How to Be a Human in the World Again
You could say I’m extroverted. I’ve been referred to as a “professional icebreaker” and someone with “a lot of personality.” I am the type who strikes up conversation with people in a checkout line, to either their delight or dismay. When I tell the story of how I slid across a dance floor in front of the guy who played Jon Snow onGame of Thrones, I explain that it wasn’t an accident—it’s what I meant to do.
Then the pandemic happened. And that, you know, fucked with everything.
I won’t recount the deep, dark devastations here—depending on one’s circumstances, they were many and varied and profound—as they deserve their own telling, and this isn’t that story. This is light-hearted how-to in the wake of one of the worst times ever from the point of view of an extrovert who became intensely introverted and is now trying to get back in touch with her extroversion because, although she has contemplated it, she’s not ready to give up on everything and everyone and become a hermit. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a hermit. I see you, hermits. Only figuratively, obviously; all the same, you do you. But I digress, which happens a lot more often now. Back to the point: how to be in the world again.
What to think
Let’s start here: “normal” was never a thing. Some of us had a good run of life looking a certain way pre-pandemic, but that’s merely a matter of perspective. In the pro column for a colossal world shift is that—to put it crudely—a lot of us who needed to climb out of our own asses finally did. We can go ahead and grieve what we miss about life before the pandemic, while at the same time celebrate the long-overdue disruptions and epiphanies that happened because of it. Like sitting on the toilet while liking a pretty picture of a Santorini sunset on Instagram, you can do both.
To make coming out of a pandemic more relatable to an experience I’ve had before, I have been likening it to attending a new school. I graduated elementary school, which had its own joys and pains, and now I’m going to high school. So while it’s new and scary, it’s also an opportunity to reinvent myself, to try out a different way of being. In other words, we’re all awkward teenagers again. When I started crafting this metaphor, I thought it would be reassuring, but maybe it’s actually terrifying. Whoopsie. Still, it ultimately worked out for Josie inNever Been Kissed (if you ignore the problematic relationship with her English teacher like we all did back in 1999).
What to wear
With all that 2020 took from us, it gave us sweatpants. Collectively we were freed from unrelenting waistbands and stiff fabrics; some of us even did away with pants altogether, because Zoom let us live Mona Lisa-esque, waist-up-only lives. If you want to spend the rest of your life exclusively wearing sweatpants, I get it—go for it. You should wear whatever the heck you want. But if you’re looking to branch out, my advice to you is the same advice I’d give a recent divorcee trying online dating for the first time: take it slow. There’s no need to jump right back into tight jeans—and by jump, I mean wriggle and writhe (if you even care to get back into them at all).
Consider exploring all of your other relaxed silhouette options first. Maybe try a silk or linen set; these fabrics are perceived as dressier, but are still flowy and loose. They wrinkle like the dickens, but people expect them to, so you’re off the hook. Or buy jeans with a bigger waistband and put a belt on them so that you can let that belt out when you need to—it’s classier than unbuttoning the top button, although I’m not above doing that, either. So much of life is uncomfortable. Find comfort where you can.
What to say
ASaturday Night Live short that aired back in May, “Every Conversation With People You Haven’t Seen Since Quarantine Started,” brilliantly ripped into the weirdness of getting back into the swing of small talk. Not remembering how you know people. Accidentally blurting out something you thought in your head. All the strange, inconsequential statements: “Recently I’ve been going to dinner again.” Not to brag or anything, but I was making those flubs pre-2020. Now it’s just more prevalent, and we all have a good excuse. We lived through—here comes that phrase—unprecedented times!
Methinks, to borrow from Robert Frost, the best way out is through. Embrace the awkwardness. Use a disclaimer if need be, such as, “I spent the last year mostly talking to a David Bowie poster, so forgive me if something I say doesn’t make sense.” This happens to be a great segue to talking about David Bowie, which is a solid, non-pandemic-related topic (we can only talk about vaccines for so long). Also, don’t be afraid of silences. We shouldn’t have feared them before, but now they’re inevitable. Our brains are just too tired and discombobulated to work that fast to fill the void. Bonus: letting a little air just hang there could stop us from making more strange, inconsequential statements; at the very least, someone else will likely cave first and spare you the honor.
How-to articles typically offer more than three tips, but aha, I’m cleverly baking a fourth tip right into my conclusion, and that is: know when you’ve reached your max. In this case, it’s my word count. In the case of socializing again, it might be excusing yourself after one happy-hour drink. A friend and I just did that, actually. We’d been catching up—both of us grappling with big life stuff—and she said, “It’s all a lot,” about the life stuff, and, “Even this is a lot,” about our outing. I didn’t take it personally; I felt the same way. We’d lost both our social endurance, and it was actually relieving to just call it. We finished our drinks, paid the bill, and went home.
You may not feel comfortable enough essentially saying, “I’m done here,” to everyone, so pick an alternative that works for you and for the situation. Although a lot has changed, using, “I need to pop to the bathroom,” to get out of a conversation at a party is timeless. There just might be a longer wait for the loo because more people, including recovering extroverts like me, will also be using it.