The Pandemic Made Me Realize I Hate Everything About My Old Social Life
It's been a year since COVID changed our world. These are the lockdown habits I'm not giving up, even after we return to "normal."
As vaccinations accelerate across the region, I received my first invitation to a “vaccinated-only” private, in-person networking soirée scheduled for next month. The promise of a boozy open bar, passed hors d’oeuvres and spring vibes was tempting — but I just wasn’t up for it. I immediately declined. At first, I wasn’t even sure why.
The scene — once defined by the who’s who of the town gathering amid lavish scenery and endless libations — had become oversaturated with redundant events, meaningless business-card exchanges, and so much pointless small talk. Networking in Philly was suddenly vast yet felt vapid, dominated by elitist circles of phony personalities. I was done with it. I wanted a revolution.
“The truth of the matter is, less should be considered more in Philly’s networking scene,” I wrote last March. “We’ve overspent, overshared, and overestimated how far our networking culture can go in the city. Now it’s time to dial it back in order to save it.”
As the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for.
I haven’t attended a single indoor in-person networking event since February 2020. Virtual gatherings got played out fast (logging into Zoom feels like work), and the few socially distanced restaurant tastings I’ve been to just don’t compare.
It didn’t occur to me that many of the things I thought were socially fun were simply work by another name. Networking is work. Talking to strangers you’ll most likely forget about is labor. The pandemic has shown me that so much of what I had been doing in my spare time wasn’t actually doing anything for me. Sure, I enjoyed some of the events — the drinking and frolicking — but a lot of it was stuffy, overrated and exhausting. Part of my public identity over the years has involved going to events and “showing face,” but now I’m pretty much over it.
I thought social distancing would make me miss the networking scene, but honestly, I just don’t. The past year has allowed me to find peace in being still, to engage with the close friends and family I depend on, and to focus on myself. Being a fiancé during a pandemic has taught me how to be a better partner and reaffirmed why marriage is perfect for us. Time to myself has encouraged me to trust my own instincts and rely less on outside voices to influence my decisions. And I have enjoyed wearing sweatpants (something I thought I would never appreciate) and now care less about keeping up appearances. I have maintained my biweekly barbershop appointment, but I’m just less obsessed with keeping up with trends.
I’m ecstatic that people are getting healthy along with the economy, but the thought of returning to “normal” is ultimately exhausting for me. I also loathe the idea of business as usual, of dealing with the stupidity of society and its unnecessary woes. As a Black queer man, I’ve found one benefit of social distancing has been a reduction in the in-person microaggressions I face daily from white people. The clutching of purses in elevators, glares on SEPTA, questions about my whereabouts from store managers, and occasional stop-and-frisks from cops — all of this evaporated while I’ve been working from home. Returning to the world means bracing for the racist bullshit that will certainly endure regardless of Trump’s departure from the White House and last summer’s racial uprisings that may have changed some hearts and minds.
These bittersweet vibes have led me to create a new survival plan. I can’t pretend that I’m wealthy, connected and/or successful enough to be a semi-recluse (but one can dream!), but here’s are a few lockdown habits I’m going to keep:
For starters, I’m not going back to grocery-shopping in person. I would rather tip someone to deliver my food than put myself through the anxiety and intimidation of in-store racial profiling.
Second, I’m bidding farewell to saying “yes” to every event I’m invited to — regardless of free booze and food. If I don’t know who’s going to be there, I’m good.
And finally, I’m going to enforce mandatory “alone time” every day. During the pandemic, it’s been a pleasure having only 10 regular numbers call me. Networking events require a deluge of “follow-up” calls and texts from people I gave my card to, and then I feel obligated to stop what I’m doing for these spontaneous distractions.
These three changes may seem small, but they’re my non-negotiables as cases decrease and the weather continues to warm. This pandemic is, I hope, ending soon. But when it comes to some of the social norms I established to get through it, well, Boyz II Men said it best: “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.“