2021 didn’t exactly start how we had hoped as COVID-19 continued to spread. However, vaccinations have been a game-changer and after a very long and isolating winter, people are ready to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather in the company of friends and family.
Following the easing of some restrictions, restaurant patios are busy with those willing to brave the chilly spring afternoons in order to share a meal or drink with others face-to-face. Taking the time to bond and rebuild our connections with others while we can is not only important for our well-being, but it may help us survive if COVID-19 restrictions are put back in place.
Even though social distanced gatherings are permitted, not everyone has the same ideas about what their post-quarantine interactions with others will look like. Will you only meet up with people if they are vaccinated? What does it mean if you are not included in your friend’s first group outing? Are you comfortable telling your sister that you’re not ready to see anyone in person just yet? These decisions exist in gray areas of social interactions, are up to individual interpretation of the rules, and can lead to uncomfortable, awkward, and potentially upsetting interactions.
So how can you balance the need to reconnect without being pressured into social interactions you are not ready for? Or how do you manage these social rules without hurting feelings along the way?
Directly communicate your socializing needs.
Most people tend to want to avoid conflict. So when ideas around how to properly following regulations differ, or when people have differing levels of desire for social interaction, it can feel challenging to find a balance between making sure your needs and the needs of others in your social circle are being met.
Satisfying social relationships are built on a foundation of being responsive to each other’s’ needs. Even though direct conversations about disagreements can feel uncomfortable, they are actually linked with more relationship satisfaction later on. This means that it may actually be better for your relationship if you speak up and say that you’re not comfortable under certain circumstances. You will likely be pleasantly surprised (and relieved) about how willing other people are to accommodate your needs.
One of the really awkward parts of navigating social life out of quarantine is how to handle restrictions on how many people can get together at once. This can lead to difficult decisions about who is and isn’t invited to social outings. Feeling left out is naturally unpleasant and can make you wonder if it’s a sign of something wrong in your relationships. Similarly, knowing that you have excluded someone can make you feel guilty and avoidant of them.
Instead of letting these uncomfortable feelings push you away from others, use it as a sign that you really want to reconnect with those people. Reach out and tell them how excited you are to see them soon. This provides a clear signal of how much you value the relationship, your intentions for the future, and reduces the likelihood of these relationships breaking up because of something that is ultimately out of everyone’s control.
Build resilient relationships.
COVID-19 has made it clear how important our social relationships are for keeping us afloat in chaotic times. It is important that people take advantage of the time we can spend together to invest in and strengthen these bonds by safely navigating in-person socializing when possible. However, it is also normal to expect there to be some discomfort as guidelines can put personal and interpersonal needs at odds.
In these moments, directly and clearly communication what we need and looking for the best intentions in others’ actions could go a long way toward sustaining these bonds.