If there is any silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that being antisocial is now considered respectable behavior. Last spring, when health officials first advised everyone to avoid crowds, stop shaking hands, and stay home as much as possible, I thought: Whew, I won’t have to change a thing. Other guidelines fit neatly into my lifestyle, as well. Wash your hands multiple times a day: Been doing that for years. Stay six feet apart from other people: Way ahead of you. Repeatedly disinfect doorknobs, phones, and other frequently touched surfaces: C’mon, please, who doesn’t?
It’s also taken a considerable amount of pressure off of saying no to things. In the past I’ve scrambled for ways to avoid birthday parties, family reunions, children’s dance recitals, and weddings with a cash bar. I’ve used the same flimsy, but tried-and-true excuses for years: stomach bug, traffic court, debilitating agoraphobia. But now if I’m invited to something, I simply shrug and say, “Sorry. Pandemic.” I used to feel a bit of a jerk for always sending my regrets. Now I feel polite.
However, there are some things I do miss, especially dining out. I’ve ordered countless restaurant meals over the past year, picked them up, and then wiped down the bags and boxes with enough sanitizing wipes to disinfect a crime scene. But I do miss eating in an actual restaurant. I know outdoor dining is considered safer and many restaurants are attempting to facilitate this option. But an outdoor area, completely encased in plastic, that you have to walk through an entryway to access, seems to me the very definition of “indoors.” So, for now, I’ll stick with to-go and enjoy restaurant meals in my hermetic bubble.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as eager as anyone for this pandemic to end, and thankfully, it eventually will. And when that time comes I understand many people will go back to their carefree ways and return to enjoying things I’ve never been comfortable with, like eating a slice of birthday cake someone has just blown on to extinguish its candles, or wearing rented shoes and sticking their fingers into the murky holes of a bowling ball, or patronizing a salad bar. But post-pandemic I’ll be the same guy I’ve always been. A guy who keeps a travel-sized pack of sanitizing wipes in his pocket and wears gloves when he pumps gas. A guy who fakes a stroke to get out of attending your daughter’s college graduation ceremony. A guy who absolutely loves dining out, but wishes he could bring his own silverware. A guy who really wants to socialize, but just can’t seem to relax.