It’s Friday night, and instead of becoming one with the sofa–like you’d been doing for most of the last year–you’re meeting a friend for a drink. It was going to be low pressure, except earlier that they texted to say they’d invited another friend who they thought you’d get along with. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue; you’re normally relatively outgoing and normally you know how to speak with strangers, but at this point it’s been nearly two years, and what do you talk about with people you just met, again?
For anyone rediscovering the meaning of ‘social life’ in the last few months, this scene is probably a familiar one. After nearly two years in some form of lockdown with little to no opportunities for casual socializing, it’s no surprise that so many people are a little out of practice.
Whether it’s dealing with new stress around socializing, remembering how to have a conversation with a stranger, or–stay with me here–knowing where to look on an unmasked face (scandalous, we know), the reacclimation is real. Though we wouldn’t describe this month’s digest as A Guide so much as Some Thoughts, is there really that much of a difference on the internet?
Having a Conversation
Should you ask how someone’s lockdown was? What they think of current government pandemic policies? How about that one show you’ve been watching in an obsessive but totally low-key, actually very under control way for the last year? Oh yes, we’re going there.
There’s of course nothing wrong with jumping right into serious discussions–the deep end of conversational topics, if you will. However, after collectively living as hermits for the last year and a half it may slip the mind that others do not, in fact, also live in your mind. As in, cannot necessarily follow the strange twists and turns which brought on your COVAX tangent in a discussion about whether to get ice cream.
The wealth of articles on the subject suggest starting with low stakes open-ended questions and active listening–all very sensible stuff. We concur, and we raise one suggestion: throw an activity into the mix. Of course, many things haven’t come back and may not for a while, but museums are open, the botanical gardens are in bloom, outdoor markets have returned in full force–and you can make a pit stop at the tearoom on your way.
Activities are fun, sure, but they also offer common ground for a conversation–it’s why we recommend the tasting flight for a date (though, we must clarify, only if you’re down to spend some serious time with the other person). By the time your social skills have returned, your conversation will be well under way without the awkward monologues and even more awkward silences that let you know you’ve launched the conversation in the exact opposite direction of comfortable.
Looking at People
We know, who knew this was something that would ever need addressing? It may seem like the exact sort of tangent we just warned against, but we have several sources on this one and it’s confirmed: we’ve forgotten how to look at someone’s whole face.
If you really think about it, it makes sense. Until this spring in New York, for example, the only places you saw unmasked faces were the parks last summer, your apartment, sometimes outdoor seating areas, and on your streaming services. That’s months of only seeing the eyes and foreheads of anyone outside your pod.
Without facial cues, we haven’t been able to tell when our jokes land (or tank), whether someone likes their tea or snacks and how much, or whether we’re scaring someone off with startlingly out-of-practice social skills. And for the select few who have been maniacally crinkling their eyes to smize (you know, the scientific term for smiling with your eyes–thank you, Tyra Banks), they’ve just traded in relearning social rules for relearning which muscles make a smile that doesn’t cut off at the cheekbones.
Unfortunately, for this one we can’t offer advice, only a tangent, which is to read novelist Namwali Serpell’s roving essay collection Stranger Faces. After all, faces are strange, and how we perceive them even more so. It just took unmasking for us to realize it.
We know, finally: the underappreciated current running beneath all our social anxieties. What do we wear now?! Dusting off our Real Person closets has only gotten us to the realization that very little of our clothing fits.
For some people, the pandemic has led to a true revelation in their sartorial lives, which is not to have one that extends too far beyond athleisure and normal sweatpants. For others, the revelation was the inverse: with nowhere to go, and nothing and no one stopping you, why not dress up every day?
Whether you fall on either end of the spectrum, somewhere in the middle, or on an entirely different one (sequin sweatpants, anyone?), it’s hard to argue with the bottom line–you should dress however you’re most comfortable, no matter how un-trendy, sharp, or avant garde. Though of course, as New Yorkers at heart, we would be remiss not to hold out hope for the fashionably minded to return in full force.