Where are my friends?
We're all a bit scared of socialising again
Change is in the air and that’s always unsettling even when the change that’s coming is good for us. It’s ok if you’re struggling right now. In many ways, I’ve always found the times when we’re easing out of lockdown the hardest. Life suddenly feels more complicated and I start worrying about the change that’s coming and what that means about the status of my life. While the job all winter was to stay at home and try to be cheery, life was painful and dull, but also simple and everyone else was in a similar boat. Now in England, lockdown is easing and that’s lit a match under our insecurities about returning to our social lives.
There are lots of articles about our return to socialising and whenever I’ve shared them in this newsletter, they’ve been the most clicked on. This tells me that we’re a mix of curious and excited about being able to more freely see our mates. However, we all withdrew over winter and so it’s natural we’re feeling nervous about it. There are plenty of people that I’m very fond of that I barely spoke to as I was in a hibernation-lockdown-survival mode. I feel guilty about having retreated, but then I remember that we all did it and I’m not holding it against anyone and so I presume they don’t blame me for it either.
This is the power of human connection: we’re all fairly simple creatures and we responded to the collective trauma of living under a pandemic in similar ways and similarly, we share a lot of the fears about returning to socialising. We’ve all thought: what if I have no one to socialize with? We all worry that we’ve become boring and people won’t like us anymore. But what’s so beautiful about friendship, is even if we are boring or unlikeable, our true friends continue to love and accept us.
To return to socialising we need to be accepting of ourselves and others. We need to be patient as we return to the world in our own way and at our own pace. We must be forgiving: it’s none of our faults that this all happened to us. We mustn’t succumb to the pressure that doesn’t exist to bounce back into the social world like a glossy, unscathed Barbie doll.
I’m personally a bit daunted by the prospect of this illusive ‘summer’ I keep hearing people wistfully refer to. I hear it talked about like it’s going to be this wild and exciting time, when in reality I’m staring at a lot of uncertainty and emptiness during it. I find it better for me to take things a bit more slowly or as they come and so you’re not alone if this is you. Saying that, there was one event in August I was interested in and I almost didn’t share it with friends because I thought no one would want to go with me. I then thought that they have the free will to ignore me and say no, so I shared it and now I have a nice little group who I’m looking forward to dancing in Victoria Park with. It takes bravery to reach out to people when we haven’t done it for so long, but people are up for doing things more so than ever.
The other fear that’s holding us back is the fear of having nothing to say. I remind myself that good conversation is rarely an exchange of two people sharing things that they’ve done. I prefer more thoughtful analysis and exploration of ideas and life and so what I have or haven’t done is utterly irrelevant to how ‘interesting’ I am. I also believe you can make yourself more interesting. We’re not out of the woods yet – my weekend plans just got cancelled because it’s too cold to socialise outdoors - so there’s plenty of time to engage your brain so it creates some luminous thoughts and discussion. I’ve had enough of watching copious amounts of trash TV (honestly I thought I was going to die before Married At First Sight Australia would end) and I’m seeing this time as an opportunity to stretch my mind. I’ve just started the famous Yale happiness course and I enjoyed going down a happiness rabbit hole of podcasts, TED talks and articles on bank holiday Monday afternoon.
There’s also the fact that when you have nothing to say, you can talk about how you have nothing to say and I’m sure the other person will feel the same. When we’re vulnerable we open the door to further connection. I told someone that because I wasn’t used to socialising, that after I see people at the moment I worry that I did or said the wrong thing. The next day on a Whatsapp thread, a friend shared what their social anxiety had been from our hang. Sharing our fears are an opportunity for vulnerability and connection and that’s what real friendship is about.
We also need to allow our conversations to warm up. Pandemic or no pandemic, it takes me some time to settle into a social situation and warm up to conversation. It happens when we record the podcast too, we’ve done so many episodes now, but it still takes me time to warm up.
Speaking of warming up, socialising is like exercise and as the world reopens, we can’t just expect to run the 10k without any practice. I prefer smaller groups at the moment and people I feel safest with. Like with exercise, rest and recovery are important, so we need to pace ourselves.
Even the most extrovert among us are going to need to recharge alone when we first get back into socialising. On Monday, after three very sociable days for the Easter weekend, I spent the whole day alone. I could feel that I needed it and throughout the day, I could feel myself recharging. I also enjoyed myself a lot and then the next day, I felt so full of energy because of it.
There’s no pressure to book yourself out every day and we can allow ourselves to return to the social world at our own rhythm. So you don’t have to go to the pub the day it opens if you don’t want to, you don’t have to ‘throw’ yourself back into dating yet or fill your diary with plans. You can take it easy and gently, and build up like you would on the ‘Couch to 5k’ running program. Embrace the excitement of being able to socialise, but respect your needs and where you’re at. If you want to go home early, then do so and have faith that you’ll be running that social 10k when you’re ready and others will be running alongside you.