The Spit-Swapping Roaring '20s Post-Pandemic Summer Terrifies Me

The Roaring Twenties will soon be upon us, social media and ad campaigns declare in lustful delirium. Slobber on strangers under a waterfall of champagne at SoHo House! Reunite with your distant cousins—in Ibiza! Swipe right until your thumb falls off! Get! To! Work!The end of the pandemic is now mercifully in sight. For so many reasons, the unequaled suffering and sickness among them, this is incredible news. And while hardly anyone would wish for it to last a day longer than it must, for the socially anxious among us quarantine offered something rare. Those with the privilege of working remotely have had a moral duty to stay home. Aside from the occasional outdoor meetup, social lives have been on pause. And it’s a lot easier to feel OK about your own social shortcomings when no one else is doing much of anything either. Call it the retreat of FOMO .

I’m what you might call awkward. I also tend to be insecure. And yes, I’m anxious about it all. I’ve never even had an Instagram account, and yet I’m engaged in the perpetual internal monologue it seems designed to provoke in all of us. I spend half my life doing what I’m actually doing and the other half wondering why I’m not doing other things, or whether the things I am doing and saying are the “right” ones. Should I be seeing friends more or less? Did I say too much or not enough? Am I wholesome enough, striking the right balance? (The answer I usually land on: hahaha, nope!) I’m sipping on this toxic cocktail of social anxiety and perfectionism all the time.

Except for this past year, when lockdowns eliminated social expectations. Life became a bubble that no amount of social approval, from my inner critic or others, was worth penetrating. To be sure, a slew of new, far more terrifying anxieties seeped in: Will my family get sick? Will I lose my job? But as everyone hunkered down at home, the pressure mostly vanished, and my second guessing went with it. For the first time since becoming a social creature (somewhere around the bar mitzvah years), I wasn’t looking around. I was right where I was, doing what I was comfortable with and able to, and not judging myself for it.

Now that vaccinations are rapidly scaling up, a semblance of a “normal” life mostly safe from the threat of Covid-19 is coming into focus, and that has created the perfect opening for the voice in my head to make its long-awaited return. Should I be making summer plans? Have other people already made summer plans? Do my plans need to be twice as fun as ordinary summer plans? What about the virus? Will I be throwing away my youth if I don’t socialize—endangering others if I do? Am I really ready to be around that many people?

The impending reemergence is wonderful and exciting and miraculous—and really fucking anxiety provoking.

Over the course of the pandemic, four out of every ten adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, a leap from one out of every ten in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics. But for those of us who ordinarily struggle with social anxiety, lockdowns and social distancing “could be the ideal situation,” says Lily Brown, an assistant professor of psychology and director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. When it’s come to “expectations about these social obligations,” she says, “the pressure is off in a lot of ways.” Although there’s been an overwhelming need for anxiety and depression services during the pandemic, Brown says, her clinic has noticed that patients who struggle predominantly with social anxiety haven’t been seeking treatment.