It’s the Newfound Social Anxiety For Me


I spent most of last year missing my friends. I posted nostalgic throwbacks on Instagram, scheduled Zooms with BFFs, and routinely complained to my fiancé about how much I yearned for the before times. “I can’t wait for things to go back to normal,” I chanted every night as he brushed his teeth.

And now, after the social hiatus felt around the world, a return to normalcy is finally around the corner. A reported 64% of all Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and, if social media is any indication, people are gearing up for a summer of mingling. “Vax girl summer,” as it’s been dubbed, is the new hot girl summer. Vax girl (aka shot girl) summer is a season not unlike the summer before your freshman year of college. It’s a state of mind that screams, “let’s hang out!” with a little bit of “YOLO” mixed in for good measure. After a year of isolation and pandemic panic, stress-free socializing should sound like heaven. But many people are finding themselves experiencing a form of social anxiety — even around their closest friends.

My expectations collided with our new normal last month when I finally went to dinner with friends from college for the first time in more than a year. I hit the town with a pep in my step and called my mom on my way to dinner to inform her that I was not only going to see friends ~IRL~ but also  that I was wearing a real bra. Things were looking up!

But soon after the appetizers arrived, I found myself straining to focus on conversation topics. In a room full of well-dressed humans, I suddenly felt anxious about my standard jeans and T-shirt combo. I became convinced I needed an entirely new wardrobe. At one point I found myself describing a TikTok video at length that no one had seen. I felt drained by the end of the night. I had absolutely not emanated effortless vax girl energy or whatever.

Apparently, I am not alone in feeling this way. Lots of young women I spoke to told me it’s not that they’re unhappy about seeing friends again, but they’re clearly out of practice. 

Or as Marissa, who is 29 and lives in Chicago, put it: “I feel like an athlete returning from an injury—I know all the plays but I forgot how to dribble the ball.”

Sophie, 28, from Toronto: “I’m more hyper self-aware in the presence of others now. It feels kind of crippling and makes me self-conscious.”

And Molly, 32, from Los Angeles: “The big group dinners I used to love now leave me feeling super drained. I find I don’t have the same energy or desire to be around people for long periods of time.”

This post-pandemic paralysis isn’t surprising in a professional or dating context, but it can be jarring to feel weird around our best friends. According to Adam Smiley Poswolsky, friendship expert and author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness, the first step in navigating this unease is acceptance. Whether you’ve been living solo, shacked up with a partner, back home with your parents, and/or taking care of your kids, we’ve all been existing in individual bubbles. Acknowledging that we’ve been in different places and dealing with our own priorities is a big part of accepting where we’re at now.

Smiley’s next suggestion for approaching friendships this summer is to give others what he calls a pandemic pass if communication has been sparse during the last year. “We may not have been the best at staying in touch, and that’s okay. We can all give each other a pass and look at this as an opportunity for a friendship reset.”

I obviously left my pandemic passes at home when I went to dinner with my friends. Because we had navigated transitions before, like graduating from college and living in different cities, I expected that we would essentially pick up exactly where we’d left off more than a year earlier. But I hadn’t factored in the larger impact COVID had on our collective dynamic.

Smiley says that simple, direct communication can lead to a better outcome when maneuvering awkward situations with friends. In other words, I could have talked a little bit less about TikTok and a little bit more about how much I’d missed connecting with my (non-Internet) friends and asked them questions.


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