At some point this year — probably June or July, according to most state legislators — coronavirus restrictions will ease and we will all re-emerge, like bears from their slumber, into polite society. To help you readjust, we’ll be sharing some advice on grooming, fitness, getting dressed in something besides sweatpants (but also sweatpants), how to manage your stress and mental health, dating, concert and bar etiquette, and more.
By now, you’ve no doubt heard all the hype about what’s been dubbed Hot Vax Summer. The idea is that once we’re all fully vaccinated in a few months and can safely return to normal life (or however “normal” we can get post-pandemic), we’re supposed to kick off the “new Roaring ’20s” with some good old-fashioned bacchanalia. We’re seeing many of our friends for the first time in over a year. We’re going out, we’re getting drunk, we’re getting laid. But after over a year in isolation, there’s a lingering fear many of us can’t seem to shake: Are we actually ready to see other people again?
If you’re feeling like you’ve completely forgotten how to interact with other human beings while in quarantine, you’re not alone. Humans are social creatures, and while we may want more than anything to resume our regular day-to-day interactions with other people, there’s also scientific proof we’ve forgotten how to do that. If we don’t use our social skills on a regular basis, they begin to atrophy, and as the New York Times points out, isolation “dampens our ability to recognize and appropriately respond to the subtleties and complexities inherent in social situations. Instead, we become hypervigilant and oversensitive.” In other words, we’re all awkward raw nerves right now, anxious that we’re about to say or do something weird and alienate our friends at the exact moment we’re supposed to reuniting with them for this grand, hypothetical summer of hedonism.
We’re all recovering from trauma at the moment — yes, even if you were lucky enough to not have to deal with COVID-19 directly, staying inside by yourself for a year while watching more than three million people worldwide succumb to a deadly virus is traumatic — and it’s important to remember that as we plan our big re-entry into society. For many, the stresses of the pandemic have taken a physical toll, and some of us may be feeling more self-conscious about our physical appearances as we head into summer, whether we unexpectedly gained or lost weight, lost some hair or let it grow wild, developed some darker under-eye circles, or sprouted some new grays. The pressure to get back out there looking our best is real, and if we’re feeling less than confident, that’s only bound to make us even more timid or anxious as we reconvene with people we haven’t had a chance to see since March 2020.
Will they even want to see us? On top of all the worries about returning to regular life, there’s the fear that we’ve already accidentally ruined all our friendships and this unbearable period of isolation will continue forever for us. Just as stress manifests itself physically in different ways, we all had our own unique ways of coping with the most mentally taxing year of our lives, and for some of us that meant pulling back a bit. (You can only answer “Literally nothing!” to “What’s new?” on FaceTime so many times, and it’s completely natural if you were feeling too overwhelmed or depressed in quarantine to keep in touch with your pals as frequently as you wanted to.) But now that we’re headed towards the end of it, perhaps we’re worried those unanswered texts have caught up with us and we’ve left ourselves with no one to share in the debauchery with this summer.
The only solution is to recognize that we’re all coming back from one of the most awful experiences of our lives and cut each other a little extra slack as we readjust to life with other people. Yes, we’re all going to say and do some weird things. Yes, we’re all looking a little ragged. Yes, your buddy who didn’t call once during lockdown now suddenly wants to hang out again. This is all to be expected, and if we want Hot Vax Summer to go off without a hitch, we’ve got to accept it all and grant each other a little extra grace and understanding. We all basically turned feral during the pandemic; human beings simply aren’t meant to spend so much time alone. (There’s a reason solitary confinement is considered a cruel and unusual punishment.) As we try to get our bearings and re-domesticate ourselves, there are bound to be a few bumps along the way.
Even if by some miracle you’ve managed to re-emerge from quarantine emotionally unscathed and feeling like your normal, charming self, there are still all the tiny unspoken social contracts to relearn. After a year without commuting, maybe you’ll forget to let everyone off the subway car before you try to get on. Or maybe you’ll have to re-learn when a hug is appropriate and when you should stick to a handshake. (We’re all starved for physical contact, but especially after a pandemic, it’s important to respect people’s personal boundaries.) Whatever the situation, it’s likely gonna get weird. The way we get through it is to accept it and agree to be a little more patient with each other. After the horrors of the last year and a half, we all could use some extra empathy and compassion. Eventually, the awkwardness will subside and we’ll fall back into our old habits, but until then, the only way we can truly have a Hot Vax Summer is to embrace it, warts and social miscues and all.