From Monday 1 June, we will be able meet with up to six people from other households, but lockdown easing presents some new pressures for us to deal with.
Lockdown has come with very few perks. It’s been a tough, confusing and sad time for all of us. But there have been some unexpected joys in this simplified, slow-paced way of quarantine life. The sudden lack of social pressures has paused our usual fear of missing out (FOMO) and people flaking out of plans. With everyone having to stay in their homes, there’s no need to feel left out of social events or, conversely, feel guilty about cancelling midweek drinks.
Of course, the trend for Zoom quizzes and Houseparty calls has presented a new kind of quarantine FOMO. It sometimes feels like everybody else has a call arranged for each night of the week. And, let’s be honest, we’ve all winced after sending a “can we do tonight’s FaceTime another night” message over WhatsApp. But, ultimately, two months of these virtual meetings has left us exhausted. Nobody can really be bothered with it anymore.
That’s why the government’s latest announcement might come as a relief to many of us. We are now allowed to see up to six people from different households at one time. Social distancing is still in place: you must stay two metres apart and stay outside. We all need to remain alert (although we’re still trying to work out what that actually means). But it does mean we can have picnics in the park, take strolls together in a beauty spot and enjoy a BBQ in a garden.
Although there is an ongoing frustration over not being able to physically touch other people, this is a major step in the pandemic – Boris Johnson’s “phase two” of our new normal life.
It all sounds like a step in the right direction. Being deprived of seeing our friends and family has been one of the toughest parts of lockdown. As long as we stick to the rules, being able to see other people is going to do us all the world of good… right? Well, not exactly.
“I felt like one of the positive things about lockdown was the lack of FOMO,” my friend Kathryn in south London told me over email. “Normally I feel it worse in spring and summer: that urge to book holidays and events and make the most of the hot weather.
“It was different during lockdown because everyone was in the same boat, no trips to Greece or pub garden visits on Instagram to be jealous of. But now with the restrictions lifting and the sun being out, I feel I need to make the most of it. I’m jealous of people who are meeting up with friends, especially as I moved in November and don’t really know many people in the area.
“I’ve been nagging my boyfriend to arrange a six-person birthday picnic in the park just so we have something to look forward to. It’s occupying my mind as much as organising a two week holiday would have in the old days.
“At the same time I’m still worried about the virus so I’m kind of getting it from both sides, anxiety about coronavirus mixed with extreme FOMO.”
Over on WhatsApp, my other friend, Suze, based in Leeds, wailed down a voicenote. “I’ve just woken up and everyone on social media is saying ‘I’m going to see this person, we’re going to do that’ and I’m just thinking ‘wait, who am I going to hang out with?’
“Some friends don’t actually live near me, and others didn’t stick around for lockdown. Honestly, I just want to stick to how it was when everyone just did nothing. But then again I need to get out of my head, get off Instagram and stop comparing myself to the world.”
Then there’s my friend Kylie who hasn’t seen her boyfriend for over two months because she has spent lockdown with her parents in Margate. “I’ve got FOMO over people seeing or being with their partners, while I’ve been separated from mine,” she messaged me. “It’s like we’ve put a pause on our relationship and, because things still aren’t exactly going back to ‘normal’, we’ve now entered a long distance relationship.”
As someone living on my own, being able to go out and see other humans, even if I cannot touch them, has massively improved my mental health and sense of purpose. But I’ve been feeling these old social pressures resurface, too.
Earlier this week, I had to say no to meeting a friend because I was with another, and I sensed her disappointment. I also had two people flake out of two separate plans to have a cold beer in the park with me. I felt weirdly jealous when my mum, who lives in Yorkshire, sent me a photo of her having a picnic with my sister the other day. And I’ve held off from posting photos of any meetups on social media in case anyone feels left out, because Instagram scrolls have left me feeling like that at times as well.
Ah yes, comparison culture is well and truly on its way back. But, like Kathryn says, it’s still underlined with anxiety and sadness, which is a key factor to remember the next time we feel a bit jealous over other people meeting or let down by someone cancelling on us. Because this is the thing: we’re still very much in a pandemic, we’re still living in lockdown. Nobody is in a world they want to be in right now, we’ve all been stripped of our freedom in some way.
If you feel left out, reach out to your friend or family with a message and talk. Because if there’s one positive thing lockdown has taught us, it’s that people really are only human. And anyway, if you’re rewatching Normal People instead of seeing people, you’re really not missing out on anything – so just do that instead.