I should state that I know that the pandemic is definitely not over. We’ve got variants popping up, and mask mandates and business restrictions ending way too soon, and in general our enthusiasm seems to be outpacing the decline of COVID.
But there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and after receiving my 2nd vaccine shot, I find my heart readying itself to enter the world again, post-pandemic.
First of all, just like in 1998, I spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not I should shave my legs. Ditto on wearing mascara. I can’t decide if I agree with society’s expectations enough to justify the time spent in meeting them. But I also want the social currency that comes with meeting society’s dumb expectations. Will people still be friends with me if I don’t shave my legs or wear mascara? Because I really want to have friends.
And just like I did in 1998, I feel vaguely uncertain about my social skills. At age 13, I just didn’t have a ton of experience in making and maintaining friendships. At age 35, I’ve got the experience. It’s just that I’ve been hanging out with the same 2-4 people for more than a year and don’t entirely remember how to have conversations. Even social interactions with people I’ve known and loved for years are tinged with a slight uncertainty. There’s an 8th grader inside of me nervously whispering “Did you say the right thing? Should you say something else? What else can you talk about?”
This also means that any successful (AKA not too awkward) human connection is cause for celebration. (A few weeks ago, I chatted with an entire group of people I didn’t know and I wasn’t very awkward and I rode the high of that for like four days.)
And if I'm being completely honest, beyond social interactions, in the back of my mind, there’s the buzzing possibility of romantic interactions. In 8th grade, I didn’t have any plans to date until I was 16, and it would still be a full four years before my first kiss. And okay, maybe the possibility of romance was in the front of my mind in 8th grade. I couldn’t help it. I was a hopeless romantic and Ryan Gosling was stealing my heart as Young Hercules on Fox Kids, and the radio kept playing these sappy songs, and I could see my peers pairing off in halting, hand-holding couples. I kept wondering if it would happen for me. When? With whom? How? Would it be all starlight and dancing in gazebos and poetry, like I dreamed?
I'm pleased to say that as of 2021, I've been able to experience my share of starlight and dancing in gazebos and poetry. But at this point, four years post-divorce and five months post-breakup, some of those questions are beginning to reach up to my heart and head again. Every single relationship I've ever had felt like a fluke. Not quite an accident, but like something I fell into without any planning or expertise on my part. Yes, I've had relationships before, but their initiations don't feel like anything I can replicate. (How does one actually start dating someone? Besides doing a theatre show with them, flirting throughout rehearsal, and then eventually making out?)
But logistics aside, there are more urgent questions. What if I ask someone out and they politely decline? Will I survive that? (Probably?) Or what if my year+ in relative isolation has completely eroded my ability to read any kind of social cues, and I don’t notice if someone is flirting? Or worse, I think they’re flirting when they’re not?
8th grader thoughts.
But there are also some positive parallels between 8th grade and now. I draw comfort from the same sources now that I did when I was younger—from books and movies and music and walks in nature. I feel uncertain of my exact future, but I know what I love and what I want to do, just like I did in 1998. Theatre and writing has been in my bones for as long as I can remember, and I knew even 23 year ago that I wanted to do both of those things. There are days as an adult when I can't get over the beauty of making my 8th grade dreams come true.
1998 definitely had its rough moments. Moving to a completely new state and new school at age 13 is pretty challenging. But in the grand scheme, things turned out okay.
And while I'm sure 2021 will have its rough moments, I think things will turn out okay this year too.