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Nobody’s happier than I am that this summer will mark our gradual return to pre-pandemic life. I ought to tell you this before I go on to tell you that my infinite gratitude and excitement is peppered (heavily) with nerves. Because the world going back to normal means I have three months to go back to normal myself — a feat easier said than done when I feel like I pressed pause on my social life last March and never hit that resume button. While I know I’ve grown in a multitude of ways, the burgeoning social life I thought I’d have mere weeks into college was never realized, not even close.
The truth is, I often feel like I’m trapped in this transitory phase, in a featureless room between a closed door and an open one that I can’t quite seem to reach. So I stopped trying. I tell myself that I should feel like an adult, that I AM an adult, but every time I hear the words 19-year-old-woman strung together it takes me a second to make sense of it. In what should have been the year I left home and spread my wings or whatever overdone metaphor you want to use, I unwillingly extended my childhood by a year. I’ve never been one for FOMO, but I am now. I fervently wish I was on a college campus too, ending the year in a new place with new friends. And I know that when I get there, I’ll be preoccupied with packing in as many experiences as I can, to make up for what I lost, in fear of missing out on even more. Every day, I’m hoping that the rumors about these being the best years of my life are patently false because if they’re not, I’m going to feel a hell of a lot worse about this wallowing.
You know those scenes in movies, where the main character’s sitting at an office desk or walking down the halls of their high school, and there’s this dizzying time lapse background where everything around them is shifting, days become nights, people come and go while they’re left paralyzed in time? It’s supposed to show the protagonist’s stagnation while everyone grows up and away, their inability to break a routine or move past the thing that’s keeping them from getting on with their life. That’s what I feel like. Only I’ve been stagnant for so long that I think I’ve forgotten what to do when I come unstuck. As awful as it sounds, I miss the early months of the pandemic, where at least I knew that my loneliness tended more towards a more predictably frustrating state of boredom over having nowhere to go. The months where I was afforded some sense of solace that the whole world was feeling this cooped up, too. But that’s the thing about loneliness, you don’t feel like you’re lagging behind until you see everyone racing gleefully past you.
If you accept the sheer patheticness of what you’re doing, bite the bullet anyway, and Google any self-pitying combination of the words “pandemic”, “socialization,” “young adult,” and “loneliness,” you’ll find no shortage of middle-aged clinical psychologists imploring you to just reach out. Just reach out! Just ask people how they’re doing! Simple enough when you’ve collected friends like postcards throughout your college and grad school years, the ones you’ve known for decades, the ones only tolerable in small doses, work wives and husbands, politely tolerated colleagues, friends of a partner. Not so much when you have the delightfully impossible choice between rekindling high school friendships that have unceremoniously fizzled out or trying to cobble together a whole new network at a school you’ve never stepped foot on.
There came a point when I really became cognizant that I wasn’t reaching out to people anymore, and it wasn’t because I morphed into some hermit in the span of nine months, that my ever-present joy at being in the thick of the action had faded into a more somber, mellow version of myself.
I still want friendships, the way I had them Before, but a part of me can’t see the permanence in them anymore. I make friends when I get to campus and then what? I graduate and never see them again, and then rinse and repeat the cycle every time I go through a life change?
If there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s the fact that socializing virtually is so exhausting that it makes you forget how fun it was to see people in person. And it’s taught me that trying to sustain friendships over a screen is a painfully drawn-out chore for all parties involved. I envy the way men can lose touch with friends for months and still bounce right back like they never drifted apart — unfortunately in all of my experiences, female friendships are afflicted with the dreaded warm-up period to return to normal after a prolonged period of sporadic contact. Now, I take hours to respond to texts that I would have jumped on, I want to talk to friends but I have to kick myself to send that first text. Online, I find myself fading out of conversations much sooner than I normally would, and in-person I can tell when I’m zoning out when I’ve always been the last person to tire from day-long outings. Even now, when I have the opportunity to return to whatever normal used to be, socializing exhausts me. I need a lot more creative control, to put it gracefully. Any semblance of spontaneity that I once had has all but evaporated, and now I go ballistic if I don’t painstakingly plan the details of a casual dinner, down to memorizing the intricacies of the restaurant’s menu inside and out. In the absence of control, it seems I’ve overcompensated. So to stop myself from this being this pedantic, Type A stickler for Following The Plans, I just didn’t go out.
But without the exams, the Zoom classes and meetings, the weak justification for self-isolation will be gone this summer. And I know that for the first time in a long time, I’m the only one that can unstick myself from this rut I’m in.