Dear Amy: I am feeling anxious about a return to pre-pandemic normality and am hoping you can help me find effective ways of navigating.
My anxiety is not about health precautions like mask-wearing.
I am more concerned that we have all been apart for a year, and have grown apart with respect to our expectations for what kind of relationship or experience we want to emerge into.
Some people want to go back to the world exactly as it was.
I met someone recently who immediately launched into a 30-second commercial on what a big shot he was, reminding me of a common way of interacting before the pandemic: trying to prove your worth based on some external marker of success. This was jarring to me because for the past year most of my conversations have been about what each of our pandemic experiences were like, whether we had lost anyone important to us, and how we were doing in helping our loved ones get vaccinated.
I have grown accustomed over the past year to interacting with people from a place of compassion, treating people as human beings — not human-doings.
I am anxious about interacting with people who expect me to snap back into the pre-pandemic, competitive, transactional approach to relationships that was common among people I knew.
Can you help me find ways to navigate a dialogue with people I haven't seen in person in a year, on how to reintegrate with each other?
Amy says: I appreciate this thoughtful question, as I have had my own anxieties about re-entering the world — not as it was, but as it is. My own experience has been one of drawing-in, and like many people I assume that some of these changes — in perspective and temperament — will be permanent.
My own plan is to go slowly, realizing that others will go at a different pace. I urge you — and all of us — to reserve judgment.
That hard-charging man has his own anxieties. He is perhaps overly eager to assert his primacy over his surroundings. He might have spent the past year struggling to keep the losses and sacrifices at bay. If he has not permitted the past year to change him, to understand his own vulnerabilities and deepen his own compassion, then so be it.
You might still feel compassion for him, though, because he, like you, is experiencing the world and relating to others in the way he knows how.
Remember, too, that it takes all kinds of people to rebuild: braggy and fearless-sounding movers and shakers, as well as people who are willing to sweep up the rubble; artists, musicians, teamsters and teachers. "Human-doers," as you so rightly name them, have their place.
Anyone who expects you to "snap back" into pre-pandemic ways of relating will simply have to adjust to the changes you've made in your own life, slowly, just as you will adjust to them.
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