COVID has isolated us from one another in innumerable ways. These days, I feel like most of my day-to-day interactions are parasocial exchanges on platforms like Twitter or Instagram with people I’ve never even met in real life. When asked by my family about friends at Yale, I can count on both hands the number of people I’ve seen enough times to count as real-life friends this semester. So as vaccine rollouts begin to accelerate, one may assume I’d be thrilled for life to return to normal. But having gotten my first dose of Pfizer last week, I honestly can’t say that I’m ready for this long pandemic to come to an end.
To be completely honest, I’ve gotten far too comfortable with often faceless, sometimes even nameless, interactions online, and I’m convinced that I am not alone in dreading a return to entirely face-to-face interactions after over a year of hiding behind a screen. Surgical masks have become a comfortable shield, putting not only physical but also emotional distance between me and the rest of the world, as limited socially-distanced exchanges become the norm. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, it would be disingenuous to pretend that I’m not nervous about post-pandemic life. Not only am I used to distancing from others for pandemic safety, but I am now used to avoiding extensive interaction with new people — which, for me, is almost everyone at Yale — and being praised for engaging in antisocial behavior, since it is in fact the safest thing to do right now.
Over the course of the last year, I have gone into two-week quarantine on five separate occasions, and I almost marvel at the fact that I haven’t become a complete hermit. As an only child, I am envious of friends with large families. Last March, I saw them returning home to seek comfort and company with their siblings, while I spent most of 2020 alone in my room or with my parents, who live on a different continent. Beyond that, this semester has been incredibly isolating. As one of only a handful of first-years in my residential college, floating in a sea of upperclassmen with whom I’ve never interacted, I’ve spent a large portion of these winter months holed up in my dorm room, watching New Girl reruns at mealtimes with my only suitemate.
I’ve grown accustomed to a solitary lifestyle; a lonely but comfortable mode of existence, where I don’t feel like I’m missing out, because there isn’t very much at all to miss out on as New Haven continues to report an average of 267 COVID cases per day. I’m used to Zoom etiquette — having my camera on in discussion sections, but infrequently otherwise, and waving goodbye before logging off and being alone again at the end of each class. It is also far too easy to be harsh on yourself for supposed underperformance in university courses when you forget the enormous — but silent and invisible — toll the pandemic has taken on all of us, and it feels cruel that in this incredibly taxing year, we are not even being granted a break from our work beyond a series of break days interspersed throughout the semester. I’ve realized I actually have no conception of what college life is, because it’s something that I have never experienced, and I can’t help but wonder if campus life will really return to the pre-pandemic version of “normal” this fall — or if I would even know the difference.
Still, the pandemic has come with some unexpected silver linings. Like many others, I’ve found that I have more time than ever before (if not too much time) to reflect on my own life and think about things I previously never had the space to consider. I’ve played around with and switched labels and identities multiple times over the last few months, let alone year. I’ve experimented with my appearance and wardrobe to the extent that the version of myself from two years ago probably wouldn’t quite recognize me today, though I think they’d be proud of the journey I’ve gone through to get to my current self. There are also some more tangible things that I will miss after the pandemic ends. My top pick would probably (and perhaps controversially) be the option to attend class remotely, since as a current first-year who is fairly directionally-challenged, I fear the day when I’ll actually have to run between buildings to get to class and wake up that extra hour earlier to arrive at in-person classes fully awake and not in my pajamas.
I think this year of loneliness will stay with all of us for a long time, if not the rest of our lives, even if we or our loved ones haven’t personally contracted the virus. While it may make personal interactions more intimidating, I am grateful for the perspective the pandemic has given me. Before 2020, it was all too easy to take the connections we had with other people for granted, ranging from tiny, seemingly trivial interactions to gatherings and celebrations with our loved ones — after all, why wouldn’t we? But after a turbulent year, it is impossible for me to so much as watch an episode of TV without marveling at how things were before the pandemic struck; how we could laugh and talk and not wear masks for fear of spreading a potentially deadly disease. I know that I am not truly living right now, but rather getting by on a day-to-day basis. I need to part ways from my current lifestyle to keep myself from falling apart, and yet I have become so familiar with my habits and routines that it is almost hard to let go. So I suppose I will have a rather bittersweet breakup with the pandemic.
Melissa Adams | email@example.com