I don’t know about y’all, but my social life over the last few years has waxed and waned constantly. Thanks to the pandemic, restaurant closures, and the loss of some of my in-person jobs, I just stopped going out for a while to save money. So when I started socializing again in the spring of 2021, it was difficult to learn how to navigate boundaries with friends and family, especially as a person with anxiety.
Last year, I went to a small indoor gathering for my friend’s housewarming– my first in-person hang since the lockdown. The thought of going to a party felt weird and new! I was worried about how it was going to feel connecting with people in-person again, but I also worried about feeling safe in my choice to attend. I felt so out of practice. So I reached out to my friend who was hosting.
We had a great conversation that put my mind at ease. We discussed who was going to be there, what I should bring, and if it would be okay if I wore my mask even if others didn’t. She also shared her safety protocols so that I could make the best decision for me and my comfort level.
I ended up going and having a great time! Here are the actions I took that made me feel safe and helped me navigate being a respectful party guest during these weird times.
I took an at-home rapid test
So much of my anxiety stems from not being in control of things. So I decided to take an at-home rapid test so I could feel like I did everything in my power to protect the others in attendance. This helped calm my COVID anxiety. Knowing that I had a negative test helped me feel more relaxed about being in a group without my mask on.
I brought a dish that was individually wrapped
Cooking isn’t my strong suit, so I made super easy veggie wraps for the party. I bought some tortillas, hummus, cucumber, and carrots and made individually packaged wraps. Before preparing the wraps, I washed my hands and wore plastic gloves (purchased from my local dollar store).
Since guests didn’t have to share the food, people could sit wherever they wanted during the party (six feet apart or not) while enjoying the snacks.
If someone was sitting alone, I asked if they wanted a friend
This one might seem counter-intuitive during pandemic times, but it’s possible other people have anxiety as well! Maybe they needed an extra nudge to feel comfortable socializing or joining a group of people.
When I was a freshman in college, I attended a club meeting for the first time. I was the only underclassman there and I felt SO awkward. But as soon as I sat down, one junior came over and introduced me to her small group of friends. As adults, it’s hard to ask how to be included. So in general, being able to thoughtfully navigate social interactions with friends, colleagues, or your local barista from a place of care is so valuable.
I did this a few times during the party and most times, people said something like “Yes, thank you. I feel so awkward socializing in person. It’s been so long!” I think as we all reacclimate to normal life activities, being extra kind to each other is important.
I didn’t make a big deal if someone wanted to stay masked
At the end of the day, I took my mask off during the party because I felt safe with the protocols set by the host, but some people left their masks on. No one judged or shamed them for deciding to do that and I think that created a safe space for people with varying comfort levels.
It’s important to not judge what anyone else is doing. We all have to do what’s comfortable for us. If someone’s eating or drinking habits or outfit is really different from yours, that’s their business.
COVID or not, making sure that you know your boundaries while going to a party is key, even if that comfort changes from time to time.
Checking in with how I felt socially, emotionally, and physically also helped me determine how long I wanted to stay and just made sure that I took care of myself first. Even post-pandemic, I will definitely make sure to take a moment before walking out the door to make sure I am feeling my best so I can have the best time while socializing.