As some people think ahead to their next chapter, the relative stillness they’ve experienced in the past year has highlighted how fast-paced their life was before 2020. “The pandemic provided a controlled environment where I could test or track different things and see how they affect me,” Heather Jovanovic, a 26-year-old grad student in Winnipeg, Canada, told me. She has been able to see clearly how her concentration wanes and her mood worsens if she doesn’t eat breakfast or get enough sleep—“things that I used to sacrifice on a near-daily basis in favor of evenings out.” In the future, she thinks she’ll be more comfortable skipping social engagements if they seem like they’ll later make her feel lousy.
The pared-down social calendars of the pandemic have been a sort of education. Santos said that when people consider what they can do to make themselves happier, they typically think about what they can add to their life—a new relationship, a new diet—rather than what they can take away. “The pandemic has taught us that there are negotiable things that we can subtract from our schedules,” she said, “and some of those subtractions feel good.”
As people get vaccinated, though, they’ll likely be focused on addition. The first, frenzied wave of socializing could lead to minor tension, as the members of Team Yes and Team Couch realize they have diverging visions of how they’d like to spend their time. Traces of a rivalry are already showing: Kelly Devine, a 33-year-old who works at a small tech company in New York City, told me that she gets mildly irked when she sees people posting on social media about how they dread socializing again. Though she understands the underlying feeling, she said that “people brandish [introversion] about like it’s something cute or unique in a way that annoys me.”
In general, people will hopefully keep in mind that everyone is emerging from a very difficult time and extend members of the other team some compassion. Nicole Pavez, a 26-year-old who works at a health-sciences research center in New York City, can’t wait to pack her schedule with movie nights, workout classes, and parties. But even Pavez, one of the most extroverted people I interviewed for this story, said that, after the pandemic, she expects to be more understanding when an introverted friend bails on plans with her. “This used to be a big struggle for me, but now that I have more experience being alone, I know it is something I have grown to handle better,” she said.
A good amount of kindness will be in order during the earliest stages of post-pandemic social reintegration, when in-person hangouts will likely feel especially exhausting. Basically, we are out of practice. Santos said that tracking facial expressions and body language can be cognitively draining after an extended period of not doing those things in person very much. The good news is that she expects people will reacclimate and this extra exhaustion will be temporary. When it does fade, whatever team we end up on, we should bear in mind that not everyone had the same revelations during the pandemic that we did.