How Things Have Changed
While life seems better now than it was when the pandemic began, there’s no denying that how we approach our social lives has changed. Here’s what my friends and I have noticed — and in some cases, learned about ourselves.
Wednesday Wine Night is a once- or twice-monthly event I began hosting in 2019. This entails gathering six to eight friends — a different group each time — at my home for wine and nibbles. I like that these events bring together people from different spheres of my life, fostering new connections and an evening of fascinating conversation.
In March 2020, of course, Wednesday Wine Nights abruptly ended. I revived it briefly in the fall of 2021 before Omicron took hold — at the time, some invitees were still not comfortable enough to attend, while several of those who did noted that wine night was their first indoor social event since the pandemic began. And most of them inquired about the vaccination status of that week’s group before accepting my invitation.
With two years of COVID-19 now under our belts and the peak of Omicron BA.1 receding in the rearview mirror, I decided to resume wine nights in March 2022, curious about how my friends would feel about a small, indoor event. The number who had conflicting activities was back to pre-pandemic rates, reflecting the return of plentiful social options. One person still declined because of discomfort with unmasked indoor activities. To my surprise, no one who accepted asked about the group’s vaccination status.
I shared with the group the differences I observed between pre-pandemic gatherings, those in 2021, and this evening’s event. It kicked off an interesting discussion about what everyone had learned from the pandemic and what permanent changes it prompted in their lives.
Wednesday Wine Night was mostly unchanged except that I now offer a basket of rapid antigen tests on the entryway table for anyone interested in testing on their way in or taking one for the road. And I plan to use and share these liberally (thanks to my free government COVID-19 test kits and my ability to get eight tests per month reimbursed by my health insurance).
In general, I have resumed pre-pandemic levels of activity, but with a heightened awareness of the onset of any symptoms — when I get any, I test. During some seasons, my allergies can make symptoms ever-present, so during those times I use the COVID Risk Quiz to help me know if I need to test. It’s peace of mind for me and the people I come into contact with, whether or not my throat is itchy today.
She unmasked with the rest of us when the mandates ended, but she still carries them and has no qualms about putting one on if she feels uncomfortable. Someone stood in line behind her at the grocery store recently, coughing — and a bit too close for comfort. Being able to put on a mask in that situation made her feel much better. “And I always get sick after flying, so maybe I’ll wear a mask on airplanes forever.”
He goes out less than he did before. Two years of being less busy taught him he kind of liked a less-hectic schedule. He speculates that being two years older might also be part of the reason why he doesn’t have the same level of FOMO these days. Either way, he now keeps a lightly populated calendar based not on avoiding COVID-19 but on having a more balanced and relaxed life.
Like me, what has changed for Gustavo is his own awareness and response to the onset of illness. While he used to think his primary responsibility was to honor his work and social commitments regardless of illness, he is now quicker to cancel or call in sick if he has symptoms. “Before, I thought it was rude or kind of lazy not to go to work or a social event when I just had the sniffles or a little cough. Now, I feel like canceling is the more respectful and responsible thing to do.”
She still isn’t attending large, crowded, indoor events, like concerts, theater, or indoor sporting events. Sharon claims she was never a big fan of the big crowds that came with these kinds of events anyway, and only went along to be one of the group. Now, they’re no longer worth it. She’s sure there’ll be an occasional exception in the future, but she’s confident she won’t ever be a regular in a crowded theater or stadium again.
She’s a hugger! Mariana said what she struggled with the most during the pandemic was the time in isolation and the social distancing. She was shocked to learn that some of her friends thought social distancing had one big upside: it prevented them from being embraced by their “huggy” friends and colleagues. “I never realized my friends weren’t as excited to hug me as I was to hug them,” she admitted. Now she is trying to be more aware of that and dial it back with friends who are less enthusiastic. “It’s a little bit about COVID, but actually more about realizing what my friends always preferred.”
He had COVID-19 in December 2021, and even though his case was not severe, he described the experience as one of the most unpleasant weeks of his life. “I was vaccinated but I hadn’t gotten around to getting my booster. I learned my lesson.” He plans to more closely adhere to medical guidance, and not just as it applies to COVID-19. “I’m also not as young as I used to be.” He intends to do better at scheduling regular, preventative doctor visits, getting flu shots, and staying on top of other recommended vaccinations.
As gratifying as it is to see life start to resemble pre-pandemic times in many ways, I find it heartening that many of us have taken something lasting away from our experience. What have you learned? What has changed for you as a result of the pandemic? Let us know on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!