This post-pandemic summer is evidently expected to be one long orgiastic reunion, after which, once that’s out of our system, it’s back to work, back to school, to what we used to call “normal.” And if the pandemic had ended, say, last June, after a couple months of lockdown, we probably would’ve returned to our lives with relief and jubilation. But after a year in isolation, I, at least, have gotten acclimated to a different existence—quieter, calmer, and almost entirely devoid of bullshit. If you’d told me in March 2020 that quarantine would last more than a year, I would have been appalled; I can’t imagine how I would’ve reacted if you’d told me, once it ended, I would miss it.
“For the last year,” a friend recently wrote to me, “a lot of us have been enjoying unaccustomed courtesy and understanding from the world.” When people asked how you were doing, no one expected you to say “Fine.” Instead, they asked, “How are you holding up?” and you’d answer, “Well, you know.” (That “you know” encompassed a lot that was left unspoken: deteriorating mental health, physical atrophy, creeping alcoholism, unraveling marriages, touch starvation, suicidal ideation, collapse-of-democracy anxiety, Hadean boredom and loneliness, solitary rages and despair.) You could admit that you’d accomplished nothing today, this week, all year. Having gotten through another day was a perfectly respectable achievement. I considered it a pass-fail year, and anything you had to do to get through it—indulging inappropriate crushes, strictly temporary addictions, really bad TV—was an acceptable cost of psychological survival. Being “unable to deal” was a legitimate excuse for failing to answer emails, missing deadlines, or declining invitations. Everyone recognized that the situation was simply too much to be borne without occasionally going to pieces. This has, in fact, always been the case; we were just finally allowed to admit it.