Yet this current not-quite-post-lockdown-post-lockdown stage may well be far more confusing a space to exist in.
And we’re not just talking about the government guidelines slowly resembling that tangled mass of old phone chargers you have in your desk drawer.
Our social lives do not resemble anything approaching what they used to, which means we have also entered a whole new world of social etiquette. You friends may swiftly be divided into two categories that never existed before: the rule breakers and the anxiety-ridden isolators.
Life under lockdown was hard. Boring. Filled with Zoom fatigue and a surplus of banana bread. Furloughed huns and lockdown-project bros. Too many quizzes, not enough fresh air. Headaches from screen time, well-nursed homicidal thoughts about your quaranteam.
Words like quaranteam.
So, how to exist in this world? Consider me the Emily Post of your new normal.
The Dinner Invite
“Want to come over for dinner?” This seemingly innocuous invitation would barely have raised an eyebrow before lockdown. Now it’s ripe with panic. You want to start asking questions you would never normally ask your friends: how often do you anti-bac your surfaces? Have you had an antibody test? May I bring my own cutlery?
How to ask these questions without seemingly gloriously rude? Yeah, there’s no real escaping that. Instead, maybe suggest something you do feel comfortable with; a park near them or an al fresco set up in their garden. Plus, you’d never turn up to a dinner empty handed anyway; just think of bringing your own tableware as the new bottle of Echo Falls.
Say: “Sound amazing darling, I can’t wait to show you these stunning new hazmat suits we bought. Very flattering.”
The Personal Space Invaders
We all know the ones. A few minutes into your seating arrangements in the park, and they are bending over you, shuffling over, generally assuming the two metre rule is a jumping off point for negotiations. You want to push them away but- ack Corona!
No touching! Instead, you end up squirming away like a passive aggressive slug, getting closer and closer to the ground in a rather peculiar attempt to both save your life and remain cordial.
Try erecting physical barriers around you instead: a hastily erected umbrella fort or an obnoxiously large picnic hamper (extra middle-class-middle-finger points if it’s Fortnum Mason).
Top tip: play Sting’s “Don’t stand too close to me” whenever anyone approaches.
The Zoom Dodge
For those friends (and family members) still too far away for actual IRL socialising, the Zoom invites are still happening. By this point- week 2457383759379375 of lockdown life- our eyes are straining from too much screen time, we are sick of seeing our pals encased in tiny squares like a mini version of University Challenge and freezing in awkwardly lolz positions. But how to avoid this when it’s raining- and everyone knows you can’t be in the park aka the only socially acceptable social hang? You can’t feign illness without setting off Corona alarm bells. Best to pretend your internet is patchy, you dog ate your laptop or – more controversial still – you have a zoom quiz clash.
Top tip: Log on and stay very still in one position. Keep sporadically doing this and then leave the meeting. They will assume you have frozen and been undone by a dodgy internet connection.
The Rogue Ravers
OK so these kids have probably been partying since lockdown began. We may all have friends like this – the ones who will let nothing keep a good party down, not even a global pandemic. But now that lockdown measures are easing up, they have slightly more leverage to persuade you to join the rave. What to do if the invite wings your way but you don’t want to be that goody-two-shoes who is worried about getting into trouble? Well, the simple answer here is- you may need to be. But you don’t need to sound like it.
Say: “I’m afraid I’m doing an at-home spiritual detox retreat I read about on Goop. I’ll call you in September.”
The Peripheral Pal Pop Up
When we were all at home, it became easy to catch up with everyone. A quick video call or zoom hang was fairly simple- even exciting- and made it so that even people you didn’t normally see very much, suddenly felt oddly more accessible. But now that in person socialising has crept back in, so have those acquaintances; the ones who you make small talk with at parties, for whom the extent of your social interaction has largely been likes on instagram and the occasional emoji reaction on stories. But now they want to meet IRL. What’s the polite way of saying ‘hey, I like you, but not enough to risk my life.’? Tricky. Explain you are in a gradual rollout stage when it comes to physical meets, and are only meeting those super close to you right now (you may be able to use geography to your advantage here). Say you are worried. You don’t lose points for honestly saying you are worried, in an incredibly worrying time.
Top tip: Tell them you are only meeting people added to ‘close friends’ on insta: no green circle, no IRL meet.
The Hasty Holidaymakers
You may be still grappling with the idea of inviting people into your garden. Meanwhile your mates have just booked a cheap-ass Ryanair flight to Crete for August and are badgering you to go. The FOMO is real, but so is the icy realisation that this may be a super-hazardous trip, that air travel fills you with dread, that you are still not one hundred percent convinced that a second wave is not just around the corner. How to be the holiday party pooper here? You could just suck up the cost of that £50 flight and – if you’re still feeling weird when the date approaches- just claim you have a cough and are too worried to take that potential-symptom across international waters.
Say: “Lockdown has made me come to terms with the reality of the climate crisis. I will not be flying for ethical reasons. I hope you understand.”