Has lockdown turned us all from social butterflies to Zoom-dodging hermits?

This was at first terrifying. No plans. NO plans? What am I, a loser in an eighties high school movie?? But, like many things in this curious new lockdown world, I have had something akin to an epiphany.

I am a vigilant socialiser – one of those annoying people who says ‘I have an opening in 3 weeks’ if you ask me for a drink. I find an empty space in my diary and it fills me with existential dread; like it’s a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

But since lockdown, all I have done is cross out reams and reams of plans in my diary. In fact, my 2020 diary may be the most redundant item of stationery I have ever purchased. I am now basically using it as a scribble pad.

Having no plans… is strangely liberating.

The dustball desert that is my social calendar, has made me question my desperate pre-Corona need to constantly be going out and seeing people. It has also made me confront the underlying reason I may have been making all these plans in the first place: FOMO.

I suffer acutely from this very specific form of social anxiety. I chalk it up to being an only child, to being literally born a third wheel, but I have always felt extremely stressed at the prospect of being left out. It was something I thought I would grow out of, after the growing pains of adolescence, but it in fact lingered, perhaps exacerbated by social media.

If I see a pub lunch or party I have not been invited to on instagram – I’m in bits. I am a 31 year-old woman. I don’t care. Judge me all you like. My FOMO is real.

I almost bankrupt myself because of FOMO, I tire myself out needing to be one of the last women standing at a party. I book group holidays I cannot afford because I feel the emotional cost of seeing it unfurl without me will be too much. I nearly went on a ludicrously-expensive ski holiday in 2017 just so I wouldn’t be left at home without my friends. The only thing that stopped me, was a small rational (very underrated) voice in my head that reminded me that I both hate skiing and am REALLY BAD at skiing.

Yet, the unexpected silver lining of self-isolation? That lingering question: is everyone hanging out without me? It’s so easily answered: no. No one is hanging out. No one can go anywhere. No one is on villa holidays I can’t afford, no one is booking tickets to gigs I can’t go to. Nada.

Yes, I’ll admit, in the first weeks of this brave new virtual world, my Zoom calendar was off-the-charts. I was churning through so much wine on back-to-back video conferences that I was getting dizzy with the alcohol-fuelled screen time, like I was living in some strange, millennial version of The Sims.

But now, the HouseParty assault has dimmed, the Zoom calendar is more manageable, and the endless Facetimes are less endless; I have started to embrace the joy of having no plans.

Although I loathe the rhetoric that lockdown should be turning us into the next Booker prize winner or an undiscovered Picasso, I actually AM being more productive in lockdown. Taking my weekday bar hops and restaurant trips out of the equation has made the days open up, and rushing to file copy by 6pm – because I have a 7pm date with a bottle of tequila in Soho – is a thing of the past.

I am reading more voraciously than ever. I am cooking. I am taking the time to write more, watch more old films I love and yes, talk to my friends in more depth- not just smiling at them through strobe lighting at 2am on a Saturday night.

Much of this is down to an actual embrace of the quiet life that many of us are experiencing. This week, friends of mine were opening up about zoom fatigue- one friend in particular actually point-blank refused to join one, by saying honestly that his face hurt from “smiling at a screen all day.” The constant need to see people, to be going out and partying, that was instantly replaced with back-to-back zooms, has seemingly dimmed for a lot of us.

“I feel like I just want to be a hermit now” said a friend, and a part of me – for the first time in my life- wanted to scream in agreement.

Despite the obvious agonies of this time, there is a surprising peace- for those of us lucky to be isolating in relative space and comfort- in lockdown life. The whirling pressure of socialising can be heady and exhilarating, but it can also be stressful, exhausting and -yes- financially crippling.

Not only am I relieved not to be pouring my money away on the dreaded “lets split the bill” seven person group dinners (“But I only had a salad!!”), I am surprised how relieved I am not having to “keep up” anymore. I am actually enjoying the fact no one can go out for a while, that I have hit pause on my relentless need to be at every party, every lunch, every everything- and just relax.

Spending time with myself, working on personal projects, losing myself in quiet reading, even having a glass of wine in my garden, alone. These small and unexpected pleasures have provided surprising solace in this time.

So, while I don’t think my post-lockdown life (whatever that looks like) will be a quiet one, I think it will certainly be a more measured one. I have learnt the power of slowing down, the joy of being by myself, the acceptance of missing out, and it was a valuable lesson.

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