Brace for tough conversations.
Over the past year, public-health guidance often wildly varied on federal, state and even city levels, with some areas flinging open their doors while experts still advised caution. This has also been reflected in interpersonal relationships. It’s created friction between couples, families and friends, and prompted individuals to ask challenging, sometimes seemingly intrusive questions. Now, you may be adding “Are you vaccinated?” to that list. (On Twitter, one woman recently proposed “re-entry doulas” to help families navigate conversations about setting boundaries.)
Still, it will continue to be important to have these conversations in the coming months. “This isn’t abstract,” said Marci Gleason, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin whose lab has been surveying relationships in quarantine. “It comes directly to the question of whether we can socialize with others or not, in the way that they want to.” Sometimes, it can feel like a proxy battle over how much you value each other’s friendship. Be open about your own fears and vulnerabilities, and make it clear that when you disagree, you’re expressing your own preference and not rejecting the other person. Keep it simple, too, especially with friends or relatives with whom you don’t frequently have emotional, candid talks.
This empathy and candor will also be an asset if you find that your friends and peers have developed the tendency to over share, either out of anxiety or being starved for conversation. (You may be doing it yourself, too.) If a conversation subject makes you uncomfortable or anxious, say so.
“Being really open and direct is the best way,” said Dr. Danesh Alam, a psychiatrist and the medical director of behavior health services at Northwestern Medicine Central Dupage Hospital. Dr. Alam suggested studying up for conversations, preparing some questions and topics in order to chat with more intention and keep things on topic.
Take your time.
It’s OK if you don’t feel ready to see people socially again. Through the challenges of the lockdown period, you may have found that “your mental health is served best when you have time for calm and rest and introspection,” Dr. McBride said.
So pace yourself while considering the benefits of getting back out there: Even casual interactions have shown to foster a sense of belonging and community. “Social interaction is critical to our existence,” Dr. Alam said. Remember, too, that there are bound to be some weird moments as you start seeing others more regularly and your pandemic instincts (no hugging) and before-times instincts (“Do you want a bite of this?”) collide.
“If you’re comfortable going to a dinner at a small family restaurant, you can do that,” Dr. Hilden said. “If you want to wait a month or two, that’s OK, too.”