It has been a difficult year for both of us. I try to stay optimistic that we can find a way to celebrate and the reunion isn’t just a solemn reminder of all the in-person tea parties we’ve missed.
I hope she likes the place, since she has never been there. Even though she loves fruity herbal teas and I’m more of a black tea fan, I know we can each find something we love in the book-lined walls.
If we want to sit outside, I know there is space at the back of the store, but there isn’t room for a lot of people if we are socially distanced. I have always ordered tea for two and shared – is sharing still an option?
Although we are both fully vaccinated by the time we get together, I have not felt free to have fun in public without fear of contributing to the spread of the virus since the start of the pandemic. I can’t begin to imagine how it will turn out – just having tea with an old friend.
I know that I am not the only one who is eager to re-enter the world once I am fully immunized. That’s why I called Jane Webber, Assistant Professor of Counselor Education and PhD Program Coordinator at Kean University of New Jersey. While it can be difficult, Webber said there are ways to prepare yourself when you reappear in the world as a social being.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
CNN: Is it okay to be nervous about socializing right now?
Jane Webber: Yes, this is normal, because what we have just experienced is a completely abnormal situation. Pandemics are like something from another world, and it is of no value for us to worry about whether this is normal. We just have to say, “Today is today and tomorrow is another day”.
When we go through such an abnormal experience for so long, we forget what we naturally know as human beings – that people are reaching out, helping each other, and saying hello.
As with any traumatic event that we experience every day, it’s scary to go out and say, “Am I safe? Do I want to do this? Do I have the courage to start socializing again?”
CNN: Where should we go for our first outings?
Webber: The first thing I thought about was, where would I like to go? And, for me, there is a wonderful restaurant a few blocks from me that sells raw oysters. I am comfortable there. I know the staff. I know the location. I know where the exit is. I know where the women’s room is. And my boy, do I like oysters. I would go with safety and comfort, because it tells me that everything is fine.
For someone else, they can dive into new experiences, but now is probably not the time for me.
CNN: Who are the best people to contact?
Webber: Reconnect with the people you know first – because you already have that sense of friendship. We might have to say, “Do I really want to blind date? Do I really want to join a new club? Or should I start safe?” And sometimes, security helps us build our confidence to go further.
Isolation is difficult. What if you don’t have anyone to meet? Try to find a small support group, such as people who all want to speak Italian. It may even be less scary for you to meet a new group of people with a common interest.
Seeing other people, even if you are technically alone, is always worth it. I went for the raw oyster special and sat alone, although it took a lot of courage to get out on my own.
CNN: What do we do if we experience anxiety during a conversation?
Webber: It’s that sudden stillness where you don’t know what to do and all of a sudden, “Oh my God, what am I doing here? It’s terrible.”
Take a very calm, deep breath saying, “Bring calm” and a deep breath saying “send my anxiety”. And just thinking about it – not saying it out loud, because that would certainly be very strange – lowers your anxiety.
My other secret is to “type”. I just pat my feet, one at a time, and my anxiety subsides completely.
CNN: What topics are our safest bets to discuss?
Webber: I would probably avoid anything that has to do with the pandemic except “I hope it’s almost over”. Describe the things you used to talk about and think of a few points to discuss before you get there.
For many of us, we may not have followed this person or seen them for a long time. One might ask, what have they been doing during the time that has passed? How have they changed?
Now, it might be time to think back to about a year ago, but you’ll probably remember something you really enjoyed about them or a positive memory you shared with them.
CNN: What if a topic comes up that you’re not ready to talk about?
Webber: Especially after surviving a whole year of really tough stuff, I’d just say, “Let’s not do this today. Let’s talk about something else.” But make sure you have something else ready to talk about. And if they continue, maybe that’s just not the person you should be with right now.
CNN: Why should we go back to the world?
Webber: Because we want to, because we are human beings who thrive only through social relationships, and because our life is full and fresh when we are with other people. The isolation was by no means fun; we survived it, but we still don’t feel human. It’s just scary to take that first step.
I’m grateful for the people in my life, even though we haven’t reconnected in so long and I’m a little embarrassed how it’s going to turn out. When I finally see them, I’ll catch my breath; I’ll smile and say “Good to see you again.”