t walk away from quarantine having picked up a new hobby or cleaned your entire apartment or read all the books on your list, you will have squelched this precious time. I say, if all you do every day is get out of bed and put on something other than your pajamas, you’ve had a successful day. Hell, if all you do is make a pot of coffee or brush your teeth while wearing your pajamas, I would call that a successful day. We are creatures of comfort, yes, but we are also creatures of survival and we do what we must to survive. Everyone processes and handles things differently and quarantine is an exceptionally unique challenge. The world might be a very different place in a few months or years but your comforts will remain your comforts.