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From Social Distancing to Social Awkwardness

How to get back into socializing without embarrassment

Here in Czechia, Europe, we don’t doubt masks. We do what’s needed to protect the vulnerable.

But in the past few days, a particular relaxed manner has been in the air. It goes with the optimism brought about by good numbers and the resulting, lifted restrictions.

As we ease into this new state of living, we must carefully re-enter our social lives. Each family weighs its own options depending on the risk factors they’re dealing with.

It’s exciting! The thought of seeing our friends again, taking our little ones to the playground, and spending a leisurely Saturday afternoon at a coffee house leaves us humming with anticipation.

Still, caution is in order.

If you’re in the US, Canada, or other countries that are easing restrictions, it makes sense to prepare for just how different your new reality will be. I hope that my mishaps will save you from making your own.

If you’re in Asia-Pacific and South America, please hold on; you will see the sun and breathe fresh air again.

If you’re alongside me, here, in Europe, you may find yourself chuckling, and/or want to contribute with your own experience and learnings. Please do!

Why the caution? What’s wrong with re-socializing?

Everything’s wrong, really. Or, at least, it seems that nothing we knew before can be taken for granted. You may find yourself, inexplicably, and suddenly unsure, not knowing what the right thing to do is in what used to be ordinary situations.

I can tell you that my experience of meeting other people again for the first time left me feeling like a mole that just surfaced in a sunlit park for the first time.

For example, I wanted to shake the hand of a friend I hadn’t seen for five years. I was clearly told “no,” and eyebrows were raised to express the disapproval of my lack of experience in bumping elbows.

Shame on me. And the disinfectant in my pocket didn’t help my case.

That same day, I discovered that my friend had been battling cancer for a decade! Oh NOOOOO. I had no idea.

A week later I met, the same friend on another occasion. She extended her hand to me. Of course, I know what to do! While I awkwardly extended my elbow, she shook hands with everyone else.

Puzzling, isn’t it? What could have possibly happened in a week that changed how careful she was when meeting others?

In the outer world, a week went by and nothing has changed, but in the inner world, in the world of our perceptions, things have changed dramatically with the lifted restrictions.

This means our usually stable social norms are now fluid, which can bring stress or, in the best case, just like in my example, embarrassment.

To help you, I offer some of the other things I learned over the last few weeks. Perhaps my embarrassment will save you from yours.

  • Don’t try to make sarcastic comments with your mask on! The cover hides your facial expressions and may muffle the inflection of your voice. You may be misunderstood. (I speak from experience.)
  • Give yourself time to get comfortable socializing. Don’t rush into it if you don’t feel like it, and, if you do, don’t expect things to feel the same as “before.”
  • Don’t feel obliged to follow the pack or to do what’s legal in any particular snapshot of time. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in situations where others don’t have to do what you feel is right. That’s ok. Do what feels right for you!
  • If you feel unable to keep up with the speed of changes, ask others for help. There’s always someone out there who has a handle on the situation or a better information source.
  • Be open about having a person in your family or living with you who’s in a vulnerable group. It will help others to understand your choices and to know what’s right when interacting with you.
  • The best way to avoid embarrassment and discomfort in any social circumstance is to simply start your interaction with “what are you comfortable with?”
  •  Be generous and kind to yourself and others. A good sense of humor brings light to any situation!

What have you learned during the past days and weeks? What “fun” moments did you experience? Please share. We’re all learning, so why not from each other?

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