There’s a decent chance some of your in-person social skills have gotten rusty over the last year—and you’re not alone.
Just consider how long it’s been since you first ran across the verb “doomscrolling.” It may have been that long ago or more since you last went to a barbecue and caught up with your friends, hugged your loved ones, or made polite chit-chat with coworkers—or for that matter, with strangers. Do you even remember how to do that stuff?
Some aspects of in-person social interaction will undoubtedly come back instantly, but parts will also feel different and unfamiliar. So it’s worth taking a moment to consider how you can make your next hang feel a bit smoother. If you’re fortunate enough to be fully vaccinated and have in-person plans on your calendar for the first time in quite a while, we have a few pointers.
Ask where the boundaries are
Even in places where the vaccine has been available for a while, not everyone has had a chance to get it yet—or may be waiting on their second shot, or is within the two-week waiting period after that. (If that’s you, you might feel like a puppy staring out a window, and we know how that feels.)
The thing is, if those people made it this far to stay healthy through the pandemic, they probably don’t want to gamble with it now. So a good place to start may be when you show up with your mask on, look around and ask, “What’s the protocol on masks here?” You might be fine pocketing it while you’re sitting on your friend’s deck but would still need it handy to follow the rules later inside a car or at a show.
Lead with empathy around mask usage
The fact is, masks and masked faces have become a source of comfort for many people. And as unsettling as the last year has been for so many of us, that’s worth respecting.
So if you have a friend who invites you on a stroll and happens to wear a mask the whole time you’re at the dog park together, respect it. Instead of questioning it, the proper etiquette is to respond with something along the lines of “that’s chill.”
Plus, speaking of chill, as the cool evening breeze rolls in, it’s oddly practical to have something warm on your face.
Find gentler topics to talk about
The last year has brought an unending bonanza of opportunities to feel overwhelmed by information. Even casual catch-up chats weren’t immune to the many stressful topics of the pandemic. If you’ve felt exhausted by them, it makes sense your friends do, too.
Consider steering clear of inflammatory or controversial topics. Dial it down to friendly small talk to break the ice. If you need ideas on where to start, check out our tips for making effective small talk.
You don’t have to stay long
Say you show up, you’re wearing a newish outfit you’ve never had the chance to show off before, you see faces you haven’t seen in ages, there are hugs, a few kind words, and you’re feeling great. But the next thing you know, you’re feeling drained and oddly longing to leave—to get back to that same couch at home where you’ve spent so much time since last year.
Is that weird? Poor form? Not at all. Wanting to retreat or having a boundary against too much social interaction is a very natural response. We’re all still recalibrating to being outside the comfort zone of our homes and socializing again. On the occasions when you find yourself wanting to press pause, remember to say “that’s chill” to yourself, too. We all have some resetting to do. And after a long, long year of waiting, you’re allowed to go about that at your own speed. Respect the process and be kind to yourself and others throughout the gradual reintegration.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, keep that in mind
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Not everyone has been vaccinated, progress is far from even, and a lot of people have encountered greater hardships over the last year than having to learn the art of sourdough bread baking.
So if you’re lucky enough to be able to meet up with folks you haven’t seen in person in a long time—or if you changed jobs this past year and may be meeting colleagues IRL for the first time ever—don’t take it for granted. Because we’re all hoping to never again have to spend that much time away from grandma’s house or a packed, sweaty club or yeah, even the office. And that makes this messy, deeply human moment of reconnection a once-in-a-lifetime thing—one worth savoring in all its glorious imperfection.