Vaccines May Be Here, but Getting Back to Regular Life Is Going to Take Some Time

After a full year of isolation and endless TV, books, and takeout, what is normal, anyway?

Photo by Betsie Van der Meer/Getty Images

Once upon a time, I was a person who dragged my friends along to the opening night of every major movie release. I excitedly texted them to see concerts with me. And I impulsively planned weekend visits to loved ones who lived out of state. In the mood for a beer with a side of gossip? I’d be there before you could say “fried bar snacks.” I was also often the person most likely to leave the bar early, evaporating into the night like an Amazon Prime Video rental you waited too long to watch. For years, I balanced a serious case of FOMO with being a bit of an introvert. At a certain point in the evening, the battery that charged my interest in being around other humans plummeted to a hard zero, and I couldn’t wait to head home, plant myself on the couch, and read some funny tweets until bedtime.

If my preferred post-bar activity sounds oddly familiar, it’s because right around March 2020, it became second nature to all of us. Gone were the days when we wistfully yearned for a little more time at home. That’s every evening and weekend now. Maybe, like me, you doubled or tripled the number of books you read over the past year. Or perhaps you grew accustomed to binge-watching Netflix until you conked out with the TV still on, or baking banana bread every single Sunday to go along with your whipped coffee. Regardless of your favorite quarantine pastime, after living this way for so long, you may now be facing the prospect of being around people again with an emotion I’ll call “excite-fear.”

On the one hand, I am going to climb the walls like a spider-person if I have to spend even one more fucking day at home, I swear to God. On the other hand, I dunno—attending, say, a dinner party sounds like a lot of effort. All those faces, all that small talk.

Needless to say, I’ve gotten really, really acclimated to this version of my social life. On Saturdays, I go to my sister’s house, where we play with my nephew until he goes to bed, and then get takeout from a rotating series of J.P. restaurants and watch whatever new movie has begrudgingly accepted an on-demand premiere instead of a theatrical release. On Sundays, I go grocery shopping with my roommate, where we pick out a week’s worth of meals, minus one day when we get takeout. On special occasions, I take a brisk walk outdoors with a pal. That’s it. That’s the sum total of non-work speaking to other people I do, except for the occasional FaceTime call.

At some point in the recent past, I could swear I fought for elbow space at bars…and was still smiling. I met new people, and breathed air right alongside them. I existed at an emotional register besides “benumbed heartbreak.” And now I’m not sure if I even know how to be that person again. This way of life has lasted so infernally long that thinking about a future where I regularly leave my home and hang out with friends in bars and movie theaters seems as fantastical as Narnia. And yet I am told I could be doing that sometime in 2021?

I really want to get excited about this. I want to fantasize about meeting up with friends after work to try out a new restaurant, or making immature jokes about some unusual modern art before buying a postcard of it at a museum gift shop. But I have a feeling it’s going to be a long, complicated, messy, emotional road to get there, and I’m trying to prepare myself for the possibility that fun will take a while to be…well, fun again. I’m thinking that what I need is some kind of ramp-up period. I’ll start small, with someone I trust, who might be interested in sitting quietly together without talking. I can’t even imagine what it will feel like the first time I eat inside a restaurant again with a group, but I know eventually I’ll transition to dining with some close friends. It may take every meditation app out there and enough breathing exercises to get deep-sea SCUBA-certified, but someday, when I’ve acclimated a bit more, I might even allow them to invite acquaintances I don’t know that well.

I don’t think I’m the only person who’s going to need to take it slow when it comes to socializing again. We’re all going to come out of our pandemic shells at our own pace—and maybe a little weirder, with rusty small-talk skills, disheveled hair, and tightened waistbands. If anything, it will be freeing to have the option to say no again, to crave some quiet time alone with a book, and to remember the joys of solitude instead of the necessity of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, my couch, with whom I am currently in a committed relationship, has a few questions for me about Bridgerton.

Read more about how to manage post-pandemic anxiety