So much in our lives has changed over the last 18 months. The way we work, socialize, eat, exercise, entertain ourselves, travel, and everything else, all has been altered. But more than just what we do has changed, what we want has also changed, or maybe not changed exactly, but just become more clear.
Before the pandemic, Vicki used to go out with people all the time—for meals, drinks, coffees, whatever was suggested. If somebody invited her, she just said yes. She never stopped to ask herself if she wanted to go, she just went because “it’s what you did.” Yes was a habit; more socializing meant she was living a better, more exciting life. But since the pandemic, since stepping off the social treadmill, Vicki’s changed.
Throughout this shutdown, so many of us have realized that a lot of what we were doing pre-Covid, how we filled our time, was simply because we’d been conditioned to do it that way, because we were following social norms that told us we should live that way, and everyone else was living that way. Pre-pandemic, we were busy doing a lot of things because it’s just what we did, but not necessarily because it’s what we wanted to do, or for that matter, what actually made us feel well.
The cultural narrative running right now is that we all can’t wait to get back to our busy social lives, to fill up our social calendars. But in fact, many people, maybe you included, feel something very different; many report being surprised by how much they’ve enjoyed not having to socialize, not being on the go all the time, and not doing everything that might potentially be interesting—getting off the doing horse.
When what you should do is off the table because it’s no longer possible, often, you discover something truly remarkable, namely, what you want to do. What many people have realized over this time is that what they want to do is a whole lot less than what they were doing pre-pandemic. It may have felt like a great relief to not have to run around and see everyone, to get to have time to yourself, to pay attention to your own wants and needs. If so, you’re more normal than you think.
This is one of the true silver linings in this pandemic. We’ve become more aware of what’s true for us, and how we actually want and like to spend our time. This time off the grid has made it clear that our life would look a whole lot different if we were given (or gave ourselves) permission to consult our own gut for how we want to spend our time and with whom, as opposed to just following the rules, acting from conditioning, and doing what we think is normal.
You may also feel a sense of dread in returning to your social calendar. There may be anxiety around getting back to regular social interacting, fear that you no longer know how to be with other people, what to say or how to behave. Or, that you won’t be able to bear small talk anymore. As if the time away has rendered you socially disabled. This, too, is normal. You’ve gone into your cave and it can feel hard to come back out. You may like it there. Rest assured, your social skills will return and you will remember how to talk to people. As you get back into the world, it will feel less daunting and laborious. And yet, as it gets easier and more second nature, what’s important is that you stay awake to how much socializing, what sorts of it, and with whom you actually want in your life. As getting together with other people becomes more routine, don’t lose the precious question that’s in front of you right now: How do you actually want to do this thing we call socializing?
As you prepare to launch back into the world, don’t squander the glorious silver lining this pandemic has offered. Don’t just mindlessly throw yourself back into the same life you were living before Covid, before you were given this profound opportunity to stop and see what kind of life you really want. If you choose to get back on the social hamster wheel, the doing treadmill, do it mindfully, because you want to do it. In this moment, you are standing at a crossroads, choose wisely how you want to proceed. You are about to start building new habits so let them be habits you want to create.
You’ve discovered how you want to spend your time, who you want to see, and how often. Consider how much should you want in your calendar, and how much want; perhaps the balance has shifted. Contemplate what you’ve learned about your own attention and whether you are someone you want to spend time with going forward. Hold onto this newfound reverence for your own company, and heed it. Put time with yourself in your calendar as you reenter your social world.